Quick Take: Friday Night Lights, "Fracture"
"The lions, we the new kids on the block. The panthers, they old news, baby." - Vince
Review: Friday Night Lights, "Fracture"
(S0508) Jason Katims, you sly S.O.B. You are not allowed to bring back a beloved character in the closing seconds of a very mediocre hour and expect everyone to do fist pumps and roundhouse kicks in their living rooms. Ok, nevermind, that's exactly what I did. I'm such a sucker.
"Fracture" breaks FNL's streak of excellent episodes at four. I knew the show couldn't continuously keep up the momentum they were building all the way through the end of the season, but I was still kind of crossing my fingers anyway. The episode as a whole isn't terrible, in fact the stuff involving Vince and the Lions is pretty interesting, but the further the it veers from the team, the weaker it becomes.
Let's talk about the stuff that worked first. Vince's performance against Dillon High has given him on a whole new level of notoriety and he is loving every second of it. "The lions; we the new kids on the block. The panthers; they old news, baby," he tells a local TV reporter during an interview. Jess appears to be the only member of his inner circle who isn't impressed with all of his macho posturing. "You barely talk about anybody but yourself. You got a whole team there," she reminds him, but he isn't listening. It seems that the only person who has his attention these days is his father. Vince's teammates aren't happy with all the attention being heaped on the quarterback either. That displeasure manifests itself first in locker-room teasing, then on the practice field with timely cheap shots. The coaching staff isn't immune from intra-squad turmoil. Billy and Coach Crowley have been at one another's throat due to philosophical differences regarding the defense. Crowley is from the old school ("Defense is discipline, that's how we win.") and Riggins is, well a Riggins. Buddy Jr. is injured during a Billy-led Samoan War Dance and that's the last straw for Crowley.
Everything comes to a head for the players and the assistant coaches just before the team is to make its grand entrance into the gymnasium for a pep rally. Crowley and Billy, and Luke and Vince each get into their own separate shoving matches as Coach stands to the side in silence, squeezing his eyes shut as if fighting a migraine. After a few seconds (that seem like an eternity), Coach screams, "Shut up!" but his words don't seem to mean as much as they once did. We have come a long since the guys branded L's on their arms in a display of solidarity. Once everyone is settled down enough to take the stage and Principal Eli has given a generous introduction, all Coach can muster is a half-hearted, "Can you say 'Victory'?" Coach is burnt out.
Let's circle back a little and touch on the other part of the episode that was pretty successful before we wade into the questionable elements of "Fracture". I quite liked Vince's little field trip to Oklahoma Tech, but the "unofficial visit" only served to make the situation between he and his team even murkier. Vince skips school and football practice so he and his dad can meet with a booster and tour the campus. After the tour, which included an extended stay at an outdoor pool populated with scantily clad coeds, Vince and Ornette get to step onto Oklahoma Tech's football field. Just before they are about to check out the locker room, Tech's head coach comes out to have a discussion with the booster. "Stand here, don't need to say anything. Just listen," says the booster. The head coach tells the booster that if Vince is willing to give him a verbal commitment, there is a very good chance he will be running Tech's offense in two years. "If you happen to see Vince and his daddy, tell them it would be a good idea to give me a call next week," the coach says and winks at the Howards. I assume that it would be a violation for him to speak directly to the recruit this early in the process.
It's hard not to think of Vince and his dad as "the bad guys" because they are positioned in opposition to Coach Taylor, who is clearly the good guy. But Vince (and, to a lesser extent, Ornette) isn't really a bad guy, he just wants to play college ball. Sure, he's going about getting into school in a way that seems a little shady, but from what I know about big time college athletics, this is pretty much the way it works. Has he done anything "morally wrong" in this particular situation? I would argue, not really. For all we know, with Vince's checkered past, the backdoor is the only way he'll be able to get into college.
Coach, of course, finds out about Vince's trip of Oklahoma Tech. To make matters worse, Vince lies to him about missing practice. Instead of owning up to it and admitting that he and his dad went to visit a school, Vince tells Coach that his mom fell off the wagon. It's clear that any respect that Eric had for his quarterback is long gone. Deep down, Vince knows he is toeing the line between right and wrong, which is why he lied to Coach. Jess even calls him out about it. "If this is all OK and its an unofficial visit, why you gotta lie about it?" she says with mixture of frustration and concern. He gives her an answer that anyone familiar with Facebook would immediately recognize as bogus, "It's complicated." You're relationship status is about to be "It's Complicated" if you keep it up, Vincent. "I'm sure your father has your best interests in mind, but I'll tell you something, He's driving you in the wrong direction. That offer, whatever it is, I guarantee you it means nothing...your knocking on the wrong doors," Coach tells Vince. I'm pretty sure Eric is finished with Vince. Sure, he tells him he's knocking on the wrong doors, but he doesn't even attempt to point him in the right direction.
