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Fathers and Sons: Conflict and Compassion on Friday Night Lights

After last week's Julie Taylor-related catastrophe, I was extremely pleased that this week's episode of Friday Night Lights ("Keep Looking"), written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Todd McMullen, fell back into the pattern of greatness that the series is known for.

This week's episode offered an examination of the often contentious relationship between fathers and sons, summed up in the juxtaposition of Vince's struggles with his ex-con father Ornette and Buddy's attempts to drum some tough love into his angsty teenage son Buddy Jr.

In this case the dynamics were flipped on their head, with Vince struggling to determine whether he could trust his father, and laying down the law now that he's reentered his and his mother's lives. While his mom is happy to dwell on the more rose-colored memories of the past, Vince can't let go of what his father's absence meant to the family, the missed birthdays and moments, and the fact that he blames Ornette for getting his mom hooked on drugs. Across town, Buddy attempts to drum some semblance of responsibility into his rebellious son and, not surprisingly, pushes him to join the East Dillon Lions.

While it was obvious that Buddy Jr. would eventually join the Lions, the beauty of the episode was how well it dealt with this eventuality, following Buddy Jr. as he brushed off Tami at school (and later made a joke about her "rack" over dinner) and then broke into Buddy's bar and got drunk. But the writers made both Buddy Jr.'s malaise and speed palpable, demonstrating just how fast he can run when Buddy and Eric spotted him at a convenient store and took off after him. (He had, after all, stolen Buddy's credit card and his car.)

I was hoping that the writers would deal with the fact that Buddy now owns a bar rather than the ubiquitous car dealership we've seen him running the past four seasons, but it's in keeping with the down-turned economy that Buddy's car business would have hit the skids, so to speak. But rather than gloss over it, Carpenter here focuses on how the dealership is still an open wound for Buddy, its "for lease" signs a painful reminder of yet another failure, something that Buddy Jr. doesn't hesitate to dredge up, a verbal slap across his father's face.

The disparities between Buddy Jr. and Vince are all the more felt during the course of this installment; Buddy Jr.'s gripes are of the seitan variety, while Vince's anger at his father comes from a place of responsibility, of having to care for his junkie mother and keep his family together. Both have been hurt, it seems, by decisions made by their fathers but Buddy refuses to let his son slide. He may have moved away but he's sticking by his decision to raise his son on his own in Dillon. Vince may not need Ornette, but Buddy Jr. definitely needs Buddy. (And vice-versa, it would seem.)

Football is, after all, in his blood, as Buddy tells Eric. It's only natural that his son would end up on the Lions, even if he claims to know next to nothing about the game. It's a smart move that makes Buddy's laser-like focus on the team even more concentrated now that he has a personal investment in the success of the team, beyond that of mere booster or football fan.

Ornette's pride, meanwhile, rubs Vince the wrong way. It seems almost put on, for show, an effort to prove to his son that he cares. Or at least, that's how Vince sees it, and he's grimly determined to keep his father away from that area of his life, refusing to introduce him to Eric on the field. Can these two find a way to live together, to coexist? And with Vince's future brighter than ever, is this going to hold him back from achieving his dreams? (After all, those coaches gathering around Vince at TMU seem to want to recruit him rather badly.)

And then there's the matter of Jess. I loved the scene where Jess held her own against the guys, coming back at their catcalls and teasing with all manner of burns. But Vince can't quite handle allowing Jess to stand on her own two feet and turn the other cheek when his teammates are ragging on their new equipment manager. The scene where Eric told them that they couldn't be a couple on the field or in the lockerroom was hysterical, but it reveals another characteristic to Vince, one that's in keeping with his conflict with Ornette: he wants to protect the women in his life. But there's a difference between protecting and cloistering, and Vince has to let both his mother and Jess find their own way and make their own decision... and fight their own battles.

(I am a little concerned though by how willing Billy was to steal Jess' observation about Tinker. While she may have smiled blithely about being right, it was her keen insight that may have saved Tinker, after all.)

Eric and Tami, meanwhile, are feeling the loss of Julie from their house. This week's episode was fortunately light on the Julie/Derek plot (though we did get two scenes between the pair) as they continued their inane dance of courtship before ending up in bed together again. Tami's effort at homework club (and dealing with at-risk Epyck) hit a bit of a wall, thanks to Epyck's aggressive streak (leading her to get suspended once more) and Tami's own rusty math skills. Attempting to call Julie led only to voicemail as usual, while Eric's sadness was summed up in his glance at a family photo, a sad reminder of their somewhat empty nest.

If only they knew what their daughter was up to...

But the episode wasn't just about fathers and sons as Becky had to deal with the return of her father, who demanded that she move back in with him and her step-mother. Or else. Becky reluctantly complied, even as she and Mindy finally forged a bond, perhaps one that echoed Mindy's own relationship with younger sister Tyra. (Also, as an aside: I loved Luke's words to Becky that he will ask her out and they will go out on a date together. Adorableness all around.)

I loved the scene between Mindy and Becky after Mindy learned that she'd been bumped to a day shift at The Landing Strip after returning from her maternity leave. Becky's peppy nature and her innate optimism did buck up Mindy's spirits considerably, as she urged her to negotiate with the manager. While Mindy was dead set against Becky moving in with them earlier this season, something has changed as they've forged something akin to a family unit, Becky stepping into the role of babysitter/younger sister to Mindy, Tim's football photo staring back them.

Which is why I was so proud of Mindy for not allowing Becky to go back to that house with her "redneck" step-mother and horrible father. As soon as I saw the altercation unfolding at Becky's house, I knew Mindy would do the right thing and step in... and bring Becky back home with her. It was a clear reminder that, for all that Tyra and Mindy have gone through, they always had their mother Angela to support them. Becky is all on her own, a lost girl being yanked around by people who aren't really her family, virtual strangers who are living in her home.

And if Friday Night Lights has taught us anything, it's that the lost and the hopeless can regain their footing. Sometimes all it takes is a helping hand, some tough love, or simply a warm place to stay.

Next week on Friday Night Lights ("Kingdom"), Coach Taylor discusses recruitment regulations with Vince and his father Ornette and when the Lions take a road trip, four of their stars make a pact that will stay with them forever; Julie's inappropriate relationship with Derek becomes even more complicated.

Comments

FNL Podcast said…
I'm really wondering where the recruitment angle will go this season. It seems there's going to be some enticement for benefits along the way. Especially with Vince's dad now in the picture. But you know the fans won't want to see Vince's future "tainted" as the show ends for good.

Will Jess' role increase? I think it will. Seems she's a better strategist than Billy when it comes to football. She can probably yell just as well too.

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