A stunning episode of Friday Night Lights tonight, literally putting me on the edge of the couch. Just some quick thoughts:
1) I actually struggled with the very end of last week's episode and the beginning of this one, wondering how Coach Taylor could be so out of the picture while the black players staged their walkout. As it turned out, Taylor was paralyzed, which is plenty believable. I just needed to see it instead of wondering about it - once I saw it, I was fine.
2) The show's strength continues to be its ability to find problems that defy easy solutions, that ping-pong their characters back and forth. Watching both Taylor and Smash struggle with their actions and beliefs was an important reminder that so often, even the best of us don't have the answers.
3) The scene in which Taylor goes to the guidance counselor, his wife and his friend - all the same person - was simply brilliant.
4) Lights can do a plot twist, too. Where most shows would have fired assistant coach Mac McGill for his racist remarks, Lights was willing to have Taylor, the leader of the show, choose loyalty over propriety and let MacGill stay.
And the show did not imply that Taylor was doing the right thing, not at all. Instead, it looked like he was once again out on a long limb, not long after the one he went out on in concealing Smash's brief steroid use.
Most shows would have let Smash, taking the principled stand, win, but instead, Smash caved. Or rather, he was convinced by his mother that to cave was not to cave, if he found another righteous path. The show isn't afraid to be spin its heroes the way a linebacker spins a running back.
5) Yet still I remained disturbed about something else, the fact that the lone black assistant coach on the team was given no lines in the show, no voice in the debate. That just seemed too peculiar.
6) Ultimately, Smash found its dignity, in the final act of the show that had me practically in mid-air. As the playoff game unfolded, we were directed to conclude that the referees were way worse than McGill, allowing the Cardinals free reign to inflict late hits on Smash without being penalized. Smash, counseled with perfect timing by an exasperated Taylor not to let it get to him, kept turning the other cheek. Taylor's validation of the injustice was all Smash needed.
Finally, when the most egregious late hit came, and still Smash stood his ground without violence, Riggins, a white player, came to Smash's defense and retaliated. A melee ensued. And the host city - its fans, its coaches, its players - defiantly refused to take responsiblity for it, as if they couldn't see the one thing in the show that was black and white - going so far as to send the police to pursue Smash after the game for arrest on the charge of instigating the brawl, in what surely was meant to call to mind a virtual attempt at lynching. It was absolutely chilling.
Maybe Lights made its job easier by creating such a demon city for the playoff opponent, but all I can say is it worked. It brought everything to the fore, showing how delicate the balance is between fighting and turning the other cheek when it comes to racism. And after Mac stood up to the police and convinced them to back off, when the beleaguered Dillon Panthers collapsed on the bus driving them home, you could feel viscerally how overwhelming the flood of emotions was, how beaten down they were.
They are putting these actors through the ringer, Kyle Chandler most of all. It was as wild a ride as I've had watching television this season.