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.