Last week, after a rough evening, Eric asked his wife, “You know who I miss? I miss the coach’s wife.” Tami returns with another question: “Do you know who I can’t wait to meet? The principal’s husband.” “Touché,” the coach says. This week, we get to see both the return of the coach’s wife and the debut of the principal’s husband in some of the strongest scenes Friday Night Lights has yet had this year. Roughly a third of the way through the third season, “Hello, Goodbye” marks a shift in the storytelling, ending a few arcs while beginning some others. While it’s not a perfect episode, it touches on greatness in a variety of different ways, leaving me with several lingering memories. This is one of my favorite episodes in a long time.
“Nobody likes an angry woman,” claims Katie McCoy, who manages to show off her cleavage even while exercising with Tami. But Tami can’t help being angry. She’s fighting a battle, and by the minute it looks more and more like she’s going to lose it. Buddy’s so confident in his JumboTron victory that he’s already brought surveyors out to the field to scope out the land. The meeting to discuss the funds hasn’t even taken place, but as it turns out, Buddy plays golf with the school superintendent who will ultimately make the decision. They’re great pals, apparently. Tami takes it upon herself to appeal to the superintendent before the meeting as well, but despite her best efforts to come across as reasonable and non-threatening, her anger gets the best of her. The superintendent all but tells her that the boosters have already won.
When she realizes her efforts are futile, Tami doubts her initial decision to pick this specific fight. She voices what I’ve suspected: Eric thought this was a mistake to begin with. He denies that, but whether or not it’s the truth, I think, is pointless now. As the principal’s husband, Eric realizes that Tami needs his support. This was an important battle for her. This surprisingly touching scene fascinates me because somehow, Eric manages to encourage and uplift Tami when she’s already lost, and he does it without placating. He’s honest. She stood up for what she believed in, so even though the boosters are getting what they wanted, she can stand proud.
It’s a bye week for the Panthers and Coach Taylor has finally decided to install the pass-happy Spread Offense, which prompts his assistants to assume that J.D. McCoy is now the starting quarterback. Coach insists that he doesn’t know who his starter will be at this point, and I believe him. He wants to stay loyal to his veteran starter, Matt, but he may need to use the new guy in order to beat this specific opponent.
For several episodes, we’ve been getting clues and inklings into why Coach Taylor is refusing to make J.D. his starter. This week, the pressure gets to Eric and he lets it all out to Tami over some scotch. J.D. is possibly the most talented high schooler Coach has ever seen—more talented than Jason Street. But he knows Matt. He knows his talent, and the team knows how to play with him. If he benches Matt during his senior year—and not because of anything he did wrong—it would devastate the boy. And even if he does trot J.D. out as QB1, what guarantees that the kid will be a success? He’s 15, barely hitting puberty, and he’s got the world’s worst Little League Dad riding him hard, not to mention the entire football-crazed town of Dillon. It’s quite possible that this scrawny little guy could collapse under that kind of pressure. What makes Eric such a great coach, as Tami points out, is that he weighs these issues and makes the safety of these kids his personal responsibility.
The scene not only serves as a mini-climax to the tension that’s been building up in Coach’s head for the past four episodes, but it’s also where we once again see Tami embrace that role of the coach’s wife. Her support and encouragement coupled with these actors’ chemistry create the kinds of moments that first endeared me to Friday Night Lights. The scene doesn’t overstay its welcome, but in such an understated way, it leaves its desired impact and has earned a spot in my mind as one of my favorite scenes from the show.
Last week Coach admitted that he doesn’t know J.D. at all, and would actually try to do so if everyone would stop shoving the kid down his throat. He stays true to his word this week, as he finally approaches J.D., quizzing him on in-game hypotheticals, then asking the boy to talk about himself. When J.D. returns with a regurgitated line (“I set goals and I achieve them”), not only is Coach’s response kind of funny (“This isn’t a job interview”), but the stock response itself is incredibly telling. As we all suspected, J.D.’s father is practically brainwashing his kid to turn him into the ultimate football machine. “I set goals and I achieve them” is the type of thing you hear out of a college player trying to go pro, yet J.D. is barely in high school. Later in the conversation, the QB reveals that he’s not allowed to eat any fried foods and most of his free time is spent practicing and working out. He has very few hobbies: swimming and playing “Madden” on his XBOX, both of which actually help his football career. I suspect Joe McCoy is behind that.
In a last ditch effort to not switch to J.D. but to relieve some of the pressure from all around, Coach comes up with an unorthodox solution: rotate both quarterbacks during the next game. Matt will play the school’s traditional I-Formation offense while J.D. plays the Spread. It’s Eric’s desperate attempt at a compromise, but Matt’s reaction to the news shows that he sees the writing on the wall. Rotating quarterbacks may throw the opponent off for a game or two, but eventually the team needs a distinct leader. Last year, the Arizona Cardinals had a quarterback carousel, and while it brought them some wins, it proved fruitless in the big picture. This season, the Cardinals finally settled on a quarterback, Kurt Warner. Half a year later, they’re playing in the Super Bowl. Sooner or later, Coach Taylor will have to make a firm decision on who his team’s leader will be. This compromise tells me that J.D. will eventually be that leader.
