Unlike Trent Crimm, about whom I will have plenty to say shortly, here’s a full disclosure right at the top of this “Midnight Train to Royston” recap: I was kind of underwhelmed by the episode. And that was much to my surprise, because Ted Lasso Season 2 has been building narrative tension at a great rate ever since “Rainbow,” half a season ago now. Ted’s scenes with Dr. Fieldstone have gotten longer and deeper; Sam and Rebecca’s arc — regardless of what you think of it — got consummated and then complicated; basically everybody has had a lot going on, plot- and / or character development-wise. And “No Weddings and a Funeral” was an absolute stunner of an episode, easily the most ambitious & maybe the best-executed of the season so far.
So “Midnight Train to Royston” was probably always going to be a refractory period (ahem) before next week’s big explosion (cough cough). And it looks like pitch performance is going to be paramount, as well, since Richmond’s continued & little-explored winning streak means it’s one win away from outright promotion back to the Premier League. This is especially handy, since after this episode there’s only one match left in the season!
But, again, we’ll get to that in a bit. I apologize for the continued delays, but this episode was all about poor communication and outright miscommunication, so please just trust me that they’re fitting. And in an effort at clearing some of that up, I’m going to take a page from Christopher Orr, friend and benefactor of The Gist, and try to write a recap by storyline, instead of by scene. Will this make the recap shorter? Let’s find out together! Into the woods to the festival, and hopefully home before it gets any darker.
Sam & Rebecca’s Mess Gets Messier
A hat trick in Richmond’s penultimate match is the least head-spinning thing to happen to Mr. Sam Obisanya this week. (Though it must be pretty goddamn cool to hear a sold-out Nelson Road chanting “Oh, Sam Obisanya” to the tune of “Seven Nation Army.”)
He’s still pining for Rebecca, checking his phone for encouraging messages from her, but all she sends are notes of congratulations that could have come from an aunt or an auntie or basically anyone who is not, never was, and never could be a lover.
But very shortly, Sam has something very different to think about. A newly minted Ghanaian billionaire named Edwin Akufo has come for a meeting with Rebecca. Because of a scheduling mix-up, he lands his helicopter on the practice pitch in the middle of practice, and I must say, this, combined with the man’s name emblazoned across the helicopter in bold white capital letters, are about as strong an introductory flex as you could possibly make.
During the meeting, Akufo announces his intentions. He doesn’t want to buy Richmond, as Higgins had presumed; he wants to buy out Sam’s contract. Does he have a club for which Sam will play? Not yet — but what Akufo does have is a ￡1.2 billion fortune (that’s about $1.625 billion US), a yet-undisclosed plan to buy a club, and a hell of a lot of charm. He’s played by Sam Richardson, of Veep fame; I haven’t seen Veep or anything else Richardson has done, but after this episode I very much want to watch a bunch of it. He’s the picture of powerful, self-assured businessman when dealing with all the white people in the room — especially Ted — but clicks into a much calmer, more affable, and no less assured mode as soon as Sam enters.
Akufo takes Sam on a whirlwind first date. First, they go to “a museum,” where they talk African art (of course Edwin has already bought a giant & gorgeous painting by a Nigerian artist, with plans to display it in a Ghanaian museum). When Sam mentions how he’s impressed by Edwin’s lack of a security detail, Edwin confesses that he rented the entire museum for the day and filled it with actors. For a guy who one minute earlier told Sam he’s a “billionaire who doesn’t think that billionaires should exist,” this rings an alarm bell.
After that, it’s lunch at a West African restaurant Sam has never been to and didn’t know existed. That, of course, is because it doesn’t: Akufo set up the entire restaurant specifically for this meeting, staffed it with his personal cooks, and filled it with “friends.” I’ve neither seen nor read Fifty Shades of Grey, but these two reveals reminded me of what little I know about that story. Mostly that it’s a hugely wealthy and influential person giving a really hard, borderline manipulative sell to a person who has, comparatively, neither of those things.
And what is Akufo selling? He plans on buying Raja Casablanca, a real-life club and already one of the most successful in Africa, with the intention of making it one of the biggest and most successful in the world, at the same level as Bayern (clearly #1) and Manchester United. Edwin further wants to stock Raja with only African players. He plays the standard super-rich hard-sell tactic of telling Sam he has 72 hours to make up his mind. Sam is giddy as hell. He calls his father to tell him how the date went and sounds *exactly* like a guy who just met the person of his dreams.
