When Matt Saracen drove out of Dillon, I emotionally froze up about Friday Night Lights. I couldn't imagine the show without him, it turned out, and so each week I delayed watching the rest of the season. Until this happened, I don't think I realised how deeply attached to him I was: I have always loved the ensemble aspect of the show and I thought I was happy to watch them write endings for all the original cast members, having enjoyed Jason's, Tyra's and Smash's farewells already. But after FNL produced some of the year's best television in the episode about Matt's father's death, I was even more immersed than ever in that one character, Matt Saracen.
Eventually though, the tug of FNL called be back, even though I thought we might have seen the last of him. I knew that the rest of the season was probably an emotional rollercoaster for the other characters, and I did want to see more of them. Waiting until I could watch them all at once seemed sensible because I didn't have to feel the weight of Matt's absence week by week.
Imagine how my heart soared, then, when we flashed to his Chicago apartment!! I knew I should be more sympathetic to Julie's position because he did totally abandon her. (A sure sign that I've fallen fully for a character is forgiving them when they do asshole-ish things!) But my heart went straight out to Matt again on the phone to Julie as he struggled to explain himself and reconnect with her. My tears started them and leapt to my eyes again when in 'Thanksgiving' he shyly appearing from behind grandma. It was such a relief to have him back. The season would not have felt complete without him, and while I'm cut up that this may be the end of him in the show, I *am* pleased that Julie and he got to have that convo, and that he reconnected with Landry.
Having had Tim follow Jason to New York and now Landry visit Matt in Chicago, the show has really built an atmosphere for the audience of believing that the characters may move on geographically but they never lose those bonds of friendship they had in Dillon. That helps ease the loss, greatly, though I hope we continue to hear well of Matthew Saracen.
Now on to the rest of the season which continued to surprise me emotionally and make me admire the show's willingness to write grounded character-centred narratives.
Vince and Jess
One of the surprises for this season for me... I liked Vince from the start, but I wasn't sure about Jess's role in the plot and particularly her relationship with Landry. For me, it was problematic for Landry to move on so fast after Tyra, and that blinded me to the fact that this plot was not, ultimately, really about Landry: it was about Vince and Jess, two new characters. And I'm glad it was. In the end I could live with it for Landry as well because he seems to be so habitually hapless in love (one day I want him to go for the less stunning but more *actually in to him* chick). However, I did end up appreciating Jess's continued attraction to Vince. My only reservation remains that I found the tension between Vince and Landry frustrating rather than engaging--I wanted them to get along and it felt like the one element that was a bit unnecessary in making up the obstacles facing the Lions. I was initially cautious about the racial politics as well, since Landry and Jess had so little chemistry and Vince and Jess had so much. I wasn't sure that was a great message to send, but in the end it worked for me because Jess and Vince were better able to understand one another through a shared cultural background than were Landry and Jess. Landry's relationship with Jess wasn't presented in a cliched way as 'impossible', it just lacked spark. So in the end, I was won over by the Vince/Jess 'ship'.
Also, I so badly wanted something good for Vince! I enjoyed his character a lot this season and I feel like the challenges he faced were the toughest of any character FNL has written. I couldn't begin to imagine the courage it took to say no to a gun in his face, and to bear that burden almost entirely alone. He never reached the closeness with Coach that other characters achieved and I am really glad the show textualised the idea that Coach does not know how to coach Vince. He does his best but I do see reservation between them--perhaps on both parts. And that was heartbreaking, because if anyone needs a mentor, it's Vince. Instead he's playing inspiration to his own mother and fighting crippling self-doubt. It was a powerful and tragic story and I think he deserves a good friend at his side in Jess.
Also fighting on an uneven playing field (a theme of the season, overtly), was Tim Riggins. Man. I cannot begin to describe how heartbreaking it is to see Tim end up in prison. I could hate the show for writing that, because I feared when he quit college that they would show this choice to be 'bad'. But it was far more subtle than that. The steps that led him there had little to do with his college decision (man, was I proud of him in that hole for telling Billy to back the f off about it!) and more to do with issues of resources (another theme of this season).
I have to admit, I find it very, very hard not to blame Billy here. I've never liked him and I think he was absolute ass to get his wife knocked up and not even think about health cover until something went wrong. He's older. He should know better. And his emotional reaction to everything is to get angry: I find that very unattractive, particularly when the anger is directed at his little brother, who he is meanwhile massively screwing over.
Yes, Tim did opt in for his own reasons, and yes, his dream to own land was perhaps naive, but I liked it better than Billy's plot because it was driven not by stupidity but by romanticism and a desire to find his centre in life. His dreams were not very grand: owning a block of land, building a house, being there for his family, going to tech college and running a workshop. I think these are meaningful goals and they seemed to mean more, on a deeper level, to Tim than Billy's did to Billy. Tim's crime was rushing the process, not saving money slowly for years... but he did pull out as soon as possible, unlike Billy, who seemed more glamoured by the lure of money.
