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Striving to Be Better: Expectations and Deviations on Friday Night Lights

I'm just going to say it upfront: I'm hating Julie's storyline.

I always like to give Friday Night Lights the benefit of the doubt when it comes to storytelling (except, maybe, for the murder conspiracy storyline in Season Two), but the weakness of the current college plot for Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) was all the more apparent this week when it was juxtaposed with the strength and grace of the storyline for Vince (Michael B. Jordan).

This week's episode of Friday Night Lights ("The Right Hand of the Father"), written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman and directed by David Boyd, attempted to balance the two plots, as well as a third about striving to be a better person in light of last week's disastrous party and the drunken behavior of Maura (Denise Williamson) but it didn't quite all come together for me in the end, due to the lackluster nature of that Julie subplot.

Which is a bit of a disappointment, as Jordan's Vince delivered some powerful and affecting scenes in which he attempted to balance the expectations placed on him by Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his father, newly released from prison, with his own bruised feelings and innate needs. Viewed within those contexts, the episode was a resounding success as it followed what could have been a familiar plot trajectory and instead made it is own, exploring whether we can change as human beings and how much change we're capable of achieving.

The return of his father--and the fact that Vince's mom Regina (Angela Rawna) seems to welcome him with open arms--doesn't go over well with Vince, who has been pushed into the role of man of the house for so long that he sees his father as both interloper and bad influence, punishing him for Regina's addiction and for turning his back on his family. Despite the fact that his father wants to make amends, wants to get to know him, and wants to see him play, Vince wants nothing to do with this man.

Which makes their final scene all the more vital and important, as Vince takes his father's hand and shakes it. It's a rare moment of connection between them as well as a sign that Vince did take Coach's words to heart: Vince is attempting to be a better Vince than anyone expects. It's a reversal of the sullen Vince we saw earlier in the episode as he gives into defeat in the parking lot and sends the team home and the angry Vince we saw in Coach's office. (When he threw something across the room and exploded, I loved how calm and collected Eric was, allowing Vince to vent and cool down and not provoking him further.)

But it's also telling that Vince doesn't chase after his dad after he packs his things and leaves, apologizing for intruding. It would have been unrealistic if he had done so and it wouldn't have been true to the struggles of this character. We can attempt to change, attempt to be better people, but it doesn't mean that we can ever achieve sainthood. Vince made huge progress in his struggles with his father and while he walked out to the landing to watch him leave, he bit his tongue and didn't call after him.

That moment might be all that ever passes between them but it was a genuine moment of understanding, as his father realized it was the first time he ever felt pride and he expressed his love for his son in the only way he knew how, a different declaration than this man would have made before his incarceration.

The struggles of fatherhood were part and parcel of this episode as Buddy (Brad Leland) grappled with what to do about his misbehaving son Buddy Jr., finally telling his ex-wife to send the boy to live with him. Given that Buddy has been parenting from afar from some time, it will be interesting to see just what it means to see Buddy as a hands-on parent again. And I couldn't help but think back to that derailed Santiago plot from a few season back (which remained unresolved due to the writers strike of 2007/08). It was Buddy's turn to rise above expectations and, instead of punishing his ex-wife or her new husband, take responsibility for his son and place his child's needs before his own. It's time for some tough love, Buddy Garrity style.

Tami (Connie Britton), meanwhile, attempted to snap the rally girls out of their stupor after footage of Maura being used as a rag doll at last week's party made their way onto the internet. Maura's shocking apathy, as well as that of the other girls, was eye-opening for Tami, who gave an impassioned speech about bad reputations and downwardly mobile behavior patterns to a disinterested crowd. (It's telling that perhaps only Jess and Becky seemed to be paying attention.)

Seeing an opportunity to make some positive change, Tami pushes Jess (Jurnee Smollett) to pursue a role as equipment manager for the East Dillon Lions... without clearing if with Eric first. (Oops.) But while Tami is able to win Eric over, it's actually Vince who's uncomfortable with the idea of Jess being the lockerroom with the guys. I'm curious to see just where this storyline is going as it will be interesting to see Jess interact with the team, with Coach Taylor, and with the team's all-male coaching staff.

