Although by the end of the episode, it is only Luke on the “Injury List” this episode was about each of Friday Night Lights’s characters at various stages of pain or brokenness. Putting someone on the injury list in a sport usually means the road to recovery has begun, but this episode felt as if it was the place each character had to go before the healing process could even start. And this episode jumped from pain to pain to pain without apology as we explored the root of each character’s larger issue.

Friday Night Lights is at a safe place with its players, where nudging some stories off to the side for a week or exploring them around the edges doesn’t feel like a slight. The writers have devoted significant time to Vince and Becky over the last couple of weeks so when their individual struggles are moved to the relative periphery for the time being (until the end) the rest of the show moves on relatively seamlessly. That’s a sign the characters are all comfortably embedded in the Dillon world.

This comfort played from the opening moments when we had brief glimpses into each character’s life: Vince on a violent collection run, Becky confronted by Mrs. Cafferty, Tim nervously buying land, Tami learning her job is in jeopardy, Coach already fending off questions about the West Dillon game, Saracen the artist still thinking about Julie, Julie thinking about moving beyond Dillon and Luke needing more painkillers. The rest of the episode continued in a hop about manner that felt natural the whole way through. That’s a byproduct of character comfort and writers’ confidence in an interconnected and independent world they’ve created.

So what was the “Injury List?” What was the rundown? It was: Luke playing the football star while searching for a painkiller fix so he could appease everyone else. Julie healing an injured heart that ruptured open when Matt left her life on a whim. Matt realizing he broke a heart by setting off on under his own volition. Tami understanding she caused another family pain by doing the right thing. Becky coming to grips with the reality of an abortion and not wanting to be alone. Tim knowing he’d never quite belong. Eric drinking away another player’s pain. And ultimately, Vince straddling the line between standout football star and run of the mill thug.

That’s a great deal of drama to balance and “Injury List” accomplished it with relative ease. It means Friday Night Lights continues to work above the status quo by recognizing the need for style and story without sacrifice of the details. The episode explored each character without making a case study out of their issues. Rather it gave us glimpses into the lives of characters we know, trust and feel for without reservation.

Tons of other thoughts -

- Tami and Eric continue to be the best example of a couple in love on television; right down to her sitting on the porch waiting for him to come home at the end.

- The Luke drug-buying scandal boarded on the weird with his re-introduction to Carroll Park (he wasn’t playing football there this time). I understand why he went, but the whole transaction bordered on odd.

- We haven’t had much football to talk about this season. I guess that’s the byproduct of exploring a number of new situations. But this week’s football interplay became a part of the story. I didn’t realize how much this was missing until this week. In the past, the Dillon football team’s success directly affected the life of Coach Taylor. But this season, the win-loss record means little in his world (no one expects anything from the team) meaning the football has taken a backseat to the rest of the Dillon world. Tonight, like “The Lights of Carroll Park” and the season premiere showed how the football world directly influenced Coach’s and everyone else’s life.

- Vince had his hero moment tonight in such a subtle way when he took the blame for running the sweep right rather than left in order to save Luke. If Vince does nothing else this season, he is the good guy.

- The more the season goes on, the more I think Luke is the saddest character on the show. He gets transferred doing what he thinks is the right thing by lying about his address. He gets ignored by Becky doing what he thinks is the right thing with her abortion. He gets vilified by his parents for said decision. He gets yelled at by Coach for playing injured to help the team. Poor kid.

- Becky standing up for Tim. There have been lots of folks who have stood up and praised Tim Riggins over the years (and those who have put him down), but nothing compared to Becky explaining to Tim that he did matter. That he is good. Tim Riggins is good.

- Thank God Julie yelled at Matt.

- Could Landry’s parents have come up with something better than Obama?

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