The Fictional Wonder Woman of My Week: Tami Taylor, aka. Mrs. Coach
Here’s the thing about great writing: we can actually learn from well-written characters.
Here’s the thing about being a mom: you rarely get to pick what’s on television.
That’s not a complaint. Just a fact. TV priority goes as follows: Kids (for a limited time per day, of course; I HAVE read the research, people!), Dad (once kids are in bed, of course), then Mom. And since I’d prefer to use my rare alone moments with a book,well, its sort of a losing battle to get invested in a TV show that really only I will watch.
Hence the reason I have just now finished the series finale of Friday Night Lights.
My apologies to those of you who watched the ending of this fabulous show in ‘real time.’ I wish I wasn’t so late to the party, but I can’t refrain from comment.
The last few minutes were textbook examples of a writer’s mantra: jump into a scene as far as you can and jump out as soon as possible. That is, show only as much as you need to show, and no more. Beautifully-shot, realistically-portrayed, they had me convinced that somewhere, all these characters existed and continued to live their ‘Texas Forever’ life.
But the thing that really stuck with me? Mrs. Coach.
How many of us haven’t been torn between the life we’d love to live and the man we’d love to live it with? Too often media offers only two extremes: be selfish and find fulfillment (ahem, Eat, Pray, Love), or be the good wife (as in um, The Good Wife) and be miserable.
Neither sounds good to me.
My apologies to those of you who loved either show I mentioned above. We’re big fans of The Good Wife and very supportive of Alicia’s recent decision to stand up to her selfish ex-husband. We also know there’s much to learn in Eat, Pray, Love. I just felt I couldn’t spend much time in the mindset of the narrator, or I’d be discontent with my life.
I don’t want to be discontent with my life.
I don’t want to live my ‘second best life,’ either.
But I especially don’t want to crush my own chance for fulfillment by giving up on the best thing – or person – to ever happen to me.
There has to be something between dominatrix and doormat, right?
Hence, Mrs. Coach.
Connie Britton (Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights) deserves every bit of that Emmy nomination. The last two episodes are some of her finest work on FNL. The palpable conflict between her career and her marriage compelled, provoked, and reassured me that my life was real and there’s a way to be happy in it.
For those of you who didn’t see it, let me give you a recap (spoiler alert, though, really, you’ve had eight weeks to discover the end, so I don’t feel too guilty if you continue to read):
Eric and Tami Taylor have spent the last eighteen years as high-school football coach – and coach’s wife. Looking for a calling of her own, Tami recently went back to work as a guidance counselor. A gifted mentor with a sharp mind, she is offered the position of Dean of Admissions at a school in Philadelphia. She is overjoyed, but her husband is not. “Texas is where we live,” he says. “It’s my turn,” she counters, referring to the several times the family has moved for his position.
Eric is unmoved. He refuses to say ‘congratulations.’ He refuses to even acknowledge her offer. He talks only of his own offer to stay and coach the ‘super team’ amalgam of the best players from both schools in small-town Dillon.
The conflict escalates when their eighteen-year-old daughter Julie announces her engagement to Matt, Eric’s former protege and young quarterback from Seasons 1-3. Eric and Tami protest that Matt and Julie are ‘too young’ to get married (though they were married at that age), and that marriage requires ‘sacrifice’ and ‘compromise.’ Tami excuses herself from the conversation, tearful. When Eric follows her, she asks him how they can tell their daughter about compromise when it seems to be only her doing it. He again stays silent.
But here comes Mrs. Coach’s shining moment. When she realizes that Eric won’t budge on this issue, she tells him she’s decided against the Philadelphia offer. When he asks why, she says, “I’m just not going to win this fight.”
There’s so much in that one line.
Tami makes it clear to her husband that she’s disappointed. She lets him know she thinks it’s time he sacrifice for her career. Even in her resignation, she shows that she’s not happy about the decision, but she’s also not willing to sacrifice her marriage for her job.
“I’m just not going to win this fight,” also says, “I’m not willing to give us up.”
This is why I love this show. This is real-life marriage.
And, its a happy marriage.
Can we be happy in a long-term relationship? So much of the world says no. Our divorce rates are sky-high. Our society pressures us to ‘be fulfilled’ above all. And though I know there are absolutely some situations that need to end in divorce, I want to believe there’s an option that makes both marital parties happy, fulfilled, and better for their sacrifice.
Back to Friday Night Lights.
The next morning, Eric sees the details of Tami’s offer as he discusses the details of his own. His eyes convey surprise and a hint of realization, and shortly after he tells her, “I turned (my) offer down. It’s your turn. Will you take me to Philadelphia please?”
Heart-warming, romantic, and real. Awesome.
Even more awesome? The camera’s zoom to Mrs. Coach’s wedding ring.
This is real-life, long-term, happy marriage: romance AND sacrifice.
Together they’re beautiful.
As G.K. Chesterton wrote: They have invented a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words – ‘free love’ – as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man (or woman) the compliment of taking him (or her) at his word.”
Ladies, even if they’d ended with the Taylors staying in Dillon, even if the conflict ended with Tami compromising and Eric not returning her sacrifice, I’d still have been satisfied. You know why? They wrote a leading woman with strength and heart. They wrote a leading lady worth following.
Thanks, Friday Night Lights. We’ll miss you.