By Ken Tucker
Updated February 03, 2011 at 03:55 PM EST

Friday Night Lights

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The final, fifth season of Friday Night Lights will begin airing on NBC on Apr. 15, but over on DirecTV, we’ve already arrived at the series’ penultimate episode, which aired last night. It was a great episode that saw the return of Adrienne Palicki as Tyra, Zach Gilford as Matt, and some big, fundamental changes in life in Dillon, Tex., so spoilerphobes, you are forewarned. Tyra came back to Dillon only to find bitter bartender Tim about to punch out a patron for calling him “jailbird.” When Tyra immediately greeted him with “Hey, jailbird,” I immediately fell in love with her all over again. Yes, Lyla was Tim’s gal for a long time, but it was Tyra who really got Tim, as this episode proved. Over the course of the hour they talked, kissed, made love, and discussed Tim’s notion of going to work on an Alaska pipeline. By the time they reached their final scene, with the duo looking out on Tim’s farmland, all Tyra had to say was “Alaska, Tim?” and Tyra/Palicki had won the hour with her terse realism.

Not that there wasn’t a lot of strong realism to the rest of the episode. Certainly the current rift between Eric and Tami is one of the most serious and convincing in FNL‘s long, amazing portrait of a marriage. Eric’s refusal to entertain the idea that they should move to Philadelphia for Tami’s job offer was contrasted with Eric’s awkward employment dilemma.

It turned out that the inevitability we didn’t want — in a budget cut, there will only be one Dillon football team, and it’ll be the Panthers, not the Lions — came to pass, with Buddy working with the Panthers to dangle his old coaching job in front of Eric. Tami had a right to be angry; Connie Britton’s delivery of the line “I’m going to say to you what you haven’t had the grace to say to me: Congratulations” was worth an Emmy all by itself. But you also empathized with Eric’s quandary: He’s come to love his Lions, he doesn’t want to go back to the entitled-brat politics that have infested the Panthers, yet that coaching job is what he knows best how to do. The striking thing about the Coach Eric scenes this week was the realization of what a parochial man Eric Taylor is. He seems (and is) possessed of great maturity and wisdom, but he’s also a small-town boy who’s made good, and change both riles and scares him. Kyle Chandler did a superb job of conveying this, right down to his rare hug — with Vince, who was thanking his coach for all he’d done for him.

Matt returned in a brief scene to visit his grandmother, whose senility is more pronounced. He was demonstrably more mature and yet the same sweet kid with the woman who’s his sole connection to the past. The hour had to rush a bit to fit so many plot points in. Luke got an offer from a school, and realized he may not have the desire to continue playing football. Billy and Mindy found out they’re having twins, which put an immediate strain on their marriage — how are they going to support three kids, Mindy sobbed quite sensibly. Julie came home, primarily to have a scene with Tyra in which they agreed that Dillon is “like this drug” that they both have to shake.

And Luke and Becky will be fine together, now that Luke spoke to Tim and Tim made it clear that he wasn’t in love with Becky. Even better, Tim offered Luke advice about going to State and the final game of the season: “Play it like it’s the last time you’re ever gonna lace up. Then let it go. Then move on.”

I’m not sure I can ever move on from Friday Night Lights. One more down, one more to go.

P.S. In an odd bit of scheduling, the fifth-season DVD set of Friday Night Lights will go on sale Apr. 5 — that is, before the show airs on NBC.

Friday Night Lights airs on DirecTV’s 101 Network.

Twitter: @kentucker

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Friday Night Lights

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