Teary Eyes, Full Hearts: Inside Matt Saracen of Friday Night Lights

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Football, Television

Although my last post was about Friday Night Lights and even highlighted a few of the Matt Saracen moments, there is something about the Saracen episodes that invokes a strong reaction. Zach Gilford took a character that never imagined being in the spotlight, was forced into a tough situation and then deals with the circumstances of a broken family. There are truly a number of amazing moments for the unlikely star. The scared look on Matt’s face during his first several games was phenomenal. While his relationships were vital to the intrigue of his character, his battle with himself was even more engaging.

In season 1, he fought with not feeling good enough to be the star. What ended up happening…he leads the team to winning the state championship. Season 2 became a battle with his feelings of abandonment, including his father, his girlfriend and his coach. While he was poised for recovery for season 3, the introduction of JD McCoy stole away the spotlight and forced him to rethink his future. Season 4 became his opportunity to sort out his future and find his source of inspiration. In the final season, he makes a few appearances but actually seems to have settled into a comfortable existence.

  

 

Returning to season 2, the season finale was heartbreaking for so many reasons. Smash Williams had been struggling through a rough season that ended with his suspension from the game and revoking of his scholarship to TMU. Coach Taylor attempted to go coach in college but was drawn back to the struggling Dillon Panthers. For Matt, he went from championship to a feeling of being lost all season. He gets into fights with Smash, forces Coach Taylor to bench him upon his return, breaks up with Julie and quickly loses his next girlfriend. This leads him to start skipping school and drinking with Tim. When his grandmother has an accident during the episode “Leave No One Behind,” Matt gets a ride to the hospital to care for her. Coach Taylor shows up to take the two of them home, leading to Matt’s negative feelings stirring fueled by alcohol. After getting Mrs. Saracen back to her bedroom, Eric drags Matt into the bathroom, throws him into the bathtub and turns on the shower. The interaction is a rather emotional one because Matt finally lets out all of the anger and frustration over feeling like his existence is one filled with abandonment. In the slightest of ways, Eric simply tells him that he truly does matter.

After his football career was over, season 4 ended up being his experience of delaying the start of the rest of his life. He chose to stay in Dillon and deliver pizzas. While he was studying art, he was not really going anywhere. At the end of “A Sort of Homecoming,” Matt learns that his father stepped on an IED and was killed in action. “The Son” became truly one of the best episodes of the series and truly one of the best dramatic performances in years. Matt goes through the 5 stages of grief throughout the episode. At the start, he is sitting in his room watching a video on his computer of a Christmas message from his father. In an attempt to get him to take his mind off of the situation, Landry and Julie drag him into a movie night. The next day, there is a gathering at his home to show respect and support through the difficult time. An Army recruiter comes over to talk about his father but knows nearly nothing about him. Matt gets angry as he cannot think of a single moment his father smiled in his life. This is followed up by the McCoys coming by to show their respect and Matt slamming the door in their faces. Shifting into a stage of bargaining, Matt struggles during the meeting about the casket as he desperately wants to see his father’s body. Still fueled with a little anger, he spends time with his friends while drinking on the football field and yells about his father’s failure to be around, leading him to go back to the funeral home to see his father’s remains. Distraught by the sight of the body, Matt finally arrives at the Taylor house and apologizes for being late. While he has a moment about the food, he stands up and delivers a heart-wrenching moment where he finally breaks down. Running out of the house, Eric follows him and helps to walk him home. He gets to his moment of acceptance when it is time to give the speech at the funeral. Talking about a moment as a child with his family in the grocery store, he speaks of the honor of service and giving everyone else a chance to celebrate their birthdays.

  

 

Besides the progression through the stages, the individual moments of the episode are truly amazing pieces of drama. Matt was never a violent person, but he has a moment of frustration with both the recruiter and the McCoys. Landry reigns him in for the moment, but there is clearly a bigger explosion on the way. Fast forwarding to the football field, he continues to open up as he yells about how miserable his father was, including how he felt like a burden to him. The trip to the funeral home starts the series of powerful moments. When the funeral director opens the casket, the look in his eyes and his quick exit from the building foreshadows his upcoming breakdown. When Tim has a moment with Becky, he states, “I saw something that, uh…rather someone see something that…you ever just feel completely useless.” When he arrives at the Dillon house, the struggles he has with the food only serves to crash through his defenses. He confesses his hatred for his father and loses it in front of the Taylor family. In the middle of the street, the pain that he feels at various times of the series is magnified a thousand times. While he turns it around during the eulogy, he feels compelled to shovel the dirt into the grave. While very easy to miss, the last images of the episode include Matt angrily piling the dirt onto the casket and the handle bloodied from turning his skin raw.

Neither of these moments have a thing to do with football but highlight why this series was so great.

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