To get the most lightweight and annoying aspect of the episode over with first... I don't care about pageant-girl! :( Ugh. So glad Tim knocked her back. Admittedly, though, it was funny to watch Tim at the pageant and his 'this whole thing's confusing' line. But I don't care about her absent-father issues (why are girls with absent fathers always portrayed as guy-mad? such a cliche!). It was a little jarring in an episode that dealt so well with a male character's absent father. Personally it seemed like the screaming bitch mum was more damaging than the dad. The scene where pageant girl rang Tim for the fatherly pat on the back was eww. What that chick needs is some decent girlfriends (who might also talk her out of that pageant bizzo).
On a happier note, I'm glad Luke broke up with J.D., who apparently becomes more and more of a dick every day.
For an episode that was to become principally about Matt's emotions after his father's death, it was a smart move to get the football out of the way early. After the knock on the door at the end of 4.04, we knew to expect an emotional episode, and so it was something of a relief to begin with a game that saw the team get a few touchdowns. Also good to see Vince and Luke handling things together. As the post-match prayer began though, we segued into the heavier emotional content of the episode.
Matt watches a web video of his father offering Christmas greetings to his family. His father is noticeably wooden and detached in the video. Matt appears non-emotional as he watches it and is quiet and withdrawn when Julie and Landry arrive. That scene was believably awkward. Landry's chipper suggestion of a bad movie night (I heart that they have those! I love those!) and Julie's upbeat 'hey!!' both hang in the air. Everything feels forced, and none of them know what to say. As Matt's attention turns back to the computer screen, Landry tries to distract him by complimenting his art (ironically pointing out the piece Matt is trying to emulate).
When Matt plays the video, he rolls his eyes at his dad sending him $50, not the world's most personal present. Yet Landry feels obliged to say 'that's nice' at the end of the video, which isn't really what Matt is thinking. Matt changes the subject back to art, but Landry comments on the fact that it's another hand, not on the art itself, once again misfiring. Matt doesn't blame his friends for being out of sync with his feelings, he is resigned, but I think this compounds his loneliness and growing isolation. Everyone else's anxiety around him, while it shows how much they care, only makes things worse for him.
Julie's emotions in this episode were at first a bit of a mystery to me, but on reflection I think her emotional arc was well handled. It was a heavy thing for a teenage girl to have to tell her boyfriend his father is dead. Especially when that girl is very close with her own father. Julie is empathetic and for much of the episode expresses more traditional grief than Matt does. On first watch, this annoyed me, but I think a great deal of it was about her, not about Matt, and that's understandable. I didn't really 'get' until Coach said 'I'm not going anywhere' that she was relating to the experience by thinking about how she would feel if one of her parents died, but of course she would be. The thing is, it's totally not the same for Matt. She doesn't understand that and there are several times when she misreads or fails to connect with him, and she can feel it happening and is confused and worried. She wants to support him but doesn't know how, and I think that's totally age- and character-accurate.
I'm never a big fan of Garrity, but man, I wanted to slap him with that 'hero' speech. Sorry, dude, doesn't make up for shitty parenting. That was followed by Matt starting to lose it with the army dude who didn't know his father. The comment about Matt's father having been a joker really must have compounded for Matt the sense of total dislocation from the experience--he was struggling to feel the 'appropriate' emotions as it was, and then to be asked to feel regret about the death of a funny, morale-boosting team player--someone nothing like the father Matt knew--must have really stung.
But the moment when I really fell for this episode was when Matt opened the door to the McCoys, including J.D. with an enormous bouquet. I loved Matt's reaction to pieces... he really couldn't take any more fake, insincere platitudes and from these two they were the fakest of all. I love him for closing the door on them in front of everybody.
At that stage he doesn't even have any words to say to anyone. The tension in this episode was largely built around Matt finding his voice and through that some catharsis.
Meanwhile, it was great to see Tami help organise the funeral. As Julie so aptly says, she is 'built for crisis' and I was so glad she had Matt's back with the funeral directors.
The scene of the boys taking Matt out was definitely one of the strongest in the episode. It's always good seeing them together, even when the group changes slightly. However, it was most powerful for allowing Matt to open up and spiel out his 'true' eulogy, what he'd really like to say, which was beautifully succinct, I felt. I particularly loved the 'thank you for coming 100 people I do not know' as that is always such a strange feeling at these events. Tim looks progressively more and more emo throughout this speech and I found his sadness for Matt touching. Particularly after their recent hunting trip, he obviously treats Matt as a close friend and wants to help him. He also has more reason than most to empathise with Matt's situation--having had his own difficult and absent father and early independence in life. For that reason, I understand the way Tim fixates on a solvable problem, that of confirming it is Matt's father, even though we can feel how wrong it will go.
