It was with a heavy heart that I loaded this screener DVD into my player — we’re down to the last four episodes of Friday Night Lights, and I’m down to my very last DVD.
You know we’re in for a killer episode when we see in the opening credits that Taylor Kitsch is guest-starring. In fact, seeing him again made me realize that these old characters, well, they’re like old friends, and watching Tim again really upped the emotional punch—I started crying around the 20-minute mark and didn’t really stop until Tami uttered her final line.
Everyone has an eye on the future in this episode, which is aptly titled “Don’t Go.” We so wish that they wouldn’t, and yet, inevitably, they must. We’ll start with Coach Taylor, who’s been lured down to Florida, to Shane State, with a juicy coaching offer. While he ponders his family’s and his career’s future, Buddy catches wind of this offer and immediately starts scheming to make Coach stay. Thus, when East Dillon holds an athletic banquet to honor all the school teams, Buddy manages to turn it into a salute to Coach, and you’d have to be a cold-hearted Dillon Panther not to mist up as player after player rolls up and gratefully offers thanks for all that Coach has given to them.
As a real testament to what Coach does indeed do for his players, he also dives right into the thick of Tim Riggins’ parole hearing. Yup, Tim’s time in the slammer may be coming to an end, but it all hinges on said hearing and what the character witnesses attest to. Billy immediately starts freaking out—not only because he’s nervous about delivering a speech to the parole board, but because, of course, he’s responsible for Tim landing in jail in the first place. And it turns out that Tim is still ragingly resentful, lashing out and telling Billy not to speak at all, out of fear of the damage that he may do. Billy speaks up anyway, as do Coach Taylor and Buddy, and damn, let me tell you, this is what this freaking show is about. Belief in other people. Belief that they can find their way, be their best selves. It’s about redemption, and it’s why I watch. Their speeches are equally moving, and when the scene cuts to commercial, it’s all we can do to hope that their future aspirations for Tim do indeed come true.
Also eyeing his future is Luke, who’s slowly coming around to the fact—whether by meeting with Tami to discuss college options or reminiscing with Becky in his parked truck—that his future may not be in football. The realization is both heartbreaking and liberating—too many times in the past, we’ve seen these players unable to adjust to life without football, without their team, without being held up as the town heroes, and (it’s true I have a soft spot for Luke, but still), it’s almost triumphant that Luke is looking for happiness elsewhere and that he may find it on a farm, right here in Dillon.
Vince is feeling more conflicted—his offer at Oklahoma Tech gets reneged, and his dad furiously tries to lure in another offer. Vince digs in his heels, finally—not too late—recognizing that he has to listen to Coach and walk away from all of these temptations. And when Vince does so, his dad explodes, unable to accept that there may be another man in his son’s life who knows best. But know best he does.
All of this brings us back to Coach and his decision about whether or not to take off to the sunny skies of Florida. In the last few minutes of the episode, we learn that Tim has made parole, and then Vince shows up at Coach’s house to tell him, once and for all and with finality and honesty, how much Coach has changed his life. And then something sinks in with CT: that what he’s doing here in Dillon matters, that it counts—whether with Tim or with Vince or with Street or with Tinker or any of the countless players who have soared with his guidance—that this is where he must stay. That this is where he belongs.
Vince says, “Don’t go.”
And so, at least for now, he doesn’t.
- • Buddy: “A man can’t leave if you erect a statue of him in his honor.”
- • Whoever is doing the wardrobe deserves a raise: from Buddy’s Hawaiian shirt to his almost-retro sunglasses, he looked pitch-perfect this episode.
- • Luke: “There are other people who are better, you know. Nobody wants me.”
Becky: “I want you.”
- • Coach to Vince: “The team comes first. We do not play to get you offers.”
- • Tim about his parole hearing: “I don’t want Billy to speak. He’s done enough damage.”
- • Buddy at Tim’s hearing: “It’s time for you to let Tim Riggins come home.”
- • Fat kid player: “When I met Coach I was just a fat kid. I’m still a fat kid, but he told me that if I worked hard, and played hard, that he’d make me into a player.”
- • Tinker: “I just wanted to say that ever since you came to East Dillon, you really did change my life. And I thank you for that.”
- • Vince: “I don’t know where I’d be without you. Either in jail…or a ditch somewhere…just don’t go.”
- • Tami: “I love you. Have a good game, Coach.”