Sam begins “Midnight Train to Royston,” the penultimate episode of Ted Lasso’s second season, with a smile on his face. He ends it with a heavy weight on his shoulders. As the episode opens, some indeterminate time has passed since the Wembley humiliation, but it’s been enough for AFC Richmond to turn its season around, and rather dramatically. Sam deserves much of the credit, but with winning comes new responsibilities, new possibilities, and new expectations. It’s hard to be down in the world of Ted Lasso. But being on top comes with problems, too. And what’s true for Sam is true throughout the Richmond organization. Things are, at least on the surface, going well for everyone. But with success comes the fear that the good times won’t last, that we won’t be able to stick around long enough to enjoy them, or that they’re not really so good after all.
For Sam, it’s a question of sticking around and whether he can justify staying. Professionally he’s riding high. Fans and his teammates love him. But the Rebecca question remains just that: a question. She texts him after he pulls off a hat trick in a crucial game, but it ends there. “Have a nice night” is not exactly an invitation to pick up where they left off, and it’s not like he doesn’t understand her hesitation. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, even if he doesn’t begin the episode with any thoughts of leaving.
That changes. Shortly after Ted joins a meeting between Rebecca and Keeley spurred by an upcoming Vanity Fair business issue profile naming Keeley a “Powerful Woman on the Rise,” Higgins reveals that they’re set to be paid a visit by Edwin Akufo (Sam Richardson), the heir to the seemingly bottomless fortune of a Ghanian tech mogul. They fear that he will attempt to buy the team from Rebecca. But they’re off. He just wants Sam. And though the episode ends without Sam giving Edwin a definitive answer, he’s given a lot of reasons to go.
That’s partly because Edwin has such a disarming presence. He arrives via helicopter (and preceded by a motorcade) but emerges all smiles and easy manners. Sure, he refuses to shake Ted’s hand, but he’s nice about it (even if some of that niceness becomes questionable when he offers Sam an elaborate handshake). The hospitality doesn’t end there, morphing into a full-on charm offensive complete with a trip to see the work of a Nigerian artist and perhaps Banksy and an outing to a West African restaurant that prepares food just the way Sam likes it. Sure, there’s some weirdness, like a museum filled with extras and the revelation that Edwin had the restaurant built and filled with friends just for the occasion.
Weirdness aside, there’s much more to Edwin’s offer to help him build a powerhouse team of African players in Africa. It doesn’t just flatter Sam’s ego; it appeals to his identity as an African and his desire to do good for the world in general and Africa in particular. Edwin told Rebecca he had plans to make her an offer she could not refuse. It looks like he might have done the same for Sam. But it’s hard to factor out Rebecca, who confesses her feelings for Sam to Ted. Sam’s clearly still much on her mind, but when she shows up at Sam’s house with a nonanswer, it doesn’t seem like a tremendous enticement to stay.
They’re not the only couple in trouble (if they still count as a couple) in this week’s episode. Though Roy spends much of the episode’s early scenes complaining about being told he has crazy eyebrows, he’s happy to join Keeley for the photo shoot and says all the right, supportive things to calm her nerves. There’s no embellishment there, either. He really does care about her and is proud of her. But there’s something else going on. He’s not sure why he lingered so long with Phoebe’s charming teacher or refrained from mentioning Keeley when she asked if he was married. And though he’s honest with Keeley about this, Keeley doesn’t like hearing it. Roy, in turn, doesn’t like hearing about Nate overstepping his bounds. And he especially doesn’t like hearing about Jamie’s confession of love. It’s not that he’s jealous, exactly. The scene doesn’t end with Roy stomping off into the night to exact revenge (or with Keeley setting off to do the same). In some ways, that would be more comforting than what we do get (via a fine bit of wordless acting from Brett Goldstein and Juno Temple): a couple’s wordless realization that they’re not on as solid footing as they recently thought.
