Friday Night Lights Review: "Always" (Episode 5.13)
Dear anyone who has ever been involved in the production of Friday Night Lights:
Technically, this is supposed to be a recap of your series finale, “Always.” More realistically, this is going to be a love letter to your series as a whole. It’s not often that a viewer—a passionate viewer at that—has the opportunity to extend her thanks for entertainment that has impacted her life, and I’m not going to squander my opportunity here.
Let it first be noted that I delayed viewing this episode for as long as possible—running right up to my deadline for this recap because, well, I just didn’t want to admit that these five years had come to a close. I’d been told by those who had previously seen the episode to be prepared with a big box of Kleenex, but one box wasn’t enough. I’m not even sure that two would have been. At the two-minute mark, I began to openly weep, and continued to do so right up until that perfect final scene (I’m misting up as I type this) with the Taylors on the football field in Philadelphia when the lights literally went out. And that I, and so many others, were moved to such lengths is a true testament to how much we care about these characters, how deeply they’ve resonated in our own lives, and how much thought, empathy and love went into them from the writers, the producers and the actors.
When you’re watching a series finale, it’s almost impossible not to hold your breath for the full duration of the show. So many expectations come along with wrapping up a series in a satisfying, realistic way, and certainly (when I wasn’t weeping), my breath was being held. And I couldn’t be more relieved and more proud that this series went out on as high as a note as it came in on—namely, nearly flawless. (Truly, the first season of Friday Night Lights is as good as any season you’ll ever find on television.) This episode brought so many of our characters full circle, while also providing honest glimpses into their future—morsels to let us know that while we won’t be joining them on their continuing journeys in Dillon (or Philadelphia), they’re going to be okay without us.
We saw the Taylors truthfully fight for their marriage, and we saw the heartbreak in Tami’s face when she realized that she’d always be competing with Coach’s other love of his life—football. When he couldn’t do the right thing to salvage their relationship, she did the right thing and salvaged it herself: she conceded that she would have to turn down her job offer in Philadelphia. But then, because he is Coach and because he may be pig-headed and stubborn but he is also a wise man of integrity, he conceded that “it was her turn,” and just like that, not only were they moving, their marriage was reborn. The Taylors whom we’ve known and loved and grown with and cheered for were ready for their new stage of life, one that took them away from Texas. Which is nearly unthinkable because so much of this show is about Texas, until you realize that the Taylors are that rare couple who don’t need Texas or whatever Texas stands for; they only need each other.
We saw Tim finally, finally ready to take responsibility for his happiness. There were glimmers of this over the past few seasons—snippets here and there—but as he sat on his piece of land with Tyra and they nursed their beers and she confessed her long-simmering love for him but stated that she had dreams to fulfill before anything could be made of it (and he conceded that one day, maybe their dreams could wind their way back to each other), you knew that Tim would be okay too. That he would build his house on his piece of land, with his brother, Billy, by his side, and he would probably get some half-shitty job that he never loved but that he’d raise some sons and maybe a daughter, and he’d throw the football around in the yard with them, and he’d be happy. He’d be okay. He’d have Texas Forever.
(And let me say, on a side-note, that Taylor Kitsch is an incredible actor. He took what could have been a pretty boy/bad boy role and made it indelible, unforgettable. From the episodes in season one when he made out with random rally girls to coping with the loss of his best friend’s invincibility until now—it has all been pitch-perfect. The same is true for Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler. Please, Emmy voters, do the honorable thing here and hand them the gold.)
We saw Vince step up and embrace the responsibilities and burdens that come with being a team leader, as well as the burdens of growing up with a terrible father. Two years ago, he was the kid outracing the cops, and tonight, as Coach told him in the locker room, he was "going to shine.” And he did. He reached out to that terrible father and tried to cross their divide, and he threw the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to make the East Dillon Lions state champions. And when we saw him next (eight months later) as a West Dillon Panther, he made good on his promise to bring Tinker along with him to the team to lead that squad.
We saw Jess move to Dallas where she continued her pursuit of a coaching position, and we saw Mindy come to love Becky like a sister. We saw Billy thriving as a coach in his own right, and being granted the chance to become the next Coach Taylor when he moved over to West Dillon. We saw Luke confess his love for Becky, and then we later saw him go off to the Army, which splintered my heart in two because that is the reality for so many teens, and I worry that he won’t make it back home to Dillon and his farm and Becky and the life that awaits him.
We also saw Saracen propose to Julie, and this was, in my mind, the only weak spot of the episode. I did love, love, love the comedic brilliance of Kyle Chandler’s performance in those scenes with Zach Gilford, when Saracen was asking Coach Taylor’s permission to propose, but this plot didn’t feel right. I mean, he proposed in front of the Alamo Freeze, and even for Dillon, these characters deserved better. But I know what the writers were doing—trying to let us know that these two were happy in the end, in the long-run, so I’m not going to dwell on this small misstep. You can’t expect a series finale to hit it out of the park on every single pitch, you can only ask that they aim for emotional truth and to provide a satisfying wrap-up of the years that have come before. And on this count, I have no complaints.
Getting back to my original point of this recap, I can’t think of a television series in recent memory that has resonated so deeply, and I want, so sincerely, to thank everyone involved for making it happen. These are characters who have struggled, mightily struggled, to find their way, to find their happiness and to find their purpose, and because of this, we—all of us—saw ourselves in their struggle. They all worked toward redemption. They all worked toward a better life—whether that was overcoming the odds of a paralyzing spinal cord injury to become a sports agent in New York City or to own a piece of land and finally being able call something in this world his own. And five years later, they did all of these things—found redemption, mostly found better lives, almost always found something akin to happiness.
Thank you writers, actors, producers, directors, crew and everyone else. What an amazing five years. I’m so lucky to have been part of the team.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.