One of my favorite shows over the last few years has been Friday Night Lights — a show with a small but dedicated fanbase. The show has always been more than about football: Friday Night Lights always wore its heart proudly on its sleeve and I’ve always loved the way it has lovingly depicted its characters with respect, its small town location of Dillon, Texas with gritty accuracy and its story lines (for the most part) with a devoted and detailed realism.
The show payed attention to the little moments — establishing a feeling of both mundane claustrophobic life and a romantic nostalgia for a sense of place in a part of America that seems long since forgotten. Life can be hard, and not everyone gets a happy ending or escape these tiny, often dead-end towns. But because of football and family and friends, Friday Night Lights proved that people can overcome a whole hell of a lot and become something greater, even if just for a single game.
The series finale aired last week and it was a perfect capper to a nearly flawless five-season run. One of the most remarkable scenes, in an episode that had MANY beautiful and emotional scenes, was the montage of the state championship game. And what put it over the top from a good scene to a great one was its use of music.
Most game montages the show has presented depict the games much like you would as a fan watching on television — there’s often an announcer, there’s regularly bluesy country music or hip hop or hard rock that drives the scenes, and the sound effects of the hard hits and huge tackles and the coaches yelling are often way high in the mix.
This final game act was different. It was indeed a culmination of not only the season’s football storyline, but the last time we would see these characters we have spent so much time growing with and ultimately caring about playing on the football field. In a word it had to serve as an elegy for the show.
And boy did it deliver.
The producers wisely decided to present the show mostly in a graceful silence for a very long extended sequence, scored only with the pastoral, ambient post-rock score that has been the signature sound of the series for it’s run. Deep in the mix you’ll hear the haunting echoes of some football ambience, but for the most part the sequence runs in near slow motion. It captures moments, facial expression, glimpses of our characters on the field, on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s remarkable how long they let this go before finally adding some brief context to the game with the announcer chiming in.
And then, the Hail Mary pass goes up in the air. The ball flies into the darkness above the lights and into the stratosphere. The music slows to an effervescent crawl as we see the hope in the eyes of our characters. In this moment, time stands still for our characters, real life and all its drama is put on hold as everyone is united as one team, one family, one town as they focus on this singular pass.
And then, a gorgeous fade into the future with another ball and another team. We never see the ball come down and have to piece together the results of the game in the last scenes of the show. In some ways it’s the most perfect moment of the show, the end results of the game don’t matter. Win or lose, time marches on and people move on to new things, whether it’s new places or new challenges.
In a show brimming with stunning moments over the years, this might be among of the most memorable, tasteful and beautifully scored scenes the creators have produced.