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Kingdom Come: Fry Bread and Breakdowns on Friday Night Lights

"Julie Taylor is a slut!"

Let's be honest about this: we all knew that Derek Bishop was bad news and we all knew that it would come to this, a screaming match in a crowded college setting in which his wife railed at Julie for sleeping with her husband.

Or at least, it's what I've suspected--and dreaded--for some time now. I've been upfront about my dislike for Julie Taylor's storyline this season and the way that her college experience, summed up by her relationship with doctoral candidate/TA/fry bread-addict Derek has veered sharply into cliche, which is something that Friday Night Lights doesn't typically do.

Julie's arc thus far this season has seemed to be the means to an end: the way to get Julie back to Dillon without her just dropping out of college, despite her ambition and her smarts. Enter the crazy wife of Derek, with a well-timed rant (even if I found it hard to stomach that this PhD candidate would mispronounce "cliche") and a sharp slap across Julie's face. Yes, Julie, there are consequences.

This week's episode of Friday Night Lights ("Kingdom"), written by Rolin Jones and directed by Patrick Norris, didn't focus entirely on the Julie/Derek storyline but their affair hovered uneasily over what was otherwise a fantastic installment. Julie's own shocking naivete was paralelled in Luke Cafferty's. His belief that TMU wanted both him and Vince will likely come back to haunt him. The two might be "brothers," branded forever as Lions, but likely this relationship is going to hit the skids once Luke realizes just what is going on with the TMU recruiters.

Luke, as we've seen throughout the last two seasons, sees the best in everyone and expects that things will work out. Despite injury, defeat, Becky's pregnancy, he seems to have an innate belief in optimism and providence. His rivalry with Vince has transformed into something closer to brotherhood, their team a pride of Lions. (I loved Luke's drunken depiction of "pride.") By branding themselves, by "walking through the fire, they make their commitment to the team and to each other permanent, a visible reminder of the bond they share. But nothing in life is permanent.

I'm glad that Vince and Ornette are heeding Coach Taylor's advice and allowing him to be the liaison with TMU and I'm glad that Vince was upfront with Luke, even though Coach told him to keep the news under his hat. But Luke is going to be heartbroken when his vision of the two of them on the TMU field doesn't come to pass. Did he damage his own chances by bringing Vince to TMU in the first place? And will he come to resent his teammate once the truth becomes apparent?

Glad to see Buddy Jr. already enmeshed in the group, from his flirtation with the lipstick girl (loved that he snagged the lipstick as a memento) to the rawness of his arm, post-branding. The guys may have hazed him a bit throughout the episode but his decision to get branded reflected his passion and devotion to the team. And it was fantastic to see him so out of his element, having entered Hastings' world. (As well as seeing Billy get to use his Riggins' Rigs knowledge to get the team to Kingdom.)

Kudos too to Coach for realizing that if the team is going to make it to State that they have to embrace the rough side of things, bring the street to the football field and that they need to play smart and play rough if they have any chance of victory. His inclination proved correct and those "forfeit" signs came down pretty quickly once the team shifted into high gear. But Eric also seemed to be somewhat haunted as well. He's been a man of morals, on and off the field, and his disinterest in the poker game seemed to reveal that his decision to play tough was eating at him a little bit.

I loved his semi-drunken call to Tami ("what are you wearing?") and Tami's own drunkenness with Laurel (four bottles of wine between the two of them!), which may have accounted for her sheer joy at seeing Julie return home to, uh, do some laundry. Tami's loneliness, with Eric away and her daughter at school, may have clouded her perception here. The implication with Julie's arrival in Dillon is that she might not be returning to school and her attitude was cagey and furtive, something that Tami--in her happiness--failed to pick up on.

I'm happy to see the writers further developing Laurel and giving Tami a sounding board. (My only complaint was that this episode was, by necessity, Tami-light.) Their drunken conversation was a nice counterpoint to the tension on the field. But my favorite moment had to be Coach silently listening to his players on their hotel balconies as he tried to carve out a moment of solitude. From learning a bit more about Hastings (he's been in Kingdom before and has moved around a lot) to Tinker's misunderstanding of how the hotel minibar and pay-per-view worked, it fused together a comedic situation with something deeper and more poignant.

Which is something that Friday Night Lights does like no other series.

It might be why the Julie situation has gotten under my skin in the way that it has. FNL doesn't go for the obvious or the cliche, so the fact that the turning points in Julie's arc have been glaring like spotlights has rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, it seems intended to bring Julie back into the fray and return her to Dillon but I wish things had played out differently. Or at least not quite as predictably.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Julie Taylor and her current storyline? Or have the writers lost their way a little with this one? Head to the comment section to discuss.

Next week on Friday Night Lights ("Swerve"), a popular magazine hails Coach Taylor as the Kingmaker; Vince's past catches up to him when an old acquaintance demands he pay his debt; Luke reacts to the truth about TMU; a suspicious car accident delays Julie's return to college.


Winni said…
Great review of the episode. My favorite part of the episode was also the moment on the porch. Not that we haven't already seen it in other episodes, but it's heartwarming seeing how Coach Taylor instills such loyalty in his players.

The Julie storyline is also getting on my nerves a little. She's never appeared to make good decisions, but I think this is the worst yet. In fact, I can't recall when she's ever acted smart, and after all these years, it's time her character grew up.
brett said…
Glad that Friday Night Lights is still going strong...loved the recent episode "Kingdom" and i'm also so happy that they still use great music, just like the movie did...Ted Leo's "Where Was My Brain" was the perfect song for the Dillon vs. South King game (that scene is at )

beyond the straight on field drama, the episode had a perfect mix of comedy and dramatic insight as in the minibar/pay-per-view confusion part and this is something that FNL the series does better than the movie.

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