Last week, I took Friday Night Lights a bit to task on its (or I guess my) lack of connectivity with this season’s new characters. To some degree that is to be expected due to the changeover of faces. For that, the story and plot elements have struggled a bit with the writers forcing new characters into extraordinary (or at least problematic) situations without us really knowing too much about these new kids. Again, so goes television, especially a show like FNL that has broken television ground in a number of different ways. But tonight’s “The Lights of Carroll Park” reminded me of all that is great in FNL as the writers chose to detail the drama without force feeding us the details. That story was told perfectly, finally, through Vince and the tribulations associated with doing the right thing.
Vince’s struggle is the perfect example of FNL’s commitment to character. Last week I said Vince’s story always felt a scene away. Tonight, his conflict was summed up in one split second when he decided which box to check on the job application, and subsequently realized how his past directly affected his present. It didn’t take him refusing to steal cars or dealing with his drugged out mother to elicit sympathy. Rather he came to the painful realization that no matter his success on the football field, his life was still a bit of a mess. So when he goes to coach for the simple request of “Can you be my reference?” or when he saw clean cut Landry get his old girl and reacted out of pain more than anger, I knew the kid wanted to point his moral compass in the right direction (and it didn’t take him handing over a gun to prove it).
And so Vince stood up to the gangsters coming to eat barbecue at his new job. And he quietly, but tellingly accepted Landry’s affections for Jess. And he stoically led his team against the guys who either were parts of his past or at least parts of the past he is trying to escape. And he became a true character on Friday Night Lights. Vince’s story now becomes like Jason’s or Matt’s or Tim’s, the guys we care about because they are beyond characters. They are real.
Vince is far from out of the woods. He has too many demons in his life to assume he can pull a miraculous “Local Thug Makes Good” in the matter of a few short weeks. So goes kids like the one we saw earlier dealing with a drugged out mother and learning to steal cars. The path to redemption is riddled with misdirection, but at least Vince is walking it. I never doubted he would, but just wondered if I would care about the journey. That question has been answered.
Many other thoughts:
- Tonight’s other storylines had their moments without being heavy handed, pointing each character in decidedly new directions without force-feeding the drama to any crazy degree. Of course the Becky abortion thing is a bit After School Special, although Luke’s reaction to the dilemma was right in line with his character: caring and innocent. It reminded me of his reaction to Tami when she said he had to go to East Dillon. Was there ever any doubt Luke would want to do the right thing by Becky? And her take on the situation through pain, anger and confusion were developed spot on. Situations like theirs are anything but cut and dry.
- Julie’s introduction to the anti-Swede, the Habitat for Humanity kid, was a welcome relief to her dealing with Matt’s relative disappearance. I wasn’t jiving so much with the angry and sad Julie from this season. After two episodes, I agree, it’s time to move on.
- Carroll Park. This season has introduced this side of Dillon we’ve magically never seen before. I understand areas like this exist in every part of the country (I live in Jersey for Christ’s sake), but to believe this underside of existence has been operating in Dillon (or even on its periphery) all this time without us knowing is a bit much to buy into.
- That being said, I loved the football game with the other, other side of the tracks. We need to suspend disbelief to assume East Dillon has three bye weeks in the first seven Fridays of the season, but this game was better than every other football scene this year.
- The look Eric gives Glen when he says he kissed Tami was maybe the best acting moment of the season leading to a classic Tami and Eric interaction where we realize just how a perfect a couple they are.
- Nice to hear even Joe McCoy thinks J.D. is being a dick.
- Julie on Habitat for Humanity – in an era of insane product placement (to which FNL is not immune – I’m looking at you Under Armour), a Habitat shout out is much appreciated.
- Larry Gilliard Jr. (aka Deangelo Barksdale from The Wire) makes a surprise appearance in the role of a reformed gangster trying to help Dillon’s kids. I almost feel as if this is the path Deangelo would have taken (helping kids) had he made it out of jail.
- We took a much needed episode off from Tim Riggins even though he stole the show a bit with his knocking on Becky’s door and misreading her distance for awkwardness over their kiss. Tim is doomed to never know exactly the right thing to say.
- Who knew Lance had such an arm?