Oh good! FNL is tackling issues of racism again! That went so well last time!
As I said the last time we went around this particular bend, there's an endlessly interesting story to be told about how race factory into the everyday interactions, big and small, in small town Texas, but Friday Night Lights is not nearly a subtle enough show to tell it. Everything is so painfully blunt here. Noelle's parents and Corinna just announce at the dinner table that they don't like the two of them dating. The guys on the football team do a "jungle fever" song and dance. The jerks at the movie theater make racially-charged comments at Brian's sister and leave the lot of them storming out of the theater after a physical confrontation.
Could any of these things happen in real life? Sure, but in such a loud and obvious manner, and all of them in such quick succession? Doubtful. There's a certain amount of artifice in TV and storytelling in general that one must simply accept as necessary for moving narratives along. But good storytellers hide the lumpier parts of their tales and perform that wonderful magic trick where you don't realize how convenient certain elements are. Instead, this is one big after school special about how both the older generation and the younger generation just don't understand or approve of interracial dating. Again, that's a meaty premise, but a weak execution of it.
Oddly enough, the best character and story on this front is Buddy. The story of Santiago being dragged back into his old life by an old, bad influence running buddy (who's freaking Weevil from Veronica Mars!), and then showing how far he's come by desperately trying to keep his friends from trashing Buddy's apartment and fighting Weevil to get Buddy's watch back, is an even bigger cliche that has even more in the way of narrative convenience. Santiago's not the best actor on the show, and while Weevil is great, he doesn't get much to do here, rendering most of the story a big exercise in the rote.
But the most adorable part of it is Buddy struggling to be progressive about the whole thing. There's no big breakthrough or anything (though the episode tries to manufacture one after Santiago brings back the watch), but there's something unassumingly cute about Buddy's Tevye-like manner of trying to explain to the old boys club why he and they shouldn't judge people based on what's on the outside. And his vacilating between whether to leave his prized possessions out during Santiago's party, noting that it's Santiago's home too and eventually deciding to put it all back out is a nice moment. I don't know why, but there's something I always find endearing about the Hank Hills of the world taking their first, baby deer-like steps toward kindness and tolerance. I have to admit I've been skeptical of the Buddy-Santiago storylines, and it's still only paid minor dividends, but the way it's deepened and evolved Buddy a bit has been a highlight of this season.
Speaking of people talking to old boys and breaking out of old prejudices, the absolute highlight of the episode was Coach Taylor initially feeling like Tami should stay home with the baby, then realizing how dumb that sounds when Mac says it (the line "sometimes the truth is stupid and ignorant" cracked me up), and telling Tami that their separation anxiety is normal and that she should, under no circumstances, quit her job, given how good she is at it and how much those kids need her. Again, as with Buddy, there's something incredibly heartening about seeing members of the old guard lean toward their biases but find the good path in the end. Tami's moments of fretting about whether to put Grace in daycare were very amusing, and it gave us yet another great Tami-Coach moment in a show that isn't short on them.
Unfortunately, not every moment between a couple can be that good. The whole thing with Matt and Carlotta has been so rushed and contrived from the getgo that it's hard to care about Carlotta leaving here. Again, devotion to family is an older idea that Matt has to come to terms with, and I appreciate how it fits into the theme of the episode, but I'm just not invested enough in the bit with Carlotta for it to mean anything. The same goes for the Lyla/Riggins/radio guy story. There's something to be said for Riggins pushing past his own prejudices against religion and seeing how Lyla is helping people. But man, shoehorning him into another failed love triangle and giving up more mopey, brooding Riggins is not a recipe for success.
Overall, a pretty saggy episode in a pretty saggy part of the season.