Thursday, November 09, 2006

Friday Night Lights: Scylla, Charybdis*, all that jazz

Episode 1.6, El Accidente

I don't think anyone in the real world pays attention to episode titles, but "El Accidente" encapsulates the Buddy Garrity (and all the footballers') method of spinning away anything mean, dirty, or downright illegal that will hurt their chances of winning: It was an accident.

Two parallel plotlines this week beat us over the head with the difference "doing what's right for the team" and "doing what's right." This is the ugliest that Coach Taylor has ever behaved, staunchly insisting, I won't lie about recruiting Voodoo, but then pointedly failing to pony up to the truth of the matter: Voodoo may well have been ineligible (he needed residency of a month, and we don't really know when he showed up in Dillon), and more to the point, Buddy Garrity lied in his testimony to the council. So Taylor kept his mouth shut, and seemed to get the outcome he wanted for his team.

Of course Taylor's under all sorts of pressure, and losing that win would jeopardize his job and destabilize his entire family's lives. But does that make it OK? He seems to think so, evincing a "do what you gotta do" kind of air.

Matt Saracen once again goes through a crucible of sorts, with his non-footballer friends ragging on him for "going over to the Dark Side." They have a point. When Voodoo taunts Reyes and calls him a wetback, Reyes takes out his frustrations on one of Saracen's friends, Caster, putting him in the hospital. Reyes then makes a big deal out of the fact that Caster provoked him with racist epithets... which is, of course, a lie. Reyes even manages to hold onto this lie while looking Taylor in the eye.

Now Saracen knows that Caster never went after Reyes, and doesn't have a racist bone in his body. He knows Reyes is a thug, but he's the thug that anchors the defensive line and the team needs him. It takes Saracen the better part of the episode to figure out what's right, which leads to a completely charming scene with him and Julie at the Taylor's front door. It's clear that Julie is hoping that Saracen is there to see her, and they make almost-casual small talk until Saracen asks to see Taylor. Julie's disappointment is quickly masked but there if you're looking for it (as I obviously am -- don't worry, Julie, Saracen's not letting his teammates hook him up with some rally girl, he has already told him he "has someone else in mind" for Homecoming.)

Taylor, to his credit, doesn't have to struggle with his conscience on this call at all, and boots Reyes off the team. This was a much-appreciated turn, because the Tami-Coach discussions over the Reyes incident featured Tami defending Caster and questioning Reyes' story, and the Coach pushing back and not wanting to examine that story very closely all.

The football stuff wraps up with Buddy Garrity pissed about Reyes' status but downright frantic, because Voodoo, demoted to defense, has gone back to NOLA, and as a parting gift held an interview in which he refuted every lie that Buddy Garrity told to the council. Looks like that "W" is a goner for sure.

In the third plotline, Street tells Riggins to stop being an asshole (not in so many words, but yeah) and to help him. Riggins decides he loves Jason more than Lyla, and does: he breaks Street out for a long drive and a day on the lake. Weirdness abounds when Lyla comes along, but only for the occasional awkward moments, including the classic Lyla backing off her earlier statement of "taking all responsibility for what happened." Both of these guys should dump her, I'm telling you. Still, the day seems to be a complete success until Street sees Riggins and Lyla hugging goodbye in the parking lot. It's not a sexy hug, and they don't mack or anything, but that hug goes on way, way too long for people who aren't supposedly anything but friends -- and who, until quite recently, had nothing in common but Jason. So now Jason has something to torture himself with.

I didn't love this episode. Too many leaden plot points rained down on us, and it seems to me that the writers could start giving Saracen a break or two any day now. In real life, that kid would be suicidal. He's a sophomore and expected to lead the team on and off the field. What kid could withstand that, plus the dad in Iraq and the demented grandmother? I like Saracen, a lot. I want him to ask Julie out and have fun, and not be tortured the way he has been pretty much since the beginning of this show.

Having said all that, I'm still completely hooked here. Even the characters that get miniscule amounts of screen time -- like Tyra resisting Tami's "guidance" -- manage to be more than two-dimensional. It's a sad fact the biggest failure of characterization so far this season is Reyes, who we have never seen before and will most likely never see again. He's the cardboard cutout bogeyman of the episode, and it hurt the story. But I'll still be watching next week, and rooting for the Panthers.

(I don't really care if they win -- oh, I do for Saracen's sake, I suppose. I just don't want Taylor to get fired!)

* Taylor and Saracen spent most of this episode between rocks and hard places.

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