With the end of Season 3 quickly approaching, college is on the mind of several Friday Night Lights characters. Matt is contemplating leaving his grandmother to pursue new dreams, Tim is the first Riggins going to college, and Lyla feels that Vanderbilt is guaranteed for her future, but Tyra, after dismissing her academics to be with her then-boyfriend Cash, now faces a mountain of tests that must be faced in order to even sniff college. In “The Giving Tree,” the futures of several students are either given or taken away by the actions of other people, which is an idea that I like on paper, but as executed, the episode itself ends up being neither particularly good nor bad, just mostly uninspired.
When Buddy Garrity pummels a business partner at a strip club over lost money, you begin to wonder what’s behind the situation. Lost money could make almost anybody go nuts, especially $70,000, but this man makes business deals all the time, doesn’t he? Well, as it turns out, this money that Buddy invested was Lyla’s college fund. With no money, dreams of Vanderbilt dwindle very quickly, and with all the grief she’s given Tim about his future, it’s understandable that Lyla would be devastated upon learning that her own future may be taken away from her. She packs a bag and bolts to Tim’s place, leaving Buddy alone, angry, and depressed. Is Lyla’s future completely shot? Of course not. I would think that a student like herself could earn some scholarships, or, as Buddy mentions, even work her way through the payments. But the point is that Buddy carelessly took the money promised to his daughter, saved from an early age, and gambled with it.
But wait—we’ve talked before about how Buddy pretty much has two loves in his life these days, two things that keep him going: Panther football and his daughter Lyla. Even in a bad economy, when business is terrible, would Buddy even consider risking his daughter’s future without even talking to her about it? It feels so out of character that I find the notion incredibly difficult to accept, especially considering how much care and appreciation he’s displayed for her lately.
As it’s been shown since the beginning of the season, Landry’s relationship with Tyra is an unbalanced one, as Tyra receives a lot of Landry’s out-of-kindness benefits without having the commitment of being a couple. Landry blew up about this once Tyra started dating Cash, but he falls back into the trap once again when his ex-girlfriend comes to him for help with her SAT preparation. Would he really do so, especially after the damage that was done in the past? I think given some time, some distance, and last week’s meaningful phone call between the two, a giving person like Landry could walk into that situation once again. But it doesn’t last for long when he realizes what’s really going on. He compares the situation to the Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree; he’s the tree, constantly giving, and Tyra just keeps taking, taking, taking.
The comparison is a bit unfair. I know that there are many who believe the story represents a dysfunctional one-sided relationship, but I can’t help but see it as a touching mother-son story. The boy loved the tree, and the tree gave freely. The tree was happy, never asking or wanting anything in return. To compare himself to the Giving Tree and then call Tyra selfish seems unreasonable of Landry. However, he is essentially correct: Tyra is selfishly taking advantage of his kindness. She hates to believe this, but knows it’s true, so she gets a decent gig lined up for Landry’s band, Crucifictorious, and says, “Don’t say I never did anything for you.” The whole storyline, while being pleasantly sweet (almost too much so), was little else. What helps salvage the story, at least for me, was the way that some of the more important scenes were visually created, particularly the confrontation. When Landry compares himself to the Giving Tree, he and Tyra are outside, and the scene ends with shots of Tyra standing beneath a particularly large tree; I was surprised at how the composition did not feel blatant. The serendipitous wind that blows throughout their talk adds something extra to the moment, not only making it feel like a storm is on the horizon, but, through the constant rustling of the leaves, creating a certain calm that clashes with the ongoing argument.
With the Panthers right in the middle of the playoff hunt, Joe McCoy’s leash on his son is getting shorter every minute. The thing is, J.D.’s constant obedience to his father and unwillingness to make his own decisions has lost him a lot of respect in the locker room. Additionally, he desires to pursue girls like that redhead, Madison, but breaks things off due to his father’s demands. Tim pulls the boy aside and reminds him that he is a leader in the locker room; the team can’t follow someone who can’t follow himself. This prompts the boy to sneak out at night with Madison, which in turn prompts Joe to refer to his son as “that little bastard.” We’ve seen Joe humiliate his son after the boy got drunk at a party, and we’ve seen the father become more forceful when a game is on the line. I get the feeling that, if J.D. continues to rebel against his father, Joe’s not just going to leave things at “that little bastard.”
When Eric wondered to Tami what thrusting J.D. into the spotlight could do to the young boy, he didn’t know if the quarterback could handle the pressure that came with the prominent position. He was probably referring to the town’s expectations of their team’s leader, but there’s also the conflict that results from the pressure of his father clashing with the pressure of his team and his peers. The young prodigy is a celebrity, known as the All-American wholesome milk-drinking star quarterback. How is that not going to influence the mind of a sheltered 15-year-old boy being pursued by beautiful girls?
