I guess Eric isn’t going to be able to control the violent, restless energy of his team after all. If the last couple episodes showed the Lions slowly shifting to a more aggressive game, this week took us all the way to rip-your-head-off football land. Even sweet Luke Cafferty is in on the action, fender pressing his way to macho anger and Riggins-level defensive sacking (more about Luke later). Of course, these boys have good reason to be riled up. In our second hint that Dillon is indeed in the 21st century with access to websites, even poorly made ones, someone has illegally and immorally posted the juvenile records of several Lion players. Every media outlet in Dillon – and let’s note, radio is still king – has picked up the story and is pilloring the Lions as a bunch of thugs. Vince nails it in his heartbreaking realist moment with Coach: no matter how many games we win, how many touchdowns I throw, all they see is a bunch of thugs. It is an ironic lesson that no 16-year-old boy can really learn that the team only reinforced their own reputation by playing hard, a little dirty, and very arrogantly against the Panthers.
But let’s pause on that for a second. At no point did it look like or was it even suggested that the intense, no-holds barred game the Lions were playing was actually dirty or inappropriate. There was no scandal on the field – penalties sure, but no suggestion that Luke’s body slams weren’t clean hits, for instance. Until the very end when Vince threw that in your face 65 yard touchdown and Tinker belligerently “escorted” the Panthers off the field, it just seemed like good, old-fashioned, hard core football. Isn’t that what the game is partly about – intensity and full body contact? I get that Vince took things too far and the whole team was a bit riled up by the end. But really, shock, horror, and disappointment all around town? An assistant couch who can’t even celebrate because he is so devastated by their ungentlemanly conduct? Really? After someone on the Panther’s side of the town illegally sullied individual teenage boys reputations on a publicly accessible website? Probably nothing else drove home to me the race and class lines that govern Dillon politics. Illegal libel and potential life-wrecking on the internet? A boy’s joke, a slightly tasteless prank. A group of superior athletes playing a tad aggressively and rubbing their win in the face of the crowd? An infraction against public morality too great to bear enacted by violent thugs.
Eric is, of course, caught in the middle and the ambivalence he feels toward his whole team’s behavior is going to find its root in the tension building between him and Vince. Or rather, the tension triangle between Coach, Vince, and Ornette. Whatever curious sympathy I felt toward Ornette has morphed into slight intimidation, and awe of the actor Cress Williams. The easy way he moves from sensitive dad, to intimidating gangster, to relaxed man in charge amazes me and kind of creeps me out. The scene with Eric where he coldly lies to his face, slightly threatens him, and then offers to get him a piece of pie was incredible. Partly because it left Eric, once again, in left field, cut off from his usual reference points. How is the king maker going to make a king if no one will even listen to him?
There is clearly supposed to be parallels between the way things are breaking down on Eric’s field – even as he is being scouted for national head-coaching college jobs – and how they are breaking down with Julie at home. But frankly, I am finding it hard to care much about Julie right now. I am ready for whatever showdown is coming to come and then can we please move on?
Like, for instance, let’s have more Luke and Becky? Perhaps my favorite moment of the whole episode was Luke’s dazzled, slightly baffled, innocently delighted smile when he realized Billy’s absurd gaming policy actually worked – the way to Becky’s affections proved to be through just enough cold shoulder. Time will tell if they have the makings of a Tyra and Landry or Julie and Matt, but I’m rooting for them.
Final reflection: how perfect was it that Billy left his baby carrier flapping down to his knees while instructing Luke in aggressive tackling?