Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Friday Night Lights, "I Can't": Indecision 2010

A review of tonight's "Friday Night Lights" (which, as usual, is airing on DirecTV's 101 Network Wednesdays at 9) coming up just as soon as I crawl out of the room...
"I can't take care of a baby." -Becky
Last 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?


Otto Man said...

One of the best episodes yet this year, and that's saying a lot.

The smile-to-straight-face from Virgil as he came back from telling the kid to have fun out there was priceless.

But man, great dramatic moments all around.

Anonymous said...

circle me too hungover to find my car

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Gripping episode-- my only concern is that we don't actually have any confirmation that Becky went ahead with the abortion aside from her conversation with Luke (which might be something she said just to get Luke to stop calling her), so the writers still have a way out.

I really hope they don't use it, though, since that type of misdirection has long since become a TV abortion cliche (second only to the convenient miscarriage), and it would be refreshing to see a character who actually went through with it.


(Alan-- can you delete my previous comment? forgot to sign it. Thanks.)

mj said...

Gripping stuff. Terrific review. I would only add that the comic relief supplied by Coach this ep was worthy of special mention. Although this episode was much more noteworthy for the dramatic tones, four Coach comic moments also stood out:
1. The dinner scene with Julie's unfortunate friend was another one of the thousands of examples where the look that Coach gives says more than a thousand words. (I loved also the knowing look in that scene that Julie gave when she realized how happy her parents were that her new friend was heading off to Arizona.)
2. Coach's look at Tami when she wouldn't drive him to his car was priceless.
3. The conversation with Virgil at the bar, which could have gotten ugly, was very well-played.
4. Coach's idea of trying to arrange to have Vince sacked to prove a point to Virgil and then having the idea backfire on Coach when Vince avoided the sack was a hilarious win for Virgil.

matt said...

"4. Coach's idea of trying to arrange to have Vince sacked to prove a point to Virgil and then having the idea backfire on Coach when Vince avoided the sack was a hilarious win for Virgil."

mj, i viewed it differently and thought coach set it up completely. right before the play, he told vince to go with his instincts if the play broke down, and by telling the other coach (and subsequently the defense) the play, it was guaranteed that the original play wouldn't work and that vince would have to improvise. i think this alluded to coach and virgil's convo as taylor is learning how to coach vince and best maximize his athletic abilties at qb.

Mark said...

They might have to change the name of this show to "My So Called Life Under Friday Night Lights." The melodrama is getting to be a bit much.

Exactly how small and depressing of a town is Dillion? They make it a seem as if it is a desolate town with almost nothing in it. If it was really that small why would they have to open another high school?

Is Landry a part of this team or not? Sometimes he is and sometimes he is not. What about Riggins?

Three episodes left and they have only played four real games.

Michael said...

I kept thinking about Vince Young, the University of Texas QB (and now with the Tennessee Titans). He had enough football instincts to make the coaches redesign the offense to his strengths, rather than forcing him to fit the playbook.

Where did Billy and Tim find a place big enough to dig a hole that would fit a car body? And how long would it really have taken two men in good shape with only shovels to dig such a hole?

I want to marry Tami. She's awesome.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe this episode it was so grim. I found that so hard to believe after such a promising episode but this one will definitely be a highlight of the season.
You could tell becky was just lost but her motherly instinct was kicking in, all she needed was proper guidance but tami knew it wasn't her place. But when she was speaking in terms of her own daughter, she basically made becky realize what a selfish mother she has... one that won't listen or stand by her but do what she thinks is best.

Luke being a little too late broke my heart!! It was obvious that becky's only reason is that she couldn't care for the baby, then he finally reassures her and you can tell she's torn up. I was surprised too about the abortion but I can't imagine what will follow.

Vince doing what he had to do and trying to get an advance rather than ask for money shocked me. So did his vulnerability after being so shut off from his mother's substance abuse issues.

I think julie saying she feels like she doesn't belong while she was visiting college is a tip off to her just ditching school. This guy she's meeting probably isn't the reason to why she joing habitat but he showed her how she'll be able to "see the world"

You know its heartwarming to know how much that entire town trusts the taylors. Everyone reaches out to them and they end up changing peoples lives in a domino effect kind of way. For example, virgil would have NEVER changed his cold exterior and regret if coach taylor hadn't shown him the bigger picture(too tired for more details)

This season is tackling a lot more issues I really love it. Its not a continuation of the original members, its the same concept just different story lines.

mj said...

@Matt - when Coach gave Vince instructions before the play, I thought the same as you - that he was trying to follow Virgil's advice and see if Vince could act on instinct. But Coach's reaction after Vince threw the TD made me think otherwise - it seemed then that Coach's original plan was to try to prove to Virgil that Virgil's advice was wrong; remember that Coach was somewhat insulted when Virgil suggested he didn't know how to coach Vince. But it turned out that Coach was wrong and Virgil was right. Either way, it was left ambiguous and made me think, which is what I love about the show.
@anonymous - who thought the episode was "grim" and a highlight of the season. Completely agree.

