The show’s titular character goes missing again in an episode that moves things forward and challenges character consistency.
Character cohesion is one of the keys to making a show work over the long haul. You can get away with a lot if it rings true for the character in question. However, if you can’t make that character recognizable across several situations, you risk the audience losing interest in them. After all, how can one care about a character who the viewers can’t get to know?
There are many opportunities to consider this dilemma while watching the Jane Becker (from fan-favorite episodes “Trent Crimm: The Independent” and “No Weddings and a Funeral”) written and Matt Lipsey (most recently of “The Strings That Bind Us”), directed “International Break.”
For instance, there’s Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández). The episode’s title refers to a scheduled league shutdown that allows team members to go home and play for their native teams if selected. Jamie (Phil Dunster) gets the nod for England, Colin (Billy Harris) for Wales, Bumbercatch (Moe Hashim) for Switzerland, Van Damme (Moe Jeudy-Lamour) for Canada, and Dani for Mexico. Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) is notably not chosen for Nigeria.
When Van Damme goes to Dani to express his excitement about the Canada-Mexico matchup, he finds a very changed teammate/soon-to-be-brief opponent. And so it goes through the rest of the episode with Van Damme being himself and Dani being a suddenly dark, mean, joyless enemy. Finally, it all culminates in Richmond’s sweetest guy kicking a ball so hard into the Canadian goalie’s face it breaks his nose.
For my money, Dani is such a figure of sweetness and humor that the switch works. He exists to get laughs. This sudden turn gets laughs. That said, his dark incarnation breaking Van Damme’s nose feels a step (or four) too far. Being threatening, standoffish, and crushing all of Van Damme’s Doritos is one thing. Causing his teammate bodily harm is entirely another.
On shakier ground is Nate (Nick Mohammed), the now-former West Ham coach. While the initial announcement on Soccer Saturday is vague enough to imply he got fired, it turns out that Nate didn’t just pass up a “guys’ night” with Rupert (Anthony Head). He fully quit working for the man too. As he explains to Jade (Edyta Budnik) before she leaves to visit her family—I guess everyone gets an International Break?—he doesn’t regret it. However, that doesn’t stop him from being deeply depressed. After laying in bed until the paparazzi dissipate, he sneaks/breaks into his parents’ home to spend time in a new bed.
Eventually, he shakes his mood enough to explore his parents’ home, find his old violin, and play it. While doing so, his dad (Peter Landi) interrupts and admits that he never knew how to raise Nate, whom he declares a genius. This seems to promote some kind of healing because soon Nate and his parents are enjoying a fun game of UNO. Later, Nate sneaks into the Dogtrack and does all of Will’s (Charlie Hiscock) kitman duties, leaving a note of apology for past behaviors.
It is all nice and touching, AND it feels a little bit too easy. Nate’s dad, in particular, has never demonstrated signs of warmth or support. All evidence doesn’t point to him struggling to raise a genius. There’s no struggle. He was consistently rough on Nate with no moments of lightness. But now I guess that’s all ok?
Nate’s journey is at least a bit more fleshed out. Quitting West Ham is one of those incredibly significant character moments I wish we got to see, but it is absolutely a step in the right direction. On the other hand, his apology to Will is nice but a bit…undercooked. So, the wonder kid isn’t inconsistent so much as his redemption continues to feel rushed. But the clock is ticking, so there’s no choice but to rush it now. Still, in retrospect, it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of Nate finding his way via two steps forward, one step back.
Keeping things in West Ham, Rupert also gets a spotlight this episode. Unfortunately, after going full supervillain last episode, he now comes across as a completely different character. He sent his assistant/mistress packing, possibly (likely?) because of Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) recrimination. He has fun, bittersweet banter with Rebecca. He’s genuinely laughing with his ex-wife out of something besides condescension. He even tries to kiss her in what reads as a genuine, albeit shitty, moment. And this is the man who was arranging for Nate to cheat last week and practically purring at the possibility of it? Head is, again, great, but it’s hard to rectify the change in character.
Still, in retrospect, it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of Nate finding his way via two steps forward, one step back.
The reason Rupert and Rebecca have to spend time together is Edwin Akufo’s (Sam Richardson) return. He’s in England hoping to drum up support for his version of the super league. Also, to screw with Sam by keeping the Greyhound off the Nigerian team, making many false reservations to Ola, and planning to open another Nigerian restaurant about 15 minutes away to compete with Ola. Alas, while his torment of Sam goes largely as he’d like, Rebecca derails the super league train. In response, Akufo belts all the football team owners with food (off camera) and storms away. Richardson’s Akufo is a maniac but so delightfully petty in his wickedness.
In addition to stopping the super league, Waddingham has another episode demonstrating how transformative her experience in “Sunflowers” has been. The Ola matchbook has apparently lost its foreboding power. She now lines it up alongside Ted’s tiny green army man as a talisman of good. We also witness her realizing that she’s grown from the little girl she was to the powerful figure she was trying to feel like during her “how big are you” mirror rituals.
Then, in the episode’s final scene, she reveals to Ted what most of us likely realized before her. She’s finally well and truly over Rupert. She wants Richmond to do well for her, her friends, her employees, and her players. She is no longer motivated by a desire to hurt Rupert. While the Amsterdam boatman proved a bit catalyst, this conclusion feels earned and consistent with Rebecca. She’s been heading here since she confessed to Ted her Major League-esque plan to destroy the team in Season 1.
