fnl gut punch 'Friday Night Lights': The Yoko Factor

The Lions lost their most recent game, clearly.

And in an odd turn of events for “Friday Night Lights,” we see it all go wrong in a torturous, in-fighting-filled flashback. The evil body-snatcher that has replaced Vince (Michael B. Jordan) calls his own plays, penalties are thrown, interceptions made and the general melee ensues.

In the locker room, immediately after the embarrassing defeat, Hastings (Grey Damon) takes lead in the blame game, because apparently he was made a series regular just to introduce the team to moonshine and then watch their briefly sound relationship unfurl. Eric (Kyle Chandler) bursts in and tell them to get the hell out of the field house (excuse us!), before the Greek chorus of local sports radio chimes in with some delightfully ambiguous criticism for East Dillon: “Maybe we counted our chickens too soon folks, and maybe those chickens have come to roost.”

What does that mean? We have no idea. And Eric doesn’t either, so he tosses the radio in the garbage. At the coaches meeting, the increasingly skeptical Crowley announces that their problem has a name. And it’s name is Vince.

At Matt Saracen’s (Zach Gilford, who spoke with Zap2it about his return) unrealistically spacious Chicago loft, Julie (Aimee Teegarden) pulls her new routine of extending her visit to avoid college. Matt is totally cool with it — and still wearing his LiveStrong bracelet. It’s nice to know that somethings never change. Like theme songs!

Epyck comes to see Tami (Connie Britton) in her dungeon office and tells her that she’s not doing well in “Texas History” — which we hope isn’t a part of actual high school curriculum in the lone star state, as children should have really be tackling the entire country or maybe the world at large by the 5th grade. Tami says she’ll go to bat for Epych with her mean teacher. Maybe it’s that red-haired, presumed lesbian we lost track of a few episodes back…

All is right in the world for Becky (Madison Burge) and Luke (Matt Lauria), except the fact that his evil farmer parents who got Tami fired don’t know his son is back together with the girl he got pregnant. At the Landing Strip, Mindy (Stacey Oristano) is ill clearly pregnant, so Becky volunteers to wait tables for her. The other strippers love the idea, but Mandy is skeptical — though who could imagine why? Becky is way too good at teasing the clientele at the Landing Strip in her cutesy ’20s whore hat, and she’s loving the money.

Uh oh. We saw this coming several episodes ago, but it doesn’t make it any less disconcerting. She uses her tips to buy Luke a nice tie for that dinner with his parents that she’s still not invited to.

Eric gives a particularly rousing speech about the team being its own worst enemy and tells Vince to give his QB jersey to Luke. Vince is livid, and in no way humbled, and when he tells his dad, he’s a jerk about it too. It’s quite apparent that Vince’s father isn’t whimsical enough for his previous pseudonym (Bad Bad Leroy Brown), so we will now refer to him as Yoko Ono — because we’re all pretty clear on who’s breaking up the band. Even Vince’s mom is starting to notice, and she’s been a dithering insult to feminism since he got sprung from the pokey.

fnl gut punch 2 'Friday Night Lights': The Yoko FactorThe creepiest thing about Vince’s downward spiral is how expertly Jordan can duplicate his on-screen father’s “seething but patronizingly collected” sneer. Jess (Jurnee Smollett) is not feeling this, and after one of his self-indulgent rants about life being sooooooo hard, she tells him off and spectacularly dumps him. Jess turns her attention to Luke, who Vince clearly isn’t going to help train to be the new QB. This is what she’s been waiting for all season! Her chance to show off how much she knows about the game, after folding towels and picking up trash all season. In a few episodes, we’ll be getting a lady version of “Rudy.” Just you wait.

In a moment of casual foreshadowing, Tami mentions to Eric that East principal is handing out pink slips, while Eric tries to sneakily mention that he’s going to meet the guy from Shane State in Florida — you know, as a favor to Jason, and not because the Lions are now a group of ungrateful hooligans from which the only escape is moving across state lines.

This gives Tami the opportunity to have a study date with Epyck, the surly charity case. Gracie Bell toddles out into the dining room, and in a moment that shocks even Tami, opens her mouth and speaks in actual sentences for the first time on the series. It’s her shining moment. And who knew that all it would take to make a human out of the little mac-and-cheese-craving demon was a little q-time with a juvenile delinquent.

Meanwhile, on a block in Austin, Texas, that passably resembles Chicago (sort of?), Julie expresses her frustration about not being with Matt. They kiss, and just for a minute, everything is OK. At least until she comes clean about the affair with Married TA. Old Matt would have blown up about this, but new, “my dad died” Matt handles it so maturely. Boys really do come into their own at… 19. Matt goes into the other room and frowns where nobody can see him.

