I must say, I was completely charmed by this episode. But its nostalgia worked on me in a slightly different way: It didn’t so much call me back to some sweet generic age of teenage innocence, but to the early, more languid days of FNL, when the boys had plenty of time to hang out and riff, and all the parties took place outdoors, Dazed and Confused-style. Instead of Riggins and Street’s “Texas forever,” we now have genuine branding by fire, thanks to Luke’s extensive experience with cattle. The episode even had an incident of true racism. “Go back to Africa,” one of the South Kings players said to Vince—a raw side of Texas football life we haven’t seen since the days of Riggins vs. Smash.
The opening scene was a great narrative trick that set the tone for the rest of the episode. Coach was at his most controlling, Old Testament God-like self. “My way is the right way,” he yelled at his players, and he did not let up. “My way is the good way. My way is the smart way. It’s the path to salvation,” he shouted. In the meantime, the action behind him unfolded in unhurried, chaotic fashion, hinting to us that Eric was not going to keep tight control. Pretty soon the boys were goofing around in the locker room, making butt jokes, and then goofing around on the bus: “I like country, this is rap. Put ‘em together and it sounds like crap,” sang Luke. The bus broke down, Billy got frustrated; in other words, this was a road trip narrative, and those are always about losing control.
That scene you liked, Emily, showed how little control Eric actually had. He was a bystander, listening while his boys talked about porn in their rooms. He couldn’t control Billy Riggins, he couldn’t control his own cursing at the ref during the game. He couldn’t even win a poker game when he was cheating. Poor Coach. He was put in the position his wife is usually in: the stiff at someone else’s party.
The Julie interludes fit in well, I thought. She and Derek also went on a road trip, to the fried bread shack. And then we got lured slowly into their romance, complete with car kissing and sweet indie music. There was even a semi-ironic echo of Eric’s God talk; Derek half jokingly mentioned the “invisible hand” that guided their meeting. A familiar romantic path, stumbling cutely toward a certain end when, BOOM. In walks Allison. Last week I complained about how the writers were introducing too many new characters. Now I think they were preparing us for this particular outrageous entrance. Allison is what happens when Tami and Maura get rolled together into one screaming, out-of-control, righteous hellion. And boy did she take me by surprise. Derek described her as “very smart.” I was expecting some young, attractive Catherine Keener type in glasses, quietly compiling the damning evidence. Instead we got an out-of-control mean girl yelling, “JULIE TAYLOR IS A SLUT,” which is barely believable for a woman her age but was still affecting. (On the college location, we have our answer. Boston is definitely not close enough to come home to do laundry.)
I wish they hadn’t let Buddy Jr. turn so quickly. I was looking forward to a few more episodes of his screw-ups, and Buddy’s ham-handed attempts at parenting. I do, however, look forward to the moment of truth between Tami and Julie. Tami has been missing her so hard that she may shrink from driving her away with her outrage. But by the exacting tenets of Tami’s morality, she must be outraged. I have no doubt she will find just the right thing to say.