Also on Coach’s plate this week is Smash’s impending tryout with A&M. The boy learns that this tryout wasn’t arranged by a team coordinator or a running backs coach, but rather a front office guy in charge of group sales. “I’m gonna work at the Alamo Freeze for the rest of my life,” Smash laments. When the tryout keeps getting pushed back, all Smash can do is trust Coach Taylor and hope things work out.
I was very impressed by the way Friday Night Lights handled the eventual tryout scene. Once Coach makes a bold move and puts himself on the line to get his player a tryout, Smash realizes that the smartest thing he can do at this point is to trust in his coach completely. We don’t know this because Smash revealed it in some monologue, but because we see it in his body language. Once the A&M coach agrees to see Smash play, Gaius Charles plays his character completely silent for the rest of the scene. His posture, the widening of his eyes, and his intense stare give the scene a sense of urgency that I suspect couldn’t be achieved with dialogue. Very big kudos to Charles and to the show’s creative team for recognizing this.
Based on the title of the episode, and the final slow-motion shot of Smash, smiling, running in the endzone, I think it’s safe to assume that this is the last we’ll see of Brian “Smash” Williams. It feels like he was around this season for more than just four episodes. After Season 2’s final episode, it seemed that everything was going to be all right with Smash. His return this season only became necessary when the “phantom season” dictated it. I was uneasy about having a Dillon graduate return this year, but based on this ending, and having the reassuring feeling that Smash is going to be all right, I’m glad we were treated to this storyline.
This week takes a break from the love sagas of Tim & Lyla and Matt & Julie to focus instead on the relationship between Landry and Tyra. A new variable has entered the equation in the form of a smooth-talking rodeo cowboy named Cash. Despite acting like a couple, Landry and Tyra have been broken up for months, so Cash’s arrival excites Tyra. Here’s a man who travels, lives dangerously and moves at a fast pace. It doesn’t take long for her to become smitten with the cowboy, but her feelings for Landry, whatever they may be, keep holding her back. After the second episode of this season, I criticized the show for making Tyra’s “descent” far too rapid and easy. I think this current situation is what I had in mind. Yes, Tyra falls quickly for Cash, which happens in a lot of new relationships. But throughout the episode we can see her struggling to fight against what she feels is wrong while pursuing something new and exciting. Technically, she and Landry haven’t been together for 2 months, so there’s nothing wrong with welcoming Cash’s advances. But there is something wrong with abandoning as good of a friend as Tyra claims Landry is. She knows this and fights for it, even if she ultimately fails.
But the main reason it’s so hard for Tyra is that she still has some feelings for Landry. Are they as sexually and romantically charged as her feelings for Cash? No, which is why, when she turns Cash down to fulfill a promise to Landry, it just takes a kiss and a hint at sex to get her to break that promise. But this entire season, we’ve been seeing her almost attached to Landry’s hip. He helps with her campaign, her homework, even doing favors around the house for Tyra’s mother and sister. He’s being kept around because Tyra doesn’t want to lose the emotional support and convenience that a naive, giving person like Landry brings.
I loved their story this week so much for these reasons, not to mention that it finally brings Landry to the forefront of an episode, so I’m a little hesitant to criticize their climactic blowup scene. It’s something that had to happen, and I think the emotions on both sides are valid. Yet it feels like a little too much, too soon. It was inevitable, but in such a big, loud, public fashion? I wonder if it was played up in order to add to an already pivotal episode.
Any reservations I had for that scene were completely forgotten by the end of the couple’s final one. Tyra visits Landry in his garage, where he plays guitar riffs that are a far cry from his death metal days of the first season. Jesse Plemons plays the scene wordless until Landry finally asks Tyra to leave. It’s such a contrast to the public confrontation, and the silence holds so much more weight than any yelling. All Landry has to do is utter two short sentences and Tyra knows that he’s not fooling around anymore.
The final major development of “Hello, Goodbye” involves the return of Matt’s mother, Shelby. She shows up in Dillon, asking Matt if she could help him and his grandmother in any way. The boy may be tentative to let her in his life, but his grandmother is downright hostile towards Shelby, running into her room at the mere sight of the woman. When his mother oversteps her boundaries by dropping by unexpectedly with groceries and baby photos, Matt lets loose on her. She can’t just drop in and all of a sudden be a part of his life. He needed her 10 years ago when she walked out on the family; he doesn’t need her anymore (or so he claims). It’s only after his grandmother off-handedly reminds him that his father had a tendency to become a near-violent monster that Matt rescinds his mother’s ban and welcomes her help.
The story has the potential to be an unnecessary plot shakeup, but I have a better feeling about it. The tension between Lorraine and Shelby isn’t going away anytime soon, and if this experiment goes well, it could have ramifications. If his mother would be willing to care for Lorraine, Matt could potentially go to college anywhere that would accept him. But being as protective as he is of his grandmother, and having finally rekindled things with Julie, would he really leave it all if he could? I’m not sure yet.
Jonathan Pacheco is a current web developer and future freelance writer. He blogs and reviews films at Bohemian Cinema.