But while Tami's speech may have spurred Jess to action, it seems clear that the real audience Tami needs to deliver this diatribe to is her own daughter, Julie.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm so disappointed by the way in which Julie's current storyline is unfolding that it actually made me angry to watch her portions of the episode this week. We've known ever since "head TA" Derek Bishop was introduced that the two would end up sleeping with one another and I haven't been too enamored of their interactions to date. It's possibly due to the lackluster energy of the actor playing Derek, who isn't quite a charming as he needs to be in order to pull off such a rote plot.

But the fact that we learned this week that Derek is actually married (to a woman who is on a sabbatical, posing questions as to whether she's a grad student or a professor) and Julie jumped into bed with him without stopping to think that she is willing to have sex with a married man made me question this plotline as a whole. Julie has made mistakes before, but her lack of judgment and her seemingly willingness not to question the situation (and to fall for Derek's cheesy lines about he and his wife not "really" being married) had me scratching my head. Yes, Julie is attempting to seize the moment and she's not fitting in at all at school but I'm hoping the speed with which she extricated herself from Derek's bed the morning after points towards some realization that she made a mistake.

And for all his talk about Julie's potential, he still gave her a poor grade on her essay. I'm not sure of Derek's game but I don't like it and I'm holding out hope that this storyline--an attempt to give Julie a life outside of Dillon--either takes her to some interesting and unexpected places or brings her swiftly back to Dillon, post-haste.

What did you think of this week's episode? Do you agree about the Julie storyline? And do you find it as irritating as I do? Or are you curious to see where it leads? Head to the comments section to debate.

Next week on Friday Night Lights ("Keep Looking"), Coach Taylor is forced to play mediator as tensions erupt in the locker room; the Lions also welcome a new player and Luke is recruited by TMU; Buddy deals with the trials and tribulations of fatherhood; Becky's dad returns; Tami counsels a troubled student named Epyck.


Dolphin said…
Trust the writers with Julie's experience. This episode is about the Hand of the Father. I not only asked how Tami would react to Julie's first weeks in college, but how would Coach react? Would he be as calm as he was with Vince?

You can just feel some storyline coming up with Buddy and his son. My brother acted out and ended up living with Dad during high school. Not at all unusual. Love more Buddy!

And trust the writers with Jesse as equipment manager. Tami owed it to her after her lame Rally Girl comment about panties in the locker is just part of Texas Football. Even I didn't buy that coming out of Tami Taylor's mouth.

That's my mantra this final season ... just trust the writers!!
Jen said…
I just have not got into this show at all. It seemed promising at first, but as time goes on it has become a bit confused and weak.
gotta love the 101 said…
Yeah, not liking the Julie storyline so far, but I will go with Dolphin and trust the writers. The whole sleeping with the TA could have been avoided if Riggins were there to see she was getting drunk and about to make a mistake. Too bad he's still doing time. What episode is he getting out on good behavior?

Is it not obvious that Buddy Jr. will be joining the Lions once he gets to town? Unfortunately they already used the kicker angle with Landry as it may have worked well with Buddy Jr. seeing as he was playing soccer in CA.
Wood said…
I'm mad at the Julie situation also. You would think this is not like her. Just thinking what her and Matt had, I thought that was true love. To me their relationship was one of the most real relationships on the show! Nothing about it was fake and the stupid stuff that does happen in relationships the stuff no one wants to share was in their relationship and that's what made it so cute and believable!!! They were kind off like Tami and Coach.
Maybe people change, maybe Julie is desperate and she feels lonely and ya ppl shouldn't do what she has done but many do in her situation.
Anonymous said…
It seems that Coach Taylor and his wife have not prepared their daughter very well for her first time away from home. Many young people make mistakes and bad choices when they first go away to college so I hope that Julie will wake up and remember what she has been taught. They need to get her home and quickly. That TA also needs to lose his job!

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