After spending much of the episode like a walking version of bedridden Nate, Keeley (Juno Temple) becomes a major recipient of Rebecca’s positive transformation. Without warning, Jack’s (Jodi Balfour) VC has pulled Keeley’s company’s funding. It completes Jack’s arc from cool person to judgmental jerk to coward. It also cements that Jack was only ever really an extension of her father. Her money and her opinions are only hers til Daddy and the board vote otherwise.
Unfortunately, the show has written Keeley into a similar corner. There’s not a damn thing wrong with being sad and day drinking after your dream job goes away. Additionally, Temple gets some great moments playing off Katy Wix’s dry but warming slightly Barbara. However, this season has given her more on-camera time at the cost of her being an active participant in her life. The Rebecca-Keeley bond is one of the best aspects of the show. It makes total sense that Rebecca would want to help her friend. However, it would’ve been better if that help came in the form of inspiration. Then, confidence restored, Keeley goes out, lands that sunglass account again, and use that money to keep herself and Barbara in (very stripped down) business. It just would’ve given Keeley more agency, something she’s needed for several episodes now.
Another character that has significantly benefitted from his journey is Jamie. Dunster turns in a delightful episode this week, illustrating how far the superstar has come and how organic it feels. Besides getting chosen for the English team, he shows up at Phoebe’s (Elodie Blomfield) Uncle Day celebration for Roy (Brett Goldstein). The striker gives a great gift one minute—a replica of Roy’s first England kit—and teases Roy about how attractive his sister is the next. That and how he interacts with Sam this week makes him an MVP with very little screen time.
Phoebe also has a gift for her beloved uncle, a tie-dye shirt in red, orange, and yellow, in honor of Roy’s name, of course. Roy doesn’t like it, but in classic him fashion immediately wears it the next day. He just loves that girl that much. Around the stadium, him wearing something bright gets him weird looks a-plenty. At school dropoff, on the other hand, it gets him noticed by Ms. Bowen (Ruth Bradley). We learn that her first name is Leanne, and she was ABSOLUTELY flirting with Roy the last time we saw her. More to the point, she picks up right there again. She has fun game, but sadly she reminds Roy he was a jerk to Keeley, so instead of flirting back, he runs off to buy stationary.
It’s good as long as you don’t think about other episodes, the scene before it, or the scene after it.
Going through several drafts, Roy finally settles on a nigh-illegible apology note he intends to leave for Keeley to find. Instead, she catches him in the act and makes him read it to her. It is genuine, heartfelt, and owns his insecurities. It proves so moving, it moves them both into bed together. The whole thing nicely settles whether his reaction in “We’ll Never Have Paris” was bad or just bad writing. It was bad but consistent. Roy is sometimes thoughtless but good at his core and trying to get better. The capper, Roy showing up in a second tie-dye shirt, this one in darker colors, suggests he’s finding a way to integrate the parts of who he was with the better parts of who he’s becoming.
You may have noticed I didn’t mention Ted (Jason Sudeikis) until now. This was not an accident. There’s even less of him here than there was in last episode. Bold strategy with now only two episodes left to go. We’ll see how it works out for them.
It’s probably clear from my recap I had issues with this episode. There’s great here. In fact, I’d argue that most interactions, taken as separate aspects, are excellent. However, as part of a larger whole, the episode suffers. Rupert perking up to hear Rebecca describe his childhood is wonderful, but that Rupert didn’t exist last week. So much of this episode feels like that. It’s good as long as you don’t think about other episodes, the scene before it, or the scene after it.
- Richmond’s winning streak is now at ten games. That puts them still four short of entering the top five winning streaks in Premiere League history but is nonetheless not too shabby.
- Hey Dani, who’s going to clean up all those Dorito crumbs on the plane? Not cool, dude.
- Phoebe’s favorite holidays- Uncle Day, Uncle Roy’s Birthday, and Perchtenlaufen.
- Jamie playing for England wearing Sam’s number is one of those small kindnesses that seem huge in the moment the show does so well.
- I love they gave Richardson a minute to show off his accent work. I also love his assistant’s commitment to the “too slow” bit and Kimoh going along with it.
- Nice to see Roy is the rare person with handwriting almost as terrible as mine
Let’s Go To The Tape
- “Am I an idiot?” “Sometimes, yes.”
- “Couldn’t imagine being in a different country than my axes.”
- “Your sister is fit.” “I will cut your eyes out.”
- “It is nice to meet you. Edwin has told me awful things about you.”
- “I hate to break it to you, Rebecca, but those children are dead.”- Higgins (Jeremy Swift) rules.
- “Smooth move, fuckwit.”
- “I like clothes that tell the truth.”
- “The whole Russia thing… it’s just not a good look right now.”
- “Sincerely yours, Roy Kent XOXO.”
- “So, where are you from originally?” “None of your business.” “Yeah. Yeah. It was a bit personal.”
- “Godspeed. Or whatever narcotic your deity chooses to self-medicate with.”
it’s amazing how people get things wrong. Opening another Nigerian restaurant 15 minutes away is bad enough, but what is worse is Tim Stevens either not paying attention, or winging it, because what Edwin Akufo wants to do is something WAY WORSE than even Tim’s inattention. He wants to open a Nigerian restaurant 20 METRES away, not 15 minutes. I wish all of these Ted Lasso recap writers were FORCED TO WATCH THE (=&^$^&G EPISODE TWICE, instead of trying to figure it all out on the first watching. Waste of time to get things wrong.