This is a terrific storyline. But I can’t help feeling like it’s come a bit late in the season, that maybe Ted Lasso should have introduced it while Sam was still with Rebecca, and not after she’d already put their relationship on pause. Because the show’s abrupt abandonment of the Dubai Air protest storyline is either the biggest or second-biggest misstep of the entire season. There is, quite simply, no way in fucking hell that Sam would not have had to endure the most awful racist bullying imaginable after leading the protest. Racism in football has been a problem for…ever. Ted Lasso’s creators know this. Had Akufo’s charm and power and intoxicating offer come earlier, they may have been too much for Sam to resist.
But coming at the end of the season, they’re overshadowed by the unfinished business of Sam and Rebecca’s story. Because Rebecca is not at all ready to say goodbye to Sam. She hears Akufo’s offer — which comes with the promise of a transfer fee that essentially amounts to a blank check — but shoots it down. While Sam is off with Akufo, Rebecca goes to Ted’s office and confesses her “torrid affair” with Sam so she can ask for his advice. To our Emily’s disappointment, Ted does not say “You need to drop Sam because of the ethical complications and spend that time in therapy instead.” And to the unspeakable disappointment of Tedbecca devotées, Ted does not say “You need to dump him so I can spit on you for sexual gratification instead of just a sight gag.” Instead, Ted goes the Royal Tenenbaum route, telling Rebecca to ignore him and everyone else and listen to her gut, and on the way down to her gut to also “check in with her heart.”
He’s right, sort of. This is no one else’s decision to make. Love and relationships are never for anyone else beyond the people in them. But then that’s why I can’t get behind Rebecca’s next move, which is to go to Sam’s house and sit on the front step waiting for him to return after spending the day with Akufo. It was bad enough that you guys had dinner together. But how the fuck is Rebecca not worried about being photographed — by paparazzi or just literally anybody — sitting outside of one of her players’ houses?
When Sam does return, Rebecca tells him that she can’t ask him to stay, but she doesn’t want him to go. But that, frankly, makes zero sense. If Rebecca’s gut and heart tell her to make an honest go of it with Sam, then she should tell him to take Akufo’s offer. If he’s no longer a Richmond player, the vast majority of the ethical complications surrounding their relationship will vanish. True, they wouldn’t be physically together as often. But here’s where I’ll betray my ignorance of geography: I thought Lagos was way further south than it actually is. It’s a six-and-a-half hour flight from London to Sam’s home city. And Casablanca, where he’d presumably be living while playing for Raja CA, is just two hours from London.
Thus: If the part of Akufo’s pitch where he appeals to Sam’s desire to be close to home did in fact land for Sam, even though Sam would still be a four-and-a-half hour plane ride from his family playing for Akufo’s club, then the idea of a relationship with Rebecca based on a two-hour plane ride should not be anywhere close to a dealbreaker.
So Rebecca’s part in this story was just kind of wonky, for me. She’s smart and good at planning for the future. Her entire first-season storyline required her to be both of those things. To echo a question multiple TV critics asked this week: Why can’t Rebecca do them now?
Roy & Keeley & Nate & Jamie
Hoo boy is this a messy one; we’re just gonna dive right in. So Nate is still feeling belittled by everyone and everything, only now he’s more willing to show it. And I have to say, I am completely on Nate’s side (for maybe the last time ever, but still) in his initial exasperation, which comes at Will’s expense. There really is no need to keep referring to “the suit Ted bought you” every single time Nate wears it. “The second Ted gave it to me,” Nate says, in a genuinely not menacing but legitimately frustrated tone, “ownership transferred, and it became my suit, Will.” What Nate has done to Will already this season was straight-up bullying, and has still gone unaddressed. And I do so love Will and will be his bodyguard. But, seriously, the entire AFC Richmond team and staff: it’s Nate’s suit, and can that please be the end of it.
(Nate is going to go apeshit on the entire team and staff next week, so this is really a moot point. Mostly I wanted to say something nice about him — and by extension Nick Mohammed, whose work this season has been phenomenal — before we all forget that there was ever a time when we said nice things about Nate.)
With that out of the way, I also felt my own anxiety and frustration rising throughout the very next scene, when Nate tries to explain his idea for a new strategy to use in Richmond’s last match of the season. He gets out the name “False 9,” but as soon as Ted asks what it is, Beard and Roy are all over the explanation, and Nate doesn’t get a chance to speak again. I am the parent of a five-year-old person, which means that every single day I have to explain the importance of taking turns talking, then re-explain its importance, and then re-re explain it seven- to three-hundred more times after that. I know it’s partly out of anxiety over the coming Nate Explosion, but I really wanted to put my hands on Beard’s and Roy’s shoulders in this scene and tell them “Now, guys, Nate brought this idea up, so it’s really Nate’s turn to talk until he’s finished explaining it, yeah?”