Even though it was possible to anticipate the reaction at the funeral home, it was still a mesmerising scene. I particularly liked that it took a moment or two for Matt to process what he was seeing and that then there was no way to immediately convey anything to the others. Having Tim talk afterwards about how he felt completely useless was a perfect coda to that moment. The ground kind of fell out from beneath them all at that moment.
However, no matter how painful it was, it did make the whole thing more real to Matt, and I actually think it is a good thing for him in some ways. Until then he was in limbo, everything felt unreal. His relationship with his father had no closure, and a chance for closure had been whisked away from him. He had an untold number of issues with his father, and I don't think he naively wanted them fixed, but I do believe him that he wanted a chance to express his anger to his father's face. The younger Matt would never have done that, but Matt is now at an age where he would be able to do that, especially if pushed a bit. Sadder than that is that he never got to work through the anger to a stage of indifference or even healthy detachment from his father. While the relationship was negative, it was still amputated halfway through its life, and seeing his father's body I think helped Matt connect with his emotions (somewhat violently) about that. It works really powerfully as a way of representing Matt's need to face the true ugliness of his relationship with his father before being able to work his way towards any kind of acceptance or zen about it.
He arrives at the Taylors in crisis, and again, it rang really true to me that it was only once he was in a relatively 'safe' place that his emotions poured out. While he feels awkward with the Taylors, they've also been a great support to him, and he is torn here between being polite and well mannered and desperately wanting to let go. He's wound up so tight he catches himself making a fuss about the carrots, and there is an edginess about him that tells of someone on the verge of a breakdown. While he flees as soon as he's spoken, I do think the Taylors were one of the few safe places Matt had to express himself. It's even too terrifying to do it alone with Julie, he's too conscious of wanting to be a good boyfriend for that, and she's too in over her head with his emotions. I loved that the Taylors stepped in and held Julie back. It was far better that Coach walk Matt home, as he had been watching and tracking Matt's emotions with some objectivity as well as compassion and stood a better chance of being there for him in the right way. Seeing Julie would only make Matt embarrassed and apologetic again.
I've got to say, personally as someone with a lot of rage against my father, I loved Matt's outburst about hating his father, but I wanted to hug him and tell him it was alright to hate someone. Yes, it feels terrible, and I think there is a lot of guilt for children who do not love their parents, it is not socially acceptable, and so Matt expresses it as being a way he tries to control his anger, tries to stop other people from seeing that uglier side of himself. To me, one subtext of his speech was 'don't hate me for hating my father--I try so hard to be a good person and to be good enough for your daughter even though I don't have a family like yours'. :( I wish he didn't feel such shame, but I love that the show writers know that he would.
After seeing the raw, natural performance of Zach Gilford in that scene, I didn't need anything further, so I didn't mind not seeing the rest of his walk with Coach. It was interesting that he remained very pulled in on himself, physically, hunching his shoulders and hesitant to accept Coach's arm around him. Even when he needs the comfort and safety of companionship, Matt doesn't quite trust or now how to handle it without a great deal of guilt and shame.
I thought Matt's eulogy was a good balance between awkward and moving, and considering the circumstances he handled it beautifully. The story he tells doesn't make a lot of sense, nor is it funny, but it was real. It doesn't whitewash his father as a parent, but the story averts the need for him to mention his father's poor parenting in front of so many people. Then, turning to the army, Matt manages to find some meaning in his father's career. I did find that moving, though I remain personally cynical about how necessary the military is, heh. Most importantly, his eulogy works for his grandmother, and in many ways it seems to be largely for her. She too needed her catharsis and it comes in part for her in hearing Matt say that his father's service was something to be proud of and receiving the flag honouring her son's service.
Matt's moment, of course, comes afterwards. The eulogy wasn't closure for him, just a public ritual he had to go through. He sits at the graveside, processing, and looking for his own 'moment'. It comes when he grabs the spade. That was so visceral and powerful and I loved it. I could feel how the handle would feel in his hands and the satisfying thud of the earth on the coffin. The physical reality of that was necessary for Matt to create some closure and find an end point, it was also a place to pour his hate, which he had to let out as his own way of 'grieving' (grieving not always being a sentimental process, imo).
It was also lovely to get some mentions of the original team--Smash on the TV and Lyla at the funeral. Even though Lyla and Matt were never close, it was very like Lyla to turn up, and it was nicely handled in a low-key way. I liked Tim's look of appreciation for her doing that. I also loved the brief shot of the three boys--the Riggins brothers and Landry--during Matt's eulogy. Their expressions reflected a particular inner pain connected with the shared experience at the funeral home the night before.
The acting in this episode was above average even for FNL--Zach Gilford's performance is reason enough to watch it, even if you don't watch FNL regularly (why not?!!). I think QoT said this episode alone justifies the renewal: ABSOLUTELY.