As the episode’s title suggests, the Panthers’ first playoff game of this season has been selected by the national media as the high school football Game of the Week. As the NBC trucks roll in and the lights, cameras, and microphones are pulled out, the spotlight shines brightly on Dillon High. They’ve got a wunderkind at quarterback, their former starting QB practicing at wide receiver, a fearless booze hound in the backfield, a talented (and expensive) coach working as an interim assistant, and a head coach who is almost inexplicably on the hot seat. Sounds to me like the cameras came to the right place.
Dillon squares off with Arnett Mead in this first round; if you’ll remember, the Panthers’ only loss this year (as far as I can tell) came courtesy of Arnett Mead, when Matt singlehandedly clawed his team back to within a single play from victory. Matt’s being worked hard by Coach Taylor, who’s ignoring his concerns over an injury to the backup quarterback. He unleashes the defense on Saracen as he takes hit after hit, leading him to wonder to Julie if her dad is trying to punish him, to which she claims that he’s only testing the boy.
At home, Grandma Saracen has had just about enough of Matt’s mom Shelby, and asks when she’s leaving. With Matt wanting to get into college, the assumption is that Shelby will be the one to stick around and take care of Lorraine. This prompts the grandmother to call Shelby “the devil” and claim that Matt would never do that to her. Before she storms off, she tells Matt that, “if he wants to get rid of” her, he should send her to a home—anything but leaving her with Shelby. Nevertheless, the damage was done. Matt was having a hard enough time with the idea of leaving Lorraine with his mother; there’s no way he’s going to be okay with leaving her in a home, especially after hearing that she would consider it a betrayal.
Friday night comes and the Panthers struggle mightily against Arnett Mead, their offense entirely out of sync. At halftime, not only does Coach Taylor get his team’s heads back on straight with a little pep talk, but he also puts Matt in as wide receiver. Long story short, Matt makes a few catches, blocks, and key plays to help Dillon take the lead and hold on to victory. When Shelby and Lorraine, watching the same football game in separate rooms, notice Matt’s number 7 jersey trotting out on the field, they just about lose their minds, run to the car, and rush to the stadium, bonding in the process. Aww, how sweet. The speed at which these events occur left me a bit frazzled. A lot of these scenes, especially the one where Matt finds his mother and grandmother after the win, felt clipped, just sticking around long enough to obtain the necessary information. But despite the resolution of the story, I see the Grandma Dilemma showing up several more times before the season is over. The Smash and Jason subplots each ran 4 episodes, so with only 5 left (including this one), I get the feeling that the show’s writers are setting up the last few major plotlines within the next episode or two. I see this being one of them.
Last week, Tim accompanied Jason to New York/New Jersey for three days. He comes home to find his truck smashed and parked on the lawn, and he walks in his house to find Billy smashed and parked on the couch. Billy was true to his word when he claimed he would tell Mindy she never had to strip again, since he received the house-flipping money. Unfortunately, Mindy didn’t like Billy’s stupidity (claiming he hasn’t held a job since she met him), and promptly dumped the Riggins brother, effectively canceling their wedding.
In the meantime, during all the hoopla over the Game of the Week, a recruiter from San Antonio State approaches Tim, claiming to be the one who’s been writing him all those letters of interest. When he tries to set up a meeting, Tim begins to turn him down, only giving in at Lyla’s insistence. We’ve seen this happen earlier in the season, when Tim ignored recruitment letters while Lyla and Billy were the ones replying to them for him. On the way to the meeting, Lyla wants to bone Tim up on information regarding San Antonio State, and he half-heartedly tries to appease her, eventually confessing that he could care less about this meeting or his future. He even goes so far as to make fun of Lyla’s attempts to get him to care. Personally, when someone makes fun of another person’s honest, well-intentioned efforts, I think he might as well be spitting in her face. That’s how demeaning and insulting it is to do that. So it was pleasing to see Lyla kick Tim out of the car and drive off, leaving this cocky punk on the side of the road.
With both Mindy and Lyla furious at the two Riggins brothers, they bump into each other at a gas station, and the perfect storm forms as Mindy invites Lyla over for some man-hating festivities. The two drink, listen to angry music (where’s “Jagged Little Pill” when you need it?), and dance around (creating an “anti-Riggins forcefield”) until Billy shows up, banging on the window, telling Mindy she was right, he was wrong, blah blah blah. Of course, she crumbles, much to Lyla’s dismay.
