Ted Lasso: 2×11 “Midnight Train to Royston”

This is one of the best episodes of the season and made me so excited for tonight’s finale!

Sam is gaining attention for his great work as Richmond heads towards promotion. But it’s not only Richmond fans who admire his work–it’s a man from Ghana named Edwin Akufu, a billionaire who claims to think billionaires shouldn’t exist but also lands on the Richmond field in a private plane in the middle of team practice. He wants to buy Sam from Richmond, essentially, for a new team he’s acquiring in Africa. He rents out a museum and a restaurant to wine and dine Sam, telling him it’s his activism more than his football skills he wants, and that he can help Edwin bring glory to African soccer. Edwin gives him 72 hours to think about it, and it’s not clear which way Sam is leaning–he seems flattered, but not necessarily convinced.

In romantic news, I totally thought Sam and Rebecca had actually broken up. “I need to work on myself for awhile” is not a thing you say when you’re just taking some space. Everyone (except maybe people as young as Sam) knows that! But apparently Rebecca and Sam don’t consider themselves to be exactly broken up. She’s signing her texts with “X,” not exactly a platonic signoff; and then, when she busts into Ted’s office and confesses to her torrid affair, she says, “I think I need to end it.” Um… I’m so confused as to what you already did?? Ted encourages her to listen to her gut and her heart. So she shows up at his doorstep after his big date and tells him she “can’t give him an answer about us” (which… again, didn’t she already do that?!), but that she hopes he doesn’t go. Then she leaves, and he smiles to himself in disbelief; it still seems like his decision could go either way, though.

Sharon is planning to leave the team, and Ted plans a whole flash mob thing where the team is going to dance to “Bye Bye Bye” in her honor. But Sharon thwarts him by leaving early and sending good-bye notes for everyone. Ted gets mad and goes to her house, claiming he’s too mad to read her letter. When she finally convinces him to read it, it melts him–though we don’t know what’s in it. They go out for drinks and have a grand time, until Ted ditches her with a note to get her back, and a cute little gift–one of those plastic soldiers he gives out.

Keeley is going to be featured in Vanity Fair as a businesswoman on the rise. Roy, who’s going to be in a photo shoot with her, is a little cranky that he has to worry about his dark clothes and eyebrows. But then he reassures her very sweetly when she confesses she’s nervous about people seeing the real her, and supportively looks on while she poses for her solo pictures. At that moment it seems like everything’s fine–like they’ve worked through their problem, and the plot has resolved. But it’s not that simple.

At one moment during a break in their joint photo shoot, they’re told to face each other, and something about the eye contact shakes everything loose. Roy says he hung out at Phoebe’s school for three hours talking to Phoebe’s teacher and didn’t mention Keeley. Keeley tells him about being hit on by someone very inappropriate, which we’ll get to in a sec, and then, tearily, tells him about Jamie’s confession at the funeral.

I’m worried, you guys. Crying while talking about your ex hitting on you is not the behavior of a woman who’s sure she’s with the right man! But while Keeley is so lovable that I felt little need for the show to explain why Jamie would love her, I really can’t figure out why she was ever attached to Jamie other than his looks. Perhaps, though, watching someone make himself a better man–even if where he ended up is still not as much a good man as Roy–is reason enough to have deeper feelings for them? But it still seems to have come out of nowhere. A few episodes ago she literally steered Jamie to a therapist’s office so she wouldn’t have to listen to him complain!

Now, let’s talk about the most harrowing part of the episode–yes, there is something even worse than the specter of a Roy/Keeley breakup! Nate’s getting increasingly resentful of his status as second banana. Everyone keeps mentioning that Ted bought his suit, and also his great ideas are credited to Ted because Ted is the head coach. So he asks Keeley to help him pick out a fancy suit, apparently believing that if he buys his own suit everyone will stop seeing him as a beta male, which is just another sign of his total lack of self-awareness. While they shop at a posh store and drink free chamapgne, Keeley is super cuddly and physically intimate with him because she clearly sees him as a sexless stuffed animal. He, of course, misinterprets and–another moment of un-self-awareness– goes for a kiss. Keeley’s nice about it, but it is SO CRINGEY.

He gets back from drinks, looking–for once–just gently happy, not haunted or manic or anything else. Until he gets a text from Trent Crimm, The Independent, telling him that Nate leaked a story about his panic attack. Ted stares into the distance, stricken.

Wow.

This thread of Nate being ever more power-hungry and resentful after getting a mere taste of positive attention–with his meekness receding and revealing underneath, not the nice, sweet guy you expect from his demeanor, but a raging ego seething with resentment and entitlement–has been so painful and real. But I never expected it to end up like this; no matter how many times I’ve cringed at his behavior, I never imagined him betraying Ted, who he always seemed to love and be grateful for. That’s why this scene hits so hard; it takes us by surprise almost as much as it takes Ted by surprise, that Nate would do such a thing.

As we head into the finale I’m wondering, not only what will happen with Rebecca and Sam, or Keeley and Roy, but most of all how Ted will handle this betrayal.

