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Friday Night Lights has been content to tell its story methodically with a pace that more directly resembles life in a slow small town than it does an hour long, network drama. While it hasn’t always been easy, this season has told the story of how life in a town like Dillon never really changes. People come and go, meet and are replaced, fall in and out of love, care for each other and hate each other, win and lose. But they eventually fall into two categories: those who will never leave and those who will never come back. No two characters exemplify this better than Matt and Tim.

Matt’s story, from turning down art school, to taking care of grandma, delivering pizza, maintaining a “I love you too much to leave” relationship with Julie and finally burying his father has been a painful reminder that life rarely deals out any easy breaks, even for the star quarterback of a championship high school football team. So as we watched his inevitable decision (with almost hidden permission from Julie) to drive out of Dillon (to parts and life unknown), we couldn’t help but cheer for a guy who spent his whole life doing things others expected of him without thinking what was most important for his own happiness. Leaving. What happens to grandma, or his best friend Landry, or even to Julie from here on is secondary to a story about a kid who finally showed some much needed selfishness when faced with a dead end life in a dead end town.

Conversely, Tim’s story is equally tragic. He gave up everything to come back to a Dillon where his life is predictable and simple (and sad). Tim, a guy who admittedly lives in the now with little thought to the future and rarely takes down his wall of indifference, had his first moment of dreaming for a better life when he described to Lyla how she works into his plans for the future (as manager of Riggins Rigs). That she chose life in parts unknown over life with Tim was predictable, but no less painful. And I got the sense that Lyla (even in her escape from Dillon) was doomed to a life of unhappiness because she’s only happy with Tim but could never be happy in Dillon. So when Becky asks Tim if he has a broken heart, the answer is most assuredly yes. Because not only did the love of his life leave, so did the dreams he talked himself into on his return to Dillon.

And so “Stay” worked as a turning point for Friday Night Lights this season. An out with the old, in with the new type feel that sends the show in a direction they’ve been moving toward since the start. Each season is as much about introducing some characters to the same old town. This year’s been no different with new faces like Vince, Luke, Jess and Becky generally living around the periphery entering and leaving the lives of those more established characters. But with Lyla getting on the bus and leaving Tim while Bob Dylan serenaded Matt on his exit from Dillon, the torch passed to this new group (much like a football team) who must now live in a Dillon that will inevitably offer the same life as those who’ve come before them.

This is what makes Friday Night Lights so special, its commitment to change. For a show about a small town where nothing really ever truly happens, it has unapologetically said goodbye to even its brightest stars in an effort to tell a story of a place rather than a few individuals living in its borders.

Other thoughts:

- If this episode acted as an intersection between the old and the new, no scene better showed this than Becky and Lyla’s brief conversation. It’s obvious Becky would give most anything to just be Lyla and it offers a good example of how misguided people (teenagers especially) can be in terms of wanting something different out of life. I’m not saying Becky is wrong in being envious of Ms. Garritty, but I get the sense it’s for all the wrong reasons. Becky wants Lyla’s looks or Tim’s affections without really understanding the pain associated with at least the latter.

- Almost a side story in the theme of “Stay” was the fear Tammy obviously has about eventually losing Julie to college. It was subtle, and more wrapped up in her anger about Julie’s defiance in going to the concert, but it illustrated just how difficult it can be on parents when their kids grow up and fly the coup.

- What to think about Vince? His character has me thoroughly confused. One moment I think he’s a good kid, who just wants to make a better life for himself and be a leader. But then he walks into Jess’s dad’s restaurant (a place he’s most definitely not welcome) with an air of defiance and cockiness that doesn’t totally jive with the rest of his character.

- I love Stan Traub and his commitment to adore every single thing about Coach Taylor. Though he has some rube-like qualities, he’s offered a bit of comic relief to a fairly heavy season. I did think though there would be more of a story when he made his guarantee that East Dillon would win the game.

- Poor Landry just never says the right thing. Whether it’s telling Jess he still has feelings for Tyra or letting on to Matt that Julie had basically run away from home, the guy just constantly puts his kicker’s foot right into his mouth.

- Another game closer to victory for the East Dillon Lions. It will happen eventually fellas. It just has to.

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