Friday Night Lights- Lyla Garrity

When I started writing about Friday Night Lights, I knew at some point I’d have to say something about Lyla Garrity- she’s one of the most prominent female characters in the show. I kept putting it off, because I didn’t like her much. And not in the ‘you’re not supposed to like her’ way like Tyra’s mother Angela, but the ‘either make her shut up or go away’ way. I started to like her a little by the end of the season, but it wasn’t until recently that I figured out why I disliked her for so long.

At the beginning of the season, Lyla wasn’t an active character, she was a reactive one. And what she was reacting to, almost without exception, were the men in her life. (It’s a compliment to FNL that it took me so long to realize that, because it’s such an anomaly.) Lyla was the rich girl cheerleader, her main defining traits being Buddy Garrity’s little princess and star quarterback Jason Street’s girlfriend. Despite having good grades and parents who can afford to send her almost anywhere, she hasn’t picked a college she wants to go to because she always assumed that she’d go wherever Jason went. Weeks after Jason became paralyzed in the first episode, they have a fight and she winds up cheating on him with his best friend and eventually being ostracized and slut-shamed by the whole school after word gets out. (“It’s Different For Girls”, an episode that will be getting its own post later today.) There’s not much she can do about it except wait for the next gossip scandal to make her old news.

The end of that episode though, displays the first time I genuinely liked her: when she finally decides that no one else’s opinion of her is as important as her own, and shows up at the cheerleading competition that everyone expected her to be too humiliated to attend.

As an example of how far she progressed, I’m going to include a snippet of something I wrote back at the beginning of January, before I became a fan of Lyla:

Lyla went into denial- while everyone was saying that Jason would never walk again and was in fact lucky that the surgeons had managed to give him use of his arms, Lyla was flitting around talking about miracle cures and ignoring the reality of what was right in front of her face. It was too painful to look at, so she simply didn’t. It’s an understandable reaction, if not particularly healthy or productive.

It includes the problems I had with her initially- that for a long time her character was orbiting the men around her, but sets the stage for growth and a different interpretation after we’ve gotten to know the characters better. Yes, she was annoyingly perky about it, but Lyla is one of the few people who still sees Jason as Jason, not Jason-in-a-wheelchair. When he’s depressed and acting as though he has no control over what’s going on around him, wallowing in his misery, Lyla is one of the few people who won’t let him coast. She still expects things from him, something which most of the people around him are too busy being sad and sympathetic to do. By the end of the season, she’s become an agent of change; Jason winds up getting back out there and becoming an assistant coach of the football team, she and Tyra reach a détente over their longstanding grudges, she rejects her father’s attempts to buy her loyalty after her parents’ marriage falls apart due to his infidelity, and becomes a force in her own right. It’s not often that my least favorite character in an ensemble show winds up cracking my top 5, but she’s getting there. It’s official: this show won’t let me hate anybody.


  1. says

    That I was able to sympathize with Lyla from very nearly the beginning of the series–and believe me, I normally don’t relate at all to the pretty, perfect princess high school type–says a hell of a lot about the show’s strength. I thought the show did a really good job not making her just someone who has always expected things to go a certain way for her, but that she believed that she was going to live ‘the American dream’ with Jason because that’s what everyone has always told her she should want/deserved/could get. Her whole worldview is shattered when he gets injured, which makes her denial natural–I loved the early scenes where she would walk out of his hospital room having turned on the cheer for Jason because it’s the way she thought she was supposed to be, then breaks down when she’s alone.

    I think Lyla didn’t have an identity beyond her role in relation to men early on because no one had ever let her, she had never made the connection to the problems with the way things were. Her growth through the season is all about becoming willing to just be honest and flawed, and not have to constantly model expectations.

  2. MaggieCat says

    I thought the show did a really good job not making her just someone who has always expected things to go a certain way for her, but that she believed that she was going to live ‘the American dream’ with Jason because that’s what everyone has always told her she should want/deserved/could get.

    Yeah, but I have to admit that the fact that she believed that was how things were going to work out just because that’s what people were telling her is actually more likely to make me dislike her. It shows a lack of awareness of how the world works, and a lack of initiative to find out. After she finally found some of that initiative, I started to like her. Of course that doesn’t mean I have to like early Lyla (and it’s a good thing, because I still don’t).

    I thought perhaps part of the reason I disliked her was because of the cheerleader princess angle, but that didn’t stop me from liking Buffy right off the bat, or Claire Bennet, or even Lana Lang back at the very beginning. Why? Because they were showing some sort of interest in a world outside of their fathers or boyfriends. While Lyla’s beginnings show character growth eventually, it doesn’t until she’s gotten to somewhere else.

    It also occurs to me that on any other show, I probably wouldn’t have noticed her other than to be occasionally annoyed with her. But putting Lyla alongside women like Tami and Tyra and Corinna Williams didn’t lead me to sympathize with her- it made me want to see her get smacked with a healthy dose of reality. Luckily for me, the writers came through. :-)

  3. says

    Oh, I certainly would have disliked many things about Lyla as a *person*, but I never could dislike her as a *character*, possibly because I was, in fact, trusting the writers to come through (I had the advantage of getting into the show late, on the strength of your recommendations, which may have helped that).

    The reason I think I can’t hate anybody on that show is because nobody is a straw man or a caricature, and everyone is real, with complex human motivations. You’re right–Lyla showed a lack of interest in how the world works, but she was also written (and acted) as someone with deep emotions of her own, whether she recognized them or not, rather than as cardboard, which made me empathize with her, even if I would never relate to her. I actually felt really sorry for Lyla, because other people had made her that sheltered (and she was only 17, so the lack of initiative and knowledge is pretty understandable), and she had to come to terms with painful reality rather suddenly and dramatically.

  4. MaggieCat says

    I actually felt a little sorry for her too. (See, I’m not just negative! I can feel bad for someone while disliking them. Wait, I think that came out wrong.) And I don’t think she’s an unrealistic character. But that doesn’t mean I liked her or wasn’t hoping she’d go away. I do that with real people sometimes too. 😉

    So I suspect that there were several factors that led to me disliking her originally- I didn’t start with the pilot (started watching after hearing someone rave about it, but was still suspicious it was just a halfway decent teen show) and the second episode was not a good one for her; it hit all of my probably-well-meaning-but-so-damn-clueless-and-annoying-friend-of-the-patient buttons. Now I’d probably sit back and just trust the writers, or maybe she’d still rankle. I don’t know, I’m just glad she’s showing some growth now.

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