Friday Night Lights Episode 4-5 Review

Whenever I get in people’s faces about how much I love this show (which is alarmingly often), they often recoil, saying that they “don’t really like football.”

First of all, that’s irrelevant. I know several people who couldn’t tell you the difference between a first down and a field goal who just live for this show.

Second, and more importantly, I continue to maintain the show is only peripherally about the action on the gridiron. Football is now, and always has been, a means to a very satisfying end for FNL.

Never was that truer than Wednesday’s cathartic, angsty and emotionally penetrating episode, plainly titled “The Son”. The son in question was of course former QB1 Matt Saracen. Zach Gilford’s meek, unassuming approach to the series’ flagship character was dispatched for an hour as he took us on a visceral, jarring ride deep into Saracen’s tortured psyche.

Some weeks back, I wrote that one of the principal reasons I dig on this show is because you never get cheated. Case in point: You knew you weren’t getting a cookie-cutter, “I miss my dad” sort of outing. Matt was very, very angry with his dad for a better part of his whole life. This made an already sad situation move from depressing to downright uncomfortable. I submit to you three scenes, in chronological order.

1. The elder Saracen’s wake, wherein Matt came off like an even more disillusioned version of Benjamin Braddock, struggling to cope with the impact of this cataclysmic event in his life and subjected to the well-intentioned but ultimately ill-advised consolations from various adults. Matt Saracen has basically needed a huge hug throughout theis entire series, but how much longer could you take seeing him subjected to Buddy’s flag-waving justifications? Or that somewhat misinformed military liaison? And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, those dirtbag McCoys showed up to console Matt “on behalf of all the boosters.” I’m telling you, Joe McCoy is headed for a positively epic comeuppance. You watch.

2. Late night beer/football field/funeral parlor invasion. What a sequence. What a began as a completely noble attempt by Landry and the Riggins boys to cheer Matt up quickly devolved into an ill-advised mission of closure. This was crucial on a few levels, as it illustrated for us exactly why Matt hated his dad and that he viewed his service not as an act of courage, but cowardice, a way to assuage his responsibilities as a family man without being subject to criticism. The scene was also vintage FNL in that it turned on an absolute dime, just when you had gotten over laughing about the Saracen nickname debate (I sort of like Mayday, myself). You get punched right in the solar plexus with Matt giving some real talk. It all crested with Matt finally getting his dad’s casket opened, which was summed up best by Tim when he was talking it over with Becky. The sight of what was inside the casket was not nearly as jarring to him as seeing what the sight did to his friend. Chills.

3. Dinner with the Taylors. Before we get into this ordeal, can we just say God bless the Taylors? I mean, whether its Tami straightening the funeral director trying to give Matt the runaround or Coach silently walking Matt home, these people deserve a damn medal. For so long, we’ve wondered how in the world a person like Matt Saracen could exist. How could someone be so kind, humble and downright perfect despite having such an unimaginably crappy hand dealt to him? “The Son” gave us an answer. Matt wasn’t perfect. He hated his father with such intense passion for the simple reason that in doing so, he would never be mean to anyone else. He had justified in his mind that his hatred for his dad was making him a better friend, boyfriend, grandson, teammate, etc. Unreal. I suspect when the Emmys come around, Gilford won’t hear his name called, since this show never gets any love, but I defy you to find me a person who was not shaken to their very soul when Matt said he couldn’t say these things to his dad’s face because “He didn’t have a face.”

4. The funeral. Matt seemed to make some peace, sharing a funny memory from years past and saying that it was alright that his dad missed some birthdays because the work he was doing was enabling everyone to live and enjoy their birthdays. But did anyone else feel that his disquieting burial of his dad was a tip-off that he was just saying what people wanted and expected? I suggest that Matt is not long for Dillon anymore, and we may not get the butterflies-and-rainbows closure that we got for Smash’s send-off.

And speaking of Smash, what a fantastic, organic way to subtly work him into the storyline. In case you missed it, he was on the Taylors’ TV, running for first downs at college as Coach proudly watched with Gracie Belle on the floor. Just wonderful little moment.

Obviously, the night belonged to Matt. But there was lot a-brewin’ in Dillon. Luke officially ditched his douchey Panther ex-teammates, and may have earned a new squeeze in the Riggins-rebuffed Becky.

And then we’ve got Vince, hot off running the Wildcat offense to a near Lion win, he gave an…interesting…speech to the local youngsters, certainly a far cry from the days of “Mr. Street, do you think God loves football?” But this is who Vince is. He may love the game, but it’s not about just that. It is, quite literally, his ticket out of jail. And, someday, his ticket to a healthy payday.

That is, if he doesn’t end up back in the can first. It seems the conference Co-Player of the Week is about take up a new hobby: lifting cars. Not that he has a whole lot of options. Poor kid’s water and electircity are shut off on the count of the fact that his mother is a complete non-factor in his life, intermittently passing out around various parts of their apartment complex. What a living nightmare.

How can all this awful stuff happen, and yet still not have me depressed? Because this show is just that fantastic, that’s why. I’m reminded of something the great Gene Siskel said about “depressing” films: “No good movies are depressing, all bad ones are.” I’m mixing mediums there of course, but I think it applies to all forms of drama. And you count me among the legions of FNL fans who can’t wait to see what comes next.