Friends, the end is here. The series finale of Friday Night Lights has aired, and it's time for us to bid our final fond farewell.
But first, a spoiler warning: What follows are reflections from the executive producers and cast about the events and outcomes of the fifth season. If you have not been watching on DirecTV, or are waiting for the NBC premiere, know that certain plotlines are discussed in some detail below.
Part 1: Friday Night Lights comes to an end: Producers and cast remember building Dillon
TVGuide.com spoke to stars Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor), Connie Britton (Tami Taylor), Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty), Michael B. Jordan (Vince Howard), and executive producers Jason Katims and David Nevins about the long road to that final Texas sunset.
Not many in the cast have brought themselves to watch this season yet, though they wrapped last summer.
Britton: I haven't seen much of the season. Because it's our final season, I've been very resistant to watch it. Every time I think I'll sit down to do it, I think, "Nope, too sad. Too soon."
Gilford: To be honest, I'm a real fan of the show. I didn't even read the scripts of the episodes I wasn't in for this last season because I was excited to watch it as a viewer. I can't wait to get the DVDs.
Jordan: I don't know how it turns out. We do every scene five ways, every time, and we shoot a lot of footage that doesn't make it into the episodes, so I'm really anxious to see how everything turns out. I hope it turned out as good as we felt while we were making it. But then, it never felt like work being on the show; it was always fun.
Chandler asked to direct an episode at the start of the season. He stepped behind the camera for the series' penultimate hour, "Texas Whatever," which featured the return of Tyra among other original cast members.
Chandler: I was nervous. It's like the show was going so good, I didn't want to be the one to screw it up. But we're a tight-knit group, so it was really a fun and relaxed creative atmosphere. Directing on this show is great because everyone is eager to create something that is fresh and new... to try and find that unexpected thing that pops up... That stuff is what makes the scenes you remember.
It was the perfect episode to do too, because after five years it's the one where everyone sort of comes back... some of them say good-bye, wrap up stories. So I got to work with everyone a bit, and we had time to really say good-bye to each other. It worked out really well.
Because producers knew in advance that the fifth season would be the show's last, Katims and his team had time to craft the ending they wanted — and the ending they hoped their loyal fans would love. Every character gets their due.
Nevins: I felt total satisfaction. The thing to do these days is to end your show like, "Hey man, it's just life. Life goes on," and there's no attempt at closure... I think that's a little bit of a cop-out. What Jason did was take these characters and their stories to a logical conclusion. He wraps up every character in a way that didn't seem forced or fake. I really appreciate that he didn't do the "There's no beginning and there's no end, it just goes on" thing.
Teegarden: Well, Julie's been slapped twice this season, so... [Laughs]. Once by her mom and once by some crazy lady who's not even in love with her husband, so it's all fair game anyway... yes, I really said that. No, Julie's come a long way. She started as this whiny teen with raging hormones, at times horrible to her parents, but I think a lot of the fans are going to be really happy with the series finale and where she ends up. You get a sense of where she's heading — well, obviously in one big way — but it's not the end for her...
Lauria: I think they handled it sensitively, bringing back everyone's favorite cast members for parts in significant ways. Somehow, Jason and the whole crew managed to pull it off without making it a big cheesy Hollywood ending.
Kitsch: I'm happy with five seasons — that's more than most, you know? And I think the series ends the way it should. Me, looking at the sunset, as it were.
Katims: We don't have the largest fan base in the world, but we do have the most passionate one, and we wanted to give them the best ending we could, one that would live up to everything that came before it.
Perhaps the most surprising ending is that of Luke Cafferty. He's last seen boarding a bus in Army fatigues.
Lauria: That surprised me too. Like, "What? Doesn't anyone remember how awesome Luke was in the beginning of Season 4? What happened? But then I thought, "That's real. That's life." What's a kid in Luke's shoes going to do? Stay at home with his folks and do all the farm sh--? No. Becky's not about to sit down and be a wife, football ain't working out, what else is he going to do? I think it's just really logical, and I think it's his best opportunity, that he could go far with that. I think he's going to be a lifer.
The one guy who doesn't really get much of a send-off is... J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter). In fact, one of the last things we see him do is tell Saracen: "This is my Dillon now!" Aside from a few scenes in which the Panthers are tormenting Luke, we never really hear from him again.
Katims: I think he and his dad went back to Dallas. I think they could never really conquer Dillon the way they thought they were going to. So that's where J.D. is [Laughs].
The season builds to a real boiling point for the Taylors. Eric and Tami come up against a very difficult, trying decision. Both of them are offered bigger, better jobs — in different places. Resolution comes very late in the game.
