Friday Night Lights: "Underdogs"


Strobe lights stutter, streamers dangle, rally girls move like marionettes. The blue-blazer-ed brass band rips through the Dillon fight song. We’re at the pep rally — the final rally before State — and everyone’s got pep except Coach Taylor. As usual, he’s all scowl, doing his best Bill Belichick impersonation.

Taylor’s still thinking about the beating Joe McCoy gave his QB son after last week’s game. Tammy’s thinking about it too — there’s pressure from the superintendent for her to call Child Protective Services on Joey Mac. After a moment of somber deliberation, Coach and Tammy agree to make the call.

Riggins Ranch, early morning. Lyla runs to the restroom, clutching her crotch like she’s John Wayne Bobbitt. The bathroom has cooties. Lyla uses coffee filters — which happen to be lying near the toilet — as seat protectors. She groans like she has the clap. Billy Rig walks in, wearing high-cut briefs, also crotch-clutching. Lyla is freaked. “Fine,” Billy says, “I’ll just piss in the sink.” He does. [Editor’s note: OMG, that’s so Frank on Big Love!]

Now that everyone’s awake, Billy ushers them out to his proud new purchase — a dilapidated barn he plans to convert into an autobody shop called — Riggins’ Rigs. “24/7, fixing cars, drinking beer. I mean, what more do you need.” And for a moment, as sunlight hits the surrounding trees, and Billy’s smile spreads and multiplies like breeze-blown seedlings, it’s hard to argue with the Riggins take on the American Dream.

So this is the episode where everyone figures out what they’re going to do next year. Matt Saracen wants to go to Art School in Chicago. He shows Tammy Taylor his portfolio — comprised mostly of pencil drawings of D&D characters — and she’s impressed. Julie wants to be encouraging, to let her little Saracen spread his wings, but she’s only just begun her investigation into the pleasures offered by Matt’s body! What’s a girl to do?

According to Landry, Tyra’s college essay is crap. “Would you explain to me why every paragraph has to tie back into Applebees?…It reads like a five-page needlepoint pillow.” Ouch. Guess she didn’t take my advice.

Uh-Oh. Child Services shows up at the McCoy mansion. I half-expect Benson and Stabler to pop out in chaps and cowboy hats. Why not?

Matt Saracen smiles for once in his life. His mother — who has become a patron saint since her arrival (we’ll see if it lasts) — offers to pay. Too bad Grandma isn’t having it. She needs Matthew, and Art School is a waste of money. Once again, the other shoe that drops on Saracen is a steel-toed boot.

Practice: “Where’s Lance?” Coach says. He means Landry. Apparently killing a rapist, dating the hottest girl in town, and being a bona fide rock god isn’t enough to make a mark in Dillon. But good, if unrealistic, news: Landry will be starting at special teams in the finale. Is coach trying to lose?

J.D. confronts coach about the visit from CPS. It’s the law, coach says. J.D. gives a sour face — maybe he needs to pee, too. Oh yeah, he’s just a terrible actor. He’s mad at coach.

Lyla’s had enough of the Riggins household — she’s moving back in with Buddy. But she’s made a decision — she’s going to San Antonio State with Tim, and they’re getting a place together. Look for their apartment to be a hotbed of activity next season. My guess is that she catches Tim with a co-ed within a week. At the beginning of each season Riggins reverts to his bad-boy self, nullifying any progress he’s made on the emotional maturity front.

Landry wants Lyla to come to the game. Lyla wants to work on her college essay. Landry agrees with her priorities, but damn, it’s not like he’ll ever play football again. Landry gets drunk at a rally party, and misses the bus to Austin.

Coach and Joe McCoy have words. Joe is wearing ridiculous sunglasses.

Landry wakes on Tyra’s couch. He needs to get to Austin. He and Tyra make a deal. She’ll drive him if he helps with her essay. Mindy inexplicably vomits in the toilet. Was she wasted with Landry? Is she carrying Billy Rig’s pre-wedlock progeny? Who knows?

Photo-Op at Longhorn Stadium, where the game will be held. On-field, J.D. gives coach the cold shoulder. Off-field, Kaite McCoy gives Tammy the cold shoulder. What did they expect, a cookie?

In the car, Landry tells Tyra her new essay is crap too. Frustrated, Tyra starts talking real-talk, angrily asking if she could write about all the pain she’s experienced in her life? Duh. Just put in the part about how you’ve overcome it! Talk about how Jason Street’s paralysis changed the way you look at life! Now we’ve got an essay on our hands!

Riggins and Saracen walk the streets of Austin, waxing nostalgic, and speaking softly of the future. They find a Frisbee and play. Suddenly they are boys again, beautiful bodies scrambling for errant throws in the cool Austin night. Coach and Tammy take a moment to enjoy the skyline. Fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Voice-over: Tyra’s college essay, just cheesy enough to get her past the admissions board. It sounds like an infomercial for the military: “I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to define myself instead of others having to define me. I want to win, and have people be happy for me…”

Landry is moved by the speech. He and Tyra kiss. Go Landry!

Here we go, state championship. Coach rallies the team in the locker room, and the Panthers burst onto the field. Too bad their opponent, the Titans, look like an NFL team. Things are not looking good. McCoy is playing like the freshman that he is, immaturely yelling at his teammates and snapping at Coach T.O.-style.

Down 27-zip, Coach has had enough. He puts in Saracen at QB. Things improve. Landry steps up his game. Saracen’s smooth. Riggins runs wild like an angry steer. Panthers take the lead. It’s looking like another big comeback to take the title.

But the Titans aren’t giving up just yet. They kick a field goal at the buzzer to win the game. Panthers lose.

Everyone’s left the stadium but Riggins, who walks the empty field like it’s an old battlefield, draped in the death of adolescence. He leaves his cleats in the end zone.