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'FNL' recap: Where do we go from here?

Season 1 | Episode 2 | “Eyes Wide Open” | Aired Oct 10, 2006

In the aftermath of Jason Street’s accident, there are two very different stories playing out in Dillon. On the one hand, we have the Panthers, their season seemingly destroyed, trying to figure out if they can salvage their dreams of victory with Matt Saracen leading them. On the other, we have Jason, unable to move, awaiting his prognosis. The juxtaposition of these two things is incredibly uncomfortable—one person frozen in time, while everyone around him is forced to move forward. Watching how each character responds to this discomfort teaches us a lot about who they are.

For the most part, the situation reiterates that football is the priority for the people of Dillon. With paralysis a real possibility for Jason, Buddy Garrity manages to spit out a line like “best case scenario, he’s out a month.” The ability to remain so blind to the situation, to continue to assume that everything is going to be OK, is less about truly caring for Jason and more about refusing to believe that the team could have suffered such a tremendous loss. Like father, like daughter, though, as Lyla powers through the entire episode on her own wave of denial. Even as the doctors tell Jason he isn’t going to walk again, she continues to push him, to remind him that he’s Jason Street, and they have plans that she’s not willing to give up on. Lyla’s positivity, though presented as caring and concern, is more about not being ready to accept the end to the idyllic future they’d had in their minds just days earlier. Lyla has convinced herself that with enough prayer and enough hard work, Jason can overcome the odds. At a time when Jason needs to start coming to terms with his new reality, Lyla is trying to convince him he can change his fate. He recognizes that this is unhelpful, and probably isn’t interested in being set up to let her (and himself) down, but she is stubborn and unwilling to listen to his requests to let it go.

Not surprisingly, Smash sees Jason’s absence as an opportunity for him to take control. Sitting in a booth at the diner surrounded by his posse, Smash is explains (loudly, and in third person, of course)  how the Panthers need a leader, and it should clearly be him. Whatever momentary camaraderie existed between Tim and Smash in the immediate moments after Jason got hurt has disappeared. Tim cannot deal with listening to Smash and approaches him to demand that he vacate Jason’s booth. Smash has no intention of being bullied by Riggins, who ends up breaking a window in frustration (and, also probably drunkenness).

Tim has been spending the rest of his time watching the footage of Jason’s accident over and over again, trying to figure out how one minute his best friend was running down the field and then the next it was all over. As most people around him are trying to pretend everything will work out, it’s Tim’s brother, Billy, who says from the beginning that Jason isn’t going to walk again. Tim probably knows this is true somewhere inside him, and when Coach finally confirms the information to the team, Tim just gets up and walks out. He can’t handle the heaviness of the situation, and the unfairness of it all, and instead avoids going to visit Jason entirely. Lyla approaches him and tries to coax him into going with her to visit, but to no avail.

Friday Night LightsMeanwhile, the fate of Dillon Panther football lies with Matt Saracen. Matt is, as you might expect, a wreck. He spends all of his time trying to learn the plays and getting his ass kicked in practice. Coach confides to Tami that he’s not sure they can even win a game, let alone a season, and the town is expecting a state championship. Tami, in the first of many, many scenes that establish the Taylors as one of the greatest couples of all time, tells him that molding Matt Saracen is what he was born to do. She believes in him with every cell of her being, and he is going to make this work.

Hearing Tami’s words, Coach is inspired to do more for Matt. He leaves dinner with his wife and heads right to Matt’s house where he asks Matt’s grandmother for permission to take him out for a bit. Coach brings Matt to the field and tells him that it’s all his for the taking.

Coach: What’s your name?
Matt: Matt Saracen.
Coach: What do you play?
Matt: QB1.
Coach: And how do you play it?
Matt: Perfectly.
Coach: We’ll see about that. Who do you play for, Saracen?
Matt: The Dillon Panthers.
Coach: How much do you want this?
Matt: I want it coach. I WANT it!
Coach: Then TAKE it.

And here we see the kind of man that Coach Taylor is, and the ability he has to support his players, to motivate them, and to inspire them to greatness. It’s a beautiful contrast to the conversation Coach has with Jason in which he assures him that he hasn’t let him down. With all of the focus on these boys as entities, Coach Taylor—the person who could most easily be blinded by what they can do rather than see who they are—is the one man who seems to really see them as human beings. Coach has some incredible pep talks over the course of five seasons, but this one, given to just Matt Saracen, in the second episode of the entire series, will always be one of my favorites.

Loose ends:

• Tyra and Smash, both fed up with Tim, decide hooking up is the best way for each of them to stick it to him.
• Tami gets sucked into a book club with the local wives who end up only wanting to recruit her to volunteer for different functions and talk about her husband’s plans for the team.
• Tami gets a job as the guidance counselor at Dillon High School.
• This episode really sets up for us the predicament Eric finds himself in week after week as the boosters try and control the decisions he makes for the team. We’re already seeing the balance he needs to keep, appeasing the money folks on the one hand, and running his own team on the other.
• How great is Corrina Williams? Smash’s mom is a recurring character, and Liz Mikel is brilliant in the role.

Quotables: (The writing on this show is too good not to highlight some of the best lines of the week. I’ll be doing this for each recap, so pay attention to your favorites and let me know if I missed them!)

•  Smash’s mom catches Tyra and Smash going at it on her couch and walks Tyra out. Tyra cops an attitude.

Mrs. Williams: Oh, I’d be nice if I were you. I work at Planned Parenthood, you probably haven’t seen the last of me.

•  Jason: How’s Saracen doing?
Coach: He’s doing fine. He’s throwing like a girl, but he’s doing fine.

•  Landry: It would be like comparing my music to the Red Hot Chili Peppers; I’m not the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’m my own thing. I’m not any better or any worse, it’s just different.
Matt: You’re definitely a whole lot worse

•  Tami tells Eric she got a job at the school.

Eric: What school?
Tami: The high school
Eric: My high school?
Tami: I wasn’t aware you’d bought it, but yeah.