"I can't take care of a baby." -BeckyLast week, I complained that the Becky pregnancy story was a waste of time because the heated politics around the abortion issue(*) meant that a network TV drama would be extremely unilkely to show a regular character(**) choosing to terminate her pregnancy. Instead, "I Can't" proves me wrong, as Becky - after a lot of soul-searching and conversations with Tami Taylor - decides she simply can't have a baby, and goes through with the procedure.
(*) I want to again remind you, in no uncertain terms, about this blog's No Politics rule, which absolutely extends to the subject of abortion. We are not going to talk about this story in terms of anyone's personal beliefs about the subject. Any comment that doesn't discuss the topic solely in the context of how it was used within the drama of this episode will be deleted. I know this will be difficult, particularly since we so often discuss matters on this show in terms of whether the characters did or didn't do "the right thing." But I know that this is one of those subjects that very few people on either side of the debate can discuss rationally anymore, so we're not even going to try.
(**) I only recently noticed that Madison Burge, who plays Becky, is the only one of the four new actors who isn't featured in the opening credits, so technically she may be a day player rather than a series regular. But that's really a matter of semantics, as I've often seen people in recurring roles on shows appear more frequently than some people in the regular cast with their names in the title sequence. Certainly, the show has acted as if Becky were just as much a regular as Luke or Vince, and she's been much more prominent than Jess.
We're not going to talk about whether we agree with her decision, but "I Can't" effectively showed how she came to it, even as it showed her unsure even afterwards that it was the right one.
Becky has her mom as an obvious, close-at-hand example of a woman whose life was derailed by teen pregnancy - and who, as Becky strongly implied to Tami, has resented her daughter for it ever since. Becky, like Tyra before her, wants to get out of this town and have more opportunities in her life than her mom had. But she also heard what Luke told her last week, and she recognizes that her mom could have aborted her 16 years ago, and as we see at the end after she hangs up on Luke, the end of her pregnancy is weighing heavily on her.
Becky was annoying when she was introduced, no doubt by design, but I think Madison Burge has done a great job of showing the anxious, uncertain, ambitious girl hiding behind the bubbly beauty pageant chatterbox that Tim Riggins first met, and she ran with the ball when given an opportunity here. (The difference between Pageant Becky and real Becky is most obvious when she walks away from a difficult conversation with Luke in the hallway to ask a girlfriend about her notes.)
And Connie Britton, as you'd expect, was just as good at showing Tami struggling with whatever her legal obligations are as a principal (if not Becky's principal) versus what she would say to Julie, versus her recognition that Becky is not her daughter and she therefore can't tell her what she should do. And there's always been the suggestion, whenever the subject of Julie's sex life comes up, that Tami was incredibly wild in high school. Watching Britton play her scenes with Burge, I couldn't help but wonder if the reason this girl's situation hits so close to her - and the reason she freaked out about her daughter losing her virginity - is because she had to face it herself when she was Becky's age. (It's also entirely possible, of course, that Tami is just the empathetic person we know, and also that she really does start thinking about what would happen if it were Julie, but Britton and the script and direction leave the ambiguity in there.)
And where Becky ultimately makes a painful choice to preserve her own future, our other main story has Vince once again jeopardizing his future for the sake of a loved one.
It's a recurring theme on "Friday Night Lights" that so many of these kids have had to raise themselves, and/or that they're more mature and self-sufficient than their actual parents. And we've seen throughout the story with Vince's mom that he's used to being the man of the house - to getting the bills paid and looking after Regina instead of vice versa. But we also see when he's at her hospital bed - in a killer scene from Michael B. Jordan - that Vince is still just a kid who wants his mom around, and who doesn't yet have the maturity or wisdom to realize that his mom's addiction has nothing to do with him.
So despite a bonding moment with Virgil - who, when hit up for the loan to pay for Regina's expensive private rehab facility, tells Vince he's proud of him, and that, "I'm saying no to the money, not to you" - Vince feels he has no choice in this. He has to save his mom, at all costs, and so he gets back in with Calvin and his criminal buddies, and gets another gun to replace the one he brought to Coach's house.
Virgil's own story also deals with self-preservation vs. family. It's clear from his conversations with Eric about coaching Vince, and then from his advice to his son Caleb at the Pee-Wee game - "You have fun out there, alright?" - that his own coaches took all the fun in football away from him. He quarterbacked a state championship team in 1983. Black QBs weren't unheard of at the time, but they were rare, and often colleges and/or the pros tried to turn them into defensive backs or receivers or some other position. Based on Virgil's comparison of himself to Vince, he would have been a player ahead of his time, one who could very easily have run into a coach or coaches who tried to change his game to fit the playbook rather than changing the playbook to fit his tremendous athletic gifts. So when his football career ended abruptly (something Jess alluded to when she was giving Landry punting lessons), he backed away from the game - and, in the process backed away from his children, who all grew to love football in spite of their old man.
Virgil showing up at Caleb's game doesn't instantly heal things between this father and his kids, or between Virgil and the game he played when they called him Big Mary, but it's one of the few upbeat moments in an episode that mostly deals with characters making agonizing choices in impossible circumstances.
Some other thoughts on "I Can't":
• It's unclear whether the show has dropped the story about Luke's hip injury and painkiller habit (he tells his dad the hip is fine, but we also see him limping when he gets out of his truck before the scene where his parents confront him), but it's pretty clear that his role as the former baby daddy will not be dropped so easily. How will his devout Christian parents react to learning that Becky had an abortion without telling Luke or giving them an opportunity to intervene? This could get ugly.
• Tim seems to have talked Billy out of the chop shop business (and Taylor Kitsch's native Canadian accent has never been more apparent than when he says the phrase "chop shop" over and over in a scene), but I wonder if it's going to be that easy. Billy didn't look to me like a man ready to quit just yet, and I also don't know if Calvin's boss is the type to just let a partner walk away clean.
• Julie's healing from the Saracen break-up continues, but there are hints dropped here that she might be on the verge of quitting school to follow Ryan around the world with Habitat. I'm not saying that teenage girls don't often make dumb decisions because of boys they've fallen for too hard, but I feel like we've seen variations on this particular story a few times too many on the show, in plots like Julie with the Swede or Tyra with cowboy Cash.
• Vince and his mom live at 2609 Chavez, an homage to one of the players on the Permian football team Buzz Bissinger chronicled in the "Friday Night Lights" book.
• Getting back to the Big Mary plot, it's interesting to see that Eric can't quite see past the racial thing when Virgil tries to explain about Vince. I think it's because Eric prides himself on being a great offensive coach, so when Virgil tries to point out a flaw in his playcalling, Eric's blinkers go on and he can only accept the idea if it comes from a cultural issue rather than a lack of imagination on his part.
• Not as much obvious music this week than in some others, but the song playing over the early Lions practice scene was "Percussion Gun" by White Rabbits.
What did everybody else think?