'Friday Night Lights' series finale: From Dillon, with love
As much as we'd like to tug on this band-aid until we're old and gray, there's a series finale that needs watching. So let's pay one last visit to our beloved Dillon, Texas.
It's Christmas time in Texas, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- there's a song just for the occasion. We pan through the festively-adorned streets of Dillon and land at the East Dillon football field, where a little subtitle lets us know that it's five days until the big game. Whoever wrote this must have seen the pilot. (Kidding! It's showrunner Jason Katims.)
Dillon News 8, figuring now is as opportune time as any to introduce themselves, interviews the Lions and the coaches about state, the new team and who'll be going there.
Eric won't comment on the rumors of his role in the new Dillon "Super Team," but at home, he's bragging about the five-year contract they've offered him. Tami's heart is still set on Philadelphia, and though things are significantly less tense, they remain majorly awkward. They engage in a classic Taylor sass-off about who's going to answer the door.
It's Matt Saracen ( Zach Gilford), with his fancy Chicago hairdo. He stutters at the door in another homage to the early years, before escorting Julie ( Aimee Teegarten) to the Alamo Freeze and... getting down on one knee... and proposing.
It's not even the opening credits and somebody's already engaged!
Not so fast. Matt has not asked for Eric's permission, because of course he would think that's an "old wives' tale." Saracen and Coach Taylor need to have one more man-to-man before we close the book on this show.
The opening credits mark the first of several tear-inducing electric guitar montages.
Tim Riggins ( Taylor Kitsch) works on his beloved truck, discrediting Billy's ( Derek Phillips) mechanic skills, while otherwise warming back up to his brother. Everyone knows about how he hooked up with Tyra ( Adrianne Palicki), and silly Mindy ( Stacey Oristano) makes a comment about that being incest. The Riggins boys silently LOL, and Tim offers to take Stevie for the day. Mindy can't hand him off fast enough.
And so begins Riggins and Stevie's day of fun.
Vince's mom, happily selling Christmas trees outside the general store, tries to conVince her son to not worry about his father. We agree, because we don't want his presence to mar this episode, but Vince ( Michael B. Jordan) persists.
Working up the chutzpah to ask Eric for Julie's "hand in marriage," Matt rehearses for Landry ( Jesse Plemons). And, being Landry, he offers the sage advice of not bringing up the fact that he works in an art gallery. Landry is as funny as ever. It's a shame that (spoiler alert!) we'll never see him again. So much for tying up any loose ends with Tyra...
At practice, Jess ( Jurnee Smollett) asks if there's a spot for her on the Super Team. Eric is extra gruff, but that's how he is with those he loves the most -- except babies! Stevie gets an extra-adorable intro to Coach T, after listening to his uncle explain boosters, cheerleaders and why he should "never turn down an memory." Tim Riggins always knows what to say.
Becky ( Madison Burge) and Mindy, passing the buck over who has to clean Tim's underwear -- oh yeah, like there are two people on earth who wouldn't fight over that privilege -- accidentally tread into serious waters with the announcement that Becky's mom is returning to town. And that mean's Becky's moving out. Mindy, visibly bruised, slips away to her room.
None of that rehearsing did much for Matt. His ineloquent delivery of the "Can I marry your 18-year-old child" speech gets nothing but laughs from Eric, who makes a quick look to his right to see if he's on candid camera. When he realizes this is serious, his eyes widen with the kind of anger normally reserved for insolent football parents and boosters. Matt slips that they're technically already engaged, because he has diarrhea of the mouth, right up until the bitter end.
At least this gives Eric and Tami something new to argue over. His relaying of their daughter's betrothal results in the Taylor version of "Who's on First?" Tami gets comically shrill for the second time this episode, and we try to not think about how horrifying our lives will be without her.
She confronts Julie, but one look at Grandma Saracen's ring on that dainty little finger seems to dissolve her reservations. They'll settle this over dinner. Couples night!
Mrs. Collete is wrapping Christmas presents, when Tim comes in with little Stevie. Tyra's there, too. And it's clear that she's not feeling as warm and fuzzy about their night of passion. If Dillon is a mousetrap, Tim Riggins is the mouth-watering peanut butter splattered onto the trigger.
Ugh, here's Vince's dad again, ruining happiness. With all these old friends in town, we extra-resent him for wasting our time, but we love Vince, and this is his loose end. He asks his father to go to State, but he has plans, selling drugs and whatnot. Figures. We're over it.
Tim and Stevie's day of fun continues at the liquor store where Becky appears, out of nowhere, with a signature "HeyTimRiggins," uttered as one perfect, honey-dripping word.
They share honest discussion about her former crush on him, and he calls her family. [Sidenote: Tim Riggins should have been holding a baby throughout this entire series. Shirtless.]
At Tres Amigos, the venue for the world's most awkward double date, Eric makes a speech about how marriage requires compromise and maturity and clearly isn't paying attention to what he's saying, because Tami gets teary and has to go outside.
He follows her, and again, doesn't listen to her when she says it's her turn. We realize that he's going to come around, but why are they making us suffer through this? She leaves him outside, and we can see the cogs in his little dad brain turning...
But when he goes to talk to her later at home, she says that she's turning down the offer. She knows she'll never win this argument. He could possibly say something un-selfish in response, but Julie arrives to break the tension with a convincing speech of her own, this time about marriage just being life with your best friend.
We've now fully forgotten how annoying she was at the beginning of the season.
