Roy Kent is not an expressive man, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an emotional man. Roy might wear a default expression of implacability (with the occasional eruption of a threatening sneer), but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, and Roy’s finding it increasingly hard to hide his feelings as life keeps throwing him one curveball after another. (Wrong sport, sure, but this episode puts a lot of emphasis on how rich with metaphorical value the sports world is, so let’s go with it.)
He’s not just still recovering from his breakup with Keeley. He’s dealing with it going public and the ensuing outpouring of pity and concern. He’s not merely wary of Trent Crimm writing a book about Richmond. Trent’s presence provides a daily reminder of a long-festering hurt. (It’s so hurtful that Roy still carries the clipping in his wallet.) And a return to Chelsea that should mostly remind him of how beloved he was when he played for the team instead provides a reminder of the passing of time. It would be a lot to deal with even if he didn’t have to worry about coaching Richmond as the club makes a return to the Premier League amid a lot of skepticism about whether it even belonged there.
Roy and the Greyhounds aren’t the only ones dealing with skepticism, however. Over at KJPR, Keeley tries to keep the mood upbeat and fun but doesn’t get a lot of help from the staff — especially Barbara. As Keeley heads into the company’s first big commercial shoot, she gets a lecture from Barbara about being sensible and keeping costs low. It’s not the first time they’ve had this conversation, but Barbara’s urgency suggests that she really wants Keeley to hear her. Keeley wants the job to be fun! She wants her co-workers to bond and like each other! She wants picnics in the conference room! But when she suggests that last one, Barbara tells Keeley she can’t make it, then doesn’t even try to hide her deception when Keeley points out that she didn’t say when it was. It doesn’t matter. Barbara’s not onboard, and neither are the glum office workers outside. “This is as loose as they get,” Barbara (or Babs, if you’re Keeley) warns. But Keeley is undeterred.
She’s also busy. For starters, Isaac wants a shoe deal — seemingly any shoe deal. (“No brands. Just shoes.”) Then, at the ad shoot itself, she reconnects with Shandy Fine (Ambreen Razia), an old friend from her modeling days. Their catch-up session reveals that Keeley’s other old friends have mostly married footballers and, what’s more, Shandy admires Keeley because “she made it out” all by herself. But there might be more to the reunion than nostalgia. Shandy suggests a production trick that will allow them to avoid the potentially budget-busting addition of a bunch of extras.
That sets off a light bulb: Keeley could hire Shandy. She can be, um, a consultant for affiliate management and client relationships. Shandy’s first brush with HR, in the form of Barbara, does not go well, revealing that Shandy has no experience, no higher education, and no real reason to be there. Barbara can’t stop the hire, but she can make it unpleasant.
And, to be fair, why shouldn’t she? Shandy shouldn’t be there, or at least she shouldn’t unless Keeley’s instinct is right and she might be a good addition to the team. And Keeley believes she will be — strongly enough to confront Barbara about her rudeness. But the meeting takes a turn after Keeley notes Barbara’s “massive” snow-globe collection and the two talk it out. Barbara remains skeptical, but Keeley has at least started to chip away at that skepticism — if only a little bit. (Fortunately, Barbara will never see Shandy’s text about using the company card to supply the office with mimosas.)
When it comes to public relations, Richmond has its own issues. Trent Crimm, no longer with The Independent, wants to write a book about the club. And though Rebecca, Higgins, and a visiting Keeley all vocally express support for the idea, they none-too-subtly encourage Ted to veto it. But Ted can’t bring himself to do it for whatever reason. Maybe his gut tells him it’s the right call. Maybe he feels it would contradict his commitment to candor. Either way, Trent Crimm is embedded with the club for the foreseeable future.
Not that everyone’s thrilled about this. After Ted reveals to the team that Trent’s writing a book, Roy immediately tries to short-circuit the effort. This would be understandable even if Roy and Trent didn’t have a history — albeit a history that only Roy thinks about. But sharing an office with Roy (a Ted idea) probably should have made Trent wonder why Roy hates him so much that he pops a bunch of balloons while Trent’s trying to take a phone call.
Ted’s making the hard sell on Trent and, during halftime at the Chelsea match, he finally stops messing around when Roy’s insistence that the team not cooperate with Trent causes them to go silent just as Jamie is about to suggest a strategy that might put them back in the game. When Roy meets with Trent, the truth comes out: As a young columnist trying to make a name for himself, Trent treated a 17-year-old Roy’s Premier League debut with cutting skepticism, and Roy never forgot it. After a tense conversation, and an apology from Trent, Roy welcomes Trent to the club. (Okay, welcomes might be a strong word, but he stops trying to get in Trent’s way.) When they return to the locker room, the strategizing flows and, eventually, they score (with a little help from a ricochet off of Dani’s face).