Karen said...

If Becky really did have the abortion, then I was completely and totally wrong about the show not going there because US TV shows just don't... but I'll be very interested to see if Becky stays around as a main-ish character, and what they do with her story. Because I'm not quite ready to give up my assumptions about how US TV feels it can treat this subject - and so far they haven't totally changed my mind about what they're likely to do.

Anonymous said...

Last 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.

Since FNL airs on Direct TV, and NBC probably planned on burning the episodes off in the summer before they canceled Leno, did FNL have to go through NBC's standards and practices?

I have to applaud the show runners. They were working under the assumption that they only had 26 episodes left to tell the stories they wanted to tell, and instead of focusing on the weekly game, they decided to tackle some rather tough issues (abortion, race, addiction). To paraphrase the Taylors, Damn, I love this show.

Merrylegs said...

This episode threw a lot of predictability on its head. Several episodes back when we saw the preview for the episode in which we learn that Becky is pregnant, there were some misleading implications about Tim being the father. In fact, this episode plays on that by having both Tami and Eric initially think that Tim is the father. Great Coach Taylor line and expression when he says "Tim Riggins is going to be a father?!" Again, many of us predicted that Becky would not go through with the abortion, but she did.

When Tami is taking Eric to pick up his truck and they don't see it in the parking lot, I thought, oh no, it's at the chop shop and that's how that storyline is going to flesh out. Turns out no, Eric just forgot where he parked.

The only thing I found really predictable in this episode was Vince turning back to crime to pay for his mother's rehab. I would have preferred his mother have been able to get into a public rehab sooner but that is not the direction the writers chose. Also predictable was Eric's glee at the Habitat guy moving to Arizona in a week--but it was a great comedic moment as were all of Eric's reactions to the Habitat guy.

All of Chandler's nonverbal stuff was great in this episode, from the look he gave Virgil in the bar when he explained exactly why Eric was coaching Vince wrong to the look he gave Tami in the car and the look he gave her when he asked her if she was ok after talking with Becky--pretty much all of it.

Tami as always rocked.

I read the practice seen as Eric trying out Virgil's advice. Loved the vocalization Virgil's son gave him at the football game after Dad told him to have fun. Just great stuff all around.

Finally feeling some connection to the Becky character. She has been annoying up until this and the last episode. Gotta hand it to Tim for recognizing he was out of his element in trying to help Becky and bringing her to someone he knew would at least listen to her.

Have to say that at this point I have absolutely no sympathy for Luke's family. The mother in particular came off as cardboard to me.

Can't believe there are only 3 episodes left before another long long hiatus.

princessapr said...

My favorite scene was the one where Coach wakes up and Tami's not there because she's sitting with Gracie Belle and she asks the just-woken-up man what he would do if Julie came to them pregnant. I laughed so hard I had to rewind.

All in all, heavy episode though. I'm extremely curious how the season will play out and skeptical based on scenes from next week which I will not discuss per the rules.

PY said...

"I can't do it by myself, mom."
"I try really hard to make you proud, too."
"I think about how awful it would be if I had the baby and then spent the rest of my life resenting him ... or her."
"What would you tell your daughter?"

Wow. That was an amazing episode. I thought there was a consistent and coherent theme throughout the episode that showed up in almost every single one of the character interactions (except Julie and Habitat Guy) -- disappointment in others, and its fallout. There was some redemption, some grim developments, with most situations ending up a mix of both.

Again -- amazing episode.

One question -- did anyone else feel the scene with Vince and Calvin/ANG's boss was a little more ominous than him just joining their crew? When he was handed the gun, my immediate reaction was that he was being asked to be the gunman on some kind of hit (melodramatic as that sounds). If he was just joining them, why give him the gun right then? I found myself really hoping it's not the case, not in terms of storyline, but for the sake of VInce. Look at how these writers make you care for these characters ...

Also, given Alan's observation about Madison Burge and previous observations about her lack of interactions with the other characters, it seems like it's possible that she's not long for Dillon. However, given how amazing Burge was in this episode, I hope that's not the case.

erin said...

I don't know if it's this second glass of wine I'm drinking, but I pretty much cried throughout this episode. Vince and his mom in the hospital, Virgil and Jess, Luke and his dad, Becky and Tami...the whole thing. I just thought the whole show was incredibly tough and touching, what FNL does best.

I think my only problem with the way the storyline was handled was that when Becky mentions to Tami it was her first time, which is obviously a big deal, I felt the writers should have made a better effort showing the gravity of that. Luke picks up Becky from a convenience store getting beer. That's it. From there she has sex with him, loses her virginity and gets pregnant, and there's nothing between them walking out of the convenience store to now? That was my biggest issue with the story. I felt like the writers left some pertinent details out to give more context to these two characters. Regardless, I think Madison Burge is doing a great job with it.

The only storyline that took me out of it was Julie and new boy toy...don't care what they're doing or who he is, they can just go away.

Really enjoyed the Virgil/Vince storylines...I want to know what they're all about, and I've loved Steve Harris since The Practice.

