Season 2, Episode 11: ‘Midnight Train to Royston’
And when you least expect it, “Ted Lasso” has something to say about … soccer.
Look, obviously it’s not a true sports show, nor should it try to become one. But the first season paid significant attention to the trials and tribulations of AFC Richmond, the wins and the losses, the looming threat of relegation out of the Premier League and into a less competitive one.
The explicit goal at the end of last season (both the AFC Richmond season and the “Ted Lasso” season) was for the team to play well enough to get promoted back into the Premier League. But, unless I’m mistaken, it took until this episode — the penultimate of the season! — to inform us how close Richmond is to accomplishing what had been promoted as the primary quest of the season.
And who could have imagined: It all comes down to the final game! If they win, they’re promoted; if they lose, they remain in the inferior league. This is, of course a minuscule variation on the end of Season 1, in which they had to win the last game in order to avoid relegation. (Obviously, they didn’t.) It would all be terrifically exciting if not for the fact that the show forgets about the team’s win/loss fortunes altogether for long stretches.
The latest victory comes at the hands of the fan favorite Sam, who scores a “hat trick”— three goals in a single game. Now I do not pretend to know much about soccer. But isn’t Sam a right back defender? Aren’t the odds against a player in that position scoring three goals astronomical? Especially when we are told time and time again that the team’s best players — and scorers — are its strikers, Jamie and Dani? Again, “Ted Lasso” is not really a sports show. But sometimes it seems to treat the sport it revolves around with extraordinary negligence.
This week’s episode was not as eventful as last week’s bravura outing. But breaking the recap down by story lines seemed to work pretty well, so I’m going to do the same here.
Ted and Sharon
Is that really it? We were told that Sharon needed to leave the team a day early because of some crisis. But at least for the moment it appears that it may just be that she doesn’t like to say goodbye in person?
I have a few qualms. Had we ever been informed before this episode that Sharon’s tenure was about to be over? Doesn’t she have — let’s say conservatively — a ton of work still to do with Ted? Their breakthrough talk about his father’s suicide was tremendous, but I don’t think one conversation, however productive, is going to fix him.
And what about the strong hints that Sharon is going through something, too? The comments from her therapist on the phone? The collection of wine and liquor bottles that Ted saw on her counter when he escorted her home from the hospital? Perhaps all of this was in the letter to Ted. But if so, read the letter aloud!
Now perhaps this will all be resolved next episode: Sharon will wind up not leaving, or will come back, or something along those lines. But to have Sharon sneak out the door while in the middle of her most important work with Ted, for reasons that are never expressed aloud? Very disappointing.
That said, having Ted send her a final beer (with an army man in it!) along with a goodbye note was a pretty clever turnaround. But I certainly hope it’s not the end of their story. And I’m guessing it’s not.
Roy and Keeley
Keeley’s irritation with Roy’s teasing about the corpse-tree last week was one thing. Jamie’s declaration of love after the funeral was another. But both could perhaps be written off as bumps in the road. This week, it’s becoming clear that the whole road may need repaving.
Roy’s scene with Phoebe’s teacher seemed more than a bit flirty, culminating with his curt answer when she asked if he was married: “no.” (Phoebe’s boob drawings were a riot though, recalling the early phallic obsessions of Jonah Hill’s character in “Superbad.” And no, I’m not going to link to the scene. This is a family newspaper.) And there was, of course, Nate’s idiotic kiss — but I’ll come back to Nate’s behavior later.
It’s at the photo shoot that it all comes to a head, with escalating confessions by Keeley and Roy.
Keeley tells Roy about Nate’s attempted kiss, which is no big deal. Roy replies with a customary expletive and “that must have been awkward.”
Then Roy tells Keeley about spending three hours(!) with Phoebe’s teacher and the incompleteness of his “not married” answer. This is more concerning, and you can see Keeley struggling with whether to go One Confession Further.
She does, telling Roy what Jamie said to her after the funeral. The worry on her face and in her voice is palpable.
But it’s Roy’s reaction that really struck me, a slight tilt of his head to one side. This is Roy’s “do I understand this correctly?” look, a lower-key version of the face he made to Phoebe’s teacher back in Episode 8 when she was trying to tell him how his swearing was affecting Phoebe.
