Delayed Liveblogging of the Friday Night Lights Abortion Episode
As someone who grew up in the rural south very near the University of Tennessee’s cult of Big Orange football, the idea of spending time watching a tv show centered around small town football is normally about as appealing to me as beating my head against a wall. I seriously would rather take a two-hour math test than pretend to give a crap about a high school football game. Been there, moved away from that.
As such, I’ve never seen a single episode of Friday Night Lights.
However, there has been plenty of hoopla about an “abortion episode” of the show (see RHRC and Feminsting, for example). I kind of had to watch it, given how – despite the estimated 1/3 of U.S. women who will have abortions in their lifetimes – the issue is usually not presented at all or swept under the rug with a convenient miscarriage or some other such avoidance strategy.
I want to be clear that without having watched the show, there may be some context or back story that is relevant that I’m missing. I definitely do not know character names, so they may be described by their role/relationships below. Without further ado, my thoughts as I watch it (via Hulu, MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS, I guess):
- Scenes from the last: there’s a teen girl, she’s pregnant, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do and is “so scared.”
- Hey, it’s a tiny church! And they are so proud of a kid named Luke! I’m guessing Luke is going to turn out to be the biological dad of our terrifying fetus.
- Football, football, buzz, buzz….
- Boy: “How you doin’?” Girl: “Well, I woke up this morning and I’m still pregnant, so..had better days.”
- Boy insists Girl needs to talk to her mom, because “she’ll understand.”
- Boy (Tim, who is not the dad) forces Girl’s (Becky) hand and brings it to Some Woman who is not her mom. I like that Some Woman starts out assessing the situation by asking Becky if she anticipates physical harm if she tells her mom. She also asks whether the guy knows, and encourages her to tell her mom as soon as possible.
- Some Woman brings up free medical care available during pregnancy and an adoption agency; Becky asks what happens if she doesn’t *want* to have the baby. Some woman says “I can direct you to a [unintelligible word] for that.” I seriously have no idea what she says there. It sounds like “Little Richard.” Ah, closed captioning says it’s “literature.”
- More football. Cut to Becky and Another Some Woman at a table, eating food. Another Some Woman is kind of annoying, even in <5 seconds. I'm gonna guess that's Becky's mom. Becky blurts out, "I'm pregnant." Denial ensues. Then outrage.
- Okay, first Some Woman seems to be the wife of Football Coach Guy. Some Woman tells Football Coach Guy that Becky and this guy turned up to talk about being pregnant. SW an FCG seem to have a daughter about the same age as pregnant Becky. I guess this is going to turn into some kind of family talk at some point.
- Hey! Luke, recognized at Small Church, is in fact the sperm contributor to Becky’s fetus. Becky is at school and seriously annoyed with Luke, wanting to make sure he hasn’t told anyone, and not really wanting to talk about it at all.
- Hey! We’re at an abortion clinic, working through legally required counseling about probable gestational age of the fetus. Mom cuts off the doc, saying he doesn’t have to go through it all, because she’s “not having a baby, she’s having an abortion.” Doc explains that everything he’s saying is state-mandated. He says that after he finishes telling her, she can decide what she wants to do. Becky’s Mom says she’s already decided what she wants to do. They leave with Becky’s Mom complaining to Becky about having to take another day off of work so some doctor can tell them they’re trash. Becky yells that she’s sorry, but her mom tells her she does not have to be sorry.
- Now the football parents are talking about what their daughter would do in case of a “hypothetical pregnancy.” Can I count this for my “family talk” prediction?
- Luke tells his dad. His dad tells his mom, who makes a biblical Mary and Joseph analogy, which Luke rejects. Luke’s mom says they need to meet Becky, and then “we’ll figure out what to do.” It’s kind of gross for some reason I can’t quite articulate. (except maybe it’s that none of them are the one who’s pregnant!)
- Becky turns up at the home of the football coach’s wife (Some Woman) and lets her know that she’s having an abortion and her mom knows. Becky asks why she feels so weird, and is told it’s because “it’s a hard thing, this is a hard situation.”
- Becky explains that she’s in the 10th grade, has no money, and doesn’t want to throw her life away. She expresses, though, that it’s really obvious that her mom wants her to have an abortion. She feels that she was her mom’s mistake, and maybe she could take care of a baby, but it would be awful if she spent the rest of her life resenting the baby (must be a bit about how she thinks her mom thinks of her here).
- Becky asks if the Football Coach’s Wife (sorry, I still haven’t caught her name) thinks she’s going to hell if she has an abortion, and the Football Coach’s Wife tells her, “No, honey, I don’t.”
- They (Becky and the Coach’s Wife) have a conversation about what the Woman (Coach’s Wife) would tell her daughter, and she tells her she knows she’s in a real tough spot, to think about her life and what she wanted, and that she’d support whatever her decision was. Damn, isn’t that what everybody wishes they had a mom around for?
- Becky goes off to the clinic with her mom. We don’t ever actually see any scenes at the clinic, except for the mandatory counseling/waiting period scene earlier.
- Luke calls Becky to tell her she’s not alone, at which point she tells him she “took care of it.” She tells him it was the right thing to do, and cries a bit as she gets off the phone.
[ad on Hulu on HIV awareness for Asians/Pacific Islanders]
[There is another storyline here in which Some Kid’s Mom overdoses and is in the hospital]
[based on the preview, it looks like Coach’s Wife is going to have some work trouble based on accusations from Luke’s mom that she referred Becky to an abortion clinic]
Overall, I thought this was a surprisingly realistic take on the topic of abortion. The manner in which Becky worked through the decision seemed fairly realistic. There was no convenient cop-out, and the show depicted trusted adults as being available for listening without forcing a particular choice on the pregnant teen. It’s exceedingly unusual to see a depiction of a character choosing abortion on television, despite their actual frequency. Kudos to Friday Night Lights (and NBC) for actually discussing the issue and doing so in a realistic way. The Atlantic also has a nice article on this episode, explaining:
That said, Becky’s ultimate decision to have an abortion on Friday Night Lights this week—and carrying it out—wasn’t the most surprising thing for me in this week’s episode. It was the nuanced, apolitical manner in which the writers depicted the reality of a teenage girl facing and dealing with the choices and consequences that surround an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy that impressed me. The episode was devoid of political posturing or grandstanding. It didn’t insult its viewers. It was classic “show-not-tell” at its best…the writers managed to allow us to see a young woman struggle with her ultimate decision to terminate her pre-born child.
[Although, really? “Pre-born child” twice in two paragraphs? [see the full text] ‘Tis a fetus, Tony Lee. Unless you want to refer to all the rest of us as post-born, pre-dead humans. In which case, I’ll withdraw my judgment that you are not so nuanced or apolitical yourself.]