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TV Review: Friday Night Lights – “Texas Whatever”

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NBC’s Friday Night Lights ends for good next week. Which means this week’s episode, “Texas Whatever,” provides some closure and sets up the final plots for the series. The Lions campaign hard to keep their team, but despite their best efforts, it is decided the Dillon Panthers will be the only high school football in town next year. The Panthers move quickly, recruiting Buddy (Brad Leland), hoping he will coax Vince (Michael B. Jordan) and Eric (Kyle Chandler) to get on board. Eric ponders it, infuriating Tami (Connie Britton), as her husband isn’t seriously considering moving north for an exciting job she is offered. Tim (Taylor Kitsch) gets some advice from Tyra (Adrianne Palicki), and gives some in return to Luke (Matt Lauria).

Tami rightly points out that she has put her life on hold for Eric’s career for many years. While she does pursue jobs in the field she loves, serving as principal and guidance counselor during Friday Night Lights‘s run, these are supplementary to her role as coach’s wife. Their marriage hinges on what Eric does professionally, and despite being a pretty decent husband most of the time, in this instance, Eric dismisses her far too quickly. He doesn’t even seem to consider the move. Oftentimes, when Tami disagrees with Eric, she swallows it because she is happy enough. This time, her displeasure is obvious and ongoing. Which will hopefully jolt Eric awake to his error.

Despite this recent anti-feminist attitude, Eric and Tami have one of the best, most solid, most realistic marriages on television. There is much give and take and compromise over the run of the show, and in “Texas Whatever,” they are merely going through a rough patch. Seeing their love and dedication to each other spurs confidence that the issue will be worked out in a satisfactory manner. It also telegraphs what has to happen, because only one decision will end the fight. Should Eric continue to deny Tami the opportunity of a lifetime, one she is recruited for because of her high skill level, he will be saying he does not have that same level of faith and pride in her that she does in him, as well as telling her she is not as important in the marriage. This would run contrary to the give and take shown over the past five years. Eric will make the right choice.

Buddy switching sides may seem out of character at first, but it’s really not. The loveable business owner is nothing if not loyal. He switches his allegiance to the Lions when Eric is treated unfairly, and seeing an opportunity to return Eric to what Buddy considers his proper position, and knowing the battle to save the Lions is lost, he makes the best of a bad situation. He truly wants to do right by those he cares about, and in this case, that means brokering peace between his closest friend and the people who ousted him.

Watching Jess (Jurnee Smollett) and Vince pull together to try to save the Lions is incredibly touching. The two have had their share of problems, but they bond over Dillon football. Because of what Eric puts into the program, the team is more than just guys playing sports. It’s a community that inspires and teaches the students to grow as people, not just athletes. Only Eric’s version of football can mend relationships and lead his players to greatness. All this is demonstrated brilliantly in the scene where the former couple go before the school board president to beg for the Lions’ survival. Even their failure takes nothing away from that moment.

Besides the Taylor family, no character is in as many episodes, or means as much to Friday Night Lights fans, as Tim Riggins. As such, it is wholly depressing to watch the young man spend most of the final season behind bars, a sacrifice he makes to keep his brother, Billy (Derek Phillips), out and taking care of his family. It’s a noble deed, but Tim’s behavior after release sinks many a hope that he will make something of himself. In “Texas Whatever,” little of the Tim viewers have grown to love is left, as he considers moving to Alaska, giving up his beloved Texas home.

That’s why it is highly gratifying for Tyra to come back into the picture and set him straight. Many people have been able to reach Tim in various situations, but none as effectively as the woman Tim loves. Any other girls he dates will always be measured up against Tyra, and she is the one who completes him. Only Tyra can talk sense into Tim, helping him mend the fences with his brother, rather than take off from his problems. She has only a small role in the final season, but it’s one every bit as important as anything else.

Tyra frees Tim up to be the best man he can be, which he needs in advising Luke. The two guys are similar in some ways, though vastly different in others. But they have enough in common for Tim to be able to help Luke see that playing football will probably not be his life, and if Luke really wants Becky (Madison Burge), he should go for it without worrying about anyone else. Luke suspects Tim may have a thing for Becky, but Tim dismisses that, and he’s telling the truth. In this case, Tim is in a paternal role, and it is a testament to Luke’s character that he can seriously consider the wisdom Tim imparts, despite his misgivings.

Depressing this entire hour, though, is the Lions being abandoned as a team. For three years Friday Night Lights motivated its fans to cheer for the Panthers, but two years ago, the show made the beloved team the enemy. Going back now is impossible, with the same crooked men still running the show. For the Lions to face extinction is nothing but sad, and wholly unfair. But life is unfair, and without the disbanding of the Lions, several characters, including Eric, would never be able to move on as they need to. The team means so much to so many, in spite of its brief existence, and once the magnetic pull stops, it won’t take long for the magic to be over. Everything must come to an end, and not everything turns out the way one wants. It’s how one moves forward that is important.

The hour and a half series finale of Friday Night Lights will air next Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com