The show has rebounded beautifully from the second season’s creative missteps and has become once again one of the most thoughtful, grounded and heartfelt shows on television. It’s also given two of its former regulars, Smash Williams (Gaius Charles) and Jason Street (Scott Porter), graceful and dramatically satisfying exit arcs this season, concluding with Street’s departure in the episode that aired on NBC last week.
Despite all that, I’m left wondering if NBC and the show should just leave well enough alone and go out on a high note this season.
(Spoilers for the remaining episodes — including a couple of big ones — coming up in the next few paragraphs. If you haven’t seen them, you might want to stop here.)
The only reason for my ambivalence is that the ending to this season is so great that I almost would rather leave what happens next to my own imagination. The show deftly handled closure for some of the characters — especially reformed bad girl Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and the newly purposeful Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) — and left other stories bittersweetly open-ended. It’s not quite as good a finale as season one’s state title, but it’s not far off either.
In the weeks since I watched this season (courtesy a DVD package from NBC and screeners of the final two episodes from DirecTV), I had made my peace with the show ending here. Eric (Kyle Chandler) is exiled from Dillon High and contemplating starting anew as the coach at the about-to-reopen East Dillon High — which has none of the resources and few of the players that his old job had — and Matt (Zach Gilford) once again putting others before himself as he decides to stay in town. If that would be the last images from a season that managed to just about completely erase the killer-Landry-fueled second season, I would be more than satisfied.
At the same time, though, that finale is also a damn fine setup for a fourth season. Just off the top of my head, I can see Eric struggling to build a program at East Dillon while Buddy (Brad Leland), Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett) and the rest of the Dillon boosters do everything they can to make sure their program stays on top. Tami (Connie Britton), meanwhile, presumably still has her job at Dillon, which could cause some friction in the Taylor house, while Julie (the increasingly outstanding Aimee Teegarden) plots her escape from town via college and Matt figures out his own life remaining in Dillon. On the field, the focus could shift squarely to J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) and the pressure he feels being the chosen one at Dillon, while Eric gets a host of new players at his new job.
My trust in the show was restored this year, so if there is a next season, there’s no question I’ll be there. I just hope it lives up to what unfolded on screen this year. So what do you think?