The Lions will have a new quarterback at some point in the not-too-distant future, I'm sure of it. Coach tells Ornette that if Vince misses another practice, he will be benched. "I won't have any one player bigger than my team," he says. Coach may have underestimated Mr. Howard's connections to the world of college football, however, because Ornette fires back, "Now, is that what you told your boy down at Shane State?" Clearly, someone has been feeding Ornette information to use against Eric in just this type of situation and he caught Coach by surprise. The good thing is Ornette tipped his hand and Coach stood his ground.
For a show that revolves around the male dominated world of high school football, FNL generally does an excellent job with its female characters. So I am apt to think that it's just a coincidence that all of the plots in "Fracture" involving the ladies were pretty dreadful. Becky, Mindy, and some girls from the Landing Strip take a road trip for one of Becky's beauty pageants. Snooooze. Epic returns after a handful of weeks away (I didn't miss her one bit) to eat up all the food in Tami's office and car. Zzzzzzzz. And Creepy TA Derek shows up in Dillon to convince Julie to return to school and/or win back her affections. Yaaawwwnnn.
Of these three stories, the Becky/Mindy one is least annoying because it gives us one really good scene. Becky has been having problems with Luke because every time things start getting hot and heavy, she gets uncomfortable. The abortion still weighs heavy on her mind. Becky kind of breaks down in the dressing room of the Landing Strip while Mindy and the gals are helping her get dressed for the pageant. She tells them about the pregnancy and says "I lost my virginity in a truck, who does that?" All of the strippers hands go into the air and the tears turn to laughter. It is a testament to the writers and the actresses that they are able to take something as silly as a serious discussion about abortion in a strip club dressing room and have it hit all of the right emotional notes. This makes the scenes with Connie Britton - arguably the best actress on the show - even more disappointing when they fail to hit any of the proper notes.
The Tami/Epic stuff, as usual, was just plain bad. I really don't know what the people in charge were thinking when they (a.) decided to included Epic in this season and (b.) cast Emily Rios in the role. Epic gets into another fight at school and when Tami gets her into the office, Epic asks for a bite of her sandwich. Later, Tami sees her pushing around a group of boys outside and pulls her into her car. Again, Epic asks her for a bite to eat. Tami takes her to a fast foot place and Epic tells her that there isn't much food at her foster home and her foster mother spends all of the money from the state on herself. Tami suggests calling social services but Epic balks, saying that she will be put in a different home and "I won't get to see you anymore." Ick. Could the writing be any sappier? I am convinced that Tami is going to take Epic in and make her an honorary member of the Taylor household. God, I hope I'm wrong. Later, Tami goes to investigate Epic's foster home and finds that it is a very nice place with plenty of food, run by a caring, attentive woman. She confronts Epic about her lies and says, "Don't you know you don't have to lie to me? I actually like you...you're strong and you're smart and I believe you have a future...you got a roof over your head, you got food to eat, and now you got me." Barf. Two things; First, when did FNL turn into all of those movies about white teachers in East LA, or Harlem, or the Southside of Chicago who feel sorry for their poor, pitiful Latino, or black, or Chippewa students and nurse them back to health so they can win the science fair and get accepted to Stanford? Second, Tami's speech to Epic is almost identical to the one she gave to Tyra a couple of seasons back. The difference is that it worked back then because we cared about Tyra. Also, Adrianne Palicki is a half-way decent actress, Emily Rios is not. Britton might as well be giving that uplifting speech to a brick wall.
It was only a matter of time until Derek reappeared and he is just as creepy the second time around in Dillon as he was at Burleson University. First, he shows up at the Taylor's front door, only to be chased away by Eric (but not before having his taillight smashed with a piece of Gracie Bell's tricycle). Then he pops into Tami's office to try to convince her that he can get Julie to go back to school. Tami is visibly freaked and shoos him away. However, his plan works and Tami tells Julie that he came to see her. "I need you to do whatever you need to do to put this behind you and go back to school. This is an opportunity for you to do the right thing," Tami says. Apparently what Julie needs to do to put this behind her is to go out to dinner with Derek. Derek tells her that he has left his job and his wife. He is going to Tennessee to finish his dissertation. "We had a connection...didn't we? And the older you get the more you're going to realize how rare that is," he says in the creepiest way imaginable. Before leaving the restaurant, he makes her take his address in case she ever needs anything. I'm assuming by "anything", he means "sex". But I guess Julie just needed some closure, because the next day she is ready to head back to school. On the highway out of town, she calls Derek and says, "I need to know something, did you come to Dillon to get me to go back to school or just to get me back." He responds, "The second thing." She immediately swings a U-turn and I'm thinking to myself, "Oh my god, how could this get any worse? Please don't go to Tennessee, Julie." Well, she didn't go to Tennessee. Instead she knocks on a door and who answers? None other than QB FREAKIN' ONE! HE"S BACK, BABY!
And just like that, everything is right in the world.