At the outset of “Rainbow,” the fifth episode of Ted Lasso’s second season, AFC Richmond still hasn’t found its way. Reviewing game footage after its latest loss, the team seems on the verge of despair except for, notably, team captain Isaac (Kola Bokinni), who is more angry than sad and eager to take that anger out on his teammates. Ted, however, is all right because he believes in “communism.” After a few beats of confusion pass, he clarifies: “Rom-communism.”
Coach Beard’s grunt suggests he’s either skeptical of this neologism or he’s heard it before and doesn’t like what follows. But Ted is all-in on rom-communism. If believe serves as a concise, one-word summary of Ted’s faith, rom-communism is its Nicene Creed, a worldview in which struggles inevitably give way to a happy ending, and, in Ted’s words, “Everything will work out in the end.” That he then segues to comparing the team’s current state to the “dark forest” section of a fairy tale adds a bit of confusion, but even this fits into Ted’s philosophy, one that allows room for happy endings even when things don’t go exactly according to plan. “It may not work out how you think it will or how you hope it does,” Ted clarifies, “but believe me: It will work out exactly as it’s supposed to. Our job is to have zero expectations and just let go.”
Isaac aside, the team seems moved by the speech, as concise a distillation of what makes Ted Lasso Ted Lasso as he’s ever offered. But it’s not without limits. There’s a difference between “just letting go” and refusing introspection, made all the more apparent as Ted continues to keep Sharon at a (friendly) arm’s length, both from himself and, most of the time, from his team. When she offers to help Isaac, Ted tells her he’s got it under control and knows what he needs. In fact, he has no idea. He would ordinarily bring in his team captain, but Isaac is the team captain. What’s to be done?
It turns out that what’s to be done is bringing in an old team captain, none other than Roy Kent, to set Isaac straight. Doing so first means finding him. Fortunately, with some help from Keeley, Ted tracks down Roy at a nearby kebab restaurant that Roy considers his “church.” Roy, on the surface, at least, isn’t happy to see Ted. (Notably, this is the first time the two characters have shared a scene all season.) But Ted’s not there just for Isaac’s sake. He wants Roy to coach, an offer Roy instantly refuses, insisting he likes his new job as a pundit, saying, “People tweet about me, with GIFs and everything.”
He’s kidding himself, and Ted knows it. Even the kebab-shop owner seems to know it, sharing his story of dropping out of med school because “it’s just not what I was meant to do.” And what was Roy meant to do? Most immediately, he recognizes he was meant to help Isaac, which means reawakening Isaac’s love of the game via a rough-and-tumble match on the pitch near the council estate where Roy grew up. This works remarkably well, but it also seems to awaken something in Roy that he’ll have to deal with later.
Elsewhere, other AFC Richmond players and staff are also assessing the courses of their lives. Keeley seems perfectly happy with how her job is going. Bantr has signed on as the new sponsor — good-bye, Dubai Air — and a coffee company has supplied a stack of new machines for the team. But not Nate, another seeming confirmation of his second-tier status. Before Ted seeks out Roy, Nate volunteers to serve as the “big dog” Ted says Isaac needs, but Ted only laughs, assuming Nate’s kidding. That he’s not kidding dovetails with what’s going on with Nate elsewhere.
The episode opens with Nate trying to secure a choice seat at the relatively modest Greek restaurant A Taste of Athens for his parents’ 35th anniversary. That’s the jade anniversary, and, by coincidence, Jade is also the name of the standoffish host who is willing to give him a reservation for the big night, so long as they sit by the kitchen. Nate accepts this and slinks away. But it haunts him.
Nate is near famous, successful, and confident people all day, but he doesn’t feel like he’s one of them. To remedy this, he seeks out Keeley’s advice in the hopes that he too can be famous. Having experienced the downside of fame (and its benefits, like “so much free shit”), Keeley warns him off fame. But when she discovers he’s just having a little trouble getting a restaurant reservation, she brings in Rebecca for help.
