The finale for Friday Night Lights aired on NBC last night (lucky DirecTV users saw it earlier this year), and after having been burned in the past by other series finales, we were worried that everything would be tied up neatly in a bow or that there would be too many loose ends left unresolved. After all, even strong shows struggle to produce an ending that provides closure while still keeping true to the show's feel, no matter how much time producers have to plan things out. The Sopranos went for the sudden cut to black, Seinfeld tossed everyone in jail, Battlestar Galactica turned everyone into Cylon/human hybrids, Lost confused and frustrated us with a purgatory twist and Smallville cheated us out of a full-on Superman costume. But FNL proved that it is deserving of that Best Drama Emmy nomination by delivering a sweet and wonderful ending that gave us goosebumps and had us reaching for the tissues all at the same time. Here's why:
Not Everyone Gets a Happily Ever After
While a substantial amount of characters did end up coupled up, including the newly engaged Matt and Julie, there were some that ended up with less than perfect endings. Like Jess and Vince, who were split apart because of her dad's job, though both got the football gigs they wanted. And much as it looks like our beloved Tyra and Riggins will hook up in the long run, that wasn't guaranteed. Other endings were even more vague and complicated, which is much more realistic and something this show has always excelled at.
Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton always brought it, and the finale was no exception. Their discord was heart-wrenching, but their commitment to each other and how they fought hard to make sacrifices and find a solution for both of them was pitch-perfect. But everyone stepped up to the plate, even Aimee Teegarden. The intense scene between Zach Gilford and Chandler as they discussed Julie's hand in marriage was perfectly offset by Gilford's earlier goofy conversation with Jesse Plemons about the same subject matter.
They Didn't Take the Easy Way Out
"Take me to Philadelphia with you." When Coach spoke those words, we got a little choked up. We expected that somehow Tammy would get offered a dream job in Texas and things would all work out and he could coach the Panthers again. Instead, he stood by the woman who has supported all of his life changes over nearly two decades, moved east and found a new team in Philly to cultivate from the ground up. Our other concern was that they'd leave Coach and Tami's future undecided and that we'd close on the State football game without any satisfying answers. We should have had more faith in this show.
The Epilogue Didn't Spell Everything Out in an Obvious Way
Instead of showing us how the Lions won State, we saw the Hail Mary pass at the end of the game and then we jumped eight months into the future, with only a subtle indication that the team won. Seeing Luke hand off what looked like a State Championship ring to Becky as he boarded a bus to join the military implied that they won. Given that this show was about so much more than the actual football, we were thrilled that it was left to a faded sign on a soon-to-be-torn-down scoreboard to confirm that East Dillon had gone out on top.
It Reminded Us of Past Episodes
The epilogue showed us the Dillon Panthers locker room, with a J. Street signature scribbled on the wall and Buddy Garrity hanging up the "Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose" sign, juxtaposed with Coach Taylor trying to teach his new East Coast boys his famous slogan. Those callbacks were nice, but it was really Matt Saracen's proposal to Julie Taylor in front of the Alamo Freeze that did us in. How fitting that these two go back to the place they'd spent so much time together in order to kick-start their future.
Not All the Big Stuff Happened in the Last Five Minutes
Many finales feel like an average installment of their respective shows, only to abruptly wrap everything up in the last five minutes. While there was an epilogue here, most of the life-changing decisions were doled out evenly throughout the course of the episode. From the proposal to the Taylors deciding to move to Becky returning home and Jess getting Coach's help to continue to reach her goal, it was perfectly paced.
Some Truly Touching Moments
We were trying hard not to tear up, but when Grandma Saracen asked to see her ring on Julie's finger, and then reached down to kiss it, we started welling up. And while it didn't make us cry, we loved the well-edited football game as it showed how everyone was reacting to this life-altering event, which, after all, was their last time all together. It was nearly silent, with just quiet strains of music playing over glances and looks and football action. Particularly wonderful.
Did We Mention There Weren't Robots or a Trip to Jail?
Seriously, we are so grateful that the epilogue didn't end with a bus crash on the way home from State that sent everyone to Purgatory, or with a rowdy trip to Mexico that landed the entire cast in one cell together or a fast-forward to a future where football players are controlled by bionic chips implanted into their heads.
A Lasting Image We Believe In
Watching the Taylors hang on to each other as they walked off the football field gave us such hope for their future. It doesn't matter that they aren't in Texas; it doesn't matter that their daughter has grown up; what matters is that they are doing what they love with the person that matters the most by their side. That's a truly special message to sign off with.
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