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Delayed Liveblogging of the Friday Night Lights Abortion Episode

July 12, 2010

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.”
  • [ad on Hulu on HIV awareness for Asians/Pacific Islanders]

  • 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.
  • [There is another storyline here in which Some Kid’s Mom overdoses and is in the hospital]

  • 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?
  • [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]

  • 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.

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.]

13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2010 8:27 pm

    I think it’s ironic that what you transcribe as “[unintelligible word]” is “literature”. Heh.

    • July 12, 2010 8:29 pm

      For whatever reason, I just could *not* understand what she was saying, even though I rewatched that bit 3 times. I finally just turned the captioning on!

  2. Freaky Weasel permalink
    July 12, 2010 10:22 pm

    Ray, she mumbled the literature line deliberately. The character wanted to assist the girl (not her student) but (I think) found the topic distasteful.

    And, please remember, books/movies/TV shows about sports are never about sports.

    • July 12, 2010 10:44 pm

      Well, that might explain it! I kept rewinding (is that a word anymore?) and going, “wait, what?” It didn’t occur to me that it was deliberate!

      I was definitely surprised by the degree to which I enjoyed the show (including the other story lines).

  3. July 13, 2010 7:19 am

    Yeah, a lot of the subtext was that Coach’s Wife is against the abortion option but was doing her best to be fair. I think the mumble was the actress’s way of showing that.

    From what I can tell there’s going to be quite a lot of fall out for the Coach’s Wife in the next episode. Prospective Daddy’s mother is going to be out for blood so there should be some interesting political commentary in that confrontation. Especially since Coach’s Wife is getting into trouble for something she didn’t want to do in the first place.

    There’s really not that much football in this show about football. It’s mostly about the periphery and how football effects the characters. My wife hates football and I’m apathetic at best, but we both enjoy the show.

    • July 14, 2010 8:25 am

      Here’s another comment about how Coach’s Wife didn’t want to recommend abortion, but it may be the case that she was indeed very much in favor of it, though covering her bases legally as a third-party advisor.

      One example is that she mentioned adoption at first, but once Becky said the word “abortion”, Coach’s Wife never tried to talk about anything else again, even when Becky said that what she really wanted was to raise the baby, except for not being able to financially.

      An abolitionist blogger has hashed this point out in pretty reasonable terms:

    • July 14, 2010 8:43 am

      Thanks for your comments. Watching it as someone who is completely unfamiliar with the character, I didn’t assume the Coach’s Wife was necessarily *against* abortion, so much as she might have been uncomfortable talking about it. The mumbling makes a lot more sense in that context than my initial assumption that something was wrong my own hearing. 😉

    • July 15, 2010 7:38 am

      Interpret it how you like J. It’s pretty obvious that she didn’t want to talk to much about it whether for personal or professional reasons. I choose to think there were some personal motives involved because of how she was worrying about her own daughter from that point on. Maybe the next episode or two will clear it up a little.

    • July 15, 2010 8:09 am

      W, my reply above is to you, by the way – the threading doesn’t make that clear.

  4. July 14, 2010 3:18 pm

    Whatever discomfort Tami (“Coach’s Wife”) may feel in talking about abortion* probably comes from her being a high school principal and very vulnerable (as the previews made clear) to religiously-based push-back. The stuff she told Becky that she would tell her daughter in such a situation is, regular watchers know, just what she would tell her daughter. Tami has been shown having The Sex Talk with Julie (the daughter) in a previous season, and was as cool in action as she is in this episode in theory. She’s presented as Christian, rational, intelligent, and pro-choice. And as a partner in the most believable good marriage on TV. I love this show and always have,** but even I and a lot of the most faithful fans had trouble believing, when they showed the previous episode, that it wouldn’t cop out about abortion when it came down to it. Because, ya know, no one since Maude….

    *I had no trouble understanding what she was saying.

    **It’s the best drama on network TV, IMO. Rachel, you might want to track down some DVDs of previous seasons. I think you’d enjoy it. I mean, no one hate football and feels out of place in small towns more than I do, and I haven’t missed an episode.

    • July 14, 2010 5:01 pm

      I may do that, nm. My OBOS coblogger Christine apparently really likes it, too! Thanks for sharing more about the show/context of the character.

  5. July 22, 2010 10:04 am

    I missed this one, thanks for bringing me up to date. Footballers, pregnancy and abortions – good viewing material no doubt.

  6. Joeyjojo permalink
    January 11, 2011 7:05 pm

    ”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.]”

    I think you should get off the soap box. Please don’t start to play the game of semantics and terminology it doesn’t get anywhere. I don’t know what tony life political views are. Maybe he is pro life. Maybe he is pro choice. It doesn’t really matter. What he pointed out about what makes this episode great was that it wasn’t about if abortion is murder or a woman’s choice. Just why a normal girl like Becky would have one.

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