'Friday Night Lights': The wind from one door closing... makes us cry for an hour

fnl-the-march-1.jpgThese final episodes of "Friday Night Lights" have brightened on some fronts. The Lions are back on the straight and narrow, buoyant bluegrass plays during most scenes and we're lingering a little bit longer on establishing shots and montages of Dillon. It's almost over, and the writing is on the wall.

But, to quote another beloved and departed series, it's not all hugs and puppies. The freshly paroled Tim Riggins ( Taylor Kitsch) just isn't the long-haired free spirit he used to be. He's a man beleaguered by anger, resentment and regret. So naturally he's taking it out on those closest to him. Billy ( Derek Phillips) probably deserves this, but Becky ( Madison Burge) doesn't. (Not that we don't agree with his questioning of her working at the Landing Strip).

Also? Vince ( Michael B. Jordan) is a sweetheart again, so we need someone to be sort of a jerk.

The Lions won their recent play-off game, and everyone's more or less on cloud 9 -- until Principal Levi casts a pall over both Eric ( Kyle Chandler) and Tami ( Connie Britton), saying that much of East Dillon's teaching staff is about to be let go and programs will be cut. Not football, right? Not in Texas!

This might not be so rough for Tami, though. Her recent appearance at the teaching conference got her noticed by a fancy private college in Philadelphia, and they want to fly her up for an interview. She seems skeptical, but clearly she wants this.

Vince's reformed demeanor does nothing to better his father's attitude. He's grown out his beard to illustrate just how evil he is, demanding the right to chug a post-work six-pack of beer in the house of his recovering addict wife. The stress is really starting to wear on her.

Can we just kill him already?

Tim Riggins is already tending bar at Buddy's, while a college game plays on the TV in the corner. Wait, who's that? Just Texas A&M star running back Brian "Smash" Williams. We're sort of bummed he couldn't make it back for one last appearance, but, really, everyone sort of realizes that his exit was just too perfect. This is amazing. Unless you're Tim Riggins.

The still single Jess ( Jurnee Smollett) has found her storyline! She wants to be a lady football coach. She's even had the gumption to go tape one of their possible play-off opponents' games. Um, that's illegal. Coach Crowley says something wildly sexist, and we want him to go back to West Dillon with Mac and the other mean old white dudes.

Becky and Luke ( Matt Lauria), a happy couple for a few weeks now, are getting hot and heavy on the couch when the would-be point of this love triangle, Tim Riggins, walks in the door and makes an abortion crack. [Shudder]

The Lions win another play-off game! We're just breezing through the post-season. And in that time, Tami has come to the conclusion that she needs to go to that job interview. You can imagine how Eric reacts -- especially when she tells him it will conflict with her attending the next play-off game. Gracie Bell breaks the awkward silence with pleas for braaaaaaaains.

Rumors of reduced budget are also worrying Billy, who thinks his position at East might be the most tenuous -- other than Coach Stan, who, in our opinion, is indispensable.

Whoa, did we just win another play-off game? This is the fastest-paced "FNL" in history -- which allows a natural progression for Vince's evil dad to really fall to pieces. He's selling drugs again and spending the money on ugly leather jackets. Vince's mom cries, and, by the laws of over-empathizing with TV moms, so do we.

fnl-the-march-2.jpgBut for every tear, we also get a gift. Like the small, irrelevant but nonetheless perfect scene of Eric driving Tami to the airport. The bickering, the smiles, the ugly dad sunglasses... why can't we live in this world with them forever?

And when did Jess become Landry? It's adorable. Eric decides to let her "shadow" him in her quest to become a lady coach, and the whimsical strumming of a banjo prompts a brief panic attack that we now only have two-and-a-half episodes left to the greatest show on television.

At the Landing Strip, Tim Riggins has a meltdown over Becky getting tips tucked into her underage wasted-band, and he and Billy have it out in the parking lot. He punches him something good, and when Billy, sobbing, asks when he'll forgive him for letting him take the fall, he says probably never. If we had a Valium prescription, we'd take several right now.

The Howards have changed the locks to keep out their mess of a patriarch, and he tries to kick down the door. They call the cops. And we sort of wonder if this story has finally run its course.

Becky got fired. Becky is upset. She does her best to channel Cher, circa "Moonstruck," and get Tim Riggins to snap out of it, but he can't. And to make matters worse, Luke drives by to see her standing all cozy-like next to his car.

Eric gets a late-night call from Levi, and it's bad news. The budget meeting is over, and next season, there will only be one football program in Dillon. But which?

Arnett Mead, the oft-repeated "FNL" rival, is all that stands between the Lions and State. Vince's mom wants to go to the game, but she needs to go to an AA meeting. Vince understands, because none of us want to go down that road again.

Tami's Philly adventure is well underway, but her meeting with the Dean of Admissions at Braemore College quickly turns to pot. They don't see eye to eye on standardized tests -- or the quality of students getting admitted to Braemore. Sorry old dude, Tami Taylor calls 'em like she sees 'em.

She goes out to dinner with the woman who'd put her up for the job, for a postmortem on the awkward interview, when they're joined by the president of the school. He's not offering her assistant dean of admissions. He's offering her dean of admissions. Because that old dude was a jerk. Because he wants the best. And because Tami Taylor is too good of a human being to even be real and she deserves this.

Mindy's ( Stacey Oristano) been quiet this episode, but she's rewarded with a teary plea for Tim Riggins to forgive them and let them take care of him. Tim is confused, because when he went to prison, Mindy really wasn't a character yet. He returns to his trailer behind Becky's now-abandoned house.

The Lions return to Dillon, triumphant, to a miniature parade The pride on everyone's faces radiates to the point where we can barely see what's happening on the TV anymore, but we can't look away. Vince can't find his mother for a moment, and our heart sinks -- sinks! -- but she's there. Tearful hug!

Everybody's got someone to hug, except Eric. And while Tami may be heading back to Dillon, it seems apparent that she's already moved to Philadelphia.
 
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Photo/Video credit: NBC-Universal