Post-game, Mr. San Antonio State tracks Tim down again, despite the fact that the boy bailed on their meeting. Nevertheless, the university’s entire backfield is graduating, and getting Tim Riggins on the squad is their top priority. The boy agrees to talk, and he later finds Lyla to tell her that he’s committed to the school; for the first time ever, a Riggins boy is going to college. It takes a little more apologizing and groveling to get Lyla to forgive him, but she eventually comes around. Yet I feel like we’ve been through this before. How many times are we going to see Tim act like a jerk toward Lyla, then come back to her apartment the next day, apologize with that silly smirk on his face, and be instantly forgiven? It’s a slightly dysfunctional relationship practice, but it’s also repetitive storytelling. The only difference here is what Tim isn’t serious about this time around. Before, he wasn’t serious about his relationship with Lyla. Now he’s not serious about his future. I almost felt like you could mix around three separate apology scenes between the two throughout the season, pick one, plop it in this episode, and you’d pretty much have the same result.
We’re also seeing the same sort of setup here that we saw in Matt’s storyline. Tim’s going to San Antonio State. Lyla told Mindy that she’s aiming for Vanderbilt, though hasn’t gotten in yet. Tim and Lyla have had some sort of relationship, on or off, for almost three years now. When the time comes, will they be strong enough to make the decisions that are best for their own futures, or will one of them cave and settle for less, just to keep the relationship alive?
Now, I would think that Tyra’s relationship with Cash is as dead as can be. Oh, sure, it started out finely enough, she being her boyfriend’s cheerleader on the rodeo circuit, but once he gets pushed around by a few cowboy thugs looking for their money, Prince Charming turns into St. Anger. All of a sudden, second place and $2,000 isn’t nearly good enough. For a brief moment, Tyra, feeling lost, rejected, and alone in Dallas, calls Landry up, just to hear a familiar voice. Adrianne Palicki plays the scene well, hiding her fear and emotions from Landry, but still allowing us to see that all this girl wants is to just go home.
Cash resorts to late-night poker games at seedy bars to help raise funds, but the problem is that he keeps losing. When he gets up to leave (in order to find more cash), Tyra tries to get up, too, until her wonderful boyfriend forcefully shoves her back into her seat, claiming he never told her she could get up. As if it wasn’t clear to Tyra before, it’s crystal clear now: this was a mistake.
Think about it: Tyra is probably 17- or 18-years-old. Though she acts like an adult, this girl has barely left Dillon. Now she’s alone in a dimly-lit bar, carelessly abandoned by her boyfriend, far away from home with no money. Even as a guy, at that age, if I found myself in a threatening unfamiliar place, I’d be scared beyond belief, wishing and praying for a way home. With no one else to turn to, Tyra calls Tami, who is at a hotel with Eric after the football game, celebrating her birthday with champagne, chocolates, flowers, and a nice shower on the way (wink wink). With Tyra crying on the other end of the phone, Tami and Eric take off to pick her up. Only, when they get there, they find Cash trying to keep Tyra from leaving, holding her back and again, pushing her around.
In retrospect, this scene can seem a bit overdramatic. I mean, screaming, yelling, crying—Tyra looked like she was in the clutches of Ghostface in Scream. But again, putting myself in that situation with emotions heightened by fear, I could see all of that happening just as it did. Heck, I’ve seen my sister scream like that in situations not nearly as threatening. Either way, Eric and Tami intervene and drive Tyra off, leaving this cowboy in the wet parking lot yelling, “Son of a bitch! Tyra!” You stay classy, Cash.
Once again, in this transitional episode, we see one story end and the seeds for another story being planted. Now that Tyra has left Cash, her interests will inevitably turn back to Landry, especially after that phone call. I think it’s only a matter of time.
Some miscellaneous notes:
• If this is the last we’ve seen of Cash, then I probably need to eat some of my own words. For several episodes, we saw him popping some pills—his “cowboy candy”—and I was certain that they would come up later on in the subplot, and I even chided the writers of Friday Night Lights for resorting to such a blatant plot device. They did not, and the only purpose served by the pills was perhaps providing a little bit of insight into the character of Cash.
• Eric’s birthday party for Tami shows just how well the two know each other. Even though his wife claimed that the best birthday present would be to not celebrate the occasion, Eric set up the hotel for her anyway. When Julie reminds him of her mother’s wishes, he merely says, “That’s her problem.” And wouldn’t you know it, Tami loves just being with her husband, having a romantic evening alone. She even goes nuts over the hotel robes, to which Eric jokes, “We can steal them!”
• When Lorraine and Shelby are rushing to the game, they briefly worry about how they’ll get tickets to a Panthers playoff game during halftime. Grandma quickly notes that the ticket teller is in her Sunday School class, so it shouldn’t be a problem. You gotta love the Bible Belt.
• Buddy was only briefly in the episode, but his scene at the end was priceless. When Lyla emerges from her room hungover, he exclaims, “Oh! It’s alive!” He even notes that it’s already Beer-Thirty and she’s just waking up.
• Landry has a 4.6 GPA? Holy cow. I’d file that under “Impressive.”