Fortunately and unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works. Ted agrees to the idea, but, after he leaves, Nate gets openly frustrated with his fellow coaches for the very first time, whining about how he never gets credit for his ideas. His fellow assistant coaches remind him that that’s how the job works, but Nate is unimpressed, and talks — also for the very first time — about how he would really like to be “the boss” for a change. Nate also declares that when the idea works, he’s not going to be shy about taking credit for it.
Nate isn’t entirely wrong, here. But he is misunderstanding what an assistant coach’s job is. I’m reminded of the scene in the Mad Men episode “The Other Woman” where Peggy complains to Don that he gets all the credit for an award-winning idea that she came up with; he winds up shouting at her that that’s what her salary is for and then throwing a pocketful of bills in her face. It would be wonderful if Nate and Richmond wind up having as deep and respectful a relationship as Peggy and Don. Right now, though, it’s…hard to see happening. We aren’t even at their split.
But splits are indeed the order of the day. Keeley is doing a photoshoot with Roy at home, and needs some new outfits. Nate needs new suits, but isn’t confident enough to go shopping by himself. He asks Keeley for help, and they decide to murder some birds with rocks by going together. It’s a posh store for posh twats who overspend on outfits; Nate remains appropriately cowed. That is, until he comes out of the dressing room in his best Roy Kent cosplay.
Keeley is enthusiastic, but of course Nate needs help with his tie, because Nate has never once on Ted Lasso put on a tie without somebody adjusting it for him.
So of course Keeley has to get up close to him. And of course Nate has to once again bring up talk of being a boss — and Keeley, whose own class background is approximately the same as Nate’s, can completely relate to his desires.
She offers more encouragement. Nate could not misread the situation any more completely. Of course he kisses Keeley.
It’s a quick kiss, and he apologizes, and Keeley could not be more Keeley in her very kind, patient, frightened reassurance that it was no big deal, and sometimes people make those kinds of mistakes. I say “frightened” because it’s obvious that right under the surface of Keeley’s tightly drawn smile — her entire face and hair are drawn back far tighter than usual in this episode, ostensibly for the photoshoot — she’s sick with guilt and beyond worried about what’s going to happen with Roy.
This scene is breathtakingly good. Juno Temple deserves all the praise and Emmys for this episode (and we’re nowhere near done with her performance either). You know the kiss is coming, the dynamic tells us it is and the cinematography tells us it is and the practical lack of a height difference between these two tells us once more, but then when it comes, it’s still awful, and of course the kiss is not the point, it’s the fallout that’s truly devastating. Keeley just says “Shit.” Nate retreats into the changing room, stares at his reflection, and, with silent tears running down his cheeks, spits on the mirror.
While all this is going on, Roy spends three hours helping Phoebe’s (clever & stunning) teacher Ms. Bowen set up for a charity function at the school. Because Roy didn’t get the message that it was a half-day & he didn’t need to pick up Phoebe, and also because he’s a Premier League coach the week of the big last match of the season & therefore has three free hours in the middle of the day. I mean, I’m not complaining. Any Ted Lasso episode that has Ms. Bowen in it is a good episode indeed.
These two have delightful banter, as they always do. The highlight is the “unnervingly accurate charcoal sketches of breasts” that Phoebe has been drawing during art time. Ms. Bowen doesn’t have all of them, though, because some of the boys have gotten hold of them and are using them for currency. My laughter is as pure and sustained as an April shower.
Eventually, Ms. Bowen asks Roy if he’s married. He tells her no, and then just…looks off into the middle distance for awhile. I was struck by how little Roy actually looked right at Ms. Bowen the whole time they were together. I know these scenes are meant to heighten the tension w/r/t Roy and Keeley maybe breaking up. But I feel like, if anything, Roy came away from this afternoon looking more focused than ever. He didn’t strike me as truly tempted by Ms. Bowen — and she, after telling her fellow teacher to “grow the fuck up” once Roy had left — likewise seemed to have put the notion out of her head. Publicly, at least.
