Before J.D. ever steps onto the field as QB1, he faces his first challenge: winning the locker room over. Easier said than done. To start off, this team was used to playing with Matt Saracen as their quarterback, so while the players aren’t hostile towards J.D., I’m sure a small sense of loyalty will subconsciously hinder the transition process. Next, let’s size up McCoy: he’s 15, scrawny, rich, pampered, is never allowed to even think about anything other than football, and he’s got a freak-show of a father (Coach’s words, not mine). You really think all of those high schoolers in the locker room are ready to accept and respect that? They all want to play and win games, but J.D.’s simply too sheltered to be considered cool or “one of the guys.” This is why they haze J.D. more than the others and why they insist on degradingly calling him “Naked Gun” after duping him into streaking across town. It’s also why Coach Taylor approaches Tim, the team’s captain and natural leader, to ask him to do whatever it takes to make J.D. feel a part of the team and to get the rest of the fold to accept their new quarterback.
In “It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy,” Coach wakes Tim up to a few realities. Being a team leader means more than winning games on the field; it also means making sure that you’re leaving the team in good hands. As a senior, Tim’s not going to be wearing a Panther uniform for much longer, and he needs to begin the work of passing the torch. This boy is idolized and respected by his teammates, so if he goes out on a limb to vouch for J.D., others will follow.
He decides to take J.D. under his wing and give a tour of the Dillon that he knows. He shows the boy the best bars, the strip clubs, the places to go if he ever needs to get away…. Even in a small town like Dillon, Tim shows J.D. that there are other things and people out there. There are experiences to be had and to be created. It’d be a shame to live your life only at home, in the gym, or on the football field. As the Riggins boy is fond of saying, “No regrets.” This high school experience is way too short to waste being on your dad’s leash.
So the new starting quarterback lets loose for a night, opting to bail on the school dance and get drunk at a party instead. I suppose some of it was peer pressure and some of it was a lot of repressed desires finally getting out. The whole experience seems to represent a lot to J.D. He, like most boys in Dillon High, admires the heck out of Tim Riggins. He seems flattered when he believes that Coach didn’t put Tim up to befriending him, and he’s in awe of Tim’s ability to get women. At one point he asks Tim just how many girlfriends he has. Tim is quick to say, “Just the one, McCoy.” (It was good to hear Tim say that. I had my doubts, but it seems that he’s taking Lyla very seriously, as she deserves to be taken). For this freshman, having the living legend himself taking an interest in him must have been exactly what the doctor ordered.
The good times don’t last long, though, because the next morning after church, Joe McCoy pulls his son and Coach Taylor aside and has J.D. apologize to Eric for getting drunk and letting his coach down. I was very surprised by the scene and found it a bit unnerving. The ordeal is humiliating for J.D., but what makes me uncomfortable is that Joe, who saw his boy stumble in drunk the night before, isn’t upset because his 15-year-old boy got smashed. He’s upset because J.D. got smashed 3 weeks before the playoffs. “We gotta keep our star on the straight and narrow,” Joe says. I’m sure that Eric at least suspects that Tim put J.D. up to this, considering that the young boy hadn’t even had a sip of wine his entire life. I wonder if Eric feels a little responsible. If this is what Joe does when his son messes up off the field, I’m a bit afraid to see what he does if J.D. screws up on the field.
Landry, who we saw briefly last week listening to power ballads in his car, is now taking his heartbreak to his own music, much to the dismay of his band-mates who complain that the new stuff is “really slow” (I mentioned a great scene in Episode 4 in which Landry plays some guitar riffs that felt like new musical territory for him. I soon learned that the scene wasn’t in NBC’s broadcast of the episode, only in DirecTV’s). Here we see a Landry who’s fed up and frankly doesn’t have the energy to be as considerate as he usually is. He’s not too mean, but he’s a bit blunt to his friends about their musical abilities, prompting them both to quit. To one, Landry says, “That’s fine, I could care less,” and to the other he says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Well, his drummer DOES come back, but the band needs a new bassist, and while auditioning potentials, in walks Devon, a cute-as-a-button freshman girl. The male members of the band seem keen on just the idea of having an attractive female member, but this girl seems to be right up Landry’s ally. She can sing, play bass, she’s perceptive, seemingly innocent but “cool” enough to get a nose ring ... what’s not to like? Thing is, if you hear any of Landry’s lyrics, he’s still hung up on Tyra. This is obvious even to Devon, who thinks the band could really be special if Landry could get over Tyra. It feels like she could also be talking about the possibility of the two of them having something special as well. It’s a bit early to be making those assumptions, but there’s obviously some sort of attraction there. She seems like a good fit for Landry, but I’m getting the same sort of vibe that I got from Jean in the second season (Brea Grant, who also plays The Speedster from Heroes): she’s more of “Landry’s type,” except he really doesn’t want his type, he wants something else. I’m hoping we don’t get a rehash of that storyline. It all seems a bit too obvious.
