"You're not a loser. And you're not nothing. You're kind, and you're good, and you're strong." -BeckyThe end of these 13-episode seasons can really sneak up on you. It wasn't until after I had watched and written about last week's "I Can't" that it occurred to me that we only had three episodes left to go. But with the East vs. West Dillon game coming up, and all the big, unsettling developments of "Injury List," it's impossible to not realize that the end of the season is barreling towards all our characters like a freight train.
Throughout "Injury List," we see characters suffering the consequences of their own selflessness. Tami's career is in jeopardy because she chose to be a sympathetic ear to Becky about her pregnancy, even though she's absolutely right that she never once told Becky to get an abortion (or what to do at all). Luke kept his hip injury secret for the sake of the team and allowed it to get worse as a result, ending his season prematurely (and drastically reducing the Lions' chances of a morale-boosting upset over the Panthers). Vince, having gotten back into business with Calvin and Kennard to pay for his mother's rehab, has to witness Calvin's murder in the course of a debt-collection run gone awry. And Riggins, who has been a good friend and mentor to Becky while resisting any temptation to give in to her obvious feelings for him, and who has also been a good and helpful tenant to Cheryl, winds up tossed out by a jealous Cheryl when she misinterprets an innocent viewing of "Thelma & Louise" in her bedroom.
With all the bad things happening to the team, and to his family, is it any wonder that Eric (who doesn't even know the extent of how bad things have gotten for everyone) wants to linger at the bar with Buddy, drowning his sorrows in beer rather than going home to find out what terrible development has happened next?
Let's start with Tami's story. Again, we're not going to discuss any of our own feelings about abortion (which goes against my commenting rules), but after the relative even-handedness of the last couple of episodes, it felt like "Injury List" jumped too far over to one side, demonizing the other in the process. I'm not saying the show can't have a point of view, but some of the characters opposing Tami are coming across as straw men - less so Luke's mom (who is being written as someone who isn't thinking clearly because of her personal stake in the matter) than the woman on the school board who, despite not having been there for Tami's conversations with Becky, indignantly asks, "Are you calling me a liar?" Yes, people on both sides of this debate can become irrational about it, and in a small town like Dillon it almost doesn't matter what actually happened versus the perception of what happened, but it feels like the deck is being stacked too much, both against Tami and in favor of the writers' viewpoint on the issue.
But then, nobody's head is entirely clear in this one. Luke won't see that he's putting both himself and the team at risk by not telling anyone about his condition. Vince doesn't want to accept that a sober version of his mother wouldn't want him doing this for her. Cheryl's so blinded by jealousy of the daughter she already resents that she lumps Tim in with every other jerk she's ever met.
Even Matt Saracen, who resurfaces in Chicago(*) after his abrupt departure at the end of "Stay" - a selfish but understandable extreme response to his selfless decision to stay in Dillon at the end of season three - can't quite accept (or simply doesn't want to accept) Julie's anger towards him, even though he could have easily left town and stayed in touch with her if his head had been on straighter.
(*) I was very glad to see that "Stay" was not, in fact, Zach Gilford's last appearance on the show. The character was too important for such a vague exit. Even though things with Matt and Julie don't seem to be ending happily, at least we see what he's up to, and that other parts of his life are finally starting to work out for him. I can take a bittersweet ending for a beloved character, so long as it's a real ending, and not just Matt driving off into an uncertain sunset.
Calvin's death(**) isn't entirely Vince's fault - though Kennard does have the two friends swap jobs after Vince is so reluctant to hit the guy with a crowbar earlier in the episode - but it sucks him in deeper to the criminal world he's been trying to escape all season. (And it also brings the show deeper into territory it's been skittish about since the start of season two. See the first bullet-pointed thought below for more on that.)
(**) So much for my prediction at the start of the season that we'd eventually see him put his attitude aside and ask Coach if he could rejoin the team.
It also dramatically raises the stakes and shifts the balance of the Jess/Vince/Landry triangle. It's clear that Jess really does like Landry, a lot, but it's just as clear that her connection to Vince - and to his mother (she winds up comforting both as they weep in this episode) - runs much deeper than any simple high school romance, and Jurnee Smollett was great at showing both Jess the carefree teenager having fun with her boyfriend and Jess the wise-beyond-her-years kid who has helped people around her shoulder tragedies.
Though Tim's circle of tragedy isn't quite as rough as what we've seen Vince go through this year (or what we saw Saracen go through this year and in years past), Riggins is a character defined by his bad luck - and by his optimism in the face of that. So I suspected things would not end well between Tim and Cheryl almost from the moment she complimented him on being such a good friend to the family. But I believed, based on what we've seen of this trio, that she would react this way to finding her daughter in her bed with Tim (even if they were fully clothed, eating popcorn, watching Geena Davis, etc.), and that Tim (who had a similar false assumptions encounter with Coach and Julie in season two) would swallow it and move on. But at least he has the ranch, and Becky (more mature than her mom) was able to reassure him that he's a better man than people want to think of him.
Compared to these other issues, Coach getting another loss on the record - and staring down the hated Panthers as his next opponent - could seem like an afterthought. But the show has spent the past two years building up the McCoys (and Wade Aikman) as villains, and "Friday Night Lights" has taught us over and over that if football success can't heal the other problems in a community, it can at least make them more palatable. If the season ends with the Lions beating the Panthers (and knocking them out of the playoffs in the process), it won't bring Calvin back to life, cure Regina's addiction or heal Tami's relationship with the anti-abortion parts of the community, but it could at least provide hope at a time when so many of the characters seem to be without it.
Some other thoughts on "Injury List":
• Jess's awkward dinner with Landry's parents ("So what do you think of Obama so far, Jess?") was funny. But I couldn't stop thinking about an e-mail a reader named Jodi Ross sent me last week about this storyline, which pointed out that Jess is caught between two boys, one of them known as a troublemaker even though he was never involved in anything especially serious before this week, one of them with a reputation as an innocent goofball even though he committed a murder and covered it up. "Most of Landry's luck with Jess is due to his privilege, which allows him to be the easy-going fun guy who gets to bury his past," Jodi wrote, "where Vince is struggling upstream with no cover." Now, I don't think this is what the writers are intending with this story. I think they'd like to pretend that the murder storyline never happened, and they'd like us to play along with that, and to be honest, I've mostly blocked that memory out, except when I crack jokes about Landry killing people who displease him. But when you look at the storyline in that light, it's hard to not start reading unintended sociological commentary into it, and that's yet another problem with them having gone to that stupid well at the start of season two. It's a bell that can't be un-rung, and a change in the character that can't - or shouldn't - be ignored, much as we'd all like to.
• I was rewatching part of the season four premiere earlier this week, and Calvin does, in fact, refer to himself by name in his introductory scene, when Coach is telling him to take the gold chain off during weigh-in. It just went by so fast (and was mumbled enough) that it just became easier to apply the Angry Necklace Guy nickname until I heard it again more explicitly. RIP, ANG.
• Because "Friday Night Lights" usually takes the faith of its characters very seriously, it can get away with a joke like Luke's mom ordering him to say his prayers and Luke whispering, "Dear Lord, please let me get some more drugs before Friday." (And even in that context, it's Luke praying for something to help his teammates.)
• Getting back to Julie, how well do you think Tami and Eric are going to react to her proposal to join Habitat for Humanity full-time - postponing her college plans in the process?
• Interesting that Becky so easily saw through Tim's lies about where he got the money to buy the ranch, despite being lovestruck as usual for #33.
What did everybody else think?