Rebecca immediately offers to solve the problem by buying the restaurant, before offering a lesson in assertiveness at Keeley’s prompting. “You just need to be commanding,” she offers, then demonstrates how she gets into a commanding frame of mind by drawing herself up to her tiptoe height, stretching her arms, and exhaling forcefully. (Keeley: “Fuck, you’re amazing. Let’s invade France.”) Lesson learned, Nate’s fully prepared to get that table, which he accomplishes by asserting himself and demanding it of Jade, who complies but declines to give Nate her number. (Still, it’s a victory.)
Meanwhile, Rebecca is learning to be assertive on a different front. Having found someone she likes, a lot, on Bantr, she has decided to be direct and tell him she’s looking for love. But because it’s Bantr, she has no idea who she is talking to, only that he knows just the right Rilke quote to melt her heart. But who is he? The episode cuts from Rebecca tapping out a reply to Ted looking at his phone. Is the show trying to tell us something?
If so, that very rom-commy (rom-commie?) development will have to wait. Other rom-com staples, however, will not. After dropping rom-com references throughout the episode, “Rainbow” ends with a flood of homages. Roy, in a moment of clarity, recognizes that he has to coach and leave punditry to the others and walks off Sky Sports mid-broadcast. (“Roy, come back,” real-life football pundit Jeff Stelling exclaims. “Jeff,” Roy replies with a knowing nod, “I have to go.”) From there, it’s a madcap dash to the stadium hampered by heavy traffic, a bum knee, and some not-so-helpful ticket-takers who only let him in when he claims tickets left for “Reba McEntire.” Elsewhere, some senior spectators tell how they met à la When Harry Met Sally …, and, when a breathless Roy finally arrives at the stadium, he and Ted exchange lines modified from Jerry Maguire. (Brett Goldstein even does a dead-on impression of Tom Cruise’s chopping-the-air running style.) Even Beard, the rom-communist doubter, finds the moment magic. Ted was right: Everything did work out.
• Except it’s a little more complicated than that. “Rainbow” offers up two seemingly incompatible approaches to life. From Ted, there’s a sense that it’s best to trust the design of the cosmos to reveal itself and be ultimately benevolent. On the other hand, Rebecca sees the universe as something that must be bent to her will. So who’s right? That now looks like a question destined to run throughout the season. Ted’s ability to inspire is his best quality, but it also has its limits. So does Ted, and the series hasn’t been afraid about depicting these. Rebecca’s search for love, on the other hand, would seem to depend on her surrendering some control and summoning up some trust.
• The Greyhounds’ enthusiasm for romantic comedies is both amusing and a little sad. Their list of movies and stars all date back at least a decade. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a new batch of deftly cast rom-coms, and none appear to be on the horizon, either.
• The episode’s deftest joke: Coach Beard explaining the confusingly named Sheffield Wednesday via a rapid-fire explosion of facts that short-circuits a “Who’s on First?”–style routine before it can get started. Ted supplies the perfect punch line as he goes to the Showgirls-comparison exchange that ends with Roy revealing he “dated Gershon once.” Ted’s reply, “That makes me happy.”
• We get some great glimpses of how Nate became the man he is via the scene with his parents and lines like Nate’s clarification that A Taste of Athens is his father’s favorite restaurant simply because “it’s the place my dad complains about the least.”
• The three celebs with pictures hanging on the wall of Roy’s kebab restaurant: Roy, George Wendt, and … does anyone recognize the third person?
• Hannah Waddingham has a wonderful career, but her scene of making herself big — especially that vampiric hiss — suggests that, in a different era, she could have made incredible contributions to Hammer horror movies.
• “I have five boys. I never look over anyone’s shoulders to see what’s on their screens. [Beat] I used to.”
• Let’s end with a question: Is this the second season’s best episode? Is it Ted Lasso’s best episode? It has to be up there. Just about everyone gets a great moment or a great line (even the otherwise sidelined Jamie makes a fun contribution to the rom-com discussion), it pushes the season-long story in some intriguing new directions, and the final stretch, set to the Higginses favorite song, is spectacular. What more could you ask for?