7.2/10. Focus on Smash. Throw in some scenes with Corinna. Win. It's an easy formula. Sure, if they did it all the time, it would get dull, but this season has been surprisingly light on the Williams family, to its detriment, and an episode where we get a trite but meaningful conflict between Brian and his mother nigh-instantly elevates it from the rest of the show's brethren.
As often makes these shows interesting, both sides have a point, even if my natural inclination is to side with Corinna here. She is looking at the big picture. She brings up what happened to Jason Street, and beyond that, acknowledges the fickle nature of football, where all it takes is one rough moment to end up like Street, or the guy flipping burgers who was on the recruiter's big list last season, or the former Dillon player pressing Coach Taylor for a job because his surefire career went to pot. Ten years after this episode aired, we're only now seeing schools offer multi-year athletic scholarships, and so independent of football, Corinna sees how a guaranteed four-year academic scholarship would work as a fortification for her son's future, whether or not his NFL dreams work out. Smash is fueled by confidence, and he takes his mother's concerns as doubt that can only serve to bring him down, but Corinna sees how Brian's absolute certainty about where his future lies in a very tenuous career leads him to myopia, ignoring the legitimate risks of what might happen and where he'll be if football doesn't work out.
At the same time, Brian is right that his mother doesn't necessarily understand the recruiting process. It's tricky to judge, because very few players make it to the pros, but the show seems to posit that Brian has what it takes. If that's true, and a pro career is a real possibility, than Brian should definitely fortify and prepare himself for a future if it doesn't work out, but he's not wrong to try to put himself in the best position to get drafted, and while small school guys have become stars in the NFL (DeMarcus Ware for one), his chances of success on that front would be lessened by going to a school with a bad football team and no infrastructure for helping players through that process. There also is a game of leverage and competing interests that Brian is certainly overconfident about, but which Corinna likely doesn't fully understand either. What's more, Brian's heart is in the right place. While he's definitely self-aggrandizing, he believes he can do this and sees it as the ticket to helping his family.
That's why the most memorable scene of the episode to my mind is Corinna confronting Coach Taylor. She's such a clear-headed, principled character that I'm basically on board with almost every scene she's in, but her speech to Coach is particularly stiriking her. Coach is, after all, the middle ground between her and Smash. He's someone who understands football and the recruiting process, and who believes that Smash has talent to at least make it to the next level, but has at least seen enough about the pitfalls on that path, and believes that there's more to life than the game, that he can encourage Smash in his recruitment while helping him to avoid putting all of his eggs in one basket. As Corinna points out, Coach's role is not to be Smash's father, but there's an authority and a wisdom about these things that Smash needs and which Corinna can't deliver on her own. Coach heeds her request, and his speech about his own father pushing him but making him think about his choices really worked. It's one of the best storylines this season, which, admittedly, isn't saying a lot, but it still something.
At the same time, we got some unexpected depth from Buddy Garrity and Santiago. The whole thing seemed like a repeat of the Voodoo story. Buddy finds some talented player through underhanded means; outside forces conspire to mess that up, and the rest of the Panthers, Coach especially, deal with the fall out. Instead, we got a frankly kind of touching story about Buddy taking on a huge responsibility and gaining a bit of perspective. When Tami is reading him the riot act in his office about really being a parent to him, it's hard to read Buddy's response. But I believe that when he tells Tami that he wants to do right by this kid, that he believes in him and wants to help, it seems like less of the old buddy bluster and more like something truly sincere. Maybe it's simply because Buddy isn't just doing this to help the football team; he's doing it reconnect with his daughter and that magnifies the importance of it, but it doesn't seem like the same old huckstering Buddy. Plus, the scene where Santiago moves in, Buddy apologizes for the size of Santiago's bedroom, and Santiago tells him that it's the first room he's ever had, you see Buddy being moved a bit. However much this may have started as a grift, or a marriage of convenience, you can see this all getting through to him, the significance of what he's taking on and how serious and meaningful what he's agreed to do is. It's a nice note for Buddy, and a good moment for everyone involved.
Not everything in the episode is that great however. The inevitable romance between Matt and Carlotta was kicked into overdrive earlier than expected here. The whole scene of her teaching him how to dance was such a cliche, and the kiss basically came out of nowhere. There's some chemistry between the two of them, but the show hasn't done enough to build their relationship to make that believable. In addition, it makes Matt way less likable for cheating on the cheerleader he'd been dating thus far. Nothing about this storyline has sat right so far, and this was no exception.
The Julie/English teacher storyline is also a cliche. Mrs. Bloom points out that if the teacher went to Columbia Journalism School and yet is teaching in Dillon, there may be a sexual harassment skeleton in his closet. His manner is pretty familiar with her, and Julie is clearly smitten, but it's hard to know if the show wants us to think something inappropriate is going on, or if he's just trying to be the cool teacher and Julie's getting the wrong idea. Still, not a particularly engaging storyline.
I'm not sure what the point of Tyra and Lyla doing Pantherama was. It seemed like they were building to some sort of "let's find common ground" story, but the whole thing just kind of petered out. It did lead to the football team's goofy striptease, which was worth it comedically for the reaction shots alone. In the same vein, the whole love triangle between Tim, Billy, and the neighbor lady continues to be all kinds of contrived, and Tim couch surfing with Tyra didn't do anything to spice it up. At least we got an episode free of Jason Street!
Overall, those two big stories did a lot to bring up the quality of the episode, but everything else was hit-or-miss at best.