‘Ted Lasso’ Recap: Ted Gives ‘The Signal’ For Appointment Television
Roy asserts himself as a coach and encourages Jamie to assert himself as a jerk. Higgins struggles with his obligations as a friend when Beard gets back together with Jane, and Rebecca struggles with her obligations as a daughter when her mother breezes into town. And Ted, who has been sprinting to stay ahead of his own brain for quite a while, runs out of room.
Jamie and Roy
AFC Richmond wins a game right off the bat, and it turns out it’s their fourth in a row. Jamie, however, is frustrated by the fact that new coach Roy, who’s being credited for the team’s successes, just refuses to coach him. When Roy finally relents, it’s to say that Ted is at fault. He’s made Jamie “average” by pushing the team-player angle so hard to the exclusion of all else. Roy commands Jamie to act like more of a jerk (though he does not say “jerk”), stressing that the key is to be able to take command of your jerk tendencies and use them to your advantage. And so, at a critical moment in a tournament game against Tottenham Hotspur, the entire coaching staff flips Jamie the bird, which is his signal to get selfish. He does, and it works, and the team chalks up another big win.
Rebecca and her mom/Higgins and Beard
Rebecca is in the middle of sexing sexily with sexy Luca when her mother drops in for an unannounced visit and announces that she’s left Rebecca’s dad. While Ted and Keeley treat this like a big deal, Rebecca warily insists it isn’t: Her mother leaves her father every so often, and her father offers up a big gift, and her mother goes right back to him.
Rebecca finds common ground with Higgins, who’s the only one of the Diamond Dogs willing to voice the concern they all share that Beard’s relationship with Jane is toxic. Finding himself dismissed when he tries to go at the issue gently, Higgins decides that he has to keep trying, so he goes at it less gently. While Beard doesn’t take Higgins’ advice, they share a back-thumping hug, because Beard knows he’s trying to help. And then Jane makes Beard wear a beret, so Higgins is even righter than he already was. [Late-breaking clarification: I am told it is a newsboy cap, although when she smacks it on his head, it really looks like a beret.]
Rebecca overhears some of this in the parking lot and goes home to have a similar talk with her mom. But it turns out that Mom, coaxed with a new Tesla, has indeed returned to Dad, just as Rebecca predicted. This sends Rebecca right back to Luca, despite the fact that she’s also very much enjoying her flirtation with her Bantr beau, who we learn is … SAM OBISANYA (dun dun dun!), although neither of them knows they’re texting each other yet.
One of the things that came up in season one that has not — before now — really come up in season two is Ted’s panic attack at karaoke night while Rebecca was singing “Let It Go.” (Although that was not why he panicked.) It was clear that this acute attack had been brought on by his divorce, and once Rebecca came and spoke to him and he dealt with the divorce papers, the issue of his mental health largely receded. But panic is not a one-episode problem.
While he’s in the middle of coaching a critical game, Ted begins to panic. He can’t focus, everything feels out of whack, his hands feel wrong, and in the end, he flees the field. Rebecca is the one who goes looking for him, suspecting she knows what’s wrong, but the next time we see him, he hasn’t sought out Rebecca. He’s sought out Dr. Sharon, hiding out in her office in the dark until she returns, at which point he says that he wants an appointment.
There are a lot of theories, to say the least, about the relationship between season one of Ted Lasso and season two. My theory is this: season one set up an extraordinarily compelling, beautifully executed, not particularly emotionally complex underdog story in which a simple good man overcame being completely unqualified for his job, won everyone over, rehabilitated a cold, rich dragon lady, and taught a team that winning isn’t everything.
Season two has complicated all of that: maybe the man is not all that good at his job, maybe his philosophy didn’t help the team that much, maybe there’s a lot of ego in his mentoring style, maybe he’s not a simple man but one driven by demons, maybe he’s not the key to all these people’s happiness. Maybe they are all just as wise as he is, just as special. A lot of these complications were delicately hinted at in the first season, too, but this stretch has been where you begin to sink into them.
