Last week’s “Stay” acted as a transition episode for Friday Night Lights. And while change is always good, it doesn’t always come easy as the characters (and the writers) struggled this week to get a grip on how exactly their world (or at least Dillon) is changing. With Matt Saracen exiting on the long stage to the left, almost without a trace, he left behind a cast of characters carving out their own niches in life and on the show. And with that, what we got with “In the Bag” was a disjointed episode in almost every respect.

The characters in Friday Night Lights are always struggling. From the first episode where Jason Street lay in the hospital paralyzed, the writers have worked to show the highs and lows associated with high school and life beyond. Part of the chemistry, or evenness, of Friday Night Lights, has been each character’s ability of to effect the others; to lift them up when they reached new lows. And so the entire run of the show has been a beautiful balancing act. But tonight’s “In the Bag” showed how messy things get when every character is at odds (with others or with themselves) with no one there to balance the equation.

In a vacuum, each individual story doesn’t present too much of a problem. Sure Tim has it tough with no money, almost no home, no real job and no prospects. Of course Julie would be devastated at the loss of Matt, and further crushed to learn he has chosen to completely omit her from his new, mysterious life. (More on this at the bottom) Obviously Vince’s life and upbringing are completely incomprehensible to someone like Coach Taylor. (And more on this too) There are plenty of people out there like Becky, whose dad has walked out of the picture only to make mini cameos at random moments. Kids like Luke exist in every town where parents struggle to make ends meet. The problem comes when we mash all of this up into 40 minutes of television. Some of the stories are just going to feel a bit off.

Friday Night Lights doesn’t take the easy way out. And pain is a part of life. But when every character gets thrown in the dump at the same time, and all struggle to get out, easy fixes are equal parts necessary and weak.

So when Vince handed off the gun to Coach I thought, “Well, wasn’t that just a little too easy? Of course he did, we need to like Vince after all.” Or when Luke hurt his leg because he had to help his dad I thought, “Of course he did. Where else was his character going?” And when Tim fights Becky’s dad (or just actually fights against a future he doesn’t want) I thought, “Of course he did. How else can Tim find some self-redemption?”

It’s not all doom and gloom of course. A weak episode of Friday Night Lights is an award-winning hour for almost any other program. But the writers of FNL have set the bar high and need to retain a certain amount of consistency and balance to make the world of Dillon function as we know it can.

Other thoughts

- I find it a little tough to swallow that Matt would just disappear out of Julie’s picture so quickly and leave her without even a phone call, email, text or whatever else. It is totally and completely out of character for a guy whose entire run on the show has been about thinking of others. I can understand a certain amount of mystery surrounding his whereabouts, but to think he left Julie completely high and dry just rings crazy false for me.

- Speaking of ringing false. I understand Vince lives in a bad neighborhood (even worse than the one Smash lived in obviously), but his story of growing up on the mean streets is heavy-handed to say the least. The speech he gave Coach about growing up in a neighborhood looking over his shoulder sounded a little too After School Specialish for me. It’s not that I don’t think it’s true, rather I doubt a kid like Vince would ever bother to explain it to a guy like Coach.

- What is the possible motivation for the Glen’s drunken kiss on Tammy? Didn’t get it at all.

- Was anyone else shocked Landry’s request of a date from Jessie worked? After that whole episode I fully expected to see him crash and burn, especially when he inexplicably (or at least in a very Landry-like way) mentioned Tyra’s name again.

- The East Dillon Lions have tons of byes in their schedule. This is two in about 3-4 games.

- The Riggins somehow throw the greatest baby shower of all time replete with shots, strippers and a possible chance to open up a chop shop in Riggins Rigs.

- Even after all these seasons, I still watch the entire Friday Night Lights opening. Explosions in the Sky does it to me every time.

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