Thursday, November 15, 2007

Friday Night Lights: s.2 ep. 6: "How Did I Get Here" wri. Carter Harris, 2007

This episode bought into a number of clichés; some of them worked, some didn't. Three to focus on: 1) The visiting sister 2) The murder cover-up 3) The unwilling mentor. The third is all good; the second is all bad; the first is an admix of both.

The first - the visiting sister plot - begins as the worst offender. She bears all the hallmarks of The Visiting Sister: she's not beholden to anyone in anyway, she's well-traveled, she divides the family from itself, i.e. she's the antithesis of the sister she's visiting. The plot doesn't tread any new territory, but the final moment between the sisters - as is almost any moment of the show featuring Connie Britton - is so purely authentic - the apotheosis of the generic in the most complimentary of ways - that it overwhelms whatever clichés might be, or might have been, invoked. That is, this one scene reminds the viewer why clichés are clichés: when done right, they are terribly effective.

Which leads to the Landry plot. Jesse Plemons as Landry, for his part, sells the plot. So does Landry's father. No, the actors aren't at fault here, the writing is. Maybe this murder plot has allowed the audience into the Landry Clarke household, and I'm happy to know that family better, but the ends simply don't justify the means. We already have an unnecessarily duplicitous kid, who is simultaneously carrying around an extremely ponderous burden and playing the football hero. Separately, the plots aren't impossible; I wasn't against the murder storyline from the start. But the collision of the two sides of Landry doesn't make any sense. How can he crack wise while living with the secret of having killed a man and covered up that killing? Now we get another improbable, and clichéd, development: the good cop betrays his force in order to protect his son. Again, this could work, but piled on top of everything else, it betrays the trust of the audience. A denouement that works is still a possibility, but that possibility shrinks with each improbable and difficult development that's laid before it.

As for Riggins and Santiago: this is what FNL is about, as far as I'm concerned: football-related stories that transcend the playing field. Riggins is and has always been one of the most developed and complex characters on the show. His actions earlier in the season were slightly worrisome: Why have such an interesting character fall back on his typical actions: drinking, sleeping, and sexing? But it makes sense. Riggins is a regressive personality by nature. It's how he goes. What makes him great is the juxtaposition of his good heart and selfish action. And what makes this tutelage plot so good is how it combines both. If Riggins were acting out of pure self-interest or pure altruism, his teaching Santiago how to play ball would be boring; that is, the character would become a teleologically focused plot. Instead, with Riggins' two sides lobbying for position, this plot opens up all kinds of possibilities: Riggins can interact with Lyla, with Coach, with Street, etc., all while retaining his edge - after all, training his own replacement must get to him - focusing him enough to avoid the binge drinking and get on with his life.

These three plots illustrate really well where Friday Night Lights is at right now, and could be in the future. The writers have the talent, and the show has laid the groundwork, to avoid and subvert whatever tight spots it's been painted into. But that doesn't erase the fact that those tight spots are still there, and as was proven with Landry and his dad, they aren't easily avoided. Still, FNL's strengths, no matter how frustrating other aspects of the show are and become, will always be there. So, no matter how difficult, frustrating, and implausible the show becomes, it will always be worth watching, if not for its current plots, then at least for its potential to flip whatever's wrong into something good.


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