In a season that began with a questionable storyline, this episode is the most frustrating installment yet even though four-fifths of it was solid. "Are You Ready for Friday Night?" featured what made Friday Night Lights so captivating last season, but to borrow football terminology, it was too busy running laterally or even backwards -- a desperate gambit without faith in the discipline that led to its prior success (well, a qualified success) -- and virtually gave up on the idea of forward progress. Any number of characters experienced sublime epiphanies by the end of last season, but all that growth was ignored or (worse yet) reinvented in this episode. On another separate but related problem that can be summarized with a second football cliche, the second season has also stacked the box with the commonplaces of melodrama so that the good -- namely, the unpretentious domestic naturalism -- is overwhelmed with trite dramatic conventions that stuff the talent well behind the line of scrimmage. So in the end, the quiet domesticity, the engrossing small-town, dead-end ennui now has to contend with the sensational; the fundamental rules, the underlying physics of Friday Night Lights have been rewritten, and far from being a premature anxiety, what we've got is nothing short of a moral failing that can only be resolved through means that are equally sensationalistic as the problems themselves. (In short, I'm never going to tell someone to chill.)
Which is to say, since we've got 8 defenders in the box lined up against the show's running game, if the show's going to keep its current drive alive, it will have to go to the, um, air. Which I guess means it has to trust in Saracen to...
Which brings us to how the season has mischaracterized its principal characters -- Riggins back on the wagon, Street chasing miracle cures, Smash hosting his 24/7 Smash Show, all of whom have moderately good reasons, but after the finale, it all feels unfairly redundant, with Saracen being the most egregious example. He had never before bought into the fascistic mythologizing of the sacramental collective at the expense of individual expression, nor into the macho posturing that plays into such a culture, so why did he tackle Smash during a game when Smash decided to drink in the adulation he earned? (And after Smash succinctly and elegantly explained to him why he was brashing it up again, Saracen's reaction becomes doubly inexplicable and is shot through with the contradictory, self-aggrandizing "I'm standing up for team values if no one else will" notion.) It's the sort of reductive "There's no 'I' in 'team'" ideology -- and more than a hint of the entailing right way/white way theology -- that FNL rarely if ever stooped to last season. (OK Voodoo whatever.)
Yet, Saracen is still partly the shambling kid we loved from last year, though what makes his character disappointing comes down to "partly." While the some of the scenes in Chez Saracen were right in the domestic bread basket of the show -- namely Matt asking live-in not-quite-a-nurse Carlotta to do his laundry as well -- they're not being used as the slice-of-life
Instead, the domestic scenes are merely the means to build up to the transparent "sexual" "tension" subtext between the Saracen and Carlotta, which is fine for QB1...
... but not so great for the rest of us who can see the producers pulling their strings on behalf of a soapy story arc that will make the Riggins/Jackie look like kitchen sink realism.
Meanwhile, Julie! She's already traded in solid, dependable, and newly emasculated Saracen for Douche Baggins, shows that she's also a global warming skeptic who can't get her topical "facts" straight -- if anything, the current EPA administration is little more than an adjunct of the Bush White House and its environmental policy! Like, omigod! She really should stop now before she really embarrasses herself.
Normally, I don't like acting, which is odd since I usually privilege style so much; on the other hand, I also demand narrative as the most fundamental basis of drama. Good narrative absorbs the viewer into the action; what most people think of as good acting draws attention to the performer, which distracts from the narrative. But then, I loved Connie Britton's performance last year, mostly because it wasn't the typically superfluous and showy awards-bait acting that passes as good acting. That was last season though; this season, I'm left with one thought: Acting is more than crying. Asking Connie Britton to play Broken-Down Mom is pointless and arguably unearned flash; no doubt she can do it, but the essence of her performance last year was the emotionally subterranean qualities that defy the surface limitations of visual media. This season, we've only seen obvious emoting with all the good acting signifiers on prominent display.
Indie rating: Doomriders - "Worthless"