Things get ugly when Ted and Nate face off for the first time.
Director Destiny Ekaragha (who directed last week’s episode, too) and writer Brett Goldstein (also known as Roy) are here to welcome us all to what we’ve been looking forward to since Nate (Nick Mohammed) first ripped that Believe sign: Richmond v. West Ham, Round One. Or, to put a fine point on it, Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) v. Shelley, Round One. And without patting myself on the back too hard, it pretty much went down as I predicted last season.
The episode opens by fulfilling two of the promises of the previous installment. First, Roy does indeed rouse Jamie (Phil Dunster) at 4 AM. Second, Ted and Sassy (Ellie Taylor) did indeed spend the night together. For both Jamie and Ted, the mornings prove rude awakenings. Our soccer star because his coach was, in fact, not joking about 3-a-days. Our coach because Sassy, while generally a fan of Lasso when he’s not punning, proclaims him too much of a mess to date. She’s almost certainly not wrong AND part of the process of getting not messy is getting off the mat. Still, understandable why she might not want that role.
The audience also gets a peek at Nate’s morning activities, including early morning game planning. During that, he accidentally knocks his Ted figurine off the table. At first, he gloats about it, then immediately feels guilty. He picks up the toy and apologizes to it before returning it to its place on the table. Later, we see him “just happen” to drive by Ted’s section of town while heading to work. They make it clear the wonder kid is ambivalent about his future colleague. Mohammed plays it well, and it is a totally understandable state of mind for him.
That said, it’s frustrating the show gave us no insight into how he went from where he was in episode 1, still actively angry and hung up on running Ted through the mud, to here. As I discussed in my initial review of the season, I think Mohammed plays both versions well, but not seeing him evolve is frustrating. Especially given how painstakingly his disillusion was served up to the audience last season.
As long as we’re on Nate, it makes sense to cover his other pre-game interactions. When Rupert (Anthony Head) checks in one night, Nate admits to feeling uncomfortable with seeing Ted in person again. What’s interesting here is two-fold. First, it’s that Rupert’s pep talk is actually reasonably good and true. Nate didn’t have to spend his life being Ted’s assistant to be decent. He does deserve a chance to be a coach and blaze his own trail. However, it comes from a place of not knowing Nate. Scratch it and it’s easy to see it’s generic boilerplate. He thinks Nate’s worried that taking the job is a betrayal. Nate knows the reality of how he left. Rupert doesn’t and, more to the point, doesn’t care.
That leads to interesting thing number two. After insisting Nate call him “Rupert” in the first episode of the season when the coach was talking trash, West Ham’s owner rescinds it here. Instead, he coolly corrects Nate, “It’s Mr. Mannion.” Nate hasn’t even failed. He’s only confessed to discomfort. But that’s “weakness” in the billionaire’s eyes. And that’s all it takes to lose favored status at West Ham.
The other noteworthy pre-game activity is Nate picking up lunch for the entire staff (minus the vegetarian trainers, evidently). As with his Dad and his fictional/uninformed version of Ted, Jade (Edyta Budnik), the hostess at his parents’ favorite restaurant, is unimpressible. His status as West Ham’s coach moves her not at all, even when the restaurant’s manager fawns over Nate. I find Budnik’s work as the eternally disaffected Jade a wonderful bit of business. The scene is a good one, but I did have one question: did Nate buy everyone lunch to see and impress her OR did he do it genuinely, yet another side of his struggle to find himself—the coach who puts his players on the “dumb dumb” line vs. the coach who quotes The King and I to try and be endearing.
While I’m droning on too long about Nate, Roy and Beard (Brendan Hunt) are similarly fixated on the wonder kid. After obsessing about a strategy to beat him, they’ve settled on the “False Nine” that Nate convinced them to use at the close of last season. Unfortunately, as Higgins (Jeremy Swift) points out, they’d have to persuade Zava (Maximilian Osinski) to go along with it. Rather than even try, Roy punches the board to bits in frustration. As I discussed last week, there’s no way this approach to just doing what Zava wants will possibly work out well for Richmond long term.
Instead, the two think they’ve found salvation through security footage of Nate’s aforementioned “Believe” sign vandalism. When they share it with Ted, he remains visibly opposed but verbally noncommittal about using it. But, of course, he’s known about the sign and Nate’s culpability for months.
[I]t’s frustrating the show gave us no insight into how he went from where he was in episode 1, still actively angry and hung up on running Ted through the mud, to here.
Later, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) checks in on Ted. She starts by telling him how badly she wants to win the game. Then, sensing he’s off, she plays the “Oklahoma” card—their version of a “you have to be honest now” safe word. For perhaps the first time, Ted violates the spirit of that agreement. He confesses to being a “work in progmess” but fails to fully disclose what’s going on with him. Others may disagree on that, but it’s how I saw his vague statement. Their conversation is a smart contrast to Rupert and Nate’s as it makes it clear she both knows Ted and sees him as more than a tool in her proverbial arsenal.
Finally, game day arrives. In a noteworthy act of self-flagellation, Ted puts himself on an elevator surrounded by West Ham employees and then asks them their rooting interest. However, when it empties, Ted is left on the elevator with a desperately trying to be invisible Nate. Ted acts like Ted, and Nate gets awkward before finally summoning the courage to talk about last season. Except, of course, the doors open on Rupert at that moment, and Nate swallows the rest of his words.
The next time they meet, Nate is back in mean mode. When Ted suggests they all have fun at the opening handshake, his former protégé shoots him a dismissive look. For the first time, we see Ted react with genuine hurt. Everyone—Roy, Higgins, Beard, the audience—knows he’s carrying this pain, but this is the first time we get to see it leak out this season.
