I thought this episode was all about “missing” people—about the painful necessity of taking a different path from the person you love. And when you do, you realize, as Matt does, as Julie does, as Riggins does, as Buddy, in his own way, does, that you are living with a slightly different self than the one you had been living with. Over and over we see that the transactions of love have their price. The characters come smack up against loss, as they fail to connect—Becky “misses” her mother; Buddy “misses” the Panther booster he was; Eric and Tami miss their old Panther identity and have to get used to this new, even more precarious way of viewing themselves (see Tami’s great meltdown in the car).
To me the heart of the episode is Matt’s resentment that Julie is applying to college and moving on and away. We see it first in the way his face goes studiously blank when she says her list of schools. It’s intensified when he decides to go hunting with Riggins. And it’s made really poignant when Julie tells Matt she’s going to the gay bar with Devin—in that moment “Steers” becomes a stand-in for all the experiences she’s going to have without him, and he knows it. (That’s why he’s a bit aggressive about his plans to hunt.) Later, at the bar, Julie, looking impossibly fresh-faced, confides her anxieties to Devin, who is eying a cute girl and can’t really hear her. None of us can quite feel the sting of anyone else’s injuries.
And of course this leitmotif comes to a crescendo with the news that Matt’s dad has died. It was interesting to me that neither of you talked about that more, because to me that was the capstone of the episode. Talk about alienation from a version of yourself: Poor Matt is entering a whole new selfhood. Losing a parent that young surely constitutes a profound awakening. Your whole trajectory changes.
But it’s not just Matt. All these kids are players in a game that isn’t just football and its aftermath; it’s the way our ideas of ourselves shape us and how even our optimism can damage us. Emily, I think this is why Virgil is so down on football: It gave him hope of some kind, and it also took that away from him. Or so I presume. I hope the show never gets too specific about this plot point. The question of place becomes a powerful shaping factor here, too, in a way that you rarely see on TV; Texas is as much a character as anyone else.
Take the great moment when Riggins and Matt are talking realistically about Julie and Lyla—letting them go as they speak. “Texas forever,” Matt says, semi-ironically. It’s a kind of inverted quote of that moment between Street and Riggins in the first (I think) episode of the first season, when they’re out on a warm night with Lyla and they say Texas forever and you hear in their voices all the joy of being young and the naive belief that it can be like this forever, that the best years of your life are going to go on and on. One of the real accomplishments of this show is to bring us from there to here: to a moment between a diminished, ironized Riggins hanging out with Matt, whose nervous sensitivity is in stark counterpoint to the strapping prototypical “young athlete” Street then was. Now Riggins and Matt don’t have their girls. And they don’t have their football. They have pizza tips (Matt tries to get away with using “za” playing scrabble) and auto shops and underage girls to comfort and keep at a distance from.
Anyway. I loved this episode and am very curious to see where the death of Matt’s father leads him. One last thing about Riggins: Did you find Taylor Kitsch’s performance in this episode strangely self-conscious? At first it distracted me. Then I thought maybe it was kind of genius. He’s playing Riggins-playing-Riggins, a former football-hero hottie, who knows that in the not-too-distant future he may well get a beer gut and begin to bald. It’s like a straight version of camp. Or something.
Before leaving: Did you notice that the music is starkly different this season? Gone, for the most part, are the orchestral soaring melodies of Explosions in the Sky; in their places is a motley assortment, more upbeat, at least in the one montage of practice. I gotta say, I miss the old music a bit, at least when it comes to the sports montages. And yet the cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” that plays at the end of the episode is affecting. The song is about loss and intense feeling and “stumbling a little.” The lyrics go something like, “Love, love is a verb/ Love is a doing word/ Fearless on my breath.” Everyone’s trying to be a bit fearless, but they know more is coming down the pipeline, don’t you think?