I don’t believe Roy was thinking about what Jamie had done, but rather about Keeley’s response to what Jamie had done: She hadn’t told him. Keeley and Roy’s first two confessions were about incidents that had just happened. The Jamie episode was something Keeley had kept to herself until now, and clearly had qualms about revealing at all.
My own confession: I am officially worried.
And was it just me, or was the final shot of the scene, after they turn to face the photographer, an echo of the last shot of “The Graduate” (yes, one of the most widely misunderstood movie endings of all time). I saw two people who had been thrilled with their envisioned future suddenly wondering whether that future was theirs at all. I could almost hear “The Sound of Silence” playing in the background.
Someone, somewhere — by which I guess I mean everyone, everywhere — needs to have extra depression hotlines set up in preparation for any possible Keeley-Roy breakup. I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, but just by myself, I may need to speak to as many as three or four mental-health professionals simultaneously.
My fingertips actually hurt after typing this section.
Sam and Rebecca
First things first: I love Sam Richardson, the actor brought in to play billionaire Ghanaian heir, Edwin Okufu. (If you know him principally from “Veep,” as I do, you’ll find him unrecognizable.) From the moment he got out of the helicopter, his joyous charisma was evident.
The bit about buying out the art gallery and filling it with actors was silly. (I mean, a £1.2 billion inheritance makes him barely a billionaire.) The bit with the pop-up Nigerian restaurant was more plausible. But it’s not really those perks, but Edwin himself that seduces. He is a sharp, likable and persuasive pitchman.
So far, so good. Sam is coming into his own as a star-level player. And as much as he loves Richmond, this seems like an incredible opportunity: to be the early centerpiece of a team, based in Africa, that has aspirations to be one of the top clubs in the world, alongside Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Man U, and PSG. And the team has an owner with the apparent will, resources and connections to make this happen. It’s a far cry from playing for a mid-tier club like Richmond thousands of miles from home.
Sam certainly seems excited when he describes the meetings to — of course — his dad on the phone. Indeed, he’s still grinning from ear to ear as he arrives home.
But there’s Rebecca, waiting by his door. (Brief note: I don’t believe for an instant she would do this. She’s a highly recognizable figure, waiting in full view by the door of a 21-year-old player’s place well after dark. If some passer-by recognized her, the whole thing would be in the tabloids by dawn.)
And what does she tell Sam? Three things: 1) I can’t decide about us. 2) And I can’t ask you not to go. (This second sentence, incidentally, is false in every meaningful way: Sam is under contract. He can’t leave unless Rebecca lets him.) 3) But “I hope you don’t.”
I’ve noted earlier that this season has essentially turned the powerful (if frequently scheming and intermittently evil) Rebecca of Season 1 into a Carrie Bradshaw figure, utterly consumed by romantic decisions, yet somehow unable to make any romantic decisions. But I may have been being unfair to Carrie Bradshaw.
This “I don’t know if I want to date you, but I want you to make massive, life-defining decisions based on the possibility that I might, someday” seems more like the high-schoolers of “Sex Education.” Although, that’s probably unfair, too. They’re mostly more mature. (Incidentally, the third season of that show may be the best yet. If you’re not watching it, you should be.)
And even beyond the sad emotional blackmail, there’s this. Rebecca has a fiduciary duty to AFC Richmond, its other shareholders, and (to at least some degree) it’s tens (hundreds?) of thousands of fans. When Edwin said he would pay her a transfer fee so exorbitant that he would look like a fool in public, she declined even to hear it.
But this is her explicit job. If Edwin wanted to pay her so much money that she could sign two or three players as good as Sam, then of course she should do it. And if that decision is too difficult, then she should hire someone else to run the team or sell it altogether. Then she could explore whether she and Sam still work — or work better! — when she’s not his boss’s boss.
One last little observation: This season has focused a lot on Rebecca’s recovery from her awful marriage with Rupert. It’s understandable. Like Sassy, I think of Rupert’s death every day. And that is despite the fact that Anthony Stewart Head (who plays Rupert) also played Giles on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” one of my favorite TV characters of all time.
