This week's episode, "On the Outside Looking In," suddenly felt like an after-school special. A new character, Epic, is the most troubled (girl) we've seen yet -- a smoking, sneering truant who's obviously Tami's next project, other than trying to implement an a tutoring program, in part because of her. (Odd to see a kid actually smoking on this show. A first?) And speaking of smoking, this episode's dark treatment of alcohol makes Tim Riggins feel like Don Draper, in retrospect - Riggs' constant nursing of a beer became part of his bad-boy persona, and we almost never saw him drunk beyond control. It came as close to glamorization as might be tolerable.
Rally party time! Jess challenges a rally girl with her eyes on Vince to a kegger drinking match, and winds up incoherent and getting sick. It's disturbing not only for what it is, but because Jess has always been the sensible, no-nonsense kid, the one who takes care of others and never shirks her duties. And her possessiveness of Vince, not only romantically but as his "pre-selected" rally girl, isn't quite working. To his dismay, she refuses to stock his locker with his favorite cookies, and in fact finds the whole thing demeaning to females, so she cedes her rally girl role to her eventual drinking challenger. Not only that, but Jess plain old misses football after spending the summer helping Vince improve his game.
In a plausibility swerve, Vince is getting letters of interest from really good football schools, much to his surprise. The team has clearly improved, but despite a first win over a good team, they're not even ranked. Coach is annoyed at everyone's obsession over this perceived dis, but inside, he's fuming that the Lions are, as the episode's title says, on the outside looking in. Vince's (ex?) drug addicted mom has cleaned up and gotten a job, even if she's so tired that Vince has to beg for her attention to share his good news.
On the flip side, Luke's big hit in the last game is being reviewed by the board, and he gets a one-game suspension. And he's apparently not getting shown the love by any colleges. Doesn't make much sense if the same scouts watching Vince were seeing Luke play his heart out last season. But he's cheered when Becky decides to swap her rally selectee, lovable Tinker, for Luke. At "home," wearing short shorts, she's baking a big batch of oatmeal cookies for the deal, making a mess of the Riggins' kitchen, when Billy eagerly offers his sage advice as Mindy goes green eyed-monster on him. But Billy trots out the "we owe it to Tim" line when Mindy raises the topic of Becky moving out. (Plausibility checks: smart Becky can't double a cookie recipe? And ex-stripper Mindy is jealous over a twerpy kid?) Weird to see Becky interacting with kids her own age, as we've come to know her as an overachieving misfit and Tim's sidekick.
Billy's comfortable enough as an assistant coach to ream out Hastings for slacking off and removing his helmet onfield. Billy always has been a wee bit tightly wound and needy for respect. Coach in turn takes down Billy a notch or two, once again showing dismay at his second-rate coaching staff and their obsession with not being included in the rankings.
Tami's also still an outsider, an overdressed perky petunia at staff meetings. Her suggestion of starting a tutoring program elicits groans, but even the snarkiest of foes finally shows some support after Tami tries to win friends by joining their happy hour. People, it's futile to resist the powers of Tami Taylor. Especially after a round of margaritas! Ask Glen.
Julie's at some fictitious Texas college, Burleson U, clearly a party school from the lame curriculum, Mark Twain professor clone, and high blonde percentage. She's visibly searching for someone, anyone! to befriend; she can't even take refuge in her dorm as her roommate's busy in the bunk with a boy. Even though she does meet her cute TA, it feels like she may be back in Dillon sooner rather than later. It's also not clear why she's not at Boston U (which at first it seemed like she was, with the BU logo in the background, and where she visited last season) or another better college. Money? Maybe we'll find out soon.
And Eric still feels like he hasn't earned the respect of the football establishment, symbolized by the Dillon Panthers cabal led by old Joe McCoy. He also suspects the examination of Luke's hit shows some sort of prejudice against East, although with all the newsy chatter about head injuries in the NFL, and in the shadow of Jason Street's paralysis, it'd be more surprising if the issue of overly aggressive hits weren't raised this season. But his one big motivational message for his team this week? STATE! Nuff said.
On the whole, apart from the glaring absence of Tim Riggins, this episode did feel different -- more raw, frenetic, less glamorization of the whole high school football lore, which no doubt includes a lot of alcohol. There was more of an emphasis on using game performances as a way of buying a better life, monetizing what is essentially the state's religion. Ironically, using a scholarship to get the hell out of Dillon. And suddenly, the previous seasons and the old state champ Dillon Panthers seem like cherished, antiquated keepsakes to be remembered fondly. Instead of Texas forever, it's Texas maybe.
(Image courtesy of DirecTV)