“Friday Night Lights” season 1 episode 15, a perfect example of how the show introduces realistic loaded topics that cause unspoken tensions in our everyday lives. The episode begins in the middle of the first playoff game for the Dillon Panthers. They walk away with a victory allowing them to advance to the next round and ultimately bringing them one step closer to the State championship. The town was all smiles, the coaching staff was proud, and the players were ready to celebrate. Well, the victory was short-lived when assistant coach, Mac McGill, was caught up in a post-game interview. The interview started off with the topic of race not being an issue within the Dillon Panther football community, but immediately took a turn for the worst. It went a little something like this…
Reporter (Karen): “Are you saying this gift has something to do with their skin color?
Mac: “What I’m saying, Karen, and I’m saying it in a good way, is that guys like Smash are– are fearless. They’re dangerous. They’re like junkyard dogs. I mean, you want them carrying the ball. You want them tearing up turf out there.”
Reporter (Karen): “So let me get this straight. Whites like Saracen make better quarterbacks because they’re inherently smarter?”
Mac: “Well, if you wanna put it that way, you could. But I’m not saying that all black guys are– are dumb.”
Thankfully Coach Taylor saved Mac from saying anything else offensive, but it seems as though the reporters already had enough to run a story. Then the show cut to its opening credit. In a way foreshadowing that the town, the team, and the coaches were about to face some sort of adversity that could be very detrimental to their playoff potential. In other words, it was a story. So how was the story going to unfold?
Being such an intense topic, the writers had to go about this episode carefully and systematically in order to present this to the public without offending their viewers.
Following the credits, the first scene opens with an American flag blowing in the wind with the radio talk show addressing the Mac McGill comments. Almost as if it was a calm before the storm, slowly building on what could be a dramatic battle. This story follows the narrative theory of Vladimir Propp. Propp believed that all stories should contain an initial equilibrium state of a place or character that is disrupted by the lack of something or a villain. The narrative is then driven forward, linking events together, providing insights and meanings, and fulfillment.
In this episode the initial equilibrium is a worried free playoff atmosphere where the entire town is anxiously awaiting to see how their beloved Dillon Panthers proceed. Then the villain, Mac McGill, disrupts that equilibrium by dropping racial accusations about his players.
The episode continues by focusing on Smash Williams’s family as they make new strides towards a better life. There are some very stereotypical things about the Williams family. He grew up without a father and was forced to step up and be the man of the house at a very young age. As a single mom, Mrs. Williams has taken on the responsibility of working multiple jobs in order to provide for her family. In this episode, things are looking up for the Williams family as they are hoping to buy a new house. They are just anxiously waiting on their home loan to be approved to close the deal.
Meanwhile, later that day Coach Taylor tells Mac that he needs to make a public apology in hopes to put this whole thing behind them. Mac’s apology: I believe that all of our players, regardless of color, contribute to the spirit and the success of the Dillon Panthers. My comments were not intended to hurt anybody. And I apologize if they did. Thank you.
When this statement was released the players and a couple of classmates were in a public dinner just enjoying their meals. When they noticed the press conference they all stopped what they were doing and directed all their attention to the TV. Placing the players and a couple of other people in a public place was genius to progress the story. We were able to capture their immediate responses and feelings regarding the issue.
The African-American players thought the public apology was forced and lacked sincerity. While the white players and classmates thought the apology was fine. The one who seemed to care the least or was impartial on the whole subject was Smash. The kid who the comment was based on was the last person who wanted to get involved.
As the story progressed, it became an issue that Smash failed to stand up for himself or care, mostly with his girlfriend, Waverly. Smash believed that he shouldn’t have to act a certain way or say certain things just because he is black. Waverly reminded him that it’s a burden and a blessing that he has to deal with it. Smash brushed it off mentioning that he isn’t Jesse Jackson and football is his cause. Reminding us just how important football is in Dillon even when a topic as important as race gets in the way.
Even though Coach Taylor and Mac were hoping the issue would slowly be overshadowed by something else, it didn’t. It began to cause fights in the halls of the high school, it built tension between players, and it got students talking.
A scene that really helped build tension and suspense was a conversation between ongoing rivals Tim Riggins and Smash.
Tim: You know all this friction between the team? It’s just not helping right now, man. And State’s coming up. So, I mean, I figure you talk to your boys and settle ’em down. And we can just refocus on the game.
Smash: You know? You got some nerve. The same dude who shows up half-drunk to workouts, walks off practice, and throws a glass bottle at my head wants to tell me to talk to my boys?
Tim: I didn’t tell you. I asked you, Williams.
Smash: No, first of all, they ain’t my boys. You want team unity, why don’t you talk to your boys? This football done brought us together, but on the real, we ain’t even cool like that.
The scene ending with a close up sign on a local business that reads, “ALL THE WAY TO STATE!” As a reminder of what’s to come and how important team unity is now more then ever.
At the end of the episode, the William’s home loan was denied, and his mother believes it had something to do with her skin color and the fact that she is a single mom. Smash is furious and finally recognizes how serious race is and decides maybe he should take action. Smash approaches Mac in order to create some sort of dialogue and work things out, but Mac wants nothing to do with him. Ultimately hinting that the way he feels about race isn’t relevant and if anyone whines about the subject again he would bench them. The episode ends with Mac blowing his whistle at practice and all the black players walking off the field to take a stand.
I believe this episode was executed perfectly. I felt as though each scene really built of one another, but was actually centered on the progression of one character, Smash. In the beginning he tried to lay low and avoid any negative attention. Then, he came to the realization that he or anyone else for that matter shouldn’t be treated like that and took a stand.I think the writers did a great job by distracting us or by taking some of the heat away from the loaded subject of race. They did this by incorporating different story lines such as, a powder-puff game or Jason Street going back to school. They didn’t focus a lot of attention on these scenes but, it allowed the audience to stay connected with the other characters as well.
Although this show didn’t have a complete middle or an end, it is what draws you in even more. The players walking off the field forced me to want me to keep watching and created so many questions.
Will they play in Friday night’s game? Will Mac be fired?