But for all the angst about “being alone,” it’s worth remembering that Rebecca was only married to Rupert for (correct me if I’m wrong) about six years. She is not some starry-eyed young ingénue who married a powerful man and was controlled by him from her early 20s on. By the time they wed, she’d had plenty of years of being a self-sufficient, independent woman. So why is the show trying so hard to persuade us that, post-Rupert, she can’t help but revert to being 16-years-old?
This is the one we’ve been waiting for. Nate has been belittled by his father and by the hostess of a modest Greek restaurant. Ted laughed unintentionally when Nate considered himself a “big dog” in the coaches’ office. Social media has messed with his brain (as it does with everyone’s), and every single time he wears a necktie, someone has to straighten it for him. In the words of the classic “Seinfeld” episode “The Contest,” something’s gotta give.
And give it did this week.
After Nate suggests a “false 9” formation to Ted and Ted distractedly tells him to give it a try, Nate loses it in front of Roy and Beard. “I give Ted yet another idea that he’ll take all the credit for,” Nate fumes. (Notably, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Ted do this. He’s called out Nate as a genius assistant coach on multiple occasions.)
Later, Nate expresses the precise same “don’t you want to be the boss” sentiment to Keeley while they are shopping, which Keeley inadvertently encourages with her talk of their both being underdogs. And then Nate kisses her, which is such a spectacular misreading of the situation that even he knows it instantly.
Nate’s transformation this episode has been abrupt: For all his anger and frustration throughout the season, he has always punched down — at Colin, at Will — not up. Remember his mortified look when he asked Beard if he’d told Ted about his treatment of Colin in Episode 7?
What accounts for this shift? Occam’s razor suggests that it’s whatever Rupert whispered to Nate on the way out of the wedding last week. I had surmised that Rupert was buying a new team and suggesting that Nate could coach it. (He had, after all, just divested Bex’s shares of AFC Richmond back to Rebecca, which I assume would be required before buying another team.) And it could still be the case that Rupert is on the market for a new team.
But it could also be that Rupert is merely trying to sow dissension within Richmond by stoking Nate’s fragile ego and burgeoning resentments. That is, after all, a lot less expensive than buying a team.
Whatever it was that Rupert said, it appears to be working. Nate places a story in “The Independent,” bylined of course by Trent Crimm, revealing that Ted left that AFC Cup match not because of food poisoning but because he was having a panic attack. Classy move, Nate.
A closing note, however, on journalism. In his texts to Ted, Trent says he felt obligated, “as a journalist,” to write the piece, which is perfectly reasonable. But then he immediately reveals to Ted that his source is Nate. Now presumably, he is telling Ted this because Nate was an anonymous source — otherwise Ted would just read it in the piece. And “as a journalist,” revealing the identity of a source to the subject is crossing one of the clearest ethical lines in the profession. This would never happen so casually.
I’ve come to expect “Ted Lasso” ’s oddly dismissive approach toward the finer points of soccer. But now journalism, too?
Odds and Ends
Colin needs to dump the Lambo for a car he’s capable of driving competently.
There’s been some discussion about whether the romance between Sam and Rebecca is a play on the romance between Ted Danson (Sam) and Kirstie Alley (Rebecca) on “Cheers.” The argument against: They’re two fairly common names. The argument for: Jason Sudeikis is George Wendt’s nephew! I think Ted’s comment this week — “Sam and Rebecca are already one of my favorite TV couples” — pretty much lays the debate to rest.
In addition to those already mentioned, this week’s pop-culture references included ‘Nsync, “The Godfather,” Ziggy Stardust, Bo Jackson and Bo Diddley (from a series of Nike ads they did together), “I May Destroy You,” and Prince (a.k.a., Prince Rogers Nelson, the “Mr. Nelson” Ted refers to when Sharon tells him the origin of her “SMF” pinball handle).
Thank you to those who pointed out last week that Roy and Keeley’s “hit by a bus” discussion included both a reference to “Red Dawn” (“Avenge me!”) and, by inference at least, one to philosopher Philippa Foot’s famous trolley problem.
And finally, special recognition to the reader who noted that Ted’s getting dressed to “Easy Lover” last week was not a solitary mistake. A couple of episodes back, he stated, “I think a fella should only take as long as the tune ‘Easy Lover’ by Phil Collins and Philip Bailey to get dressed in the morning.” So apparently, Rebecca’s mom, Deborah, is not the only character with an appalling musical-morning routine. Nice catch!
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