No, “Hazing & Branding” is not just the name of my new cop show on TNT this summer (you’ve got to admit, it’s not as dumb a name as “Rizzoli & Isles”). Hazing and branding are the two big themes of this week’s episode, and as far as episodes go FNL fans, this was it. This was, for me, the best episode of the season, the one I’ve been waiting for (to end a sentence with a preposition). This is where all the different plot threads (save one) come together and put us on a path with the Lions to State.
Buddy Jr., the newest member of the East Dillon Lions (who seem to add a new player every week), is going through the hazing process, and it couldn’t come at a worse time, what with the Lions heading out to Kingdom, Texas. (Kingdom, Texas, by the way, is the name of my new supernatural/mystery series on ABC this fall. “Weird things always happened in Kingdom, but with the arrival of a stranger, all hell is going to break loose. This fall, Kingdom come, whose will be done?” Should I not use this outlet to promo all my new tv projects?) Anyway, it’s a road trip, which means Buddy Jr. has to carry the bags and take the abuse of his teammates. Buddy Sr. helpfully explains that hazing isn’t as bad as it used to be and it’s just a way to let them bond as a team.
Look, I have my own arguments against hazing, but I think the real hazing of the East Dillon Lions as a team has finally come to an end. What started with them forfeiting their first game against Kingdom, continued with them finding a way to beat the Panthers last year and go undefeated thus far this year, culminates with their rematch against Kingdom. We lived and died with the Panthers for three years, so to just force us to love the Lions immediately? No, that’s not going to happen. They’ve got to be hazed to earn our affections. It’s a two-step hazing process: Win football games and become a great football team.
They’ve already accomplished the first part and with this episode they became a true team. The scene on the hotel patio with Vince, Luke, Tinker, and Ruckle (all with Coach listening in), reminded me of scenes with Street, Riggins, Smash & Saracen. They’re no longer a group of people thrown together on a football field wearing the same colors; they’re a team now, and they are willing to do anything to make sure they all reach the same goal. I know I’m going on about this like it was the greatest scene in the history of the show; it’s not, but it’s something really special. It is the moment where I really believe they have a chance to go to State and win. And I won’t be rooting for them to see Coach Taylor get revenge on those who kicked him out of Dillon. I’ll be rooting for the team. (From Nicole: I watched the show during its DirectTV run, and this scene stands out as one of my favorites of the season too – it was a great time of bonding for the team, and a moment that Eric could take pride in as a coach.)
The other big bonding moment for the team happened post football game, where Hastings took the Lions to Burning Man, which has been relocated somehow to the outskirts of Kingdom, Texas. I was sure this part of the episode was going to bother me, but it never did because it felt so authentic to the way teenagers act in these situations. I was on class trips in high school where the students got to be by themselves and alcohol was passed around, and the conversations weren’t brilliant in retrospect, but in the moment they were these profound moments of connection where you saw yourself becoming an adult.
Dear God, this episode has turned me maudlin. All right, let me put my smirk back on. Okay, back in place. Here we go.
The big bonding turned into the big branding, and I have to thank the heavens that the dumb ideas I’ve had when I’ve been drunk have never turned into permanent body modification. It looked mighty painful (especially if you have a shoulder-grabby dad like Buddy Sr.) and it makes my decision to live tattoo- and nearly-piercing-free a very smart one in retrospect. But make no mistake, the big branding is a big bonding. We’ll see those scars again, and it’ll make them all the tougher a team to beat on the way to State.
It was brief, but a nice parallel to the boys bonding was the men bonding over whiskey and cards. Coach Taylor is the only one who has a problem with the win because of the rough quality of the play, and also because (and I’m just guessing here) it wasn’t the way he used to win with the Panthers. I think he’s realizing that the Lions are a very different team and that struggle to mold him into the second coming of the Panthers may pose a problem for him as the season continues.
There wasn’t much of the ladies in this episode. Jess played nursemaid to the branded boys and Tami had a really weird drunken evening with a teacher who used to hate her. I’m still puzzled by this storyline and interaction; it feels like there are scenes on the cutting-room floor. (This is the one plotline that’s not really coming together.) And that’s about it as far as the women of the show go.
Oh, right. Julie. In the continuing pilot presentation for Julie Taylor: The College Years (which is not one of my upcoming shows), Julie finally comes into confrontation with the wife of her T.A./Boyfriend. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about any of this. Am I supposed to take Julie’s side in this at all? Because I really can’t. She knows he’s her teacher, she knows he’s married, she knows she should be going to class. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be rooting for her. It’s a weird character inconsistency with Julie where they make her smart until it’s not plot-convenient for her to be smart anymore.
Now, I may be in the minority on this one; hell, in my own home, Mrs. DLW liked this plot much more than she liked the other plots of this episode (she thought there was too much football in this one). As I say, I may be in the minority, but I was happy to see Alison Bishop come in, start a little fight, and kick this plot out of dreamy food-sharing land and into real-life consequences … um, -ville. Real-life consequences-ville. Now with Julie home in Dillon, I’ve got a feeling Coach & Tami will be dropping the hammer down on their elder daughter. That should be great.
- The East Dillon Loins? Maybe that’s the real nickname for the Hastings Ruckle fans.
- “What are you two wearing?” might be the single funniest line reading Kyle Chandler has done on the show.
- Look, the Kingdom cheerleader wasn’t nice to Hastings, but at least she was able to trash-talk the other team. Many cheerleaders I knew in high school weren’t even aware of the score of the game.
- Are Mrs. DLW and I the only people to refer to Gracie Bell as “alien baby?” Does it help that we do it affectionately?
- I’m glad to see that Coach Taylor has the same approach to car repair as I do. “Let’s just call Triple-A.”
- I know I’m an adult now because as soon as I saw the Lions partying in the hallway of the hotel, I just thought, “Ugh, I bet I’d end up with one of the rooms on that hall and not get any sleep.”
Okay Loin Boosters, let’s chat about this episode below. Tell me why I’m wrong to call it the best episode of the season. Explain to me how great the Julie storyline has been. Or just tell me I’m smart and funny and wonderful. That works too.