Until we know for sure whether the 15th episode of Friday Night Lights’ second season will turn out to be the last, there really isn’t much to say about “May the Best Man Win”. The episode resolves one major continuing story line—the crisis enveloping the future career of “Smash” Williams—and does so in style. The other ongoing stories, and the new ones that are introduced, are considerably less promising, but past experience has shows us that you can’t really judge an FNL storyline until you see how it plays out—which largely leaves us in limbo.
I consider Jason Street’s date with the pee girl to be one of the series’s absolute low points, so I was considerably less than enthused by the return of the waitress who rescued him from her—the writers would have been much better advised to bring back the tattoo artist from last season if they wanted to reconnect Jason with a girl from his past. Of course, given the time since their last encounter, the creative team would have had to jump through hoops galore to get her pregnant relative to their last encounter—heck, any kid they conceived would be as old as Gracie by now. I don’t recall there being that much to suggest Street had sex with the waitress, but that could be because I was barely considering the possibility in light of Jason’s condition.
In principle, I’m not against a story involving Jason becoming a father, but in this context it leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, this happens just after he lands the job at Buddy Garrity’s dealership, and we haven’t had the chance to see him settle in to the job or to watch him really take stock of how it stacks up to what he wants from life. And while Jason tells the waitress that he wants nothing more than to be a father, I don’t think we’ve really heard him say so before, so it totally comes from out of the blue. And a lot of the surrounding circumstances just felt like sloppy writing—after the circumstances of Coach and Jason’s last encounter, their lunch at Applebee’s seemed too random, and too casual—and lord knows there’s no reason on Earth why Coach wouldn’t know Jason’s age offhand. The reminder that Street is 19 reiterated that Scott Porter—at 27, the oldest of the young actors on the show—is probably too old to be playing Street, and there are also issues with having the waitress be 19. If that’s her age, then why wasn’t she a Dillon High classmate of Street’s (okay, maybe she went to the nearest outlying high school). Having her be a few years older would have worked better, unless the writers felt that they’d gone to the well too many times with Dillon kids and older love interests after the stories involving Carlotta, the Swede, Adam, Chris (Lyla’s Christian beau) and Riggins’ neighbor (incidentally, I noticed that the actress playing the waitress has the same one-eye-higher-than-the-other thing going on that Shannen Dougherty does—is there an exact name for that condition?).
Running down the rest of the stories, I have to say that while I like the idea of Riggins going to church regularly—especially if he discovered that he likes it, and that his motives have nothing to do with recapturing Lyla’s heart—giving him a sports-talk show at the Christian station is just a dumb idea. His discussion on the air of the game that Dillon plays this week made me realize that we aren’t told the outcome of last week’s game (if we are, I totally missed it)...and, given what a complete blow-out this week’s is, it really makes me wonder why everyone was freaking out about how hard it would be for the Panthers to make the playoffs without Smash. And while it was nice of Matt to let Landry score a TD, wasn’t Landry hobbling around last week as a result of having tripped over something? I guess he could have recovered in time, but an explanatory line of dialogue couldn’t have hurt. (On the subject of Landry, I thought his bragging about bedroom action with Tyra was quite out of character—it would have been lot more true to form for him to acknowledge that he was getting some, then say “a gentleman doesn’t go into details” instead of acting as naïve as he did around Matt).
I’d thought Peter Berg’s guest appearance might be a sign that the creative team’s early start on the season gave them enough perspective in terms of the WGA strike deadline to have planned this week’s episode as a possible finale (when I visited the set in early August, the season’s seventh episode was in production at a time when many other series were just shooting their third or fourth). I guess I’m just too symbolism-oriented by nature, as there wasn’t anything terribly valedictory about the series creators’ appearance as Tami’s high school boyfriend. Coach’s irritation towards him and general lack of patience was totally in character—but, like some of what the coach at the historically black college says about their friendship, the encounter raises a number of thorny chronological/continuity questions about how long the Taylors have been in Dillon, where else Coach has worked, etc., etc. I’m probably thinking about all this way too much, but if you’re the kind of person who spent way too much time as a teenager trying to resolve internal contradictions in comic book timelines, it’s hard not to get distracted by such minutae.
In the whole episode, there was only one scene that really stood out as a superior FNL moment: The sequence in which Noelle prepares Smash for the meeting at Alabama—a scene that removes any doubt about the sincerity of her feelings for him—and the ensuing conversation with the coach. The Alabama coach projects a decency that makes it immediately clear that he probably would have stood by Smash had he made a commitment to play for the Crimson Tide, and the look on Gaius Charles’ face as Smash gradually realizes this further proves that, next to Zach Gilford, he’s the best of the younger actors on the show. The coach’s concluding “Tell your mom I say hi” may gild the lily somewhat, but it’s also the kind of thing you just know he’d say in real life under the circumstances (one thing did bug me, however—if Smash and Noelle were supposed to be at the actual Alabama campus in that scene—and, if for the sake of argument, Dillon is located at the same coordinates as its real-life counterpart, Odessa TX—then they would have had to drive 939 miles to get there!). If the second season of Friday Night Lights is allowed to play itself out, we can only hope that, when the series returns, the still-unresolved storylines are wrapped up by means of moments as sincere and affecting.
Andrew Johnston is the television critic for Time Out New York.