Trent’s book looks likely to have its share of drama — at least some it related to Zava (Maximilian Osinski), a “world-class striker” who wants to leave Italy for the Premier League, because his wife wants to live in England after bingeing The Office. (The original “premake,” to use Ted’s word, not the U.S. version.) It’s a curious choice, given the depiction of Slough on the series, but no doubt decisions have been made for stranger reasons. Zava can go wherever he likes. He’s played for 14 teams in 15 years, leaving behind, as Higgins puts it, “nothing but chaos and trophies.” His interest in England has every team in the league slavering at the prospect of signing him. Well, almost every team: Rebecca notes that he’s expensive and has a reputation as a diva (well-deserved, as we’ll later see). He’s not for Richmond.
Unless, of course, West Ham wants him. In that case, Rebecca’s all in. “Am I to assume you’re going to pursue a notoriously mercurial player you can’t really afford simply because the team your ex-husband owns wants him?” Trent asks. This time, it’s her turn to wave off the advice of those around her.
It’s a possibility that makes Beard yelp in shock and delight. Zava’s a “living legend” for his football skills and, to a lesser extent, for a viral clip of him acting as a “veggie-dog vigilante.” But signing Zava is easier said than done. Rebecca gets word that he won’t even meet with Richmond, figuring it would be a waste of his time. Instead, he plans to sign with Chelsea, which isn’t ideal, but it’s okay. At least Rupert won’t get him that way.
Rupert, however, has other plans. He shows up to the match with Chelsea attempting to intercept Zava. Rebecca explains to Keeley why this is a real threat based on her own experience: When he wants to be, Rupert is “charm personified.” It’s how he wooed her years ago, even though she had no interest in being with a married man — at least at first. But he was attentive and persistent, and he eventually wore down her defenses. (Keeley: “It’s a fine line between stalking and romance.”)
Rebecca has learned a thing or two about persistence. After a mocking run-in with Rupert, Rebecca makes a full-court press to sign Zava. (Again, wrong sport, but it works.) Pursuing Zava into the men’s toilet and finding him mid-pee, she tells him he’d be a coward to sign with West Ham, because he already knows he’ll win as a member of West Ham. What he needs to do to prove he’s “truly great” is sign with a club like AFC Richmond that will actually challenge him. Crazy thing: The pitch works. On the verge of signing with Chelsea, Zava switches — not to West Ham (as Rupert believes he’s engineered) but to Richmond.
It’s Roy who’s carrying the most emotional weight this episode, though. After Isaac uses kinesics (“the study of body language”) to sniff out Roy’s breakup with Keeley, Jamie takes the opportunity to talk to Roy about it (after a shot that suggests he’s going to use the opening to pursue Keeley). His concern is sincere (“It’s called empathy, you dusty old fart!”) if awkward — right down to a hug that doesn’t quite happen.
Mostly, Roy wants Jamie to keep his mouth shut. (And for Will Kitman to keep his mouth shut too.) They do, but Isaac does not, and the breakup has the locker room in an uproar (and prompts a screech from Beard and almost causes Ted to faint). The news spreads from there. By the time Roy gets to Chelsea, even a security guard from his Chelsea days knows about it. It’s a bittersweet reunion in other respects too. The crowd chants his name in respect, and Roy acknowledges it. He seems pleased, but his return has made him reflective. Sad, even, as he tells Ted in the episode’s final scene.
It was in his final season with Chelsea that Roy realized his abilities were in decline and that “it was only going to get worse.” He left largely because he didn’t want to be an aging footballer “taking up space.” But now, he wonders if he should have stayed and “enjoyed himself.” “But that is not who I am,” he says, to which Ted replies, “Not yet.”
“Sport,” Trent chimes in after Roy leaves. “It’s quite the metaphor.” Ted deflects the observation by turning it into a joke and giving Trent a new nickname in the process. Sport as a metaphor isn’t a new concept for Ted. He thinks about it all the time. And the lingering shot just before the credits roll suggests that he’s thinking about it again — and maybe about something else. Perhaps Roy’s talk about knowing when to leave.
• Ted’s “Why are we here?” hung over much of the previous episode. This episode puts that on the back burner (along with Ted in general), as the rest of the ensemble comes to the fore, but this clearly hasn’t gone away.
• Ted has one standout moment in this episode however: His confrontation with Roy plays like a mini greatest hits as the goofy demeanor melts away to reveal the coach who takes his job seriously, which in turn gives way to rapid-fire explanation of Hallmark Christmas movies. (“They suck, but they’re great,” and the love interest is “usually someone who owns a Christmas-tree farm.”)
• Absent this week: Nathan (although Rupert pointedly brags about him) and Doc. And I’m still waiting for Sam’s story arc to take shape.
• Beard and Jane: still a thing. And enough of a thing that Beard feels obligated to attend an “immersive theater show about the menstrual cycle” (but this seems like something the curious-minded coach might have checked out anyway).
• Like Ted, Dani makes wishes at 11:11.
• A new football season means a game-day return to the Crown & Anchor, where Mae continues to hold court and the news of Zava’s imminent arrival sends Richmond fans into a state of high excitement. Clearly, this team’s problems have been fixed and nothing but victory awaits them!