Have the characters on this show been watching this show? Because suddenly everyone is capable of delivering a perfect Coach Taylor speech. Becky relays Tim's family comment to Mindy in her non-goodbye and Mindy falls to pieces. Aw, look, there's Becky's mom. We sort of missed her.
Whoa. Happiness momentarily vanishes when Jess comes home to her cheering brothers and babysitter-aunt-person telling her that they're moving to Dallas to be with their father. Everyone is so thrilled, because this is apparently an alternate universe where children want to leave their hometowns -- everyone except Jess, of course. This takes her out of the running for the Super Team!
Eric goes into that jazzy east side bar to give a ticket to Vince's dad, says only "Young man get's a chance at that maybe once in a lifetime," makes a reasonably cold face, and leaves, triumphant. The only thing that could have made it better is if he'd baked the ticket into a pie.
Luke ( Matt Lauria) finally realizes how out of character he was hurting Becky the way he did, and makes an apology in the way that only he can. The tenderness of the moment is only slightly ruined by Becky's off-color mother reminding them to use condoms. (It's totally OK to joke about their teenage abortion now.) She leaves so Luke can tell Becky he wants to be with her forever and ever and ever and oh my god... how many people are getting engaged tonight?
Four of the originals, Tyra, Riggins, Julie and Matt, meet at Buddy's for some flagrant under-aged drinking. While Julie and Matt dance, Tyra tells Tim that she's got plans and that she can't go through the Riggins cycle of crap again. He responds with something Rigginsy.
It's the morning of State, and Buddy wakes Eric up at an ungodly hour to tell him the boosters want him to sign the contract with the Panthers before they hit the road. And if Eric's lingered glance at the paperwork from Braemore doesn't tell you this isn't happening, the overuse of "Super Team" certainly should.
While the boys get ready for state, Jess tells Coach about the move to Dallas. Before offering her a hand at securing an assistant position with team up there, they have an exceptionally real moment, admitting to each other that the season with the Lions might be the best experience of their lives.
Jess has become the master of the silent stoic tear, and she continues to employ it when her unknowing boyfriend professes his love for her. Dear god, so much professing!
Grandma Saracen makes her glorious final cameo, wearing the dapper veil from her own wedding, and reminding Julie she doesn't have to call her "Mrs. Saracen" anymore, even though she'll no doubt have to be reminded about this wedding every couple of days. Julie briefly has second thoughts about their decision, but really just for the sake of it.
Atop a hill on Tim Riggins' glorious property, a Sarah Palin reference really catches us off-guard when Tyra says she's thinking of going into politics. (Don't worry, that's not what she's aiming for.) Tim and Tyra talk about the future, when she tells him she's been in love with him since she was 5.
He knows that he can't keep her from her destiny, so he insinuates that he'll wait in Dillon until the time is right. Maybe their dreams can merge together. And maybe their DNA can merge together and make the most beautiful babies imaginable. They toast Lone Stars.
That talk with Jess really got to Eric, because he runs to the mall, where Tami and Gracie Bell are having a photo-op with Santa. He tumbles down the escalator, like it's the climax of some John Hughes movie, and tells Tami that he's turned down the job in Dillon. Oh yeah, Eric Taylor? You're going to have to say a lot more than that to make up for the way you've been acting...
"Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?"
The bus pulls up to the State Championship at the Cotton Bowl, but it feels a bit like a funeral march. We don't want it to ever end, but it's montage time. The boys roughhouse on the field, get nervous in the locker room and Eric tells Vince that he many never know how proud he is of him -- in case anyone within a 20-foot radius of this episode isn't already sobbing.
The game plays more like a ballet than anything. We don't see much of anything besides a few reactions from the characters and some slow-motion plays, but Eric glances at the scoreboard and they're down, 21-26, with three seconds on the clock. Vince attempts a 63-year-pass, and as the camera follows the ball through the air, GGI magically transports us to a field in suburban Philadelphia, 8 months later.
We see where all our characters have ended up. Eric's coaching a new rag-tag group of boys and Tami's happy at Braemore.
Back in Dillon, the Lions staff and team have all transitioned to the Panthers, with Buddy driving around in his golf cart, and Vince extending his hand to reveal a State Championship ring. Winners!
Becky kisses Luke goodbye, as he boards a bus in Army fatigues.
In Matt's Chicago apartment, he and Julie are together, getting ready for the day and looking blissful.
Jess is in Dallas, taking notes for a new high school football coach.
Buddy supervises as the "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" sign is reinstated in the Panther's locker room, while the camera briefly pans to show Jason Street's signature on the wall.
Tim and Billy take a break from working on Tim's new house to have a couple Lone Stars and give us one last toast of "Texas forever."
The familiar twilight of Dillon fades to night in Philadelphia. Eric tells his new team to be back at 6 a.m. the next morning (aka no later than 5:45) before trying to rally them with a "Clear eyes, full hearts..." until he realizes they don't know it yet. Tami walks on the field to take him home, and they walk off the field, arms around each others' wastes, as the lights turn out for one last time.
So there you have it. The little show that could has come to an appropriate and satisfying end. Fans of the series could argue that we could have stayed in Dillon forever, but when you think about all we've gotten from this series, now seems like as good of a time as any to let it go.
Not that we'll ever really have to. "Friday Night Lights" exists in a bubble, void of time and outside influence, unlike most anything on television. It will do just as much for audiences discovering it over the years, as the fans who carry it with them with repeat viewings -- like this writer, who's loved it more than just about anything else out there.