Friday Night Lights Watch: Swerve
“You are an adult right now. You need to take responsibility for your choices.” - Tami Taylor
Any issues about Friday Night Lights starting its final season rather slowly have been effectively erased over the last two episodes. Last week’s “Kingdom” (which I didn’t cover, but was visually one of the best episodes of the show’s run) grabbed the story lines and potential pitfalls ahead of Julie and Vince and spun them into this week’s “Swerve” rather seamlessly as the characters found that just ignoring problems didn’t necessarily make them go away.
“Swerve” is undoubtedly a reference to the propensity of teenagers to take the path of least resistance and avoid the chance of facing major issues head-on. And the writers juxtaposed this avoidance by having the adults in their lives staring those same issues directly in the eye.
In that the episode was about the art of the dodge, it’s somewhat ironic that Julie chose to sidestep her college fallout by driving her car straight into an immovable object. And for the first time, maybe in the entire history of the show, Julie’s story is actually interesting; almost in spite of her character. Because really by not going back to college and eliminating the chance of having to confront the TA, his wife and utter humiliation, she instead suffered at the hands of her inexplicably poor choices, by having to deal with the much, much bigger issue of her father’s disappointment.
Parental despondency ranks up there on the gut-punch level of emotional distress so watching Eric and Tami deal with Julie’s transgressions in their various ways was an enlightening look at how family issues don’t always solve themselves by closing credits.
I say Julie’s story was interesting almost in spite of her involvement because her reaction was a typical, self-centered teenage one to heartache and humiliation. The real story here was Eric’s utter sadness in realizing he’d raised a girl who’d make such disastrous choices. Where he often has shaped his players in some image of himself (or at least set them on the straight and narrow under his tutelage) he has simultaneously raised a daughter who he “doesn’t even know.” It was painful watching him come to grips with this sentiment and even more so as he stared at Grace sleeping, wondering if she’d grow up to make the same choices as Julie. Or maybe even wondering where exactly he went wrong as a father.
Similarly, Vince’s problems, while slightly different in the “this issue could end my life rather than just embarrass the hell out of me” - vein, differed little as he sought to avoid rather than confront. In his case, not really confronting the gangster to whom he owed money (he paid a little I guess) was probably best from a safety point of view but similar to Julie’s in his desire to just make the problem go away rather than solve it. Granted, I don’t know if just paying the guy off cures the problem anyway, but Vince’s choice to have his father deal with it presumably opens up a whole new set of questions going forward.
In Vince’s case, I find it hard to believe he’d be naive enough to think Ornette would make the everything disappear by simply calling in a favor, or with a handshake between old gangster running mates. Instead, Vince’s turning over the mantle to his pop really just exemplified this idea of “if I don’t see it the problem must have just gone away” (like Julie just not going back to college). And while I’m glad the writers didn’t just conveniently forget about Vince’s past struggles, it is troubling to know that his father’s new taste of power will probably come at his son’s expense. He’s involved now, for better or worse.
Where Vince’s and Julie’s stories diverge is in the fatherly reactions. Eric wanted Julie to face her problems, suck it up and return to college. Vince’s father solved everything the only way Ornette Howard knows how, kicking someone’s ass. And that he did. Presumably to protect Vince, but more likely just to exhibit a little bit of control back in his own life.
And so all the characters really did was swerve out of the way of their problems. Nothing was solved, but rather just put off for a bit of time.
Some other thoughts:
Interestingly enough, the only kid to just face everything up front was Luke, with a little helping hand (and booze) from Billy Riggins. Luke’s realization that he wasn’t the apple of TMU’s eye was a real chance for Matt Lauria to show some clear acting chops. Luke has often been just a side character, but this episode had him running the gamut. Lauria was more than up for it.
Speaking of Billy. What an episode for the other Riggins brother. The writers have been finding the perfect opportunities for Billy to be Billy this season and “Swerve” had more than a few highlights. Between his admission about defecating in a mailbox, making Luke scream out his frustration and the textbook pregame pump-up speech. This was a Billy tour-de-force.
Also, speaking of good acting. Cress Williams is brilliant as Ornette Howard. He’s got the quasi-reformed old school gangster right down to the gait.
I am little confused about why exactly Coach was on the cover of the magazine. Did I miss something big he did?
I think I like Hastings Ruckle, I’m just not totally sure yet.
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