There exists a difference between life and television. Life can be hard and full of unhappy endings. Often times, television wants the viewer to believe quite the opposite: life is easy and sure bad things happen, but in the end everything will work out just fine. We’ll just fade to black or cut to credits knowing the characters made it out safe, were reunited with their families, or even walked off into the sunset with their one true love. It’s a hallmark of most television. But in the Friday Night Lights season finale we saw that, although the outcome of the game went by the television standard book (a last second win, what else?), the rest of the Dillon world is left in various stages of, well, real life.

It was entirely predictable East Dillon would beat those villainous Panthers in the final game. The regular season couldn’t have ended any other way. East Dillon’s woes on the field leading up to that game stood in stark contrast to heart they showed throughout the season and played nicely off the “Team of Evil” moniker West Dillon has steadily gained since the McCoy faction ran Coach Taylor out of town. From that fact alone, we could make an easy assumption the Lions would walk off the victors.

Two seasons of football heartbreak don’t play well with Coach Taylor. But what we saw from this episode was the level of animosity Coach holds towards those he thinks wronged him along the way, namely Joe McCoy. So it took no dialogue or verbal fisticuffs to accentuate the level of hatred these guys felt for each other just standing across the sidelines during the final game. It was one of the rare moments where we got a glimpse into Coach Taylor’s inner psyche, he’s a staunch competitor down to his very core (Vince saw as much) and realized the emotional toll this season took on him. That he won was inevitable; that he reveled in his triumph was heartwarming.

But the rest of the episode from Matt’s return to Dillon and Tim’s long walk off into painful redemption was another matter altogether. To keep the eyes dry around this computer for the time being, dealing with Matt first is probably most suitable. He stumbled back into the show much in the way Julie saw him when she went to ask grandma if she needed a ride to Thanksgiving dinner. He was just there. And like Julie eventually said, the guy is tough to stay mad at. He exited Dillon abruptly, but not ungraciously and sure guys deserve a second a chance, Matt especially, so seeing him deal with the fallout was both fitting and painful. Julie’s reaction was standard, and in the end he’s left with his only true friend (who was probably as hurt as Julie when Matt left) as they leave on a plane together.

And finally we come to one Mr. Timothy “33” Riggins. Summing up Tim’s run through Friday Night Lights is difficult. We want characters to find salvation and redemption, happiness and understanding, clarity and vision. We want them to win, to find love, and to do the right thing. And in his final moments Tim did all of these things in the most painful way possible. Walking off into the sunset and into jail was both a masterpiece and gut punch all wrapped into the tiny moments of him hugging Billy, asking Becky for a second chance (she keeps the snowglobe) and realizing that the way to atone for all his sins (he has many) was to take the fall for a brother who’d done everything to watch out for his little bro since Jump street.

A constant on the show, since it first began was that Billy wanted to do right by Tim. Billy wanted a life for his brother that included football stardom and college and did everything in his power to make it happen (even if he was often clueless). That Tim turned away from it at every corner made sense on a personality level, but you couldn’t help but feel for poor old Billy. So his speech at Thanksgiving and his joyful playing with his newborn son solidified an idea that Tim would finally have the chance to pay his brother back with the biggest sacrifice imaginable behind the words: “I did it.” Tim has spent much of Friday Night Lights making up for some mistake he made whether it be refusing to visit Jason after the paralysis (he eventually took Street to New York), hooking up with Lyla (he stayed with her and went to college for her), drinking too much (never really cured that), skipping out on college (but came home to help Billy) or even hooking up with Becky’s mom to start this season (he stood by Becky at every moment). He’s played a revolving game of moral catch-up and has always been the most endearing and baffling character on the show. So doesn’t it make sense that his exit (he threw Billy his “33” key chain and waved goodbye to his childhood) would bring along joyful tears of frustration and a heartwarming broken heart? He is Tim Riggins after all.

Friday Night Lights exited this season much as it began, in a state of upheaval. We are left with few constants and a plethora of unknowns. The series mainstays (Tim, Matt, Landry, Julie) have all but made their last exits and we’re left with characters entering new worlds. Eric has turned a program around. Vince is now a full-fledged football star. Tami is no longer a principal. And we can’t help but feel like Matt, as his plane took off, wondering what the future for Dillon will hold.

Tiny snapshots from an phenomenal season finale:

- Tami realizing family reigns above all as she pulls up to hers decorating their house for Christmas

- Tim giving the snow globe to Becky, a keepsake he kept from his long gone mother

- Vince asking Coach for courage

- Buddy painting his car dealership

- The random minister making the victory sign for the Lions, looking at his cross and then to the heavens

- Luke becoming a hero but getting re-injured (which I’m sure will be a major storyline for next year)

- Lance kicking a football 46 yards and lifting a family, a team, a school, and a town on his shoulders before they lifted him on to theirs

- Eric sitting alone in the locker room before the game more nervous than any player and finding strength in his guys like they’ve found in him

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