Heading into this week's season finale of Friday Night Lights, the show's writers appear intent on leaving miserable as many of the central characters as possible.
The only ray of sunshine left for the viewers is the slim home that Julie Taylor's parents will sign off on her graduating high school early to roam the country as a Habitat for Humanity do-gooder.
Good for Julie and good for those of us weary of Julie's whining and drastic mood swings, the only tedious note of an otherwise sterling fourth season.
On a whole, though, the rest of the cast faces a fairly grim outlook for the offseason, barring an improbable East Dillon win over their well-to-do rivals from West Dillon. Summing up, we have:
- The hottest high school principal in all the land facing dismissal from her job if she doesn't bow to pressure from misinformed opponents and sign off on a weak-kneed public statement apologizing for convincing an East Dillon student to get an abortion.
- Principal Tami Taylor's husband, the most decent high school football coach in all the land, losing his star running back to a hip injury and having his Thanksgiving weekend home game against hated West Dillon taken away after some vandals — West Dillon player or boosters? — tore up his resodded field and ripped down the goal posts.
- Tim Riggins, just as the once wayward football star appeared set to embark on a life of ranch building and responsible adulthood, getting thrown in jail by police questioning him about the stolen cars that were stripped down in his brother's garage.
- East Dillon quarterback Vince Howard, after watching his friend Calvin Brown get fatally shot, getting pistol-whipped by the thug who loaned Vince money for his mother's drug rehab after Vince refuses at the last second to join him on a revenge mission.
- And finally Landry — or "Lance," as Coach Taylor inexplicably called him several times in Friday's episode — slowly realizing that even if he buys Jess a new bike and offers himself as the nicest boyfriend in all the land, he can't compete with Vince's "tortured bad boy with a heart of gold" appeal.
So clearly, a lot of dangling threads remain, and it's unlikely that all of them will be resolved in Friday's finale (8 p.m., NBC). But here a few quibbles or observations from the last two episodes:
Some shaky journalism from the Dillon Daily Times: The first that Tami Taylor hears that someone (Luke Cafferty's mom) has leaked the school board's confidential decision to clear her of any wrongdoing in her counseling of Becky Sproles is when she gets a phone call from a reporter from the hometown paper at home.
From the clock on the wall as she picks up the phone, it appears to be 11:25 p.m. Armed with her quick "no comment," the paper sees fit to run with the story on the front page of the next morning's paper. A late-night phone call right before deadline hardly qualifies as giving someone a chance to defend themselves against charges of wrongdoing.
But the show clearly wants to fast-track the derailing of Tami's career, as she quickly finds herself the target of abortion opponents' protests and threatening phone calls, so a lack of due process is the point, I guess.
An off-note musical selection: FNL usually does a great job of selecting songs from artists such as Wilco, the Avett Brothers and other bands to match the mood of specific scenes. But Ida Maria's "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" for the hospital scene where Billy Riggins storms back into the delivery room for the birth of his son? A great party song, but hardly the right choice here.
Where's Big Mary?: After weeks of methodical character development where Jess' father Vernon Merriweather started as indifferent to East Dillon's attempt to revive its football program and hostile to Vince before evolving into a sounding board for Coach Taylor and an eager role model for Vince, "Big Mary" was AWOL the last two episodes.
The last we saw of him, he was telling Vince he had not given up on him and was proud of Vince for coming to him for help getting his mother into a rehab center. Yet when Vince makes the ill-fated decision to accept a loan from a thug who used to run with his dad, Big Mary is nowhere to be seen as he finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble.
We don't even see him working the grill anymore at the BBQ restaurant. Was actor Steve Harris not available the weeks those episodes were shot? His absence is glaring.
Becky, buy a clue: By my count, Friday's episode marked at least the third time this season where Becky Sproles tries to kiss Tim Riggins and tell him she loves him, only to have him brush her off and say, "This can't happen."
This must be the new chaste Riggins' mantra. Or maybe Riggins is smart enough to know you can't go around hooking up with 16-year-olds, even if he's dumb enough to agree to lay in Becky's mother's bed with Becky, watching "Thelma and Louise." You knew that wasn't going to end well after he thwarted Becky's mom's drunken advances with yet another, "This ... can't happen."
Either way, we don't need any more scenes of Becky trying to kiss the rightfully uneasy Riggins. We may get stuck, though, with Becky going into "stand by your man" mode as Riggins sits locked up in jail on the chop shop charges.