The first half proves relatively evenly matched until West Ham scores on a breakaway. Then, Nate reminds us he is a skilled tactician when he calls an audible. His team does the soccer equivalent of a full-court press. Within seconds, a Nil-Nil tie becomes a 2-0 lead for West Ham.
At the half, Rebecca calls Ted away to disingenuously tell him to have fun. In addition to being a showcase for Waddingham to show how bad Rebecca is at pretending not to care about winning, it also takes Ted away from the locker room. While he’s gone, Beard and Roy show the team the footage. By the time he returns, Richmond is in a full lather.
When I was a kid, I once asked my Dad why teams didn’t always “play for someone”—like the injured teammate or the sick young fan. Surely they’d win every time. My father, being not young or dumb like myself and a 1000 times the athlete I’d ever be, explained that such an approach is no guarantee of winning. In fact, sometimes, it might make the team play even worse. Roy and Beard should’ve talked to my Dad. Perhaps then they could’ve avoided the disastrous second half in which Richmond concentrates its efforts only on fighting as West Ham adds two more goals. By time, the score is 4-1. Nate is so excited he completely ignores Ted’s outstretched hand.
Sudeikis is top-notch here. His body language, the timber of his voice, the glassy eyes. It isn’t showy, but it reads so well on-screen.
Postgame, Beard and Roy plead for Ted to yell at them, which he refuses. Instead, he only asks them to hand over the thumb drive. That connects nicely with an earlier scene where it appears the coach is considering stealing the drive out of Beard’s laptop. He knew this outcome might happen, but rather than remove the means, he let his assistants make their own mistake. On the one hand, good for him not being underhanded and just taking it. On the other, sometimes being the coach means making a decision. He didn’t have to steal the drive to stop them from making this lousy choice.
Meanwhile, Rebecca witnesses Rupert and his disconcerting secretary engaging in a bit of what I can only call “grab ass.” She later confronts him about it, telling him his daughter and wife deserve better. It’s a short but strong scene for both Waddingham, who is steely and in control, and Head, who lets his smug grin dissipate. It’s a scene akin to the darts moment from season 1. She rocks him back on his heels in a way we’ve rarely seen.
Alas, when Nate later shows up at Bones and Honey for a postgame celebration and a chance to call Mr. Mannion “Rupert” again, he also clocks Rupert and his secretary’s inappropriate behavior. So Rebecca may have given him a bit of chin music, but it didn’t last long. It’s also the episode’s second moment of showing Nate West Ham’s owner isn’t exactly a worthy father figure.
Finally, we return to Ted. Contemplating a healthy pour of scotch, he instead sits down to call Michelle (Andrea Anders). I haven’t written about Ted much this season, but this scene demands attention. Sudeikis is top-notch here. His body language, the timber of his voice, the glassy eyes. It isn’t showy, but it reads so well on-screen. And while he does the typical Ted thing—make the intelligent choice rather than the satisfying one—he at least admits the situation with Dr. Jacob has him “pissed.” As a therapist, I wish he’d file an ethics board complaint. On behalf of Michelle, I wish he’d file one because Dr. Jacob’s actions victimize her too. But as a dad and as a product of divorce when I was a kid, I get it. I get why it was the only play for a guy like Ted. Even if it sucks.
- It was pointed out to me last week that “4-5-1” is a song by a band called Footprints. Thanks, Linda. Sorry I missed that, everybody. There are several songs called “Big Week,” but perhaps they should’ve gone with “One Week.”
- There’s a subplot involving Keeley (Juno Temple) meeting her financial backer and Shandy way overstepping, but I have no doubt they’ll be more on that soon AND this recap is already way too long.
- I liked the visual gag of seeing Roy’s headlamp light moving back and forth, letting us know he was shaking his head when he wasn’t on camera.
- Ted asks his Uber drivers if they need him to take over because, of course, he does.
- Ted never replacing the sign, just mending it, didn’t register to me until this episode. Sports people can be superstitious, but I don’t quite think that’s the deal here.
- Nate not letting the restaurant manager compare their jobs was a nice bit of toxicity on the wonder kid’s part.
- Worth noting both that Colin makes another gay joke about himself this episode and Crimm’s reaction to it.
- Swift is great as Higgins. I can’t say it enough.
- Will falling off the bus while weighed down by multiple bags is further evidence of “yes, he’s not getting picked on, but he’s not exactly treated well.” I’m almost certainly overthinking this.
- Given the little we see of Zava this week, and how he acts, I’m guessing the honeymoon will be over next episode. We’re about to see that destructive side of him.
- In contrast, nice to see Jamie ready for Roy at episode’s end. Again, further evidence of his maturation.
- I still don’t get why Ted the Lego has grey hair and Nate the Lego has black.
- I have no idea what to make of Michelle’s expression after she talks to Ted.
Let’s Go To The Tape
- “It’s 4 AM.” “Yeah, we start at 4 AM.” “I thought that was a joke.” “How was that a joke?” “Cuz it’s 4 AM.”
- “2011, friends be fucking.”
- “Fuck Nate. Fuck thinking. And fuck Socrates.”
- “We have a saying in Codependents Anonymous. “What?” “Oh, Jane makes me go with her.”
- “Dream big. You may never wake up.”
- “Sounds silly. Maybe you should quit your big new busy job.”
- “I think the most beautiful parts of a woman are her flaws.”
- “Jane’s sister’s in town—” “No, thank you, Coach.” “That’s the right answer.”
- “No, it’s short for my dad wanted a boy.”
- “The violence was quite entertaining, wasn’t it? In a way.”
- “It’d be great if you yelled at us a bit.”
- “Oh my God, you’re famous.”
- “What a fucking asshole.”