Although it lies under a pretense of being a sports show, Friday Night Lights is really a program about family and just how far family influences the lives of those in it and around it. In fact, Friday Night Lights tells its story with such grace, emotion and truth, it’s easy to begin thinking we are actually part of this family. We live with the Taylors, the Riggins boys, and the Saracens. We are fully invested in their struggles, their high moments, their accomplishments and ultimately their pain. So when an episode like “The Son,” comes along it’s easy and necessary to get caught up emotionally in the suffering Matt Saracen (in a transcendent performance by Zach Gilford)experiences at the loss of his father.

“The Son” is a perfect example of why Friday Night Lights is perfect television. In walking us through the days following his father’s death, and leading up to the funeral, it is evident just how layered a character Matt Saracen really is. Up until this point, FNL has been happy to keep Matt around as a simple young man who has put the weight of his family and the world on his shoulders. What he lacked in greater depth, he made up for with a simple outlook on life. He played football, likes art, takes care of his grandmother, has great manners, wants to always do the right thing and is frustrated with how his life is playing out. He’s been a predictable, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately very likeable, character.

But in this episode, we were able to see exactly how attached we can become to a character; how his pain is our pain, and how tortured a soul Matt Saracen really is behind his “Thank you sirs” and “Yes ma’ams.” And Friday Night Lights told the pain in his story without feeling the need to have it teach some deeper lesson, find some greater good or experience a happy ending. When Matt breaks down in the Taylor’s house after seeing his dad, and explains why it is he doesn’t like to hate people (he’d saved it all for dad), it’s one of those moments that fully details how painfully beautiful television can be when it grounds the story in real life.

In “The Son,” we saw the true meaning of family and how it extends above and beyond just the people who give birth to us. Family is the people there to go with you to the mortician when funeral plans need finalizing. They bring over movies and compliment your art when you are at your lowest. They take you out drinking and nickname you “Cobra” when you need to burn off some steam. They help you break into the funeral home because you need to find some closure. They make you dinner and walk you home when you’re upset. And they stand next to you when it’s clear only you can bury your father.

Friday Night Lights is a story about family and “The Son” told its tale with painful and beautiful perfection.

Other thoughts

- Another quick note about family: Tonight was one of the first times we see almost every character from the show together in one place, the funeral. I don’t know why this stood out to me. The characters on Friday Night Lights are equally connected and independent. Their stories are interwoven so seamlessly that it’s easy to assume their just all together at once. But the funeral scene made me stop and think whether, outside of the football games (the show’s obvious central plot device), the characters had ever been all in one place at the same time. This was the first time the characters rallied around something else other than a Friday game.

- Great Smash Williams shout out as he gets a little college playing time in the game Coach Taylor has on in the background.

- It’s not easy to tell a story about a military death without the whole affair turning into a political commentary, but “The Son” focused its story on the effect rather than the cause. I appreciated that.

- Good for Luke standing up to that little weasel JD McCoy, and anyone who’s ever played paintball knows that hit to the chest had to have hurt something fierce.

- I could have done a longer piece about how Vince’s story interplays with Matt’s so well. Here is a kid with almost no family (drugged out moms don’t count)and is so misguided he could turn to stealing cars as a career. And, although subtle, I think we can assume Coach Taylor has and will continue to play a bigger and bigger role as father figure to Vince as the season moves forward.

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