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Crossroads: Truth and Consequences on Friday Night Lights

And that's how you do a pitch-perfect episode of Friday Night Lights.

I've been on the writers' case this season for the handling of the Julie Taylor storyline, or more specifically from the, er, swerve it made into the territory of cliche. I can only hope that it was a case of taking a shortcut to get Julie to the here and now as quickly as possible because the ramifications of Julie's actions have proven infinitely more exciting and provocative than the actual commission of her affair with married head TA Derek Bishop.

This week's fantastic episode of Friday Night Lights ("Swerve") delivered an installment that offered a look at the sacrifices and frayed bonds of family, contrasting the fallout from Julie's transgression--and its effects on Eric and Tami--with the way that Vince handled his own plight, turning to Ornette for help out of a terrible situation.

The way Ornette may have handled Vince's situation might not have been what Vince had intended, as Ornette not only resorted to violence but may have placed himself and their entire family at risk from retaliation. I watched the rest of the episode expecting gunfire to erupt as Vince and Jess' families came together in one perfect moment of unity. Even though the episode ended without any violence, I'm not entirely sure that the other shoe won't drop yet...

Vince has of late been all about honesty, even when it has a nasty way of backfiring, from Ornette's violent outburst (in defense of his family) to Luke's crushed feelings upon learning that Vince was the object of TMU's interest and not him. It was interesting to me that Vince nearly went to Coach Taylor with his situation but instead chose to keep the problem within the family, coming clean to his father about what had happened and asking for help.

It's something that Julie hasn't been able to do. While the episode split the focus between Vince, Luke (and Billy's ascension to the role of Coach Taylor, Jr.), and Julie, it was the latter's storyline which had the most searing impact. Julie's behavior this season has been out of character entirely; she slept with Derek knowing fully that he was married, despite his line about being emotionally disconnected from his wife. Her attempt to flee Dillon wasn't a result of a broken heart but rather embarrassment at being called out by Derek's wife in front of her dorm mates.

In fleeing to her parents' home, Julie attempts to run away from her problems. Her arrival last week was an act of denial, an attempt to delay the inevitable. But Julie takes her denial a step further this week, intentionally crashing her car into a neighbor's yard and lying to her parents in an effort to buy some more time. But Julie doesn't want to go back to college; she's been humiliated but she's also not accepting responsibility for what she's done, nor the gravity of the line that she's crossed.

When she does come clean to her parents, it's through Tami that she unburdens herself and receives a mother's unconditional love. Tami believes that they need to support Julie and offer compassion; Eric disagrees. He believes that what Julie needs is tough love. But what Tami doesn't know--or doesn't want to accept--is that Julie compounded her transgressions by lying to them. She did intentionally crash her car. She did lie about it. She does offer up platitudes that she believes her parents want to hear ("I'm sorry I disappointed you") rather than words of sincerity. Or words that prove that she is aware of the damage she's caused.

Julie's actions have driven a wedge between the Taylors. The scene in which Eric attempts to drag Julie--literally kicking and screaming--down the hall and into her car was painful to watch in the best possible sense. As Eric physically grabbed Julie and pulled her, Julie's childlike tantrum echoed through the narrow hall, as Tami screamed out at her husband.

It was a side of the Taylors that we've not seen up until now. They've faced their problems as any married couple have and despite disagreements, they've always been a unified front, a single entity locked together against the world. Here, we're seeing them come apart at the seams. That separation symbolized solemnly in the scene where Eric comes home to find Tami, half-empty wineglass by her side, asleep on the couch. He doesn't wake his wife nor does he talk her. It's the first major communication breakdown between the two we've seen.

What Eric does do is go to sit beside Gracie, to see his younger daughter in her innocence and namesake grace, unsullied by the world, undamaged by the choices she might later make in life. For this child, anything is still possible and he desperately wants to believe in her innate innocence and beauty. Julie's aforementioned words to her father, spoken softly from the doorway, receive no reply.

Eric, Kingmaker though he might be, that molder of men, has failed to raise his oldest daughter properly.

That realization its home in a major way for the Lion's coach, though he's guilty of walking away from an uncomfortable situation (Luke Cafferty) just as much as his daughter. But what Eric doesn't see is that Julie is an adult and that both he and Tami are right in a way. Julie DOES need to accept responsibility for her actions and to accept what she did was wrong but she also does need her parents' love and support in order to get through this.

Eric is a good father--no one, after all, can ever strive for perfection at that particular job--and a damn good coach. He is a molder and a motivator of men both on and off the field. The fact that Billy stepped in at the last minute to deliver an Eric Taylor-style motivational speech to the players--and took a drunk Luke under his wing--proved that Eric's moral fiber has rubbed off on those around him.

Julie's actions aren't the result of bad parenting or of a lack of discipline. She's an adult and she's going to fail. She will make mistakes and her parents have to hope that she's able to pull herself up again afterward and that she realizes the errors she's made.

What concerns me is that the fallout from Julie's actions will affect Eric and Tami's marriage directly. (Connie Britton told me a few months ago that we would see the two involved in a dynamic that we haven't seen so far. This would seem to be the beginning of just that.) I don't believe that this will be the end of the Taylors but I do think that their marriage--and perhaps, temporarily, the way they view one another--will be challenged by their reactions to Julie's behavior.

Complex, emotionally resonant, and grounded, "Swerve" is not only the very best of the fifth season to date, putting it on par with its fantastic season opener. It's one installment that will stay with me for quite some time to come and one with lasting repercussions for the residents of Dillon and for the families at the series' heart.

What did you think of "Swerve"? And was Eric's reaction toward his daughter's actions justified? Did you side with him or Tami? And did you love that scene between Luke and Becky at the post-victory party that Mindy orchestrated? (I did.) Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on Friday Night Lights ("Perfect Record"), rivalry week stirs up controversy; Vince is caught in the middle between Coach and Ornette; Billy takes Luke under his wing.


Anonymous said…
I've not seen the episode yet (I'll watch it tonight), but I just wanted to say that I'm so glad you decided to start watching and writing about Friday Night Lights. I really enjoy the way you write about television, and FNL is my favourite show, so to have these two things combined is an absolute treat.

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