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Homecoming: Where the Heart Is on Friday Night Lights

The end is almost here.

While I've felt the looming end of Friday Night Lights throughout this season, never have I felt the urgency as keenly as I did with this week's eloquent installment ("Don't Go"), written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Michael Waxman, which began to move the pieces in place for the series' ending in a few weeks.

At times lyrical, at times somber, the sensational "Don't Go" had me wiping away tears freely throughout the episode as the concept of home was revisited several times throughout. Just what is home? Is it the place where we hang our hat? Is it the place where we're surrounded by our loved ones? Or is it the place where we choose to be, in spite of the opportunities elsewhere?

This week, Coach Taylor considered a fantastic position in Florida, one that would give him free reign to recruit and a massive budget. After struggling to make ends meet with the Lions, it seemed like the answers to his prayers, an easy out, a golden opportunity, a perfect situation for someone who perhaps has grown a little restless of late.

But this is Eric Taylor, after all. That molder of men, the Lions' Kingmaker, the steadfast champion of Dillon. Can he turn his back on the young men who have pledged to play for him? Who need him? Who are inspired by him?

While the episode follows Eric as he consults Tami and considers his options, the town rallies around Eric, looking to manipulate him emotionally into staying. Or at least, that's Buddy's intention, buoyed by the discovery of those Florida oranges. Speeches are arranged, testimonials considered, plaques and statues discussed. If Dillon's lifeblood is football, then Eric Taylor is its beating heart. Without him, what chance do the Lions have at victory?

As Eric considers his future, so to does Vince finally, realizing that Ornette is behaving more like an agent than a father. It takes a series of confrontations (including a pretty powerful one at a restaurant) and a touching conversation with Regina for Vince to see the error of his father's ways, and the fact that Eric was the one steering him in the right direction.

While Vince is unable to articulate his thanks to Eric at the sports banquet, he shows up at the house to not only make amends for his awful behavior of late, but also to offer a personal testimonial, a heartfelt thanks, and the realization of the truth. If it weren't for Coach Taylor, Vince would likely be in jail or dead in a ditch somewhere. He saved his life, just as Eric as saved so many others.

This truth hits home even more so in this episode as the time for Tim Riggins' parole hearing creeps closer. While Billy can't bring himself to admit to Mindy just why he's acting so angry (it's guilt more than anything), he attempts to enlist Eric's help in providing a character witness for Tim. Eric is more than happy to do so, speaking on Tim's behalf and stating eloquently that he knows Tim's good heart. (Surprisingly, it's Buddy's impassioned argument that seals the deal for the parole board, as he promises to give Tim a full-time job.)

What was interesting to me is that Tim had been writing Eric during his incarceration, letters that seemed to go unanswered. Even as Eric apologizes for not visiting him enough in jail, there's a sense perhaps that Eric feels as though he failed his former star player, not once, but twice.

As for Tim, he bears little resemblance to the cocky football player we once knew; the light has gone out of his face and he seems a shadowy shell of his former self. There is no Texas Forever bravado, no upturned head, but rather a sad man facing his future. Even upon his release, he seems a strange in his own house, ill at ease around Billy, Mindy, and Becky, unsure of what lies ahead for him, his sacrifice seemingly unappreciated by his brother, who can't bring himself to tell his wife what really happened between them.

That change in Riggs brought tears to my eyes, as did his parole hearing as Billy, Eric, and Buddy plead to the board on Tim's behalf, their words adding up to a picture of a man very different than the one sitting before them.

But it was also the small moments that got me as well: Riggs' sad smile; Eric and Tami discussing their days, as Eric rubbed her back; the shared "I love you" that passes between these spouses as he heads off for the final away game before the playoffs. The way that he tells Tami that he's going to stay in Dillon, that the kids needs him, even as you can see her dreams of Florida evaporating before her eyes.

These two and their marital bond remain the constant center of Friday Night Lights. Through thick and thin, through good times and bad, Eric and Tami have remained steadfast and true to one another. The look that passes between them at the end of the episode? That, more than anything, is the definition of home. And, in each other, these two have found something that most people search their entire lives for.

Next week on Friday Night Lights ("The March"), budget cuts loom for East Dillon; Tami goes to Pennsylvania for a big opportunity; the team look ahead to the playoffs; and Vince is once again responsible for his household.


Hadley said…
This was an excellent episode and, like you, I found myself getting really sad knowing that this is the final stretch of this incredible show. I think they handled Tim's return home really honestly and I'm just looking forward to seeing how everything ties up over the next few episodes. (Sniff.)

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