On the heels of the season’s biggest turkey, Friday Night Lights makes a notable return to form with an episode that sees a number of storylines converging as the writers’ plan for the rest of the season starts to come into focus. The big question, of course, is whether that plan will come to fruition—or, rather, will FNL’s second season have 22 episodes or 15? It all comes down to how things work out with the WGA strike, of course, and it’s increasingly clear that if the strike doesn’t end soon, few dramas will have ended the season with more balls in the air.
At the center of “Humble Pie” is Smash Williams, whose dilemma is the main reference point of the title. Hauled off in cuffs from his own house, days after his beatdown of the race-baiting assholes, Smash is advised by his attorney to deliver a public apology to the racist dickwads—confessing to his actions in public, oddly, before a deal with the DA has apparently been signed. The Smash-baiters offer our first real glimpse of a country club-fratboy element in Dillon, a town where few wealthy citizens apart from Buddy Garrity have ever received much screen time. The presence of these assholes suddenly makes Dillon seem a lot less idyllic (it also seems odd that the jerks would get to air their side on TV—using a racially-charged word like “thug” no less—before a “react quote” from Smash was already in the can), and given the nature of the controversy, it’s surprising that no-one apart from his fellow Panthers has Smash’s back. Where’s the minister at the Williams’ family’s church? Where’s the Dillon chapter of the NAACP? Aggravating questions aside, the one promising development to emerge from the story line is that we finally have a continuing plot arc—can the Panthers make it to the playoffs without Smash?—revolving around what happens on the gridiron.
This week’s title is one of the series’s most literal—indeed, it might be a little too on the nose—insofar as it also applies to the activities of Lyla, Tyra, Jason and Riggins. For her part, Tyra comes to realize that Landry is just too good of a guy to go unclaimed, as Dillon’s own Enid Coleslaw (with a little bit of Lane Kim thrown in), Jean, emerges as the gal who’s clearly right for him—or at least a lot better suited for our lad. Lyla, meanwhile, comes clean about her past with Riggins to Chris, her new born-again beau (where Chris is concerned, it’s time for your faithful correspondent to eat some humble pie himself—as a devoted Gilmore Girls fan, I’m hugely embarrassed at my failure to recognize Matt Czuchry last week—he looked familiar as hell, but his combed, eerily helmet-like coiff threw me off compared to Logan Huntzberger’s customarily unkempt locks. Still, I should have recognized that voice anywhere).
Jason’s plot left me divided—on the one hand, it was a lot of fun watching him get eaten alive by the other sales associates at Buddy Garrity’s dealership, who see Jason’s dual status as a football hero and a quadriplegic as a huge threat to their commissions. Jason’s sale to the chronic browser was also a good example of the triumph-over-adversity motif that’s central to FNL, and one of the rare cases where the theme is addressed in a self-contained, single-episode storyline. On the other, there were some annoying continuity issues—it was just a few episodes ago, after all, that we saw Jason walk away from his job as Coach Taylor’s assistant because he wanted to make his own way in the world. Granted, Jason has the excuse of financial hardship, but it seems odd for him to accept a job from Buddy of all people so quickly thereafter. And as for Buddy, while he understandably sees dollar signs when thinking about Jason’s potential as a salesman, he seems overly charitable given the bad blood between him and Jason that resulted from the ill-fated Jason/Lyla engagement, the story line that brought Buddy as close as he’s ever come closer to flat-out black-hat villainy.
For awhile now, Tim Riggins has seemed to be going around in circles, so having him straight up tell Lyla that he loves her gave him some welcome forward momentum…even if, unsurprisingly, he was spurned by her. Rig can be proud, but he ain’t dumb—thankfully, he’s quick to accept the $3000 that Lyla offers him to repay the meth heads, who I sincerely hope we’ve seen the last of. Some people may balk at Lyla having easy access to such a sum, but it made plenty of sense to me—Buddy is obviously a pretty wealthy guy, and Lyla is nothing if not spoiled by him. I have no trouble imagining an off-camera scene where she got him to cough up the cash in about two seconds flat (heck, it’s entirely possible she told him what the money was for—if so, he probably saw it as an investment in the Panthers returning to the playoffs).
On a lot of other shows, “Tami becomes the girls’ volleyball coach and Tyra joins the team” would be a dumb one-week plotline, and while it’s a story that doesn’t arrive without issues—on top of Gracie and her guidance-counselor duties, it’s an awful lot for Tami to be taking on—like many FNL plots, it works far better than it has any reason to, both because of the writing and the cinematic energy of the practice sequence and the game (why the heck is Riggins hanging around during the practice, anyway?). The volleyball plot is the one story line that generally stayed clear of the “humble pie” theme, in the apparent interest of building toward a future payoff—a payoff that may never arrive if the season ends after just two more episodes.
Andrew Johnston is the television critic for Time Out New York.