Ted has an experience akin to that, albeit a platonic one, with Sharon, who’s leaving the team, presumably to help some other organization become a less fearful, more supportive place. Ted doesn’t love that she’s leaving, but he hates that he’s not allowed to give her a proper good-bye when Sharon tries to slip away quietly, leaving behind only a handful of thoughtful letters. That’s not the way things are done, or at least not how Ted prefers they be done.
Ted still has issues with good-byes, and understandably so, given his past with his father and his present distance from his son. Beyond this, he and Sharon have a connection, having each helped the other through a tough time. That kind of connection needs to be acknowledged with more than a letter, or so Ted believes until reading the letter Sharon planned to leave behind after confronting her at her apartment. It’s a pretty great letter and a final opportunity for Sharon to prove that Ted doesn’t always know what he’s talking about, even when it comes to feelings, despite a seemingly lifelong habit of trying to make everyone around him feel good. He gets the last laugh by sending her off with a note and an Army man after slipping away, but any ill feelings have been put to bed. At least when it comes to Sharon.
However, his feelings toward Nate have started to undergo a seismic shift at the episode’s end when Trent Crimm (of The Independent) texts him that he’s about to publish a story on Ted’s covered-up panic attack and that Nate was the source. Nate’s going through some stuff, and it’s starting to hurt those around him. That applies to Ted, of course, a friend and mentor who believed in Nate when nobody else did but who’s now become the focus of Nate’s resentment and swelling ego. But it also applies to Will, the kit man who’s become the continuing butt of Nate’s abuse. And it especially applies to Keeley, who takes time to help Nate pick out a new (and extremely expensive) suit. During the outing, as Keeley adjusts his tie, he kisses her.
It’s the most cringe-inducing moment the series has ever featured. Keeley’s smart and sweet, a good friend who’s generous with her time and who’s sent out no signals suggesting that she’s open to Nate’s advances, yet now has to deal with a lot of awkwardness she didn’t ask for and that will inevitably spill to both her personal and professional life. (Her generosity extends to her first instinct in reacting to the situation, which is to comfort Nate in an attempt to make him less embarrassed.)
If we assume that this dark phase in Nate’s life is just that, a phase, it’s a scene in which a socially awkward person has his worst fears about interacting with others confirmed by Keeley’s rejection. But can we assume it’s just a phase? Does Nate’s abuse of Will and Colin and his betrayal of Ted suggest otherwise? And it’s worth remembering that, assuming Keeley had responded to his unwanted kiss, it would mean hurting Roy, another ostensible friend. Is it safe to say that Nate has gone to the Dark Side at this point? Or is the very concept of going to the Dark Side antithetical to the philosophy of the show?
If Ted Lasso is going to answer this or any other lingering questions, it only has one episode to get it done. Let’s meet back here next week to talk about the finale.
• A few episodes back, Ted crashed Roy’s visit to a Middle Eastern restaurant in which three pictures hung in a place of honor: Roy Kent, (series composer) Marcus Mumford, and George Wendt. As I had forgotten, but a reader pointed out, Wendt is Sudeikis’s uncle. But Ted Lasso pays homage to Cheers beyond the Wendt shout-out this week. Ted refers to Rebecca and Sam being a favorite couple (interesting choice), and Higgins’s arrival is greeted with a bunch of enthusiastic “Higgins!” followed by Rebecca’s sole “Leslie.” It’s “Norm! … Norman” all over again.
• Beard’s “We used to believe that trees competed with each other for light” is a tip of the hat to the work of ecologist Suzanne Simard, whom he references by name. He seems to have the natural world on his mind this week. His reading material is Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life, a book about the wonders of fungi. (Great name, by the way.)
• Nick Mohammed is 40 years old. Yes, I was shocked to learn that too. Is it a coincidence that the show is letting him go gray this season as the character takes a turn?
• That Wizard of Oz game Ted enjoys to play at the pub is fun, groundbreaking, and extremely hard.
• Edwin’s being from Ghana is no coincidence. Sam Richardson’s mother is also from Ghana, and he spent a lot of time there as a kid. He talked about it during an appearance on Colbert and visited the country with Conan O’Brien.