Vince is officially benched for the week’s game, by the way. And he does not handle it well, dropping the most-dreaded word in The New New Oxford Dictionary of Urban High Schools: “snitch.” We have no idea how it applies to the situation, but it pretty much puts a nail in the coffin of that Luke/Vince buddy comedy we’d so hoped for.

Vaguely lesbian teacher (VLT) is back. And she’s so bummed about Tami paying all that attention to Epyck, she tells her that Epyck swiped 20 bucks from her purse. (Ugh, ladies, you can all just go out for salads together.) This woman is such a bad teacher that during Tami’s mediation, she tries to open Epyck’s purse. She must know the serial numbers on all her 20s. Either way, a cat fight ensues, and Epych sends Tami careening into a window, where she gets a real clonk on the head. Epyck feels bad, and VLT is just loving this.

Mindy is significantly less pleased — about Becky’s desire to be a full time waitress at the Strip and the general state of her life. She is, officially, once again with child.

“Were you planning this?” Becky asks.

To which Mindy replies: “Planning it in the sense that Billy came home like a whiny, horny eighth grader and climbed on top of me and then passed out on top of me and smelled like nachos the whole time… that kind of planning it”

We realize Oristano doesn’t write her own lines, but it’s fun to pretend that she does. It’d also fun to pretend Mindy Riggins is a real person who just stumbled on set one day and started dropping these glorious idioms and anecdotes.

Billy (Derek Phillips) could not be happier about the news, referring to the upcoming bundle as “R
igglette #2” He triumphantly puts the pregnancy test in his mouth, like a post-post-coital cigarette, to which Mindy says, deadpan, “I peed on that.” She makes a face that could only be described as a “contemplating abortion frown.” But that concludes the Riggins portion of this episode.

Vince goes to the market where his increasingly skeptical mother listens to him talk about being benched. She tells him that, supportive as his father is, he shouldn’t take his advice all the time. (Thanks, mom!) He fails to bring up the fact that he just got dumped, but Jess is having a cry in the locker room — ahem, field house — and Coach asks her what’s wrong. She tells him about breaking up with Vince and he’s his sweet, fatherly self.

The Epyck situation is quite out of hand now. Tami is being checked for a concussion, and despite her pleas for lenience, the principal has the cops come in and take Epyck away. VLT, again, loving this. Tami later finds out that Epyck is being sent to a new school and a new foster home. She’s defeated, but Eric is there on the couch, and we’re sure there’s an open bottle of chardonnay no more than a few steps away. Maybe Florida doesn’t sound so bad after all…

But there’s a knock at the door, and we have a sick feeling about who it might be. Phew, it’s just Luke. He says that coach has to start Vince at the game, which is annoying but so much better than Yoko showing up with a billy club.

It’s homecoming or senior day or something, and Luke gets a special commendation for being adorable. His sinister parents are all smiles… but Becky’s in the stands, so that can’t last for long.

Despite his misgivings, Luke starts as QB — and gets sacked right off the bat. Vince and Yoko are so cheesed off, until the crowd starts screaming for Vince. Even Luke wants Vince to play. But Eric tells him to stop being a baby, and that’s all it takes. Just a little confidence boost and he’s running the ball like a little champ, winning the game and really earning that sash they gave him two scenes ago. 

Yoko is so mad that he runs out of the stands to do god knows what to Eric. He is so absolutely scary. We’re pretty sure this uplifting series about enduring human spirit won’t end with Eric’s murder, but its becoming a horrifyingly realistic prospect. Vince stops his dad, because maybe he’s still slightly sane.

Here’s the confrontation we were worried about: Luke brings out Becky to dinner with the folks. “So let’s make this reservation for four,” he says, reaffirming this status as the greatest. THE GREATEST. Mom is skeptical, but she’ll get over it. Four episodes to go and we have at least one happy ending in sight.

Still refusing to acknowledge real life, Julie tells Matt about the Chicago landmark she saw that day over a plate of homemade spaghetti. Observant Matt points out that maybe she’s using him as a safety net. He tells her that she needs to go to college, and as much as he wants her to stay and be with him, it’s not where she’s supposed to be. Hmmm… people keep telling this to you, Julie Taylor. Take a hint.

The next morning, Julie and Matt say goodbye, and Julie starts to drive off — presumably thinking about plowing into any number of brick objects on her way — but Mat runs after the car, pulling her out and telling her it will all be OK. They affirm their love for one another, kiss and just like that, Julie’s initially spotty Season 5 arc is now so utterly justified, regardless of where else it takes her.

Speaking of Season 5, it’s almost over. Does anyone else feel sick — and not in the carrying a Riggins baby way? Because we imagine that would feel sort of amazing.

Posted by:Mikey O'Connell