Tuned In

Friday Night Lights Watch: Are We There Yet?

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Quick spoilers for last night’s Friday Night Lights below:

I had planned, this week, to return to my regular schedule of reviewing Friday Night Lights for its NBC run, which I’ve dropped the ball on, so to speak, for the last couple weeks. You know what God does when you make plans: He dumps a bunch of other assignments on you, gives you a cold and breaks your laptop.

All of which is to say: I haven’t forgotten you, FNL fans! But I’ll need to make it quick. “Kingdom,” however, is a fine episode to come back on, and I am eager to hear what you all thought of it.

One of the reasons FNL’s East Dillon reboot has worked as well as it did is the way it developed the character of Vince, who introduced us to a new world across town, yet embodies the themes and conflicts of Friday Night Lights as well as any original character. Among those themes: that hard work and self-responsibility matter, but so do the circumstances of your birth. That community and family are an indispensible support, but they can also be a burden and a chain. That choosing the right thing over the expedient thing is much easier said than done. And that faith—in people if not in a religion—is important, but choosing in whom to place your faith can be damn tough.

Vince, like some other people in Dillon, is a kid to whom not much was given but from whom much is expected. He has been given one thing, though, a talent—and with it, the problem of how best to use that talent to change his life.

He feels responsibility to his family, and the tug of his both his dad and the recruiters who are sniffing around illicitly. He also has developed an attachment to Coach Taylor, whose talk about focus and discipline may be good ideas in the long run, but which are easier to talk about than to follow. On the field, Vince has seen the benefits of listening to Taylor—”You know the way we’re gonna do it?” “Your way, coach!” “My way! … It’s the good way! The right way! It’s the path to salvation!” But you can feel the anxiety that plays across his face as he introduces the two at the hotel.

“Kingdom” subtly ups the tension between Vince, his father and his father figure as they discuss the quarterback’s future. But it also extends that theme through the rest of the Lions, as they take a road trip to play a rematch and are pulled between the call of discipline and the sweetness of revenge. (Coach, meanwhile, reciprocates by giving the Lions permission—once he sees the fix is in—to show play by “east side” rules.) All while providing some quiet and funny bonding moments as the underdog Lions find themselves in the unfamiliar, quietly hostile (when not openly racist) territory of Kingdom. (That disorientation is captured, hilariously, in Coach’s puzzlement at the hotel’s electronic keycard: “You don’t have regular keys that you put in a lock and turn?”)

As I said, I need to cut this short, so I’m going to leave the other storylines (e.g., Julie’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me situation), but you tell me: was it worth the trip? And remember: the porn ain’t free.