This week, at least, the boy’s head is still in the game, but the problem is that the Panthers are matched up against the notoriously-dirty Buckley team and a group of refs that happen to hate Coach Taylor. There’s a noticeable absence of yellow flags being thrown as Buckley issues dirt in the face, late hits, and pass interferences. It finally becomes too much for Coach Taylor, who follows the referees around, yelling in their faces, calling one of them a “no-calling son of a bitch.” Well, Coach finally gets a penalty flag thrown, but it’s one that ejects him from the game. With his right hand man Mac still out of commission, Coach hands the game over to his interim assistant, Wade Aikmen. Watching the game from a nearby bar, Eric tries to call Wade on the phone and coach the game from afar. The assistant can’t hear Eric and ends up coaching it himself the rest of the way. Dillon pulls out a win and the announcers, masters of superlatives, call Wade’s performance “inspired” and deem him a “bright shining star on the Dillon football horizon.” Just as with the season premiere, the show’s writers are trying to jam in a conflict in very little screen time. In the first episode, it took J.D. just a couple of throws before he was crowned the next Jason Street, and this time, it literally takes just a play or two before the game announcers are waxing Wade Aikmen’s car. There was a little bit of hinting at this when Mac warned Eric that hiring Wade would bring a fox in the henhouse, but it almost pops up out of nowhere in “The Giving Tree.”
The Taylors’ discovery of Matt and Julie’s sexual relationship was pretty silly, and the story merely tried to play off the awkwardness or tension that would result from that, but it really didn’t come across to me. It was more of an empty waiting game, the lone bright spot being Tami’s conversation with Julie (probably the best scene of the entire episode). The moment finally uses some of that awkwardness (when Tami asks Julie about protection) without having to make it feel silly. The scene becomes very moving as Tami tries to explain to her daughter that just because her and Matt have had sex, it doesn’t mean she can’t tell him no if she ever feels that it’s become less special, or that she shouldn’t feel pressured to have sex with the next person she dates, were her and Matt to break up. When your daughter is that young, these are scary things to have to be reminding her about. All Tami wants is to protect her daughter, which is why she wishes Julie had waited. But she’s wise enough to never judge, punish, or condemn Julie, emphasizing that she wants to be able to talk to her daughter about decisions this important. Julie on the other hand has been less fearful of punishment and more fearful of what her parents think of her now. She tells her mother that she doesn’t want her to be disappointed, and she expresses to Lyla her fear of no longer being seen as “Daddy’s little girl.” This payoff to the storyline really was one of the few things about it that felt refreshingly true, and a lot of it was due to superb acting by Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden.
Some miscellaneous notes:
• It felt good to see flashes of a wiser, more responsible Tim Riggins. I’ve jokingly compared him to Lost’s Sawyer, as they are both long-haired Southern-accented bad boys who love their alcohol. Through the years we’ve seen Sawyer grow into the leadership role he was thrust into, and we’re seeing similar things with Tim. He’s taking responsibility for his team and he’s taking responsibility for his girl, Lyla. He earned a lot of respect in my eyes for the way he handled an irate Buddy Garrity.
• In the comments of the last few episodes, we’ve discussed the possibility of another season of Friday Night Lights. With bad ratings, most of us feel that the future looks grim for the show after Season 3 concludes. However, I failed to hear about a report a couple of weeks back indicating that NBC and DirecTV are close to another arrangement similar to the one that made the third season possible. Furthermore, rumors are that the new arrangement, if put into action, would guarantee a fourth and fifth season of the show. If this is true, I find myself a bit conflicted. I obviously love the show. Just like any TV program, it’s changed through the years, but what I’ve always loved is the characters and their portrayals. If the show were to continue for another season, let alone two, it could present some problems. Matt, Tim, Lyla, and Tyra are seniors this year, with Landry and Julie becoming seniors in the hypothetical Season 4. For the show to continue, the writers would either have to manufacture plot twists that would enable us to still watch the graduated students or it would have to continue to introduce new characters to take their place (as it seems to be doing with characters like the McCoys). Honestly, I’m not terribly fond of either idea. I love the show mainly because of the characters, so to usher in a “new class” would be a big turn-off. However, creating situations so that all (or most) of the same characters can still hang around Dillon seems unrealistic and desperate (watching the characters all at different colleges might be equally unappealing). We’ll see how the season ends, first; some doors may be closed or opened by then.
• I believe that “The Giving Tree,” in its DirecTV broadcast, ran a little longer than most episodes. Last time this happened in “Hello, Goodbye,” one of my favorite scenes was removed from the NBC broadcast. I’m currently out of town with a weak Internet connection, so I can’t view NBC’s broadcast to compare the two. If you see that I’ve mentioned an unfamiliar scene in this recap, let me know. I’m curious to see if any scenes were cut out.
Jonathan Pacheco is a current web developer and future freelance writer. He blogs and reviews films at Bohemian Cinema.