“Friday Night Lights,” Season Five, Episode One: The Beginning of the End

Written by Television, TV Reviews

“Friday Night Lights” is back for a bittersweet fifth season with a strong premiere.

Spoiler warning: This is the first of weekly recaps for Friday Night Lights Season 5, airing now on DirecTV. If you’re waiting to watch until next year on NBC, please read no further!

“I’m gonna miss this.”—Coach Eric Taylor

As Friday Night Lights fans, we’ve been mourning the loss of this show since the very beginning. Always on the bubble when renewals came around, the show has not had an easy road. Well, brace yourselves, because now the end is here, and I, for one, am not ready.

The premiere of the fifth and final season on DirecTV (the season will air later next year on NBC) was bittersweet. Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and Landry (Jesse Plemons), the last remaining original high school cast on the show, said goodbye to Dillon and headed off to college (although neither are going far, Landry to Rice in Houston, and Julie to the fictional Burleson University). Over in East Dillon, while not without their own struggles, the Lions came out victorious. But the bitter overwhelmed the sweet in this episode, reminding us that the countdown has begun, and much like Eric (Kyle Chandler) watching his family get ready in the morning, I’m gonna miss this.

To start off, it’s out with the old. Landry’s moving away to college, leaving behind his few friends and more importantly, his band, Crucifictorious. We all know that Landry has more in his future than Dillon holds stock in championship rings, but he’s not without his own sentimentality. Expecting an epic farewell, Julie treats him right and heads to the Landing Strip, the local strip club and unofficial hangout of the series that has a well-earned cameo. But it’s Landry’s farewell to Matt’s grandmother that holds one of the most emotional moments of the episode. Although somewhat awkward, this goodbye hit a nerve. Mrs. Seracen (Louanne Stephens), Julie, and Landry all carried with them a piece of Matt, and even though he didn’t appear in this week’s episode, it was almost a swan song to his farewell as each remaining tie moved on.

Julie has always wanted to get out of Dillon, and now that she’s heading off to college, that feeling is as strong as ever. But even though she can’t wait to leave, and is insistent on driving herself to college and being independent, she knows what moving out is doing to her parents. She had the perfect balance of tolerating and humoring her parents’ last moments, and feeling sad herself. I loved the final goodbye of this episode. It wasn’t overly dramatic, and kept that sense of realism that makes Friday Night Lights so special.

Although, Tami (Connie Britton) has enough distractions to keep her busy in Julie’s absence. Starting as the new counselor at East Dillon, she is having a hard time adjusting from being principal of a thriving school to being the only faculty member with any hope for the students. But, it’ll be no surprise when Tami does what Eric did last year for the school and community; she’ll just have fewer eyes on her and less pats on the back as pay-off.

Eric is facing pressure, too. After the Lions defeated the Panthers last season, he has to prove that wasn’t some lucky break. Leave it to Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) to have a plan, though, in new character Hastings Ruckle (Grey Damon), the “hippie” who is devoted to being a free spirit, as long as he can stay on the basketball team. Of course, it only takes a few encouraging words, and perhaps some flirtation with Jess, to get him on that bus with the team. Although, I did find myself thinking that Coach Taylor of yore would never have let a newbie on the field without putting him through his paces at practice first. Regardless, Hastings helped save the day (or continue the trend after Luke’s (Matt Lauria) massive hit to the opposing star quarterback), and has already earned his spot on the team.

The other new member of the East Dillon Lions won’t be found scoring the crucial touchdown, but it seems Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips) has a few wins in his future. After Tim (Taylor Kitsch) took the heat and went to jail at the end of last season so that Billy could be with his new family, Billy has to live up to the opportunity. It only seems to motivate him more to see Tim as almost a shell of himself, who still has three months left in his sentence. Without any role models for either of the boys, Billy turns to the closest thing: Coach. Begging for an opportunity to be a part of the Lions, and stating outright that he needs the positive influence on his life spoke right to Eric’s weakness, and he came on board, despite any experience whatsoever.

I can only imagine Billy will have a few run-ins with Vince’s (Michael B. Jordan) ego over the season, even if Vince seems to have taken a turn for the better. Now in a stable relationship with Jess (Jurnee Smollett), he’s becoming a role model himself to Jess’s younger brother Andre (Charlie Quary) now that their dad isn’t around much, a situation Vince is all too familiar with.

Becky (Madison Burge) doesn’t have quite as healthy of a perspective on her situation, however. Now that her mom is out working on a casino boat, and her dad is on the road, she’s stuck with an ungrateful stepmother and a baby stepsister. It was really only a matter of time until she landed on the Riggins’ doorstep. It would be great to see more of an independent storyline from the Riggins brothers this season, perhaps building off of her history with Luke, who didn’t have enough screen time in this episode.

Overall, there was nothing too groundbreaking in this premiere, it was mostly re-establishing each character after a nine month hiatus. But, it was still a promising start, with potential for each of our new favorite characters, and the inevitable return of our old friends come Christmastime. It may be the end, but we can only hope it’s an epic farewell, Landry lap dance style.

What did you think of the premiere? What are you hoping to see before FNL takes its final bow? Leave it in the comments, and check back next week for a recap of episode two!