I didn’t grow up in a small town, but I suspect that the fictional Dillon, Texas, embodies much of what it’s like to live in a small town — both good and bad. And it’s fitting that Friday’s episode was titled "How Did I Get Here," since the series looked like it might have veered off the road a bit from its season-one perfection.

That’s mostly due to the out-of-left-field turn that had Tyra and Landry whacking her stalker (yikes) then dumping the body (huh?) and Landry lying to his father, a local sheriff (double yikes) — elements that felt more like, well, regular TV than the dead-on realistic characterizations that have defined the show.

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Yes, the Tyra-Landry-Dad plotline continues to take some befuddling turns (Sheriff Dad is now helping his son cover up evidence? I hope that’s not common in any jursidiction, regardless of the heartfelt motivation.), but credit Jesse Plemmons (pictured at right) and Glenn Morshower for bringing nothing but real emotion and richness to a relationship that in most TV shows would be rendered as sullen son vs. authoritarian father.

Apart from that ongoing plot uncertainty, however, the rest of the episode was absolutely pitch-perfect, with all the major characters questioning their past choices and where that leaves them on the Dillon map.

Jason, Lyla and Riggins driving back home after their Mexico trip, still friends despite the gaps in goals and beliefs that divide them, is everything you hope smalltown bonds might be. On the flip side, Jason’s uneasy reacclimation to a place that still views him alternately through his past glory and his current wheelchair-bound state touches on the yearning that anyone from a small town must at some point feel to define themselves beyond the boundaries in which they live.

Better still for the "FNL" world view, the introduction of two new characters — Tami’s sister Shelly and girls’ soccer coach Bobbie — brought a sharp and funny dose of outside perspective to the paths chosen by the coach and his wife.

The utterly single Shelly is an instant reminder of all the things Tami’s given up in her current life, including even the simple option of stepping out to see a Dixie Chicks concert. Bobbie’s in-your-face introduction to Coach Taylor (in his new role as Dillon H.S. athletic director) was a great bit of humbling perspective on the consequences of his choice to leave Dillon and then hastily return … at half of his former pay.

This is a show that lives and breathes in the small moments between its characters. On most shows, it’d be tempting to overwrite the dialogue to hammer home themes and story points. Fortunately, "FNL’s" producers and writerrs continue to put complete faith in the show’s stellar ensemble to find their own beats.

This episode finds the show firmly back on course, and the final scene — with Jason, Matt, Riggins, Smash and new prospect Santiago working out their conflicts and future relationships on the field while Coach Taylor lobs in a few words of wisdom and a jumbo jet takes off in the distance) — was as good as TV gets.

– Brian Cochrane

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