At home, Roy and Keeley change before the photo shoot. Keeley says she’s actually nervous, because this isn’t just a modeling job; it’s for a legit profile in a Vanity Fair issue highlighting powerful women. Roy is his usual gentle reassuring supportive wonderful self: in maybe the softest voice we’ve ever heard him use, he tells Keeley she’s “fucking amazing,” that she’s “Keeley Fucking Jones, The Independent Woman,” and that now the whole world will know her greatness. He brings her bittersweet tears *despite* her makeup. Because of course that’s not all Keeley is worried about.
In the middle of the shoot, the photographer asks them to face each other. Keeley tells Roy about Nate. She misrepresents what happened, saying he “tried” to kiss her and not that he actually did, but Roy only smiles a little and says it must have been awkward. Then it’s time for his confession: he spent three hours talking with Ms. Bowen, and when she asked him if he was married, he “just said ‘No,’ nothing else.” He doesn’t know why.
I am convinced that Roy was about to propose to Keeley right here. But then Keeley confesses the other, bigger, actually difficult thing she’s been concealing: that Jamie told her he still loves her. This does not sit as well with Roy. His face goes very cold. The veins in his neck start to bulge. The photographer asks them to face her again. When they do, Roy’s eyes are wet.
Other than in a brief Richmond Ensemble scene at the beginning, we do not get any Jamie Tartt in this episode at all. In fact, Roy and Jamie haven’t seen each other on-screen since the hug at the end of “Man City,” three whole episodes-slash-lifetimes ago. I wonder if we’re ever going to see the two of them discuss that. Given what just happened, I kind of doubt it. That would be a bit of a shame, if so; the hug was a massive thing, and a hugely complicated one, and I have to assume that Jamie would have a lot of confused feelings about it.
But now, it seems all but assured that what we’ll get is a big Roy & Jamie Showdown. And that is also fine. I don’t doubt for a second that Roy and Keeley will end up together. What Jamie thinks are his feelings of love for Keeley come from the same place that Nate’s kiss for Keeley did. Neither Jamie nor Nate actually loves or wants to be with her; they just don’t have any language other than physical gestures (& the related emotional words) for expressing or exploring a relationship with women.
And let’s please not overlook how beset upon poor Keeley has been these last two episodes. She’s almost become Ted Lasso‘s litmus test for misguided male vulnerability. Jamie at least didn’t try to kiss her at Rebecca’s father’s funeral; Nate at least didn’t fumble through a declaration of love. But either one of their declarations would have been enough to keep Keeley off balance for some time. Both of them coming as quickly as they did, though — and in the middle of a kinda-sorta questionable period with Roy?
I think the show gave away the game with Ted’s “rom-communism” speech and his promise that everything will work out, even if it doesn’t get there the way you think it will. I remain fully confident that Roy and Keeley will be married and have a baby by the time the curtain falls on Season 3. They’re the Carla and Turk of Ted Lasso! I just want us all to take a minute and let Keeley know we’re there for her, should she need to vent, or cry, or anything else.
The Incredible Shrinking Dr. Sharon
Ted’s “Midnight Train to Royston” storyline is this episode’s most straightforward. He’s putting together a tribute to Dr. Fieldstone, whose time with AFC Richmond has apparently come to an end. This involves the team learning the dance moves for N’SYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” and giving her an envelope full of cash collected from everybody associated with the team.
Thanks to Higgins, though, Ted learns that Doc has been called away on a curiously unspecified emergency, and is leaving a day early. Meaning she’s already gone. She left individual letters for everybody, but Ted, whose abandonment issues should maybe have been a little clearer to his psychiatrist, is about as pissed off as we’ve ever seen him. He waits outside Sharon’s apartment until she comes home, then questions her decision to leave without saying goodbye all the way up to the apartment itself.
Has Ted read the letter she left him? Of course not! And he never will! Except then he does, right in front of her, and it makes him look like this.
It’s a beautiful bit of wordless acting — at first I was annoyed that we didn’t get to hear Dr. Sharon’s parting words for this patient in particular, but the fact that these two are standing next to each other would have made Ted reading it aloud very awkward indeed.
And he is thoroughly chastened, grateful — and ready to take her up on her offer of a drink at the pub, since her “Midnight Train to Royston” doesn’t leave until midnight.
A few things, then. 1) When I found out this episode’s title I hoped we were going to hop over to America for a moment, because Royston, Georgia is the only populated city with that name in the entire country and I once went to a livestock auction there. Alas; it was not to be. 2) I wonder if there really is an emergency in Royston, and if Dr. Sharon really does need to be there right away. Given her own unaddressed issues, it seems at least plausible that she does this with every team she works with: leaves without physically saying goodbye; writes beautiful, heartfelt letters, and with them a favorable, even mythical impression; and then never has to face whatever issues she has that relate to saying goodbye to people she’s come to know intimately.