I noticed there was a bit of a message that Tim did not understand the pressures Billy was under as a husband and father, so I was glad for that reason that in the end it was shown that Tim not only understood but privileged those so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own future. I don't agree that he should have done so (I frankly think Tim would be a better surrogate dad in Billy's absence than Billy could be, but that's just me...), but I understood why Tim felt that was the best decision. He has always wanted to be the caretaker in a relationship, to be able to protect and support others, as shown this season with Becky. It's about the only thing that gives him a feeling of purpose and being worthwhile in life.
I worry that he has internalised those messages about being a failure, a liar and never amounting to anything too much. He remains so silent in the face of them when women (or Billy) scream it at him. I worry that his decision was driven partly by the idea that he wasn't worth 'as much' as Billy, as a person, outside of the familial obligations. Since I personally find Billy a waste of space on this Earth, I'm particularly upset by that. At the same time, I find I can't help but admire the show for writing the consequences of taking the 'easy path' in life when you have no money. I wouldn't have wanted the irrealism of a happy ending to that storyline... it had to catch up with them at some point. I am just praying that Tim stays centred emotionally and comes out determined to chase his dreams legally. I also hope Billy repays the debt for the rest of his goddam life by supporting his brother--ACTUALLY supporting him--in every single thing he does from now on. *angry*
Becky took a long time to grow on me. I decided in the end that she had too much of her mother in her, even though it was realistic that she did. In fact, in Luke's mother and Becky's mother I felt we were getting the season of bad mothers... although I found Luke's mother's interfering and vendetta to be slightly more repulsive than Becky's mother's childish flirtations and petulance in the end. It was a close call though. Becky's mother never grew up. She acts like a child begging for attention. I find it frustrating in Becky, even when it's more age-appropriate, so in her mother it's unbearable. I hope Becky grows beyond her mother's stage of emotional retardation.
The pregnancy plot did make me more sympathetic towards Becky. She lacks the presence of a mature adult in her life, made obvious by her need for Tami's advice in such a time, and how destructive her mother's reaction was. I was glad she had Tim there, though I still felt uncomfortable about her crushing on him.
I have to say at first I was surprised by Tami's hesitant 'I can direct you to literature for that' in the counselling session with Becky. Of course, it served a narrative purpose to show Tami as the victim in the witchhunt against her. But I did feel a little let down by her in that moment. Not that I think she should be advocating abortion--but I did feel like her own personal feelings were leaking through there, with a bit of a hesitance to acknowledge abortion as an equally valid decision. In the second session she recovered herself by thinking about how she would feel if Julie was in that situation, and I believed her when she said she would support whatever her daughter decided.
I think what people say to someone considering an abortion can be really really scarring, and that was shown fairly well in this plot. It felt like watching Upside Down World to me, because in my own culture it would be far more likely that the girl would be pressured into an abortion. Becky's mother came the closest to doing that and it wasn't pretty. So pressure either way is damaging, but it's very hard for anyone to be impartial on such a topic.
Of course, I was on Tami's side completely in the witchhunt, especially as it reached ridiculous levels. I did think she was going to read the apology, as that seemed to fit with this season's theme of showing how people are forced to make unpleasant choices due to the imbalance of resources or odds being stacked against them. But I was also very proud of her for not doing so. And I love that she'll move to East Dillon.
Watching Coach and Tami continues to feel like a masterclass in marriage or sustaining long-term relationships. They are beautiful! Even when they're both fighting crazy odds and having ups and downs.
I realised while watching that I do trust this show, ever since it recovered itself from the wrong turns of Season 2. I trust it to get things right and to write emotionally honest and satisfying material, including farewells to all our favourites. Even when it writes heartbreak (MATT! TIM! *thud*), I find it so different to other shows that jerk us around in order to falsely create drama. I'm so grateful FNL got made.
And wow, Matty Saracen, you totally make my favourite characters of all time list. I want to hang in your apartment, I want to smell that coffee on the stairwell (bless!), I want you to take grandma there one day. I want you to go to music and film festivals and one day get your own exhibition, make new friends (who will find it hilarious that you were once a quarterback) and ... well I can't really imagine you with anyone but Julie but I do want you to find a good girl one day.
I am glad they are letting Julie chase her dreams as well (though also glad that she's not diving off overseas after ultimately shallow Habitat dude!). She does need to find 'her Chicago'. Maybe we'll get to see a little of that next season. :)
Oh and of course I'm glad the Lions kicked the Panthers' asses! Those smug bastards in their SUVs cutting up the Lions' turf was infuriating. I want to see them taken down. They came a long way, and it was cool to see Landry finally get his hero moment on field too. I hope things work out for Luke and I do hope Coach gets over his anger and fights to keep him, but yes, hiding that injury was stupid. It was surreal to be cheering so hard for the guys beating the blue team but those red Lions outfits do feel like they mean something now.