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…occurs at the end of Friday Night Lights‘ season three finale. I can safely say that I’ve never seen so perfect a sustained setpiece on television than these fifteen minutes, one that mixes incredible grace, emotional investment, a languidly free-form pace, and complex performances to approach something nearing visual poetry.

The wedding of Billy Riggins and Mindy Collette begins, appropriately, with a hilariously off-kilter acoustic performance of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” as the various participants of the wedding party march down the aisle. Before Mindy comes down the aisle with her mother on her arm, Tami Taylor tip-toes into the church and clasps the hand of her husband Eric, informing him of the bad news that he’s been replaced as head coach of the Dillon Panthers. This scene, coupled with the preceding one (where Eric delivers a tremendously prideful, and ultimately disappointing, speech to the boosters and school board), so succinctly captures the brilliance of Kyle Chandler as an actor, underplaying his big moments in a manner that suggests they could never be played any other way. Other actors on this show get such great scenes where they really give a Performance (the fantastic Connie Britton being the best example), while Chandler prefers to internalize everything to give an embodiment instead. Chandler’s face when Eric finds out the news, only to then be told that he’s been offered the job as coach of the newly reformed East Dillon school, manages an impossible mixture of complex detail.

To undercut the brilliance of Chandler’s face, we see the Riggins boys, in their terrible/amazing white suits and 10,o00-gallon cowboy hats as Mindy walks down the aisle. And then a cut to one of the most fun receptions that has ever been fictionalized, complete with a corny band performing “Car Wash,” the residents of Dillon dancing wildly with each other, including Buddy sheepishly asking Angela Collette to dance–such a minor detail, but a beautiful one, considering that their affair in season 1 led to Buddy’s downfall. The wedding band then segues into its succession of perfect song choices, starting with “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” as Tim–for so long floundering about with a lack of purpose–approaches the one true concrete love of his life, Lyla, who had planned on going to Vanderbilt without telling Tim, but guiltily decided to forgo those dreams and attend San Antonio State with him, as they’d planned. What follows is such a lovely summation of both of these characters’ arcs: Lyla, who started the show defined by her relationship with a boy, making a decision based on what’s actually best for her, but doubting herself; and Tim, showcasing the exponential growth he’s experienced over the past three years, allowing her to put her needs before his. Though not without some inherent selfishness, as a bemused relief plays on his face–this is his ticket out of college, of responsibility, and of growth. He can now stay in Dillon and work at Riggins’ Rigs with his brother, he thinks, and this is all he wants.

The wedding band plays “Mustang Sally” as we cut to Lyla, now seemingly freed from her burdens, who twirls around on the dancefloor with her father. The jubilant music fades in the background as Julie attempts, against her wishes, to break up with college-bound Matt. He tells her “no,” and with a kiss assures her that they’ll be fine before Julie sighs, “Your grandma would’ve really loved this wedding.” Cut to Matt taking his grandmother out of the nursing home where he’d left her earlier, in a beautifully composed and heartwrenching scene that ended the the two of them separated in the frame by a wall. “You’re the only person that’s never left me. I’m not gonna leave you,” he says now, and while Matt’s escape from Dillon is now disappointingly a thing of the past, it is so perfectly in line with what this character has shown over the last three seasons–his self-sacrifice for the good of those who depend on him.

Cut back to the reception, and the band’s final Perfect Song Choice: “When A Man Loves A Woman,” while the men of Dillon dance with the women they love: Billy and Mindy, Tim and Lyla, Landry and Tyra, Eric and Tami (having a moment of dialogue that affirms their standing as the best husband and wife in the history of television)…and Julie, watching as Matt directs his grandmother to the dancefloor, giving her the dance he didn’t give his girlfriend.

The reception’s over, and Eric and Tami leave quietly before Billy and Mindy are pelted with rice. Before they can get in their limo, Tim excitedly relays the news that he’s going to stay in Dillon, figuring (per their roadside conversation earlier in the episode, as Billy wistfully pondered what it would be like to work side-by-side with his brother) that Billy would be elated. But Billy Riggins, tragicomic ne’er-do-well bad ideas doofus, surprises everyone by refusing to let this happen, and in the last words of this beautiful episode–this beautiful 15 minutes–gives FNL one of its three over-riding spoken theses (along with Tami’s speech to Eric in the bar, saying, “You are a molder of men”; and Matt’s “They needed me and I stepped up and I worked my ass and I did everything I could, but I guess it just wasn’t really enough,” all from earlier this season), in as poignant and moving a moment ever seen in this poignant and moving show (especially considering the source!):

You listen to me you little idiot. You are not going to wuss out on this. You’re going to go to college and you’re going to go get a degree. And I don’t care if it takes you seven years, alright? And when you start thinking that it’s too hard or that you can’t handle it I want you to remember one thing. I want you to think about the kids that you don’t have yet. And I want you to think about my kids. Me and Mindy’s kids that we don’t have yet. And you’re going to get the job done so that one of these days I can tell them that they don’t have to settle for second best. That they can be whoever the hell they want to be because their uncle Timmy went to college. God bless our mom and dad, wherever they are. But we gotta do better by our kids.

As if that wasn’t enough, we end with the coda: We see that Eric and Tami have run off to the decrepit, unused patch of field of East Dillon, this loving and supportive couple holding each other as a guitar plucks melancholy chords, the two of them surveying where Eric will lead a whole new group of young boys in the unending, unforgiving, and unknowable process of trying to become men, disappointment and hope and struggle and triumph to be displayed on this rundown territory in the future while, in the present, our protagonists are drowned out by fading sun.

What a fifteen minutes that was.


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