'Friday Night Lights' Season 4, Episode 6: 'What else do you want?'
It probably wouldn't be fair to ever label "Friday Night Lights" a coming-of-age drama. Young or old, no one ever truly stops learning and growing, and the characters that inhabit the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, may graduate, get older, leave town or change jobs, but "Friday Night Lights" has a way of keeping everything in perspective.
One week after one of the strongest, most emotional episodes in the four seasons of "Friday Night Lights" (Show Tracker had to skip it due to Grammy duty), "Friday Night Lights" said goodbye to another regular in Zach Gilford's Matt Saracen, and also gave a proper send-off to Minka Kelly's Lyla Garrity. But "Friday Night Lights" didn't dwell or sensationalize either, letting them become part of a larger fabric -- the series' continued realistic look at a small, football-obsessed town, one that was in a recession long before a national economic collapse.
Saracen never really belonged in Dillon. He was ordinary, and that made him something of an oddity. A regular guy dealing with hardship after hardship, Saracen took it all in stride. Saracen was reserved -- perhaps repressed is a better word -- and though he become a brief football hero, there was always something slightly tragic about his dalliances with football.
For some in Dillon, football is the only way out. For others, it's a crutch. But Saracen never really needed the sport. If anything, early on in Seasons 1 and 2, it risked serving as a distraction for the character, a potential stumbling block on his path out of Dillon and onto bigger and better things.
When writers had him temporarily delay admittance to the Art Institute of Chicago, it may have been a win for fans of the series, but it didn't ring entirely true. As one of the few characters who always understood that there was life beyond Dillon, Saracen always seemed a strong enough character to bully through whatever doubts he may be having about heading to college. That's why it was utterly heartbreaking to see him fighting back the frustration week after week as a pizza delivery boy.
His girlfriend, Aimee Teegarden's Julie Taylor, isn't all that different. She's a fellow A-student with designs on more than Dillon has to offer. She stops short of telling Matt he needs to leave, but the younger character comes to the realization first. What's striking about the Julie-Matt relationship in this episode is the way it transfers some very adult issues to teenage characters, a rarity in television, film, music or any form or mass pop culture.
Real-life stresses have a way of derailing even the most fairy tale of romances. With the risk of sounding like a cynic, issues such as money and career have an effect in any relationship, and though Matt and Julie have neither, she recognizes she's keeping him from both. "Maybe I should have left already," Matt yells to her, speaking over the Heartless Bastards at Emo's in Austin, Texas. "Do you even want me to stay?"
Of course she does, just as any fan of the series does. But when Teegarden's character breaks down, and resorts to shouting "I love you" over and over, Matt knows that's not an answer to his question. It's a fall-back response when the truth is far more difficult -- and nuanced -- to articulate.
He takes the only proper course of action, and eventually learns that he has to get on with his life. The episode ends with Matt on the road, most likely on I-35 north to Chicago. An understated, likable and all-around good guy (Matt panics when he realizes that Julie is in Austin with him without her parents' permission), Gilford's character will be missed.
On the bright side, he'll be back for at least two episodes this season, and will remain, like other major characters who left, part of the Dillon narrative. But there won't be any time to sulk. Life, as "Friday Night Lights" continues to illustrate, will get in the way.
College life: The only major plot this week was the return, as mentioned and pictured above, of Kelly's Lyla Garrity. Her up-and-down relationship with Taylor Kitsch's Tim Riggins was one of the few story lines that grew a little tired -- a little predictable -- in Season 3. That's why I wasn't elated when she arrived in town for the funeral of Matt's father last week, but as a college girl not yet ready to leg go of her Texas roots, Kelly was on point.
As Riggins, Kitsch is the bad boy with a heart of gold. Though living in a trailer this year, there's something that's always felt a little worn and lived-in about his character. He's making a young man's mistakes, but carrying himself with a carefree, seen-it-all attitude. But he's never quite looked as downright young and vulnerable as he did tonight.
After a reunion with Lyla, Riggins makes a plea for her to give up college and work with him and his brother. She doesn't entertain it, of course, wondering herself why she's even sticking around in Dillon for a few days. Throughout their relationship, Riggins has always gotten the best of Lyla, persuading her, against her better judgment, to stick with him.
That ended tonight. She asks Riggins what he wants out of life, and his response is that he wants her. She repeats the question: "What else do you want?"
The camera lingers on Riggins' heartbroken face as he fails to find an answer, cutting briefly back to Lyla for her look of disappointment. Any and all tough-guy exterior is gone, and for once, someone may have finally persuaded Riggins to take a long look at his life.
The night's best line: It was delivered by Jesse Plemons' Landry Clarke. The East Dillon Lions had a moral victory tonight, coming close to upsetting one of the best in the conference. Expected to get walloped, the press was interviewing the team before the game, and Landry offered a quote we only wish we could hear a professional athlete say: "I scored a perfect math score on my SAT, so if the pressure's on, I'm the guy to go to."
Photo: Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins and Minka Kelly as Lyla Garrity. Credit: Bill Records / DirecTV