David, you pointed out last week that the fates of Eric and Tim are tied this season—if one goes up the other must go down. I think that Vince and Tim are also on a seesaw. In the beginning of the season, Vince was in trouble with the law and Tim was clean. Then Vince found football and Tim let Billy pull him into the fast money of the chop shop. Now we have Vince walking away from proving his thuggishness—walking away even though the gang leader he has sold himself to makes this mission of payback for his cousin’s death a point of honor. Vince gets away by invoking his own code: His mother should not have to bury him, he says. Vince also has Jess’ love to pull him back from the edge. She is forsaking the safer, whiter, more bumbling world of Landry, with his supremely well-intentioned but ill-timed gift of the aqua bike. (Hanna, isn’t your bike that color?) Now that Vince has left the dark side behind, my chief remaining concern is that he’s going to get shot in the season finale. Tim, meanwhile, is taking one on the chin for FNL morality by getting caught by the cops. All he can say, when they identify him by asking whether he’s a football star is, “I used to be.”
The bitterness of Tim’s fate is heightened, of course, by his flash of contentment a few scenes earlier. Striding his land with Becky, he dared to say he was happy. I am Tim’s biggest fan in this group (you hear that, Taylor Kitsch?) but even I thought the writers were manhandling him this time. He is the poster boy for Texas Forever, and then he is a mug shot, all in a few short minutes.As for Billy, his fall comes after his rise from the ashes of deadbeat dad farce to witness the birth of his son. “I AM THE DAD!” Billy hollers as he marches back into Mindy’s hospital room to tell her to breathe. Hanna and David, you will both surely have plenty to say about the mincemeat the show is making of the white working-class male (shades of Hanna’s Atlantic piece). I thought that Billy running out of the house with his pants down was a cheap shot that was utterly worth taking.
My bid for a broader Theme of the Week is the art and meaning of apology. Eric recovered from his poor showing of last week by saying clearly to Luke “I apologize”—restoring himself as a model of admitting error, as I never tire of pointing out to my husband. The Panthers showed their evil stripes by refusing to apologize for trashing the Lions’ field. (I want them to be personally billed for the cost of the cleanup.) And most significantly, Tami’s professional future teeters in the balance of whether she should apologize (even though she feels she shouldn’t) for the counsel she gave Becky. This is a real dilemma for Tami: Hanna, as you said last week, she’s on the hook here for following the district’s rules, not for breaking them. But to her critics, that doesn’t matter. I love Tami’s passion for her job: While her pride is on the line, and her sense of injustice has been heightened, she is mostly a working mom who loves what she does and doesn’t want to lose it. Why didn’t we get to see a scene of Tami and Eric hashing out what she could say in her own defense? I realize that “following protocol” won’t convince anyone, but how about: I talked to this girl about keeping her baby. I talked to her about adoption. She asked for other options. I handed her a pamphlet explaining abortion. And what about Becky—couldn’t she help Tami, if not by standing up at a public meeting, then by writing a letter on her behalf? I know that’s a lot to ask of a 16-year-old, but I would have liked to see Becky being asked to think about it.
For comic relief this week, we have an abundance of nominees, even if none of them rise to the level of pantless Billy. Tami and Eric’s separate reactions to Julie’s Habitat for Humanity plan are each a minor parenting classic. Tami tells her daughter to clean the stove. Eric tells Julie that if she agrees to go easy on her mom during Tami’s week of peril, “we can talk about this house building or whatever.” On the actual merits of Julie’s idea, I am torn. I’m a big fan (at least in theory, while my kids are still in elementary school) of a year or two of work before college. Given how many American kids spend their freshman years in a fog, alcohol-induced or otherwise, the gap year seems like an eminently sensible European adaptation that we should borrow. But Julie’s Habitat scheme is of course tied to Ryan, whose blond mop I’d be happy to never see again. So we are supposed to disapprove of the whole Habitat premise, even though this is a little starchy and traditionalist on the show’s part.
A few closing thoughts: My coda to your discussion about great minor characters is a word of praise to Principal Levi Burnwell of East Dillon High, whose grumpy, football-hating mug I am always glad to see. Hanna, you asked for more Buddy, and you got a fabulous opener this week in which Joe kisses off our beloved used-car salesman for speaking with “the voice of a dead Panther.” Finally, two love questions: Did Jess make the right choice for herself, between Landry and Vince? Hanna, I know you think so, but I wonder how you feel, DavidZ and our readers? And now that Matt has come back, should he and Julie get back together, or are they each better off on their own?