Much of this season of Friday Night Lights has been about pain and how the characters have dealt with the harsh reality that life isn’t always beautiful. Whether it was Becky’s childhood taken from her with an abortion, Tim going against his better judgment and turning criminal, Matt losing his father, Vince put in an impossible situation with his mother and then losing a friend or Luke losing football, the show has run its characters through the ringer. But Friday Night Lights has historically been about redemption, growth and a fundamental belief that some good comes out of every trial and tribulation. So it is fitting that the penultimate episode of the season gave us both beauty of birth, the ugliness of destruction, the consequence of choice, the slow walk away from the dark side and a little piece of everything in between.

As the West Dillon kids ripped through the East Dillon field, effectively driving the stake through a disaster year for Coach Taylor, it was impossible to think it could really get any worse for the guy. And while his issues pale in comparison to what everyone else is going through, his stoicism throughout every bit of bad luck and turn of misfortune has been a stabilizing force throughout the season. So when he finally loses his cool in the end, slamming the phone (it was probably just another hate call anyway) I thought, “Well there it is, everyone has pretty much hit rock bottom.”

And rock bottom is basically where everyone in the Dillon universe is operating from now. Whether it’s Vince, who made the right choice in walking away from the retaliation over Calvin’s death, only to realize he’s so far removed from a normal life he can’t even see the other side. Or Becky who lays her heart on the line for Tim only to get rejected. Or Jess who loves Landry, but can’t keep from letting her caring about Vince get in the way of a good relationship. Or Tami who effectively ruined her career by doing what she thought was right. Or Tim, who watched his nephew born only to end up in jail before the day was through. This is a litany of pain with only an episode to make everything right again.

Therein lies the reality of Friday Night Lights. It just all can’t turn out good in the end. That’s life. The characters this season have been run through the ringer from the opening moments and the writers haven’t taken their foot off the gas sense. This season has moved its storyline away from football to deal more with the lives of its adults and kids off the field. But “Laboring” brought back an idea somewhat lost since the first season: that football can be redemptive. At this point it has to be. And while not every character can find something good on the field, the universe of Friday Night Lights somewhat depends on the outcome of next week’s game against West Dillon. Coach Taylor alludes to as much when he says it’s, “more than a game.” It’s a chance for Vince to be the hero. For Landry to finally win the girl. For Tim to possibly make something out of his life. For Tami to divert attention away from her job security. And for Coach to take a little revenge on those who forced him into a season of misery.

Other thoughts:

- I was a little worried that the Riggins chop shop arc would turn out to be a lot like the Landry/Tyra killing spree, but the writers have handled it well. They made it more about a couple of dopey guys doing something stupid than a long-running criminal enterprise. No one would believe the Riggins brothers could mastermind any kind of crime. But it is totally believable that they’d get caught.

- Speaking of the Riggins boys, Billy had the classic, “father freaking out about wife going into labor” gag running. Usually this is a tired, overused piece of foolishness except in Billy’s case it is completely in line with everything else he does. The whole scene was hilarious.

- It’s safe to say this next episode will be Julie’s last. They’ve all but written her off the show with the Habitat for Humanity angle.

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