Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.": Friday Night Lights

And so it ends. Though all signs point to a second season, this episode stood well enough as a story capper that if the show does, indeed, get canceled, I'll probably be OK, even if the finale wasn't quite the great episode that so many of the preceding were (and, honestly, most of it was well-nigh perfect -- I'm just unsure on a couple of small story choices). It was a suitable ending and a fine point of closure for one epic story, and that's enough for me, especially if this is all we get (if it's not all we get, it certainly provides us with some interesting ideas for where next season could go -- no show other than The Wire has survived expanding its scope, but just the idea of seeing some of the new settings sort of tossed up there in the finale is interesting to me).

Let's get to the main thing I DIDN'T like in this episode. Why, exactly, did the Panthers win the big game? I get that there's a need to give a satisfying ending to the passionate fans if the show doesn't come back, and I also get that since Coach Taylor accepted the TMU job, a loss would be TOO depressing for the Dillon faithful, but the winning of the game sort of goes against both the source material for the show and everything that was set up in the show so far, right down to the halftime speech, which seemed to be a way to set the guys up to lose gracefully. Now I was surprised when Smash stretched just enough to score the winning touchdown, but it felt oddly anti-climactic, largely because the game, like so many of the games this season, felt almost like an afterthought. The episode was more interested in the town's response to the game (as it should be) and how so many of the relationships came to breaking points or healing points (the most notable being Lyla and Tyra finding some way to begin a friendship). This was as it should be, and I liked seeing basically every major Dillon character return in this episode (as it really would be in a small town, where everyone caravans together to state). But the win just felt too. . .easy. And that was the first time the sports movie action really got in the way of the larger storyline for me this season. Still, if this is all I get, I guess I'm happier with this ending than a loss. But only marginally.

Other than the Panthers winning, I loved nearly everything else about this episode, from the monumentally great halftime speech to the pregnancy announcement (which I was really dreading from the previews) to the way the camera panned down to catch Tami's bare feet standing on top of her husband's shoe-clad ones. I liked that it let me have a moment with every major character, as if letting me let them go (even if Jason Street's metamorphosis into the greatest coach ever continues to be a little sudden). It was striking to think of how far all of these characters have come from the stereotypes they started the season as, particularly Buddy Garrity and Tyra Collette, the two characters I took the longest to warm up to. Heck, the show even made me feel rather warmly toward that annoying little kid who showed up in the last handful of episodes to give Riggins some character-building and such.

I love that the Tyra and Landry pairing has headed into a place where Tyra tried to put a grace note on his crush on her (by giving her a kiss on the cheek) without realizing just how much Landry would misinterpret that gesture. I love, love, LOVE that scene when Tami finds out she's pregnant and every possible emotion runs through Connie Britton's eyes (at this rate, Edie Falco is going to have to do something pretty awesome to beat Britton for the SDD Emmys). And I love that Smash played through the pain and nothing bad happened to him (at first, I thought this was blatant cliffhanger fodder, but the writers obviously saw how similar that would be to Street's paralysis and wisely strayed away from that).

But, most of all, I loved the two musical montages. The first, featuring the team arriving in Dallas to Explosions in the Sky's "Your Hand in Mine" (probably their most recognizable song and one that was used to great effect in the movie version of this story). I'm glad they saved this song for this episode, as it was the perfect way to underscore the sheer momentousness of the occasion in the episode.

As good as that was, I liked the Devil Town montage, at the end of the episode, even better. It provided an nice bookend for the season (having turned up much earlier). Seeing the team riding into town in happiness, the drab little buildings of Dillon transformed with the excitement of seeing the team win, was simply perfect, as was every last look we got at everyone of the characters that mattered, standing in the crowd, smiling and beaming. If we have to leave these people here, I'll take it.

And then, hell, they threw in a slow clap to seal the deal. I don't normally like the slow clap, but I went with it here. I might have even joined in had I not been watching with others.

Now, normally, I would write a season review of the show, but since I did over at House Next Door, that piece and this one will have to stand as a cumulative record of the show's first season. So comment on the season as a whole below.

One thing I hope they ditch in season two? The radio announcer guy. He's all right, but he often just underscores things we already know, and he often does so clumsily. It's the show's one seeming concession to playing by the TV "rules," and I'd rather not have it around at all.


Libby said...

I just ...
I love it so much
I don't know what I'm going to do ...

David Sims said...

BTW, Todd, this article explains why the Panthers were victorious:

I dunno why you were that mad about it in the first place, though.

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