"You know, I really don't know what I'm doing here. You go away to college, and you think you're getting over the whole thing, because being away helps with that. But now I'm here, and here we are." -LylaDillon, Texas is a strange little place. It's empty and depressing and most of the characters on the show rightly dream of getting out and never looking back, but it also - like any place where you grow up, and/or where you find people you care about and who care about you - has this uncanny pull on its residents. They don't always leave when given the chance, or come back briefly to wonder why they ever left, or fear the inevitable departure of someone close to them. You can take the head cheerleader out of Dillon, but you can't take Dillon out of the head cheerleader, you know?
So in "Stay," we see Lyla still home for mid-term break (and not, thankfully, having just come home for the funeral) getting pulled in one more time by the bad boy magnetism of Tim Riggins, see Julie fear that she's going to lose Matt, see Tami come to terms with the fact that she's going to lose Julie within a year, and, in the end, see Matt decide that he made a mistake in staying for Julie.
And it's with that last part that I ran into some trouble with this one. Last week's "The Son" (one of the best episodes this show has ever done) was always going to be a tough act to follow, particularly in the Matt scenes. And "Stay" didn't help its cause by being fuzzy about many things Matt-related.
I still don't like that they rewrote his motivation for staying to be about Julie, not Grandma, when it was damn clear in "Tomorrow Blues" that Lorraine was his reason for turning down Chicago. It feels like they did that at the time because they didn't know if the show would come back, and it was a fitting (if somewhat depressing) ending for Matt. Once the show got renewed, though - and then once the creative team realized that only Tim Riggins would work as a full-time Panther alum - they had to scramble to justify writing Matt out. So now Julie became the lure of Dillon for him, which meant that as soon as there was trouble in the relationship - and as soon as Matt had suffered a major emotional blow like the death of his old man - it would become much cleaner for him to hop in the car, crank up the Bob Dylan(*) and just drive. I know that Matt earlier mentioned the "death gratuity" would help keep Lorraine financially secure, and we got that shot of Shelby and Lorraine finally getting along as Matt watched them from his car, but the whole point of all this was that Lorraine needed a full-time caretaker, and Matt wanted to provide that for her because of all she'd done for him. Now we're supposed to forget all that, pretend Shelby will want to move to Dillon forever, and not worry about details about where Matt will live, what he'll do, school, etc. He just has a fight with Julie, hops in the car, and goes. I'm sure this isn't exactly the end for him on the show, but right now it's a very bizarre exit for one of the series' best characters.
(*) Nice touch on the use of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," since Matt's love of Bob Dylan was established in the second episode, when Jason Street told Coach all the ways his back-up was different from him, but cool.
And despite being more clearly written out at the end of last season, Lyla comes back so she can be even more explicitly written out. I enjoyed the Tim/Lyla stuff, as being in Tim's orbit - and being amused by all the shenanigans that come with Tim Riggins(**) - made Lyla a much more appealing character than she ever was with Street, or with Chris. And it's certainly fun to see anyone ride a mechanical bull (especially someone who was once so prim and proper).
(**) This includes the presence of the over-eager, chatty girl next door, and it was funny both to see Lyla roll her eyes at Becky, and to have Tim finally tell Becky to shut up. I just hope Tim's resolve can hold now that Lyla's out of the picture for good.
But while Minka Kelly and Taylor Kitsch's scenes were entertaining, they felt unnecessary, and again had a rewriting of a motivation from last season. Remember, Tim said he didn't want to be the guy holding Lyla back, and yet here he all but begs her to stay. Now, I can see circumstances changing things - Tim threw away his scholarship because he thought he'd be happier back in Dillon, but has mostly been miserable - but coupled with the Matt/Julie thing, it felt off.
Not a bad episode, but it strained more than it should have to get the results it wanted.
Some other thoughts:
• Things seem to mostly be going well for Vince in this one. His mom is sober for a stretch (though Vince's wariness suggests this isn't the first time she's cleaned up, and that it doesn't tend to last long), and Coach's wildcat offense is not only working, but seems to be giving Vince better opportunities than Luke thus far.
• The football stuff was also odd, but in that usual detail-weird "FNL" football way. The Lions' opponent gets way oversold - if no one had scored a touchdown on them in two years, how were they not in the state championship ahead of the Panthers? - and while we get some explanation for how the Lions' offense is able to be effective against them, there aren't any signs of how the team's defense is able to limit what's supposed to be a McNulty juggernaut to only 14 points.
• No movement on Stan being in the closet, but we get glimpses of both the bad Stan (impetuously guaranteeing a win) and the good Stan (scaring off JD and his crew from hassling Vince and Luke at Sears). Of course, both Stans are basically the same guy; it's just the context that's different.
• The guarantee doesn't really lead to anything - much like the episode from a while back where they made a big deal about a game being televised and then never dealt with that again - except for the one very funny moment where Tinker (the big Lions offensive lineman) is asked about it and cackles hysterically at the notion that they have a shot.
• Once again, we get weird with the ages of the original kids. Landry notes that he and Matt have been best friends since they were both five, yet Landry (the smarter one) is a grade behind. I suppose you can chalk that up to deadlines for determining grade eligibility, but again it reminds me of how silly all the age business is. (Landry was driving a car as a freshman?)
• Lyla returns, and Tyra gets name-checked by Landry, who deservedly gets slapped in the face by Jess for doing it. (The kid just kept talking and talking and talking, didn't he?) And with Vince still interested in Jess - and Jess's dad hating Vince - we could wind up with our first triangle on the show since the early days of Street/Lyla/Riggins. I just hope we don't have two, now that Becky keeps waffling between the available, interested and age-appropriate Luke and the uninterested Tim.
• You get the feeling the directors and camera guys like shooting the twins who play Gracie, don't you? There was a lingering, tight close-up on her with a huge smile in this one.
• Nice to see, in the episode that brings back former head cheerleader Lyla, a bit more of Jess's similar role on the East Dillon squad. (Do we call them cheerleaders? A dance team? What? The lack of pom-poms and flips is throwing me.)
• Amusing as it was to see Tim and Billy suit up to help Coach run a practice, wasn't Billy's sport golf? Or was there a previous reference to him having also played for the Panthers?
• Julie's unauthorized trip to Austin led to a bunch of hilarious Coach and/or Mrs. Coach moments, from Tami interrogating Landry to Eric listening to Tami's monologue and saying (as he knew he had to) that he supported her 100 percent, to Tami whispering, "We're just going to beat her ass when she gets home."
• Roger Ebert likes to joke that anytime a movie character gets a hotel room or apartment in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is clearly visible outside their window. I'm starting to feel the same about any "FNL" scene set in Austin, which always has to feature the capitol building.
Finally, the good people at DirecTV who make it possible for me to see these episodes ahead of time have asked me to remind you that you can see new episodes of "Friday Night Lights" on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The 101 Network. There's a new episode next week, then the show takes the next two weeks off before returning on January 6 for the latter half of the season.
What did everybody else think?