Katims: We felt very strongly that we wanted there to be a compelling story for them that would be front and center leading up to the end... Again, I've always felt that they're the heart of the show... The strength of what they have between each other, it allowed the writers to throw anything at them, and that is kind of what we did. We challenged that relationship in a way that it hasn't been challenged before.
Britton: Their conflict was very... provocative for me. That's a real issue for people, and it was just such a cool thing for Kyle and I to play after all these years. I have to say Kyle did a really courageous job with it because he was playing such an a--hole and Tami's gotta be like, "Dude, what is your problem?" Tami was rocking his world. Also, those were the last episodes ever of our show, so a lot of those raw emotions were at a peak. We were already on edge. I think that contributed to some great stuff.
Chandler: Tami had given Eric so much and in the long run, from my perspective, I think Eric is going to be a better, stronger person in having done and started a new life outside of Dillon.
You can only push your loved ones so far. At some point he said to himself, "I love this woman. I know she's right. That's why I'm married to her. So I must stick by her and give her her dream while I try and make mine over again." I think this probably happens quite often with couples and I just think we ended it the right way.
Britton: The last thing we shot was the scene in the restaurant with Julie and Matt, telling us their news... but the very last scene was outside of the restaurant where I'm bawling because our marriage is really being tested by this problem. Oh my God, I'm going to start crying just talking about it! So we're doing that, and all of a sudden, they're yelling, "That's a wrap," and everyone, the entire crew, just started bawling. The restaurant said we could stay and have a margarita or something, but I don't even think anyone did. It was an emotional time and nobody was dealing with it very well.
The person who has always seemed anchored to Dillon is Tim "Texas Forever" Riggins. Kitsch wasn't in every episode throughout the final season, but he was never out of mind — a deliberate choice, Katims says.
Kitsch: All I kept asking was for it to be real — and we knocked it on the head with that. Jail would change an 18-year-old kid with no purpose, with no sense of direction. I think as simple as that life is in Dillon, he often felt so f---ing out of place. I think that hurts a lot more than anything else he's dealt with.
But then he figures out what he wants, and the beauty of Riggs is that you can truly give him anything, put him anywhere, and he can deal. A trip to Mexico to help a friend? Let's go. New York? Let's do it.
Katims: What's really wonderful is that while Tim isn't around the whole time because he's in jail, he's always present in the show. He is Dillon. I particularly like what we wound up doing with his brother Billy and Billy's wife Mindy (Stacey Oristano). I love the surrogate family that happens with them and Becky (Madison Burge) — and that happens because of Tim. it's at once hysterically funny and very moving to watch them. There are certain characters and stories that reach me, that grab me in ways I didn't expect. For me, it's watching scenes in that house with the Rigginses.
Kitsch: There were things about Tim that really resonated with me and what I've been through in my own life. His father, or lack thereof, was huge. Tim's relationship with his Billy... man, that scene where Tim tells him that he's going to give himself up and take the fall. Huge. There was just an immense amount of trust between me and Derek Phillips [who plays Billy]. I've been through all the brother drama too, but maybe not as intensely as their fight outside The Landing Strip. You always come back around; that's just the way family works. No better way to go out than to be building a house with him.
In fact, the building of that house on Tim's land was the last scene ever shot.
Kitsch: There's so many ways we could have taken him at the end, but I love the simplicity of his "ending." That he's still out in Dillon somewhere. That you could drive through that fictional town and just run into that cat. It doesn't get more real than that. Pete flew in. We had a bunch of cast. We were all there, ending it all on Riggs' property. So it was quite full circle.
Britton: It was at sunset, and we all went out in that beautiful field, the writers, our producers, the crew... It was really a beautiful finale to everything. It felt very Texas, very much our show.
Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton: "Life in Dillon is going to change"
Gilford made sure they all had a good time on the way out and organized an all-night pub crawl. Still, some of his castmates can't let go.
Jordan: I mean, I'm ready to come back for a sixth season, have Vince graduate at least, right? No, for me to be able to sleep at night, I had to let it go. You can't hope and wish and dream for more, so I'm doing the best I can to put it to rest.
Kitsch: I've got the hair extremely short right now [Laughs]. Pete was sitting with me when I did it. It was comical, and probably a bit more dramatically short than it needed to be in the end. ...You come out of this show with a lot of — how would you say it? — respect from the industry. Everyone knows it's a great show, and I think Riggins has just tracked really well with people. It was a showcase that you really rarely get, a springboard that I'll never forget.
Gilford: The pub crawl was huge. We had T-shirts made. And, I mean, it was serious sh--. We had all the A.D.s make a schedule, we had a map and a route, we hit 10 bars, all 60 of us. It was amazingly perfect... I had to do it. Friday Night Lights gave me a career. It really did. I've learned so much. It's done everything for me.
So, FNL fans, how are you dealing with this loss? Please express your grief in the comments below.