MM said...

I loved the Jess & Virgil scene where she called him out on his parenting and how it hurt her. I thought it was very strong and honest, with terrific work from both actors.
When Virgil showed up at Caleb's game, I was touched. For some reason, I didn't see that coming & it felt so good, especially considering the rest of the episode contained tough, gut wrenching subject matter.

I think I'm safe in assuming NBC signs off on scripts so the network is fully aware of the abortion storyline. I'll be curious when this airs on network tv if it causes any type of uproar.

Unknown said...

I just can't get past the gaping hole in the conversation Becky had with Tami the night before the abortion. Tami's first advice to Becky in the previous ep was that she investigate adoption, and that the costs could be handled. When Becky declares she can't afford a baby nor to take care of a baby, Tami did not bring up a factual point that she had already made - it may not cost anything and Becky would not have to take care of a baby. That Becky had an abortion is fine by me. I am not taking a position either way. But, the sudden silence by Tami in that crucial moment was, to me, way inconsistent, and is not ok. If that dialogue would have been included, it would have made Becky's ultimate choice that much more powerful - as would the later phone call with Luke have been, as well.

One thing I am loving is how the alums/boosters are coming to practice. I can't get enough of the banter. I also can't get over just how awesome football can be in uniting and uplifting communities and people. It sure has its flaws, as does FNL, but damn, they are each tremendous vessels for ennobling the human spirit.

Audrey's Mom said...

I sure hope Becky's not still pregnant because I love FNL and have found this season to be fairly predictable with the new crop of characters and uneven (Luke's drug use). The best episodes have featured past seasons' characters - especially "The Son." So, the fact that the show would be daring and actually allow a character to have an abortion - and to give us her decision making challenges and anguish of indecision after the fact is up to the standard I have for this show.

They set it up well with her mother being so direct and single minded about it, really not giving much of a chance to say no (though distant, Becky's Mom is the most significant adult in her life. She resisted talking with her because she knew she'd have few options. Not like Tami). In a way, Becky could always return to the decision not being her's.

I adored Tami's talk with her and thought it was interesting that she led with the adoption, paid medical care options first. In this Texas town abortion is probably not most of the girls' choices and I'd guess that Tami was just offering the choices she knew more probable. Why she didn't return to these options when Becky returned is a good question. Perhaps she'd realized that since abortion was on the table she could go with the neutral stance to let Becky make her own choice (and who knows what Tami's own motivations are).

I loved Becky asking her what she would say to her own daughter. Having a 16 year old myself I was glued to her answer. And also realized the separation between talking to another child, and talking to your own.

As many of FNL's episodes are, this one is a good teaching resource - to open discussion about the forces that are at work when making a decision about pregnancy.

As a poster above noted about Luke's parents, it'll be interesting to see if there strong religious beliefs go anywhere. This is Dillon after all. The incident could be made to be a focus of community discussion. Or it could just have been to show the pressures on Luke and opposing viewpoints in the community, and we'll see no more of it.

Finally, speaking of Luke, I was impressed in his awkward conversation with Becky on the phone, after launching into his long - I'll help you take care of the baby speech, how when she announced that she'd taken care of it, how quickly he shifted gears. I thought this was excellent in showing Luke's own ambivalence.

Anonymous said...

As usual, FNL handled the storyline with integrity and honesty. The character of Becky dealt with the situation the way a real teenager would. And I liked how they showed Luke's point of view as well.

Alan-- thank you for including the NO POLITICS rule. Too often, comments are overrun by haters on both sides.

p.s. I kept rolling my eyes at Julie and Habitat guy. I miss Matt Saracen.

Esa Eslami said...

in case anyone's wondering, the track at the end of the show is called "remembrance day" by Frally. i love this show.

compain87 said...

Back to the scene where coach Taylor tips off the play to the defense, I don't think he did it to prove Virgil wrong but rather to test Vince. If coach Taylor is going to abandon his couching philosophy and trust in Vince's ability he needs to know that he can actually handle that. After all think of all the QB's we have seen on the teams, never was one of the QB's the best Athlete on the field. I never even thought about what coach was doing until I saw people on the board talking about the issue. At practices we would routinely run plays over and over while our defense would now the play was coming. I know that isn't the same as this but if you can successfully run the play when the defense knows what they are trying to stop then you will do a lot better than when they don't know what play is coming.

The last Vince scene with him going back to his old lifestyle is intriguing. I thought it was easy for him to go back since this was his first season playing football and never had a support system like Smash. I really wanted Calvin and his crew to give Vince the money but not let him get involved with the criminal aspect. Almost like in The Wire when Bunk talked with Omar in Season and said, "Them hard cases would come up to me and say, 'Go home, schoolboy, you don't belong here.' Didn't realize at the time what they were doing for me. As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community." I kindvof wish they would have gone with that route, it seems like we always see the "bad kid going back to being bad" route. I would have enjoyed it if we saw how a community rallies around someone like Vince when they know he has a chance to get out (I know this is Dillon, Texas and not West side Baltimore).