What makes Ted Lasso work? We could probably spend hours trying to crack that nut, and it might make the show less fun if we succeeded. But here’s one element contributing a lot to its success: Ted Lasso works because it’s concerned with what makes Ted Lasso work. It would be easy for Jason Sudeikis to make Ted into a smiling Guru of the Great Plains who always has all the answers and the right words to turn those answers into pithy phrases. And often Ted does play that role, and well. But Ted’s not right all the time. He’s gambled, for instance, on niceness being the answer to all of AFC Richmond’s problems when it might only be an answer to some of the team’s problems. And he’s not always honest with himself about his limitations, including his ability to generate goodwill with humor and charm.
With Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, those abilities have seemingly met their match. Ted begins the episode trying to win her friendship the way he (eventually) won Rebecca’s: with biscuits. But it doesn’t work because Sharon, as she’s now letting others call her, doesn’t eat sugar. And she has good reason not to eat sugar because, in her words, “In a past life, I would inhale a Cadbury Flake and talk nonsense for an hour until I pass out.” She’s someone with the discipline to scoot away from bad habits. Or maybe she’s just denying herself, as Ted used to do, and maybe still does, with video games when, “in reality,” he’s determined, “all I’m doing is depriving myself of something that makes me happy instead of trying to adjust my relationship to it.”
Ted changes the subject by asking Sharon her favorite book, and their relationship shifts. Ted reveals himself as more self-analytical than perhaps Sharon has suspected, but she also sees what he’s doing, the way he uses folksiness and approachability to “disarm” others. When she calls him on it, it’s tough to read the expression on Ted’s face. Is she telling him something about himself he didn’t know, or does Ted recognize she’s invulnerable to his well-honed people skills? That latter seems more likely. He looks exposed.
So far, Sudeikis and Sarah Niles’s scenes together have been some of this still-young season’s best. That includes the encounter that bookends the episode, in which Sharon melts enough to let Ted call her “Doc,” speaks admiringly of the atmosphere of niceness and openness he’s cultivated with the club, then challenges him to figure out why AFC Richmond still hasn’t won a game. Ted’s accomplishing everything he set out to accomplish, including defusing a locker room made toxic by the preening, bullying Jamie Tartt. But it’s not enough.
What will make it enough? Maybe, Ted bets by episode’s end, the return of the previous season’s biggest problem: Jamie Tartt. Jamie begins the episode with a string of humiliations. He’s kicked off Lust Conquers All — love the shots of his fellow contestants getting emotional — and his agent doesn’t think he can place him on a team after he walked away from Manchester City and cheated on Amy in the Lust Conquers All hot tub. (The nerve.) He still attracts autograph seekers (and graciously gives them his time), but it’s not exactly a throng of fans anymore. To get on his feet again, he comes crawling back to AFC Richmond, first by stalking Keeley on her lunch break. Well, “stalking” may be too harsh a word. Jamie doesn’t want to use that word, at least, and he’s seemingly not trying to get back together with Keeley, telling her, “I just want to talk to somebody because whenever I think of talking, I think of you.” Presumably taken with his honesty, she sets up a meeting with Ted.
This turns into a glum heart-to-heart at the pub. Jamie tells Ted he walked away from Man City to piss off the overbearing father we saw bullying him at the end of last season, prompting Ted to wax reflective about demanding dads. (“I hear Bono’s father was a real piece of work. Then again, so was Joshua Tree.”) Jamie sees Ted both as a way back into football and maybe toward a happier sort of existence. Ted, however, has his doubts.
And with good reason. Just the thought of Jamie returning to the team sends the gentle Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) into an uncharacteristic rage, which is pretty understandable: Sam was on the receiving end of some of Jamie’s worst behavior — “No teammate has ever made me feel as bad about myself as Jamie did,” he says — but he’s thriving now. Sam’s even becoming something of a team standout, one personally picked by team sponsor Dubai Air to appear in its ads. Ted’s reassurances that, no, Jamie’s not coming back soothe Sam’s nerves and restore his faith in Ted. What effect Jamie showing up to practice will have remains to be seen.
Whatever the case, Ted Lasso seems determined not to take the obvious route with Jamie, who appears genuinely chastened by being cast out into the professional wilderness. The series also doesn’t show much interest in reviving the Jamie-Keeley-Roy love triangle, if not above feinting in that direction. Immediately after Keeley and Jamie’s heartfelt scene, the episode cuts to Roy walking into his home, not being able to find Keeley, and walking into their bedroom, where he finds Keeley alone and Jamie nowhere to be found. She is busy, however, pleasuring herself while watching something she doesn’t want Roy to see on her phone: his tearful retirement press conference. After she explains she’s turned on by Roy’s display of passion and vulnerability, adding that she hasn’t really seen him that way since retirement, he takes it in stride and even shares his own interest in watching couples have sex in the woods. (“Because I could never be that free.”)
With all that out in the open, things seem just fine between them, especially after Roy agrees to give Sky Sports a try. It goes well, much to Roy’s annoyance. Where the other commentators equivocate and pull punches, Roy says he thinks Chelsea played “like shit.” His bluntness makes him a hit, much to Keeley’s delight. Roy can only say he felt good being “back around the game” (even good enough to take her interest in his retirement speech to another level).
Meanwhile, Rebecca continues her adventures in online dating, Higgins drifts from work space to work space (hilariously appearing, seemingly out of thin air, at the end of Ted’s talk with Sam), and Nate continues to find fault in everything Will does, from putting pineapple in the water to using lavender-scented detergent on the towels. His transformation from underdog to demanding boss has been speedy, and hasn’t necessarily brought out the best in him. What happens next — with Nate and everyone else — remains to be seen, but there’s a long season ahead and it seems unlikely the team can float by pleasantly on ties forever.
• Ted Lasso’s always been great at dropping unexpected but well-chosen pop-culture references, and this season has been no exception. Last episode brought in the Gin Blossoms and Diane Sawyer; this one piles on everything from U2 to Jimmy Buffett (Ted is a fan, which tracks) to the career of Ted Danson, whose ability to float from classic to classic makes him, in Ted’s assessment, the male Julia Louis-Dreyfus (which, Jamie adds, makes her the female Dave Grohl).
• Oh, and Robert “Plant” and Jimmy “Page.” Good jokes, Ted and Higgins.
• Will a future episode feature Ted’s explanation for why The Fountainhead, of all books, is his favorite? Let’s hope.
• Ted tells Jamie that his dad was “a lot harder on himself than he ever was on me.” He previously revealed that he lost his father at 16. Bit by bit, we’re learning about the ways Ted’s father shaped his life.
• Another great moment: Ted and Rebecca agreeing that neither needs therapy because “Why pay someone to do what a friend should do for you for free?” Then, though both characters clearly have a lot on their minds and like each other a lot, they have nothing else to stay. Add this and Roy and Keeley deciding to be fully honest with one another to last episode’s “girl talk” scene, and it becomes clear that Ted Lasso is, among other things, a show about how people communicate with one another (or don’t).