Other thoughts:

  • As soon as Ted shows up, making tortured puns like “That will be a Vanity Fair to remember,” you can tell that his big talk with Dr. Sharon didn’t totally cure him of his defense mechanisms. Which is fair! It would be very unrealistic if she had!
  • TBH I see where Nate is coming from with everyone mentioning that Ted bought his suit. Especially Will announcing gratuitously that he fetched “the suit Ted bought you” from the dry cleaner. Let me tell you a story: This one time, I was checking out at Goodwill, right around when denim jackets came back bigtime a couple years ago. I bought a pair of earrings, and the cashier was like, “Do you want a bag or do you want to just put them in the pocket of your jean jacket?” And like, OK. It WAS a jean jacket, she wasn’t wrong about that. But the fact that she said it in that sentence, when “in the pocket of your jacket” would have conveyed the same question, just seemed so judgmental! Similarly, Will’s completely unnecessary mention of Ted buying the suit seems like it has to be low-grade trolling. Maybe Will really is trying to drive Nate crazy. Maybe, just like Nate, he’s actually a horrible person on the inside.
  • Beard is reading a book called Entangled Life. It’s about mushrooms, but for sure the title is a nod to Jane and Beard, right?
  • Roy asks Nate if his eyebrows are “crazy.” Then Nate worries that his eyebrows are crazy. Does he… not see the difference between his own eyebrows and Roy’s eyebrows? (Not that there’s anything wrong with crazy eyebrows. On Roy, they suit.)
  • Neither Beard nor Roy is very sympathetic to Nate’s complaints about not getting the credit for his coaching ideas. Beard comes at it from a socialist perspective (hooray for countering toxic masculinity with notions of sharing credit!); Roy basically just laughs at him from underneath his crazy eyebrows, like, “Shut up, young pup.”
  • Ted’s manic joke-making gets him into even worse trouble when he makes a racist joke to Edwin (“Hakuna matata!” CRINGE.) At least he admits it’s racist.
  • I love that the team is dancing to “Bye Bye Bye.” I hadn’t listened to it for years, but I by coincidence I had just recently started playing it again, because my daughter is so proud of knowing the word “bye” that she waves every time the chorus comes, just to show off.
  • Edwin says, “My father used to say, a silent white man is still a white man.” HEE! That made me laugh. But does it silence Ted? Not for long.
  • I love Ted’s reaction when he realizes that Edwin’s refusal to shake his hand actually was personal, because Edwin totally shakes hands with Sam. He gives this little eyebrow raise, like, “Well, I guess I deserve it for my racist joke.”
  • Roy goes to pick up Phoebe and learnst hat it was actually a half day. He also learns that Phoebe’s been drawing boobs in school. The shading on those boobs is really extraordinary for a kid that age. Just saying. But also, should we be worried about Phoebe??? This seems like odd behavior, even for a kid whose best friend appears to be her forty-year-old uncle.
  • Ted says that Rebecca is making an annual ritual of busting into his office and dropping truth bombs on him. Keets’s theory is that they’re setting it up so she busts into Ted’s office next year to confess her love for him. I mean, that’s what I thought too, but my Ted/Rebecca feelings have already led me wildly astray on my predictions, so I feel like I need Keets to ground me. Since he agrees, I’ll make one more prediction: This time next year, it will be Ted/Rebecca city.
  • To get fanwanky and social-justice-wanky about this for a sec, the fact that all of this is about “buying” Sam is so interesting. Western capitalism, fundamentally built on top of slavery and colonialism, has come full circle, where a man seeking to reclaim power for Africa believes his best option is using his capitalism-acquired billions to buy a Black man. And the way to rebel against this, in Ted Lasso’s heart- and gut-ruled world, is for Sam to follow his feelings instead. Which I think he will do, in the end, but the question is: are his feelings stronger for Rebecca and his team, or for his father and his homeland? Not that Ghana is his homeland exactly, but Africa is.
  • “I’m Roy Kent. Why do I need to go shopping? I already own a black T-shirt and jeans,” Keeley imitates. It’s amazing.
  • Sam recognizes some of Edwin’s hired actors from I May Destroy You. Heh! I like that the pandemic hasn’t happened in Ted Lasso’s warm and cozy world, but I May Destroy You has. I watched some of it and loved it hard, but had to take a break because it was so dark.
  • Phoebe’s teacher helps the kids do a good job in art class by taking the pictures away before the kids can mess them up. Ooh, I wish my middle school art teacher had done that! I still have this deeply painful memory of a little bird house I was painting in middle-school art. I kept embellishing it further and further in a futile attempt to make it less ugly, and finally–well after the rest of the class had moved on to a totally different project–I gave up, and painted the entire thing sky blue and the trim yellow, with no attempt at embellishment. You could still see the bumps from all the many, many failed layers of paint below, though.
  • Ted is mad at Sharon for abandoning him when she knows that his dad abandoning him is a big trigger for him, but she says she explained it all in the letter. I hope the letter heavily features the word “transference.”
  • Sarah Niles, who plays Sharon, does an excellent job of acting out how damn awkward it is to stand there while someone else reads your heartfelt note. I’ve definitely itched my neck during that experience myself. So real.
  • I’m totally shocked when Roy reveals that he was hanging out with Phoebe’s teacher for three hours. It seems originally like it was just a few minutes. WHOA.
  • It’s interesting that Ted goes out for a drink with Sharon when he must have his suspicions about her relationship to alcohol. Then again, she’s the doctor and he’s the patient–maybe he just doesn’t feel responsible for her mental health, and I think that’s probably OK.

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