The Matter Of Dr. Sharon
“The Signal” is a jam-packed episode, plot-wise, moving a bunch of stories forward in important ways. But nothing in it matters as much as Ted and Dr. Sharon. She was not part of that first season, and she is not part of its mythology. She has not embraced Ted’s style, she has not taken him on as a close friend, she has not offered him pearls of wisdom. She has set up an office, she has served the players who wanted her help, and she has said to Ted, effectively, I am available to you if you need my help. She has claimed for herself the one thing that a simpler version of this story would suggest no one can truly have: emotional distance from Ted.
Ted can be an emotionally extravagant show, but this has been a very disciplined story, which has endeavored to avoid some of the pitfalls of the “Black lady therapist” trope Aisha Harris wrote about in Slate back in 2018. Some of those pitfalls remain, because it’s impossible to, however thoughtfully, opt out of the concept of context. But that emotional distance does, I think, reduce the blurring of the line between the Black therapist and the Black Best Friend that Aisha notes. We’ve come to know Sharon as a character because of discussions she has while standing in doorways and hallways, from the tone of her voice and how she moves through rooms. The scenes that have built that character couldn’t just be between Ted and a friend of Ted’s.
It’s so interesting that they made the decision not to show Sharon’s sessions as we got to know her, even though therapy scenes can provide a neat excuse to make the subtext into text. We don’t know what she said to Jamie, or what she said to Dani, and she has been around for a bunch of episodes without really counseling Ted in any meaningful way. She hasn’t interacted with Ted as a therapist; she’s interacted with him as a colleague by whom he’s threatened, because she’s better than he is at things that he believes define him and his value to the world. (I used to talk to a friend about the idea that the meaning of life is “to connect with other people and matter to the world.” Lots of people don’t believe that, but I kind of do, and I definitely think Ted does.)
Welcome To Anxiety Club, Ted
For that reason, for Ted to go to Sharon for help is a profound admission on his part, not only of his need for help in general, but of the thing he’s feared the most ever since she rescued Dani from the yips: she knows how to fix problems he doesn’t know how to fix. This is a show that deeply believes in the power of personal friendship, so there’s particular punch in Ted’s realization that he doesn’t need Rebecca, however supportive she wants to be. He needs a doctor. (This precisely echoes the scene a couple of episodes ago in which Ted and Rebecca shared their belief that only people without friends need therapists.)
Ted didn’t have this particular panic attack because of one immediate crisis, the way he did with the one at karaoke. Certainly, everything with the team is very stressful. And he’d received a call about Henry that reminded him how much of his son’s day-to-day life he’s missing, a seed that was planted in the Christmas episode. But they’ve done a good job of creating Ted’s anxiety as a pressure that’s building and bound to ultimately need a release of some kind. The team’s wins are being credited to “the Roy Kent effect,” Ted’s been vilified for months while they struggle, and as we discussed last week, his good cheer has started to look performative and overdone. This was bound to happen; he has to deal with it. That’s anxiety as I personally have experienced it.
There are some really beautiful shots of Rebecca looking for Ted in the locker room; they’re just lovely and lonely, and the decision not to show the end of the game but only the players bursting in with excitement, wrapping the concerned Rebecca up in a whirlwind of glee? Very smart. Good stuff.
Love And Rebecca
Also bubbling along all season has been Rebecca’s love life. And it’s an interesting choice to go in for a close-up on her parents and their marriage just as her own romantic life — both her sex-forward relationship with Luca and her conversation-only relationship with (the guy she doesn’t yet know to be) Sam. This initially looks like your basic “funny mom comes to town” story, particularly during the very entertaining and delightfully structured scene involving Luca, Deborah, Rebecca, and Mena the cleaner. (“I’ll start in the study.”) And it really is very entertaining, particularly given that I could watch Hannah Waddingham yell out a window all day and never get tired.