And then into 3), the biggest thing of all: Why the fuck is Dr. Sharon leaving? Yes, we established at the beginning of the season that she works with teams, and thus has no fixed position. But that is easily overcome by the promise of more money. Rebecca was willing to buy the Greek restaurant where Nate couldn’t get a table; she would drop a fat paycheck for Dr. Sharon if Ted told her the team needed her. But more to the point, she is still in the middle of her therapy with Ted. It’s not like the genuine breakthroughs he’s had are all he needs, and now he’s done. Therapy takes a long time, if not forever. And it usually results in agonizingly incremental successes, if that. She doesn’t need to be his therapist forever. But if she really is gone, we absolutely need a scene of her recommending a therapist to Ted, or of Ted setting up an appointment with another therapist, or some other sign that she didn’t just abandon her patient. Because that is what it would feel like, for Ted; and, as someone whose work takes her away from patients on the regular, Dr. Sharon would have to know that.
Ted is better at wordless goodbyes.
If she really is gone, and that’s the end of therapy on Ted Lasso, then this storyline, along with the aforementioned Dubai Air abandonment, will have been either the biggest or second-biggest misstep. I find it hard to believe that Ted Lasso, of all shows, could give up on therapy as a plot device just when the really hard work was about to begin. Also, while the show used Sarah Niles very well, I feel like she just didn’t get enough screen time. She was barely in the show for the first half of the season. Please, don’t tell me we won’t see her throughout Season 3.
And this brings us to the final reveal. As he gets home from his goodbye drinks with Dr. Sharon, Ted receives a text message. It’s from Trent Crimm. Never a good thing to get a late-night ding from a journalist.
It seems there’s going to be a big exposé in The Fucking Independent tomorrow: the reveal that Ted didn’t have food poisoning during the FA Cup quarterfinal, but in fact left the pitch because of a panic attack. Trent says he had to write the story, since he’s a journalist; because he respects Ted, though, he tells him that the anonymous source who made the story possible was Nate.
Trent asks for a comment. Ted, his hands shaking and his face looking about the way it did when Rebecca confessed a year ago, types “No comment.” He looks terrified. He looks around. He walks off.
This is, by far, the shittiest thing Nate has done. (Until next week.) But, while I thought the scene was really well done, I also found it to be was the most underwhelming part of the episode. From the moment Trent strolled into the Crown & Anchor at the end of “Headspace” and asked Ted for an on-the-record quote about the reason he left the pitch, it’s been obvious he was working on a big story. Given Nate’s hard heel turn, it’s likewise been fairly obvious that his source for the story would be Nate. Nate was standing right next to Ted during the quarterfinal; he was openly confused and upset by Ted’s sudden departure. Nate was also near Ted when he had his first full panic attack, at karaoke after the Everton win in “Make Rebecca Great Again”; he is also aware of Ted’s first press conference. The signs from all three of those events are the same. Ted did not make his trips to Dr. Sharon’s office in secret. Nate is a keenly observant person — you don’t get to be Richmond’s Roastmaster General without studying your subjects well.
Plus, even if Nate wasn’t Trent’s source before “Headspace,” in “Man City,” Ted openly confessed his panic attack to the Diamond Dogs. So Nate either told Trent before he approached Ted in “Headspace,” or he told him between “Man City” and now.
I also wonder why Trent says he respects Ted, but didn’t tell him about the story to his face. And I further question Trent’s journalistic integrity after he betrayed a confidential source — about the biggest no-no there is — and did so in a fucking text message. If you’re going to do that, you do it verbally. You don’t leave a literal written record. I’m really baffled by Trent’s move, here.
But we have another episode to try and figure this out. There’s way too much for any one episode to tie up; hopefully, we’ll get a lot of satisfyingly unresolved storylines a week from now. Among the many unaddressed issues this week: will we find out what the deal with Beard and Jane is? Will Beard finally swoop in and sweep Jamie off his feet, thereby making the world safe for Keeley and Roy? And will we be wondering not whether Ted should have punched somebody, but whether he should have punched Nate harder?
Apple has already revealed that “Inventing the Pyramid of Greatness,” the 12th and final episode of Ted Lasso‘s thoroughly intriguing second season, is 49 minutes long. I therefore apologize in advance for the longest recap since the glory days of Television Without Pity. May the power of Robert Plant’s hair see you through to the finale.
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