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The Knock at the Door: Connections and Completions on Friday Night Lights

Things fall apart.

That would seem to be the message of this week's powerfully moving episode of Friday Night Lights ("Fracture"), written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Allison Liddi, but that's not really what's at play here.

A beautifully nuanced episode about fracturing relationships and imploding teams, it was also a portrait of the way in which connections can occur and fractured relationships can knit themselves back together.

Just as the Dillon Lions seem to be at their lowest point, things get even worse for them. A fight breaks out between Vince and Luke as they prepare to take the stage at a pep rally. Coach Taylor is forced to utter a lie about victory even as he sees his team struggling to be a unified front. Julie turns her car around once more.

But it's the little moments that offer some hope: the way that Becky leaves the note for Luke on his windshield, the blossoming of the bond between Tami and Epyck, that final knock at the door.

Things may be falling apart, in way, but they're also falling together for some of the series' characters.

I will say that I wasn't pleased to see Derek Bishop turn up in Dillon, clearly with the intention of winning Julie back, even as he claimed to want to get her back to school. After nearly being assaulted with a tricycle handlebar, Derek persists in stirring things up with the Taylors, going to see Tami at work and begging to speak to Julie in an effort to help her life back on track.

Yes, Derek is now getting divorce. And, yes, Derek has (rightly) quit his job at the college. But that doesn't balance the scales. The fact that he took advantage of Julie and that their (consensual) relationship led to her being terrorized by his wife and leaving school aren't wiped clean by his efforts to repent to Julie and her parents.

And clearly he hasn't learned too much from this entire altercation. When Julie asks whether he came back to get her to go back to school or to win her back, he does tell the truth: it was to get her back. When she turned her car around once more, I screamed at the television set, yelling for Julie to wake up and see Derek for what he was: a road block on her way to a better life.

I needn't have raised my voice. While Julie doesn't return to college (at least not yet), she turns to her past to find the thing that she was so desperate to find at school but unable to form: a real connection with someone. The world of college that Julie experienced was more or less limited to Derek and she fell into a relationship with him because she couldn't find something or someone to hold onto. Their affair happened because of Derek's depravity and Julie's loneliness.

Which brings her to a certain door. As soon as the door opened, I knew that she hadn't gone to Tennessee to see Derek but to reclaim a relationship that had fractured. Whereas Julie tells Epyck to look towards her future, Julie looks towards her past, towards something once thought broken and abandoned. But something that can be mended once more.

While Eric railed at Vince for "knocking on all the wrong doors" in his and Ornette's wrong-headed approach, it seems that Julie Taylor is knocking on the right door for a change. Behind it: Matt Saracen.

I'm not sure what this means for Julie's schooling, but it's clear that she belongs in Chicago with Matt. And that this Dillon girl is better off in the big city, where she can be challenged, and where she can reclaim that lost sense of connection and completion. To me, seeing Julie and Matt standing on that precipice has made the Julie-Derek storyline entirely worth it.

Kudos to for pushing the Tami-Epyck storyline into high gear as well. Tami's struggles as a guidance counselor at East Dillon have resulted in her often hitting her head against a brick wall but she seems to have broken through to Epyck, even though the rebellious girl lies to her about her home life. Things at her foster home aren't nearly as grim as Epyck indicates; she has a loving foster mother, younger kids to look after, and decent food to eat. But the truth of her situation is far worse than the lies she spins to try and win Tami's sympathy: her parents both died from AIDS and Epyck lived on the street for a while. She may have pulled herself up by the bootstraps but she can't accept any real chance at happiness.

I felt a twinge inside when Epyck told Tami that she didn't want her to call child protective services because they would take her away from Tami. But once the truth had come out about Epyck, Tami didn't cringe, didn't leave, didn't run. She sat down beside Epyck and joined her for a bowl of soup and told her the truth: Epyck has a chance at a future just like everyone else. Sometimes the simplest truths are the hardest ones to accept.

Vince, on the other hand, had no trouble lying to Coach Taylor about his trip to Oklahoma Tech, using his mother's past drug addiction as a convenient shield for what was really going on. And Eric bought it at first, waving away Vince's gut-wrenching lies about his mother's lost sobriety, denying Eric any honesty and denying his mother the struggle she's come through.

But lies away catch up to us in the end and the same held true for Vince, as Eric saw a photo of Vince with the recruiter and the football coach at Oklahoma Tech, a convenience snapshot of deception that followed on Vince's new attitude of putting i before team. We've been down this road with Smash before but Vince's 180 degree turn is due to Ornette's influence and the whispers of recruiters in his ears. He's put himself right before the Lions, seeing them not as brothers or teammates but as an opportunity, a springboard to fame and fortune.

Eric sees this. Jess sees this. Even Luke sees this. But Vince is blinded by the promise of easy living and college life, by big payouts and front page glory. He's turned his back on everything that Eric tried to teach him. But it's Eric who issues the biggest lie as he whispers "victory" into the microphone at the pep rally. The Lions are no pride, no team, no single unit. They've descended into squabbling and in-fighting and victory, the word state scrawled on a chalkboard, all seems rather out-of-reach at the moment.

As the Lions fell apart before our eyes, Becky made a step towards reconnecting with Luke once more. I loved seeing Becky with Mindy's stripper friends and much praise is deserved to Stacey Oristano during the scenes at home and the pageant. Her pride and love for Becky are self-evident but the humor that Oristano injects into her scenes are contagious (see the tiara exchange, for example).

We're seeing a Becky here who is bolder and more self-possessed, and who comes clean to the girls about her pregnancy and abortion. It's Becky's words of truth, of clearing the air, that lead to try and make things right with Luke, to grab at a second chance, to reforge that connection.

The small things can make a difference. Her hand-written note to Luke, about being ready to start over, did make me a little misty-eyed. Over the course of two seasons, Becky has matured from a naive girl into a more self-aware woman, ready to begin anew and open herself up to love once more.

Just like Julie Taylor, it would seem. Let's just hope that these connections can heal the wounded hearts of Dillon's residents. I, for one, couldn't help but sniffle through the final minutes of this remarkable episode. Well-crafted, beautifully written, and tenderly acted, "Fracture" ranks as one of the strongest episodes of this season of Friday Night Lights and one of the most heartfelt and emotive installments in a long time. The end, it seems, is closer than we think.

What did you think of this week's episode? Were you surprised to see Saracen? Enraged at Vince? Can the Lions come back together again in time to win state? Head to the comments to discuss.

Next week on Friday Night Lights ("Gut Check"), Coach threatens to suspend Vince; Luke faces pressure; Billy learns some surprising news from Mindy; a new running back joins the team; Becky starts a surprising new job.


wendy said…
Man, the nuances of this show really take my breath away. So glad the "I'm getting a divorce" line didn't sway Julie (big difference between saying you're getting one and actually getting one - he's a liar so why should he be believed). Love the relationship between Becky and Mindy especially given how it started out - not a typical storyline development in TV. Vince is an incredible disappointment - his selling out his mother was shameful; he's been seduced by that con artist father of his which is what criminals are. Eric's sadness over Julie's transgression was palpable in tonight's scenes - it's almost like he can't bear to be around her. I could go on and on. I will hate it when this show closes the curtain.
Ben Phelps said…
Great post.

This was one of the best episodes of the season. It definitely seems like things are going to get worse before they get better for the Lions. I just hope we get a happy ending.

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