Friday Night Lights, "The Son": don't panic, stay cool, and get paid

Quick Take: Friday Night Lights, "The Son"
"I've never even seen him smile." - Matt Saracen

Review: Friday Night Lights, "The Son"
(S0405) About 20 minutes into "The Son," I thought I would lead off this piece about how having Matt Saracen's (Zach Gilford) dad die while off in combat in the Middle East was a semi-tired way to make an interesting character who has since graduated from Coach Taylor's (Kyle Chandler) high school football program feel relevant again (see: Jason Street, Brian "Smash" Williams).

I was wrong.

What unfolded was a deeply moving and refreshingly realistic portrayal of how a son, still a kid really, is left to deal with being the "man of the house" in the wake of a tragedy and as someone with deeply mixed feelings about his father's passing. Like with most things on Friday Night Lights, the story had a slow and ambling build, which in of itself remains noteworthy and praiseworthy versus body count-per-minute action or shocking reveal-per-minute reality TV. We see the stages of shock, the attempts to act the role of the mourning son "properly" and politely (when really there is absolutely no such thing), nicely symbolized by Buddy Garrity's (the always great Brad Leland) little speech about how Matt's dad died doing an honorable thing.

It was Landry (Jesse Plemons) and the Riggins boys who, unknowingly, helped to move the grieving process along by pulling Matt out of the "land of deviled eggs and death" and onto the football field for a good old late night beer drinking session. Matt snapped out of his shock and realized that he needed to see his father's body, no matter the consequences. He breaks down finally at the Taylors house, and rawly and honestly admits that he hated the man – a humorless and remote figure who fled off to war because he could not face integrating into his family's life in any real way – and doesn't know if he has the strength to say any kind words about him at his eulogy. "I've never even seen him smile," Matt relates to the honor guard soldier assigned to the wake (who ironically has "heard" that his dad was the life of the party over in the Middle East). After Matt runs out of the Taylor house, an especially nice touch is how Eric Taylor runs after him, but instead of giving the "big speech" for which he's so famous, he simply offers to walk Matt home. Classy and spot on and mature play calling, Coach.

The funeral itself is cathartic for both Matt and the audience. Matt delivers a perfect eulogy in that he is both honest and tells the best anecdote he can recall, about his father's frustrated (and ironically funny) reaction to his mother's (Matt's grandmother) comments about his selection of toilet paper (he fills the shopping cart with every brand he can find on the aisle). And then he transitions into a tribute about his father's service and about though he missed many of his birthdays and the lion's share of his growing up, the very fact of his service allows those birthdays and all the freedoms associated of living in a free society to be possible. It's the kind of scene that could have gone over the edge into sappy very easily, but didn't.

There were a lot of other things going on in "The Son" but they felt pretty peripheral this week so let's handle them in the "thoughts" segment:

  • Momentum shifter for East Dillon High: the squad is down 24-0 before Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan) and Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) decide to ignore Coach Taylor's basic playbook, run a Wildcat formation, and score. Soon after, Howard strips the ball from the QB from the defensive side. Fun to see regular season games matter this much for Taylor and company. From the beginning of the series the dynamic was such that it was "State or nothing" so it's a refreshing dynamic to see the excitement come from Howard and Cafferty working together for the good of the team, and a simple momentum shift to get back in the game cause so much excitement. And as an additional football note, looks like East Dillon has discovered a Wildcat offense
  • "I'm not going anywhere." – Eric Taylor to Julie (Aimee Teegarden). Nice moment.
  • Vince's mom is passed out outside while the electricity's shut off inside… wow. And meanwhile, Vince goes to "school" to learn how to hotwire, steal cars. "Don’t panic, stay cool, and get paid," Vince says to the kids at the "pancake breakfast" later, echoing his car heisting teacher. Vince is still at that "crossroads" that Coach has mentioned before, and we're without doubt going to see more of this play out this season.
  • Riggins adventure on the pageant circuit continues, with Becky (Madison Burge) and her crazy bartender mom and absent dad. I could almost see an indie flick about these three, can't you? "You ever just feel completely useless?" Riggins asks Becky, and then they share their first kiss. Or, Becky forces one on Riggins and the latter, to his credit, begs off. For now.
  •  Becky bumps into a shirtless Luke at the convenience store, so might finally have a love interest more appropriate to her age bracket.
  •  Again with the underage drinking… does Luke just have a good fake ID or what?
  • J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) is turning into a real punk ass, no? Love the paint balling "pedestrians" from the pickup truck. On a more serious note, the interactions with his Dillon High gang and Luke are pretty indicative of the way that male cliques can be ruthless in purging their own in high school. Luke was the ostracized friend simply because he was forced to change high schools.
  • Anyone notice the Christian prayer after the game for Matt Saracen's deceased father? Not a lot of worry about church and state division I suppose.
  • Took me until now to lock in on the fact that Kim Dickens plays both Matt's still somewhat estranged mother as well as Janette Desautel on Treme.
  • "What we've got here is our American Hero Memorial package." – Funeral director guy. I love Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) telling him what time it is on price.
  • "Why would you kill Cobra's beer?" – Riggins  
  • Video: Friday Night Lights, "The Son"
    An FNL not to be missed, in full from Hulu, while available:

    Recap: Friday Night Lights, "The Son"
    Matt faces his feelings about his father; Vince is conflicted by the adulation he receives as a football player.

    From Around the Web: Friday Night Lights, "The Son"

  • Give Me My Remote: Zach Gilford may never be recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for his performance in “The Son.” It has become an embarrassing tradition for FNL’s best and brightest to fall short of Emmy gold, despite a track record of unparalleled excellence. 
  • TV Squad: The performance by Zach Gilford as Matt was the best I've seen on TV since Aaron Paul blew me away with Breaking Bad last summer. Hopefully someone will remember him next year when it's Emmy time, and this is the show that could win it for him. He was just that good. 
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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