Checking in with Friday Night Lights Season Five

Again, these posts were written during the DirecTV run. They’re being reposted here now.

I haven’t written about FNL in a while (I think since episode three) because of odd scheduling and also because I’ve been a little frustrated with things. It’s not that season five has been bad, I just didn’t feel like the stories were coming together as well as they usually do. Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and Michael B. Jordan have been fantastic all season, but I wasn’t really feeling like this season had the same kind of direction that the past ones had.

Then last week’s episode happened. “Swerve” is most certainly the best episode of season five and one that suggests all the disjointed threads were purposefully written as such, because when so many of them come together in that episode, it’s a beautiful thing.

Of course, of all the complaints I had with episodes 1-5, most of them had to do with Julie Taylor. Julie has definitely been the most frustrating character throughout the series’ run. Without Matt, she usually becomes less interesting and more childish, which is unfortunate for a character that was initially based in this wise-beyond-her-years aura. But when Julie has to go out in the real world, away from Matt and away from her parents, she usually makes really, really stupid choices. On one hand, it’s interesting to watch a person who thinks their so mature and wise get smacked around by the world. On the other hand, it’s just frustrating because we’ve already been down this road with Julie, multiple times: The Swede, the high school English teacher, last year when she pouted on the college visits. Basically, Julie Taylor likes to pretend she’s smart and wise and mature against the backdrop of Dillon, Texas, but the rest of the world doesn’t really care about all that. They can see through it.

So to see Julie walk right into this mess with the TA was just overwhelmingly frustrating. She knew she was wrong and just continued to make really horrible decisions and when the TA’s wife came to lay the smack down on her, you couldn’t be too upset. Julie deserved it. And because Julie was also fractured from the rest of the stories happening in those first half dozen episodes, it was even more frustrating. I just wanted it to go away.

Thankfully, it didn’t go away and instead last week’s “Swerve” made it all kind of worth it. Terrified of what could happen back at school, Julie purposefully wrecked her car and then tried to cover it all up. But you can’t cover it up for too long when Eric and Tami Taylor are your parents, the guilt is too difficult to deal with. But even when Julie admits her errors to her parents, she’s still not aware of the damage she’s done, to the TA’s life, to her parent’s lives and most importantly, to her own. Tami is confused and hurt, Eric is filled with rage and it’s just a heartbreaking sequence to watch Coach try to force Julie out of the hallway and out of the house so she can sack up and return to school. She doesn’t and I’m not sure where it leaves Julie now.

It’s kind of unfortunate that this happened to Julie because she is smart and likable and obviously we don’t want her to not go to college or something. Obviously, it sets things up for a Matt return during Thanksgiving break or something, but I hope her whole arc this season is defined by mistakes that keep her in Dillon.

Meanwhile, I think the last two episodes have been particularly good at establishing a nice dynamic between the five Lions players that we really know — Vince, Luke, Tinker, Buddy Jr. and Hastings — so that when things get rough (and we know they will), it actually matters. It’s not that we didn’t know Vince, Luke and Tinker were friends, but with the two new characters thrown in the mix, it actually feels like the Lions are a team and not just Luke and Vince doing all the work and getting all the lines. Obviously, there are more people on a football team than just five players, but the more about the Lions’ players, the better. And these guys seem like they enjoy each other’s company, even more than the S1 Panthers did. It’s a great dynamic to watch unfold, particularly because it seems like the team’s closeness is actually going to be their downfall. They’re too rowdy, too defensive and because this is FNL, that’s going to be a problem very soon.

Finally, I just have to give props to Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano, because Billy and Mindy have become my favorite part of an obviously great cast. Sometimes it feels weird that Tyra is never mentioned and Mindy basically treats Becky like a Tyra replacement — which is exactly what the series wants her to be anyway — but my goodness are Billy and Mindy great this season. Billy’s taken Luke under his wing, been able to fire up the team and served as more than just goofy comic relief. Same for Mindy. That’s a good thing.

After “Swerve,” it seems like the final season of FNL is kicking more into gear, which means I’ll probably be writing it up more consistently moving forward. Again, my apologies.


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