But it’s also a pretty sad realization that Rebecca has spent her life trying to talk her mother into expecting more for herself, given that we know Rebecca married a jerk who lied to her and made her feel foolish. Rebecca comes by her skepticism about relationships quite honestly at this point — what’s she going to do about the two guys she’s now involved with, both of whom she genuinely seems to like and only one of whom she’s met? They’ve been laying the groundwork for Rebecca and Sam liking each other for a while: she was very helpful with Dubai Air, of course, but he was also hugely kind to Nora, and he’s the one with the biggest grin on his face when her mother shouts down to the players on the field. The idea that they connect doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Another thing on my mind this week: The show is doing some interesting thinking about something television almost never takes seriously: the shape of friendships among men. For me, it was really weird that nobody except Higgins wanted to say out loud that they thought Beard going back to Jane was a terrible idea. Ted’s point about regretting telling the truth about such things (maaaaybe don’t do it at the wedding, Theodore, even though that was a terrific payoff of that setup) is relatable, of course. But I feel like there are lots of groups of friends where people would absolutely speak up about someone getting back together with a toxic ex. For obvious reasons, I’ve never been in conversations among exclusively male friends, so I have no way of knowing whether that’s gendered, but I wonder if it is.
If you believe that the second season is complicating the fairly straightforward underdog-victory world that was built in the first season, you can also find evidence of that in the story of young Nate Shelley. An underdog among underdogs in season one, he started season two pushing Will around, and now, threatened by Roy’s arrival on the coaching staff, he ends the episode reading all about himself on Twitter. Not everyone finds success easy to adjust to.
Roy and Jamie, too, are a long-bubbling story that could easily have resolved at the same time the rest of the team started to warm back up to Jamie. But it makes sense that it would take Roy longer, both because they haven’t been spending time together and because their relationship was complicated both by their different positions on the team last year and by their relationships with Keeley. It’s usually been the case that Jamie is wrong about everything, so when Ted points out, quite correctly, that Roy is being a jerk for being unwilling to coach Jamie, it complicates — there’s that word again — what was previously the “bratty kid versus wise but gruff veteran” dynamic between them.
I also think it’s really smart to acknowledge that being able to annoy other players is, in moderation, absolutely a skill that a lot of greats possess. Jamie’s taunting of his opponent reminded me a lot of Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers, and I encourage you most vigorously to watch the documentary Winning Time if you ever get the chance.
This Week In Ted
Ice bucket challenge, David Blaine, Sue Grafton, Area 51, H.R. Pufnstuf (“That is a joke for people born in the early to mid ’70s!”), Rocky, The King of Kong, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Crazy Calls (as near as I can tell, this is the name of the cassette they used to advertise on television with wacky answering-machine messages, including the one on Ted’s voicemail that ends with “wait for the beep”) (arguably another joke for people born in the early to mid ’70s).
“I love meeting people’s moms. It’s like reading an instruction manual as to why they’re nuts.”
Coach Beard Noise of the Week
Rewatchable of the Week
Phil Dunster as Jamie does one of the best deflations I’ve ever seen on an actor when he asks if he gets to go back to being a jerk and Roy says no. His eyebrows drop, his shoulders drop, and he’s immediately about an inch shorter. I couldn’t stop watching it.
Assist of the Week
Annette Badland plays Mae, the proprietor of The Crown & Anchor. She rarely has more than one line at a time, but they always, always sing, as when she reveals that the boys at the end of the bar aren’t watching football — they’re watching Bake-Off.
Stealth MVP of the Week
I mean, how could it not be Harriet Walter, who is so funny as Rebecca’s mother Deborah? The show really loves those long setups with closing twists, like her description of telling her husband she’s going to live her best life that ends with the revelation that she did it while sitting on the toilet. Walter has just the right tone for this dotty-but-aggravating mother.
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