Friday, June 21, 2013

Week 5 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Some real life drama didn't keep me from staying on track with "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV," but it did prevent from writing a whole lot about this week's selection. It's a brisk, 1,230-word read, though the more I think about it, the more I'm fairly certain this would have fallen into that category I described at the start of the project where I just list off the awesome scenes and talk about how awesome their awesomeness is anyway. Oh well - this episode rules and that's all I need to tell you. Much better analysis than I can provide can be found with a something search.

If you're noticing a recency bias, it's probably because I was born in 1993. Hopefully I'm not disappointing all two of my readers when I say that only one episode on this big list predates my birth.

After the break: Forgive any typos. Also, take a drink every time I use the word "just".

Friday Night Lights, "The Son"
First aired on The 101 Network Wednesday, December 2, 2009
First aired on NBC Friday, June 4, 2010

“I hate him. I don’t like hating people, but I just put all my hate on him so I don’t have to hate anyone else, so I can be a good person...” – Matt Saracen

I woke up early on the morning of Saturday, December 15, 2012 with some emotions I needed to deal with.

I doubt anyone would need reminding only six months down the road, but the day before had seen one of the most devastating acts of violence in American history. In a mere half hour, twenty first-grade children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, one of the most senseless acts of violence a person could ever imagine.

School shootings in particular are a type of tragedy that have always been fairly hard for me to think about or deal with. I was eleven years old when I became familiar in any way with the concept – that this place I went to every day could be the setting of such horror. I came across a docudrama series called “Zero Hour” that documented man-made tragedies in one real hour of time. The particular episode’s subject was the shooting at Columbine High School, and contained pretty explicit, disturbing reconstructions of the massacre. It was terrifying at the time, especially as a first ever introduction to the idea. There was no handholding ease into it – it literally played out in front of me. Even nine years later, it’s hard not to think about that when I hear yet another story about X number of kids massacred in the sleepy little town of WeNeverThoughtItCouldHappenHere.

I don’t think sadness was quite the emotion I felt when I woke up. It was more a feeling of defeat, of seeing something too many times in my relatively short life. It wasn’t exactly anger, either, although I had plenty of reason to be angry. It was more a need for just some kind of release, something to almost transfer my emotions onto in order to decompress an immediate reaction. As I type that out, it looks bleaker than I intend – I’m not trying to say that I needed confirmation that there will always be a “next thing to be sad about”. Just that one of many things that makes the fifth episode of season four of “Friday Night Lights,” entitled “The Son,” so perfect is it’s the TV equivalent of a stress ball. It lets you, as I did that Saturday morning, focus a lot of non-specific emotions into it and after 44 minutes of gut wrenching, you can walk away having left whatever you need to behind and still a) appreciate the power of the episode itself, and b) bring that specific power with you as you continue on with your daily life.

Because “The Son” is not about any one of the following individual things: sadness, loss, triumph, comedy, hatred, friendship, or family. It’s about all those things and more on a huge scale, to the point that it becomes an hour about the qualities, feelings, and power ownable only by being a human being.

And oh boy, is Matt “Mayday” Saracen a human being.

(“Mayday” of course being the nickname Billy Riggins refers to Matt by when the guys are drinking and tossing the ball around on the field, prompting Tim to correct, “Never has he been called ‘Mayday’!” – even in an episode remembered for such sadness, there are a ton of funny moments.)

If “The Son” contained just one of the tremendously emotional sequences that Zach Gilford gets to play in this episode, it might still make this list for me. If it had just included the wake scene where Joe and J.D. McCoy show up at Matt’s door to offer their condolences and Matt says “Are you serious?” and slams the door in their face...yeah, that’s damn good, almost cynically triumphant knowing what we know about how the evil McCoys commandeered the Panther team we loved in the first three seasons. If it had just included Matt’s complete nervous breakdown while having dinner with Julie, Coach, and Mrs. Coach, followed by him running in to the street crying and Coach offering to walk him home, that definitely would have been enough. And my God, the funeral scene at the end where Matt, trying desperately to recall one happy memory of his father from his childhood, tells this goofy story about shopping for toilet paper with his family, before burying his father alone, fighting through tears and bloodying hands. It’s all scored beautifully to Great Northern’s “Driveway,” and that scene too would have been enough to make this an all time favourite episode. Every one of these moments embodies so many suppressed feelings within Matt that each one is like this personal milestone for him, and they all add up to one big awakening within him: he’s finally being honest. He’s not pretending to be anything he isn’t. He’s not putting on a brave face for other people. All the emotions that have raged inside him for years have finally reached their flash point, so not only are all these reactions finally coming out at once, but they all feel completely earned and not in any way forced to create drama for a television show.

And if you want proof that “Friday Night Lights” doesn’t give a damn about what the rules are for creating traditional televised drama, I point you to the look of absolute horror on Matt’s face when he sees his dead father in the coffin – again, good enough alone for “The Son” to make this list. (Zach Gilford’s face gets to do all the work in that scene and we don’t actually see the body, but we get an idea of what he saw when he later tells the Taylors, “I just want to tell him to his face that I hate him, but he doesn’t even have a face.”) That’s what makes “The Son” such a superb, gut-punching hour of television. It doesn’t have just one of those moments. It has fucking all of them. This episode is just so god damn full of scenes that in isolation would be all-time great moments for the entire series. What “FNL” viewer wouldn’t pick this episode as one of, if not their absolute all-time favourite?

“I wouldn’t!” said the Television Academy. Okay fine, that’s not really fair. After all, “The Son” did get an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (it lost to “Mad Men’s” season 3 finale “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” so I’m not necessarily complaining) after years in which the Academy didn’t notice the show at all. But a big campaign to get Gilford nominated in the Drama Guest Actor category somehow didn’t work. I...guess they only read the episode’s script? I just don’t know. I watched a lot of damn TV in 2009 and I don’t think there was a better performance from any actor that year than Gilford’s. I can forgive some Emmy ridiculousness just based on their complacency and the particular shiny objects that have tended to attract them over the years. But I really can’t believe this one fell off their radar. (I blame the Becky/Tim X-story about her singing in some pageant and being happy that he went. Nobody cares about your happiness, new girl!)

So if you feel like having a good cry, want to let off some kind of steam, or just feel like watching one of the most beautiful outputs in the history of the medium, give “The Son” a good squeeze.

Next week: Bridging the gap between silence and secrets.

In case I bummed you out too much, here's a nice picture of Matt and Grammaw: