“Friday Night Lights,” Season Five, Episode Nine: The Slow Climb

Written by Television, TV Reviews

The Lions hit rock bottom in Season Five, Episode Nine of “Friday Night Lights.”

Spoiler warning: This is a recap for Friday Night Lights Season 5, airing now on DirecTV. If you’re waiting to watch on NBC, please read no further!

“Get the hell out of our field house. Right now.”–Coach Eric Taylor

Friday Night Lights may have only a few episodes left, but it’s not done showing new things. This week’s episode starts after a monumental, first of the season loss for the Lions. In a series of tense flashbacks, the team (headed by Vince and Luke) were tearing each other apart with blame, until Eric, fuming, kicks them out of the locker room. It was a small moment, all before the opening credits, but it was a bold one. After sticking with the Lions through every win and touchdown, it seemed a little deceptive to gloss over the loss.

It was something I couldn’t stop thinking about through the rest of the episode, until it finally occurred to me. Friday Night Lights has never been about the loss and mistakes, it’s about moving on in spite of them. Whether it was Jason Street being paralyzed from the very first episode, or more recently Tami bouncing back after the abortion scandal, everyone picks themselves back up. This season we’ve seen beloved characters go to dark places. Julie has made life changing mistakes. Eric has been losing control of his players, as well as his family. Vince’s future is on a downward spiral because of the return of his dad. In many ways, this episode felt like a promise to us for the impending end of the series: we may be at rock bottom, but we will go out on top.

Slowly but surely, we got to see each character start to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Julie’s seeking refuge from her disastrous life with old beau, Matt. And while Matt seems pretty settled in his Chicago life, he’s missed Julie. The two spend the week together, in a haze of nostalgia and denial. When Julie tells Matt about her affair, he responds in typical Matt fashion, being supportive and understanding. But the look on Zach Gilford’s face when he’s alone and really able to react to the news is what has made me miss him on the show so much. Matt seems to have done some of his own growing up without Julie, and finally speaks up for himself when he tells her he doesn’t want to be her safety net, and forces her to go back and confront her messy life. Finally, Julie listens to someone, and heads back to school.

But it was a bittersweet moment when Matt chased after Julie as she drove away, and told her he loved her and that they would figure everything out. I think this episode could have been the perfect swan song for Matt and Julie, with Matt in a good place on his own, and helping Julie do the same. Reminiscent of Lyla visiting Tim last season, they still care even if they have to move on. But it’s clear we haven’t seen the end of Matt yet, and it will be interesting how far their reconciliation will go.

Vince seems to be the one with the happy ending furthest away. He truly hit rock bottom this week when Coach benched him for a game after Vince refused to help Luke get up to speed to play quarterback. Jess even got so fed up with his ego she dumped him. And with his mom’s help he started to realize his father’s advice has been less than stellar. Vince may not have fixed anything he’s undone so far this season, but he’s been humbled, and confronting his dad and preventing another altercation with Coach was the first step in the right direction.

Jess’s storyline, although small this week, made me wish we saw more of her this season. From standing up to Vince finally, to helping the much-in-need Luke learn the playbook, to the perfectly awkward scene when Eric finds her crying in the locker room, she’s the perfect antidote to the football boys.

Luke’s under a lot of pressure on Senior Night, both from starting as quarterback in Vince’s absence, and from his parents. Luke is the first person to tell Coach he can’t pull off the new position and responsibility. But in the end, Luke was a strong leader and unifier for the team, and they got back on top after last week’s loss. And although terrified of his parent’s disapproval of Luke dating Becky again after the abortion issue, the victory gives him the confidence to bring Becky to dinner with his parents, regardless of the consequences. Becky herself is doing her best to start over, with Luke, and on her own. But after covering for Mindy at the Landing Strip, she’s certainly tempted by the big tips, and may be following more closely in Mindy’s footsteps.

Tami thought she had Epyck on a new path, and seeing her with little Gracie gave her more hope than she’s ever had. But when another teacher accuses Epyck of stealing money from her purse, things escalate to a violent dispute where Epyck accidentally pushes Tami against a wall. In a no tolerance moment, Epyck is arrested on the scene. I’ve been a little bored by Tami’s newest charity case so far this season, but everything getting worse for Epyck despite Tami’s best efforts is a refreshing twist on the savior stories. With both Tami and Eric losing control and faith in their kids, it’s looking more and more likely that Eric will pursue the college job in Florida, and leave the teenagers of East Dillon behind. At least he’ll go out on top.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comments. And as the final countdown continues, next week we’ll get to see Riggins again!