I agree, Emily: This episode is pretty unsentimental. In fact, it’s probably the best of the season so far. Partly that’s because it begins with football rather than ending with it, loosening up what had come to seem like a predictable structure. One key result is that the episode can follow out plot points having to do with the team: In this case, it follows Matt’s sense of failure and disappointment and Coach Taylor’s need to address the fact that, as the game announcer put it, J.D. McCoy has turned out to be “the real deal.” I’m always happiest when the show has more football and less necking on it.
I liked how the writers intertwined Matt’s disappointment with the reappearance of Jason Street. Street is suffering from a disappointment, too, reminding us that even great quarterbacks go on to suffer. Street, of course, was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident that the first season revolved around; now he’s had another accident: He got a girl pregnant in a one-night stand. He has a son. It’s turning out to be the central joy of his life. And unlike so many guys his age—who’d be in college—he’s facing the concrete pressures of needing to make money. You called Street and his pals the “Four Stooges,” Emily, and I get why, because this episode treats them as goofballs: Riggins, Street, and Herc sit around trying to figure out how to make some bucks quick. I love the scene in which Jason is trying to think of something simple that everyone needs. (“A sharp pencil,” Herc says unhelpfully.)
It’s almost shticky, but what keeps it from being too much so is the quite poignant reality underlying the slacker riffing. They don’t just want money; they need money. And it’s not all that clear that they can get it. The scene at the bank when Street and Herc are trying to get a loan and Tim and Billy fail to show up—because they don’t have the cash they promised they have—is brutal. Street uses the word dumbass to describe Billy and Tim, but that’s putting it gently. You see how people with good intentions easily cross to the wrong side of the law.
Meanwhile, Matt’s mom is driving me crazy, but I guess the poor guy needs something good in his life. She’s eerily thoughtful just as Tami starts to flip out and become oddly uptight—coming down hard on Tyra in ways that alienate her and flipping out at her daughter, Julie, for getting a tattoo on her ankle. The writing here is excellent: I flashed back to when I got a second ear piercing without telling my mom and she flipped out. I think she said exactly what Tami did: that I’d ruined and disfigured my body. Twenty years later, I can see the scene from both mom and daughter’s perspective: to Julie, who’s desperately seeking autonomy, her mom’s nervousness looks square and hypocritical—from her perspective, it’s just a tattoo and “it doesn’t mean anything.” But for Tami, Julie’s mini-rebellion seems as if it’s part of a larger slide to … she doesn’t know what, and that’s precisely what’s terrifying. She has to assume it does mean something. Or does she? This was a moment when I wished we could see Tami with a friend, because you kind of think the friend might give Tami a hug and say, “Your daughter’s going to be OK.” Because Julie is: She isn’t giving off all the other signs of unhappiness that would seem to trigger real concern. She just wants to feel that she’s got some control over her own life—even if she doesn’t fully.