Finally, I think we have both watched an episode on time in the same week! I can’t wait to hear what you thought of last night because I loved it. I’m not really sure FNL is capable of disappointing me right now. I am already feeling nostalgia and fondness for these characters and I am refusing to count down the episodes. I don’t think I could bear it. It can be hard to pin point exactly how FNL is different in terms of its ability to draw the watcher into the emotional depths of its characters but I felt it strongly being back with Matt this week. At some point as he is saying something wise and understanding to Julie and she appears younger and more immature than usual, I turned to my husband and said “I feel like I need to get to know Matt all over again.” It was the intense feeling you have when you meet a friend you haven’t seen in months or years. I felt so immersed in the current Dillon world – all those small town dramas, new characters, new lives. Matt Sacacen, who was the heart of the show for me for four years, now seemed like a wonderful old friend I was trying to get to know again.
Of course, the whole episode was about these kinds of second chances. Julie and Matt reconnecting and trying to figure out what it means to start again. Vince figuring out how to ask for a second chance. Luke getting a second chance at glory on the field. Luke and Becky starting over and Luke stepping up to his parents. Billy and Mindy with a new baby on the way. Epyck in need of a second chance.
Before we get too far into the stories in Dillon, I have to ling just a bit longer with Matt and Julie. Even though he felt far away, if anything Matt just seemed more Matt – older and wiser. I mean, my god, how is any 19 year old that prescient and self-aware? The smartest thing Julie Taylor has ever done was drive to Chicago. Though, of course, Matt is absolutely right that the solution to her problems and the path to their future, whatever it might be, does not lie in playing house in his loft apartment (and while it is completely unrealistic that an art student would have that amazing a place, I kind of loved the visual and spatial contrast to the interiors of Dillon. Chicago is a place of openness, light, and culture even down to the wall-length windows and exposed stone walls). I imagine we are in for a string of episodes that highlight the return of the characters we have grown to love. It might get a bit sappy, but you know, I really don’t mind.
Partially because so much is still happening in Dillon. Vince’s father-figure drama is coming to a head and it feels as though nothing less than his soul is on the line. He has been working so hard to become a person who who plays for the team, who trusts other people, who sacrifices for something bigger than him. Ornette does mean well, I really think he does, but he does not know how to exist in the world except through sheer force of will and self-preservation, even at the cost of hurting others. He cannot imagine that a coach would care about anything but winning so why should Vince care about anything but his own career? Did you notice the range of Vince’s facial expressions as this soul-battle plays itself out? I love this about Michael B. Jordan. For an actor so young, he can convey so much in a simple expression. His jaw clenching in anger as Jess rightfully chews him out. His eyes widening in youthful hope as he watches Luke take the team to victory. His brows knitting slightly in confusion and sadness as he tries to figure out how to read his dad. How is Vince going to stem the tide of Ornette’s anger and misplaced love? I know in real life the forces that hem Vince in would probably be too much for him to fight against on his own at this age. But I don’t think I could bear it if he is not redeemable.
Watching Vince’s struggles and Eric’s struggles with Vince alongside Tammy’s struggles with Epyck (I’ll let you comment on this story line – somehow it isn’t gripping me the same way) gave real pathos to Eric’s speech about working with adults if he took the Florida job. It was a reminder just how exhausting working in a high school can be, especially an underfunded high school in small town Texas. Do you think the season will end with the Taylors moving? I am betting no. The temptation will be high, but I think they are made for Dillon. That is their ministry and they won’t give it up.
So much to say about the Rigginses! Another Rigglet on the way! And do you think if Luke insists on dating Becky publicly this will keep her out of the strip club? And Tim is coming home next week?! What do you think he will do? What will it do to Billy? What about Becky and Luke?
Final thought: where can I get a pair of breakable glasses like Coach Bailey’s? And why, exactly, is that a helpful device? Even though I’ve never seen glasses like that before, that little detail was just perfect.
So I was out for dinner with some friends the other night, and one mentioned that she was having a hard time getting into this season of FNL. Her point was that each character seemed to represent a “new” version of an “old” one we loved – “why love Luke when all you want is Matt?” her basic point went. “Vince only makes me miss Smash!” “Who cares about Epyck? I miss Tyra!” And her point got me thinking. Initially I snapped back something like, “what?! But that’s how life works – there’s nothing new under the sun! Everything’s a variation on what we’ve known before! That’s what makes this show so true!” I’ve been thinking about her argument all weekend long, because this Friday made me think about my response in some new ways.
First of all, as I said to my friend over dinner – I’m not even sure I’d agree that Vince is the new Smash! Vince actually reminds me more of Matt than of Smash (parental figure at home who could go off the rails at any moment, trying to hold it all together while playing QB, has a special girlfriend who has a special connection to the team, and so on), even as Luke does too. None of the characters lines up – when we say there’s nothing new under the sun, we have to say at the same time that all these characters bear qualities than any other character could bear at any time. And that’s why they hit us so close to home. Each one tells some part of our own story and the stories of those we love, and more so, those we have loved – and so they get under our skin and stick. Epyck and Tyra might have resonating characteristics, but for different reasons – each person is her own person; each character teaches us something new about the human condition. Each one shows us a more fully-orbed way of being human.
And that’s why Matt’s return felt so poignant. I don’t know about you, but after he left the show, my main point of reference for him became the episode where his father died and we all ended up screaming for Zach Gilford to get an Emmy. But this Matt was something new. On the one hand I longed to know all that had happened to him since his departure from Dillon. Where does that understanding in his eyes come from? What happened to make him mature so? And mature in a way that wasn’t his old – “taking care of gran” – maturity, but was something new and adult and lovely for himself as an individual. I wanted all those stories, but I also found myself wanting to maintain the mystery. As with old relationships and friendships and old flames we bump into randomly in grocery stores, we don’t get to know the story that has come in between – we get the moment…and that’s all we get. Seeing Matt after all this time gave us a form of relationality that Facebook – with its unending, overly-intimate presence of everyone we’ve ever known in the excruciating detail of their daily lives – no longer allows us. It gave us the familiarity of something we don’t know.
So as one of our commenters (JB!) wrote recently, when did Billy and Mindy become such important characters?! I love what you said a few weeks ago about them offering an alternative to Coach and Tammy. They are a completely different type of parental unit, but it works. If you had told me a month ago that I would see a stripper get pregnant and worry about her loss of fulfilling career, I’m not sure I would have believed you – but that was the first thought that went through my head when Mindy said she felt sick! Because Mindy seems to get a similar set of joys from her job that I get from mine – fulfillment at being good at something, a community of like-minded peers, a support network (she might actually have that more than I feel I do sometimes at my work!), and a sense of ways to improve and refine our skills…I found myself respecting her vocational choices and mourning with her the loss of exploring them. I’m serious.
But that doesn’t mean I want Becky going down that same path – even as a waitress…so I remain concerned about her slow slip into the Landing Strip world!
So, for what it’s worth – I don’t watch the “next week on FNL” clips because I feel like they give away too much…but as I plugged my ears and watched my husband’s jaw drop, and as I read between the lines of what you have written here, I’m guessing we’re finally getting Tim’s return. I don’t care when or how or with what baggage – bring that boy back! #33 was and will always be the heart of this show for me…I might find ways to love these new characters in a way that my friend cannot, but that doesn’t mean any of them compares to Tim Riggins, my first FNL love. There is no better way to finish out this series that with his return, imho.
I can’t believe it’s almost all over!