There is a tendency among fans of the television series, Friday Night Lights, to want to pretend that season two never existed, uncomfortable with the very notion of including it among the show’s other four, spectacular seasons. It is the tarnished section of an otherwise beloved program, and led to much fear when it first aired in 2007 with a “jump the shark” moment. The sentiment seemed to be that this would be the ruin of the streak of quality storytelling viewers had grown to expect. Such fear is reflected in television critic, Alan Sepinwall’s, blog post discussing the season’s first episode, Last Days of Summer. As he says, “Once you know that the show is willing to go to this place, it changes how you look at the entire series.” I disagree.
I started watching the show late, when all the episodes were already released on DVD. Therefore I went into this storyline clean, unaware of any approaching hoopla or controversy. In simple terms: Landry Clarke killed Tyra Collette’s attempted rapist and together they attempted to cover it up by throwing his body into a river.
Why It Shocked
I will be the first to admit that I would have never guessed going into season two that a major plot point would be murder. Outside of underage drinking, there had been no indication that crime was a major issue in West Dillion, Texas (and it is a theme that does not really get introduced again until season four, with the reveal of East Dillion and questionable car parts deals).
This was a show about a realistic married couple. It was about some high school kids going through the trials and tribulations of growing up, while playing football in a small town obsessed with football. It was not about hitting someone in the head with a pole, and for some viewers, it came across as pure a contrivance which would never happen outside of a script.
The general conclusion was that humorous, guitar playing, straight-A student Landry Clarke, with a cop for a father and an eagerness to extol advice (“One word: Members Only Jacket.”), would have never done such a thing, let alone be hanging out with “bad girl” Tyra, whose usual boyfriends were drunks and whose family life consisted of her “the other woman” mother and stripper sister.
…is it such an out of character moment? If the crime had been premeditated I would completely understand the protests. Yet this is an instant reaction to a bad situation. Landry is an established loyal character, not naturally inclined to violence but who has proven himself many times to have guts. He says things as he sees them, not curbing his opinions to fit what would best please his audience, and willing to stand up for friends, even when he is out of his depth (which is usually the case). He also has a crush on Tyra and where on most such a crush would wear like a cliché, the sweet nerd falling for the hot girl, Friday Night Lights, does not deal in such flatness. Landry is so comfortable with himself, giving off a vibe of sincerity and cool confidence that completely sells well and makes the relationship works.
Whether he should or not, he carries some guilt for what happened to Tyra last season. It was when he showed up late for their tutoring session that the man first attacked her. Now, upon being made aware that this man in front of him is that same guy, approaching Tyra while he was in a store buying snacks, he cannot stand back and do nothing, let him get to her while he was looking the other way again. To make it worse, the guy had been following her lately, to the point that she had to drive into a police station for him to stop and drive away.
Even once Landry hits him in the head, it is not with the intention of killing but self-defense that motivates his attack. Logically, yes, if you hit someone in the head with a pole like that there is going to be death, but none of this was thought out. The worst you can put on these two is the covering up the murder, especially when they realize he might still have a faint pulse. For that there are two slightly redeeming factors:
- These are scared teenagers who did not see this coming. Tyra, especially, has had to be looking over her shoulder, haunted by this guy stalking her in his truck. She already has a bad reputation, with people defining her by her looks instead of seeing her intelligence. If this came out, instead of feeling sympathy for her, there would be scandal, and right when she is trying to turn her life around so she can go to a good college. That frustration, fear, and desire to put this behind her leads her to do this, and Landry, who is also in shock, having never done anything remotely like this before, follows suit.
- The victim was a creepy attempted rapist/successful stalker of a teenage girl.
Granted, maybe it was more “television” then usual. Yes, it stands out from everything else the show has ever done, in being far less grounded. And yes, the murder is basically never mentioned again after this season (like Santiago, the teen Buddy Garrity adopts who disappears in season three). Continuity has not always been the shows strongest point but it has so many other redeeming factors and emotional rawness that all is forgiven. Protestors got past this incident and people who liked how Tyra and Landry relationship was portrayed, as I did, continued on, able to look past the murder, or at the very least be able to shake it off as an unexpected event that led to some interesting new dynamics and developments and one incident of incinerating evidence.
For Every Death, There Is A Birth
(and in this case, a baby!)
Murder is the storyline that has come to epitomize season two but there is so much more to it:
- Tim Riggins hopping from place to place after leaving his home with older brother, Billy, while simultaneously trying to get ex-girlfriend, Lyla, back and failing hilariously
- Baby Gracie’s birth while Couch Taylor is starting a new job at TMU, leaving his wife on her own (because one should never assume daughter, Julie, might offer assistance)
- Couch Taylor returning home to a hurt team and an angry quarterback (following the general pattern that Matt Saracen (see side-note) can never win)
For any fans of the show, feel free to dispute my defense or share your favorite moments from season two in the comments. Otherwise, all the seasons can be found for purchase on Amazon.
Their great prices are not representative of their worth in repeat viewings.
Unlike Sepinwall, I found Julie’s relationship/idealization of The Swede to be quite disturbing (probably more so than Landry’s new felon status) Perhaps some girls, “…do stupid stuff at 16,” but that doesn’t have to be a generalization. Most girls don’t meet Matt Saracen’s at 16 either. It would have been different if she broke the relationship off (a terrible move on her part but acceptable). To cheat on him and excuse her actions as being out of a dread of turning into her mother (who happens to be none other than the wonderful, Tammi Taylor) was simply ludicrous, and cruel to a guy so undeserving of such treatment.
-screencaps from homeofthenutty.com (NBC/Audience Network)