TV Club

Season finale: A Bracing Dose of Reality

The “five months later” gimmick worked for me, too, Emily. And so did the opening montage sequence—even though I generally hate montages. It’s especially risky, of course, to start an episode with a montage, and to make it as shamelessly sentimental as this one is: long shots of Lyla and Tim sunning together, Tyra and Landry on a dock, Julie and Matt … ah, high-school coupledom at its sexiest (and most vitamin-D filled). It should seem saccharine, this last sweep of images before the long breaking apart begins. But the sequence is well-shot and slightly moody in tone, like one’s own cherished memories. It works because we’re both experiencing with the characters and watching in the context of a final episode a season of life already passed. As Julie says later, in a moving scene with Tami in her new car, “It’s stupid, I just … I um … I don’t know. I just, I never thought that Matt would go away to school, and my friends would be leaving high school. I just kind of feel left behind. It’s a lot of change.” (Usually I don’t find this actress to be a powerhouse of scintillating subtlety, but she’s great in this scene.)

This final episode is a tricky one to pull off. The writers had to close out without shutting down shop entirely. And I agree, Emily, that they did a pretty good job, given the task. But it was not my favorite episode by any means. The script seemed too self-consciously “complete,” too thematic, too filled with Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way.” (I confess—I actually liked that wedding band.) I found myself wishing the last image of the season had been Riggins placing those cleats down.

But I largely bought the town’s betrayal of Eric. To me, it seemed like a bracing dose of plain old reality. It usefully offset the show’s golden glow. As we’ve discussed, FNL can be awfully sentimental about male honor and doing the right thing; that sentimentality resides most squarely in Eric. So the fact that the writers buckled down to show that being a good guy doesn’t matter when you’re standing next to a mean guy with deep pockets … well, that seemed about right.

I also thought they set us up for this turn of events in an early scene of this episode. In it, Eric confronts Joe after discovering that Joe’s been visiting prospective Panthers with Wade Aikman—as if he, not Eric, runs the team. Joe plays coy for a sec, but when Eric says, sarcastically, “You might be able to imagine how that makes me feel,” the gloves come off. He complains that Eric hasn’t been moving “aggressively” enough, then tries to bribe Eric into playing J.D. in every game, and finally reveals that he has given the boosters a “truckload” of money and, being J.D.’s dad on top, has amassed enough power to push Eric out should he choose to. In one sense, I agree that the town hall scene is hard to believe. Watching it, I did cry out, “No one stands up for Eric after all he’s done?” But on reflection, I thought that was the point: Unbelievably, yet predictably, no one stands up for Eric after all he’s done. The group has come to an expedient decision. Never mind that it is, as Eric points out, the “wrong” decision.

It’s pleasing that he uses that word. It’s true on two counts. The town has made a bad decision for the team (I can’t believe Wade will be a better coach than Eric) as well as a morally troubled one (if someone does good-faith work, you don’t push him out just to get three years of glory with a very young, very injurable quarterback).

There’s so much more to talk about: the many small, sharp exchanges between Tami and Eric, whose marriage seems about perfect to me; Tyra and Landry’s wonderfully complicated shouting match by the side of the road. But I want to touch on Matt’s decision to go take his grandmother out of the nursing home. This bothered me so much. Sentiment and honor are powerful ideas in my book, but this scene illustrated how easily honor and ideas about what’s “right” can become forms of stubbornness and impracticality. Not to mention that this sequence is extremely shticky. First, Matt and Julie are talking at the wedding about breaking up. He tells Julie that’s not happening. Then he rushes to the nursing home, where he finds his grandmother and declares, “You’re the only person who’s never left me. I’m not going to leave you.” Then—whoosh!—she’s packed, and they’re arrived back at the wedding. Cue violins, tears. (Or, in this case, the Hispanic wedding band.)

But Matt’s gotten it all wrong. He is making a mistake his grandmother shouldn’t let him make. Parents raise you so that you can go off and have a life. It’s the job of parents not to leave their kids. It’s the job of kids to leave their parents. You can’t stop time, and you can’t fight against the cycle. Julie’s been trying to tell him that, and he refuses to hear—unlike Lyla, who concedes (rightly) when Tim pushes back at her. Where is his mom when he needs her?

In other words, Matt is being truly sentimental. In a bad way. But, Hanna: What did you think?