The decision to flip a house to get some quick cash seems to be backfiring on Jason, as he finds himself surrounded by incompetence. The house looks like a wreck, his partners are blowing money on snazzy toilets, and one of them can’t even use a nail gun without injuring himself. But the former quarterback keeps his optimism up, at least to outsiders. Whenever he talks to Erin or to Coach Taylor, it’s all the same “we’re excited, things are looking good” talk, but inside he’s ready to break down. It seems like every other week I’m praising one of the younger actors, but I feel like I should do it again. I find it much easier to relate to Jason this season as Scott Porter becomes even more comfortable with the character. I think some of this is due to the plot developments. Frankly, it’s easier for me to get into a character who pushes to do good but struggles. Jason is desperate to be with Erin and the son he loves, so I naturally want to pull for him. Same with Tyra: she’s trying to do things the right way this time around, and I want her to succeed. I find those performances more enjoyable because of this, if that makes sense. There’s a possibility that this attraction makes me perceive that the performances are even better than they are. I’m not sure if that’s good, bad, or neither.
Eric eventually drops by the old Garrity place to see Jason amidst the mess that has been made of the house. He gives Jason some encouragement that, while a bit convenient (the uplifting speeches can get tiresome), also displays some specific qualities of the coach. I’ve mentioned before that Tami has the ability to believe in people when no one else would, and I think Eric has some of that as well. When he entered the home, I got the feeling that he was wondering just what the heck Jason got himself into, but when the young man needed encouragement, Eric brought it with full force. I suspect he even convinced himself in the process that Jason was capable of accomplishing his goals. The episode’s final scene, with Jason singing to his child over the phone, partially serves as a way to convince his partners that these goals are attainable, if only because Jason loves his kid too darn much to let this plan fail.
Now, for being a traveled rodeo cowboy, Cash is hanging around in Dillon a whole lot. He seems like a keeper to Tyra and her family when he generously gives her some cash to pay for college applications, but he stops looking so hot when a woman carrying a child shows up at Tyra’s doorstep demanding child support from Cash. We knew something like this was bound to happen with this character, as we’ve been getting some obvious signs. I don’t think this is the only trouble he’ll bring to the table, either.
The real question is how long Tyra will cling to Cash. He conveniently explained the child support claims (the woman is some nut he hooked up with a long time ago who won’t leave him alone), and Tyra’s family is telling her that she needs to hold on to the cowboy as long as she can. I’m afraid that Tyra’s going to take their bad advice. See, it’s obvious to us as viewers that Cash is most likely bad news—at least bad for Tyra—but is it fair to blame her for not seeing this? She’s smitten. She truly likes him, as she reveals to Julie. She’s going to see what she wants to see. So when he provides a plausible explanation for the current situation, Tyra accepts it willingly. But how long until the honeymoon’s over?
As I suspected, the demotion to backup quarterback has given Matt the opportunity to focus on different things. Although the boy would much rather go back to being the team’s starter, he seems more free now. Perhaps more relaxed. He’s able to do spontaneous things like taking Julie to the lake. Even if time had permitted, this just doesn’t feel like the type of thing that Matt would do when he carried the burden of QB1. With his grandmother fighting his football battles for him (giving Coach Taylor a piece of her mind), all the boy’s thinking about now is Julie, Julie, Julie.
This episode is meant to cement the relationship between the two, though was there any doubt that they were already a couple? Technically, I don’t think we’ve seen them even kiss this season (or hold hands?), but I assumed after the first few episodes that they were already together. Oops. No matter, because if they weren’t before, they are now. It feels like those people that you know who inform you that they’ve officially become a couple, to which you think, “I thought you were already together for a while now….” To an outsider, the impact of the commitment is completely lost, but for those two, that moment was monumental.
However, Matt and Julie’s commitment goes beyond just officially becoming a couple again; this marks the first time the two have had sex together. If I’m not mistaken, they flirted with the idea back in the first season, but never took that step. They do here, and they do it by a campfire near a lake, of all places. If this were to happen in a movie, a masked man wielding a very sharp object would probably emerge from the darkness and off these two. The effect of moment may have been lacking, but the brief “morning after” scene makes up for some of it. It’s a wordless musical clip of Matt driving Julie home from the lake. She rests her head on his shoulder. They sit in the car, staring at each other, and kiss. These are those special moments at which Friday Night Lights excels. Julie goes back into her house and just can’t hold back her smile. It carries over into a scene at church where Matt and Julie see each other across the pews as the congregation sings. Again, all they can do is smile goofily at each other. It’s slightly cheesy and a tad optimistic, but I also found it to be a bit beautiful. We could all use some romantic optimism every once in a while.
Some miscellaneous notes:
1. J.D.’s boyhood crush on Lyla is quite a funny, if unexpected, side note.
2. I’m anything but a music connoisseur, so I need some help nailing down Landry’s new musical style. It’s too pop to be bluesy, I know that. I dig his new singing style, though. But he was right: his drummer is really not very good.
3. One of the small things I love about Friday Night Lights is that they show us moments like the one where Jason says goodbye to Erin and Noah. A different show would skip this scene and begin the episode with Erin already on the road, but when we get scenes like this one, it feels more like the show is taking its time. These moments are important, even if they technically could have been skipped.
4. I was a bit surprised that J.D.’s debut as a starter barely made it into the episode. A few shots of the score, some accolades, and that’s it. In a way, it’s almost a pleasant surprise. More often than not, what happens off the field is much more interesting than anything that goes on during the games on Friday night.
5. I’m beginning to think that Matt might have slightly planned the consummation of his and Julie’s relationship. Let’s just hope the kids used protection.
Jonathan Pacheco is a current web developer and future freelance writer. He blogs and reviews films at Bohemian Cinema.