Will take me to Philadelphia with you, please?
I lost count of how many times I cried in this finale! This whole series, from start to finish, has offered us image after image of redemptions great and small. If there’s a core ethos to FNL, I think it’s that of redemption. Life can suck; people can be mean; things are going to be tough – but there’s always redemption in the end, even as that redemption is tainted by all the muck it’s redeeming. It’s that deep and true picture of what it is to be redeemed that makes this show so great. And as the most painful aspect of the show for me to watch is probably the ongoing patriarchal – yet true, and complex and still somehow beautiful – structure that governs the world in which these characters live, this last episode brought a new glimmer of redemption to the whole thing. It was Tammy’s turn. And in the end, Eric got that. And finally we had a little hope for Tammy, Tyra, Becky, even Julie, and all the ladies we’ve seen caught up in the craziness of the football machine.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how much I’m enjoying the repetition of the show – different characters doing similar things, revealing the ways that life repeats itself again and again for all of us. There is nothing new under the sun. This final episode really brought that theme home again. From the opening sequence shot from a car moving through town – but this time Ray’s BBQ instead of the Alamo, and the Landing Strip instead of the car dealership, all reminding us that this was East, not West Dillon – to the gentle repetition of season 1 images (I loved seeing that nervous Lions’ knee bopping up and down in the locker room with the same angled-shot as in the season 1 credits, and the shot of the “P” in the Panthers’ locker room – two iconic season 1 images), to Matt’s nervous appearance at the Taylor’s front door just like the first time he visited Julie, to Luke leaving to join the army, looking so so much like Matt’s dad that it scared me – these glimmers of what we once knew all led us to the big game (which, I gotta say, I was starting to think might not even happen)…and that feeling of being there with the Panthers flooded back and I realized, “It’s so much better this time!” Just like life, the accumulation of memories, the growing depth of what certain events can mean that happens from living your way through them more than once, all came together to make that game even more spectacular than the first time.
And they pulled it off perfectly! The game montage was beautiful, violent, exciting, joyful, fearful, panic inducing – I realized how much we know the faces of these characters we love. We don’t need scores and commentary – we just need their expressions, their body language, and we know what’s going on.
And then it all comes down to one play, one pass – one life changed – and I realized that’s all it’s ever been about. Tim is Vince is some kid in Philly when it comes to the maker of men. Change the scenery, change the people, it all comes down to the same thing – a good relationship, a shared activity, a little discipline and a little hope: there’s not much better in life, and there’s not much better that can save a life.
I’m even left wondering if Eric will be happier coaching in a place less obsessed with football – if East Dillon was the greatest experience of his life (seriously, how much do you love the little bond between Eric and Jess?!), how much more so Philly!! No boosters to contend with; funding can’t be worse than what the Lions had; no radio shows dragging him down; no ‘for sale’ signs showing up on the front lawn…just the pure love of the game. Yeah, I’m left wondering if in the end, Eric gets a gift he didn’t know he wanted.
But back to the game…
For another moment, I thought we weren’t even going to learn who won – and then we see that state ring on Vince’s finger. I squealed with delight! And then sobbed when it saw it on Jess’…there in Dallas, making it work. All our friends 8 months from now, doing the next thing in their lives. It almost broke my heart to see Tammy walking across campus in high heels instead of her boots, even though I knew it was good.
When Lost finished, I was one of the defenders, noting that it was all about the relationships, and a real vision of Heaven. I remember at the time, Martin, who writes in these pages sometimes, commenting that something that was all about the relationships needed to have richer relationships (or something like that). Watching this finale, I realized how wrong I was and how right Martin was. With this drive toward a redeeming curve, and this textured, layered loves, FNL showed us what real relationships look like – it made us feel what real relationships feel like. I think that’s what Lost was trying to get in the end, and FNL here shows the real distance with which it missed the bar. I said it at the beginning of the season, and it’s held true throughout: there’s no philosophical undertone, no real intellectual heft, no literary symbolism in this show. It’s so far from the types of programming that make television programs great nowadays…and yet I think it was the best one we had going for a while. Finishing the series felt like leaving home. I didn’t want to do it, even though I knew I had to. Sometimes you just have to say good-bye.
Texas Forever. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. Please, FNL, take us to Philly with you!
I feel pretty wordless in the face of that finale. I loved everything about that episode and I agree with your post 100%. This finale was pitch perfect. There were so many moments that made my heart leap and melt: the pre-state TV interviews (a throw back to the very first episode where Tim and Smash vie for attention and Jason Street holds court with a newly returned Coach at his side – how amazing to see Vince in that role with a wisened, about to be two-time state champion coach?), Matt’s proposal outside the Alamo Freeze, Landry mocking Matt’s practice speech to Eric, Julie telling her parents they were her role model, all the young couples feeling their way toward the love and commitment and compromise that we saw so beautifully displayed in Eric and Tami – Matt and Julie, of course, but also Luke and Becky (Luke: “I want to be with you forever and ever”), and Tim and Tyra (more on that in a moment). And let’s not forget Grandma Saracen offering to wash her wedding dress in the sink so Julie could wear it again (and I absolutely loved that this moment – being fully taken into the weird, lovely, slightly senile embrace of someone else’s family and being told to consider it your own family – was what caused Julie her one moment’s hesitation. That is exactly what makes marriage more than just a profession of unending love or even living together – it is this radical, beautiful act of being taken into someone else’s family and claiming that family as your own. And that is also what is so terrifying and strange about that kind of commitment). And as you already mentioned, that incredible tiny moment with Jess and Coach. And Billy and Tim’s “Texas Forever” – a reminder that after all they’ve been through it is that brotherly bond that is going to last, even when the Jason Streets and the Landrys and the Vinces move on.
I could just recount moment after moment. My heart is still a oozy pile of goo thinking about these characters and the stories we are invited to imagine they are still living. You are absolutely right – this is a show about relationships. About the ties that bind us to places and the ties that allow us to leave places behind. You are also right that this show has managed the patriarchical realities so beautifully, without naivete, but without bald reactionism either. When Tami tells Eric in the middle of the night that she is going to turn down the job because she knows she’ll never win, and he accepts, we watch a light die in her eyes. And then Julie walks into the room and gives her lovely “please trust me” speech and Tami says exactly the right thing and it is so clear – we see Tami back in the roll that has primarily defined her: a kickass mom. Eric follows Tami’s lead, because in that realm Tami is generally always right. But it just broke my heart – because it was so real, so beautiful and also because I could feel Tami’s frustrations. All I could think is that Eric may feel like he is getting what he wants, but if he keeps going this way, he is going to kill the very spirit in his wife that he loves best. But of course, Eric realizes this.
As you’ve already so gracefully pointed out, this decision and the decision for the Taylors to move to Philadelphia illuminated the relational heart of the show. Yes, our relationships and loves tie us to places and communities. But they also give us freedom to seek new places and new communities, to take our home to new houses in new towns. It also reminded us how central marriage is as the key relationship in FNL-world. This intense act of faith, hope, and love that keeps two people talking and listening and trusting and compromising. If the young people in Dillon have any hope it is probably most because they have witnessed that kind of relationship in folks like Eric and Tami.
I feel like I could ramble on forever recounting more scenes and reflecting on how much I loved this episode, this entire show. In the spirit of imagining the news lives of these friends we have come to love, let me close by asking: do you think Crucifictorious played Julie and Matt’s reception?
Full eyes, clear hearts,