In sports, losing is bad, but malaise might be even worse. It’s undoubtedly demoralizing to be on a team that obviously more talented opponents frequently overpower, but watching one winnable game after another slip away takes an even deeper toll. As “Signs” opens, the Greyhounds are in the middle of a “dreary winless streak,” as announcer Chris Powell puts it. His partner, Arlo White, adds some speculation, given the talent on the field, that “the problem with this team might be in the clubhouse.”
When the episode moves to the clubhouse, that speculation seems well-placed. “I just don’t get it,” Ted says to his staff (as Trent observes). He probably doesn’t mean that literally, but maybe he should. In the barrage of “constructive criticism” that follows, he’s told the offense is bad, the defense is bad, and the team relies way too much on Zava (which, by the episode’s end, will no longer be a problem, even if they don’t yet know it). Enter Rebecca, who’s growing increasingly unhinged by the run of losses and draws that have made Richmond drop back to ninth place. Ted telling her they’ll find a way to point the ship north again, followed by everyone’s inability to find north, offers little reassurance.
Ted just not getting it isn’t Richmond’s only problem, but it definitely is a problem. And, for the first time in a long time, that problem raises the question of whether or not he should be fired. And while Rebecca can wave Higgins away when he reluctantly raises the possibility, the issue won’t go away unless Richmond starts winning. Ted has many wonderful qualities, but actual football expertise (of the non-American variety) still isn’t one of them, as this season has pointed out repeatedly.
His attention is more elsewhere than usual in this episode, thanks to the news that Henry has been involved in a bullying incident. Ted — with some assistance from Roy and Beard — is ready to exact revenge on Henry’s bully. So Ted’s shocked to discover that it’s Henry doing the bullying. In time, he can feel better after talking to Henry and learning that he delivered a (thankfully unseen) hip-hop apology to his classmate. But the distance is getting to him, and another panic attack (or something worse) appears to be on the horizon. Even if he doesn’t get fired, that doesn’t mean he won’t have to leave.
Of course, Ted’s not the only character at a turning point in this episode. Rebecca continues to be haunted by her meeting with the psychic, in large part because her predictions keep coming true. Not only can’t she seem to get rid of the green matchbook from Sam’s restaurant, a chance encounter with her insufferable, name-dropping ex John (Patrick Baladi) and his new fiancée, Jessica Darling (Victoria Elliott), finds the latter delivering the prophesied malapropism “shite in nining armor” after the former recounts a not-as-charming-as-he-thinks story about meeting Anthony Hopkins.
Rebecca might ordinarily be annoyed by the encounter, but here she’s disturbed. If the psychic’s right so far, could she also be right about Rebecca becoming a mother? A visit to a doctor (who’s more eager to talk football than fertility) confirms that she cannot, devastating her.
This is an odd turn for Rebecca, who we’ve seen wanting romance but never expressing any feelings about her life feeling incomplete or unsatisfying as a single woman without children. Waddingham, of course, plays it well, but this arc feels off, at least at this moment. Currently, we’re seeing a Rebecca so thrown off by Rupert and all he has that she doesn’t — a winning team, a family — that she’s begun behaving out of character. That it’s all tied to the silly device of a psychic’s predictions doesn’t help. All this may play out in a satisfying way, but at the moment it feels at odds with the Rebecca we’ve come to know.
Elsewhere, Keeley is having a dramatic week of a different sort. For starters, the Shandy issue has not gone away. Not only is Shandy still mad about Keeley shutting down her use-Bantr-to-hook-up-with-celebs marketing plan, but she’s also openly creating a Bantr rival specifically for this purpose, one with the not-so-subtle name “Star Fucker.” This, clearly, cannot continue, and even Keeley realizes she has to fire her old friend after her behavior causes KJPR to lose a client who did not want a drunken call from Shandy in the middle of the night pitching “condoms for balls.” Fortunately, Jack has a strategy for painless severance (or theoretically painless severance, anyway): a compliment sandwich. All you have to do is put the bad news between expressions of growing praise. It’s that simple!
But nothing’s that simple with Shandy, who takes the news badly and then runs through a gamut of emotions as she attempts to make a Jerry Maguire–like exit by combining a grand proclamation with an attempt to peel off staff. Shandy doesn’t fair quite as well as Maguire, but she has at least a plan to exact revenge in the form of a cute lamb and its not-so-cute droppings.
This practical joke, if that’s the right term, has the intended consequence of annoying Keeley, but also an unintended consequence. After hanging back at the office to clean up the mess, Keeley and Jack continue to bond over some cheap vodka. Keeley doesn’t want to talk about her breakup with Roy. What she does want to do is kiss Jack, who she finds is receptive to her advances. All this might have seemed unexpected if Juno Temple and Jodi Balfour haven’t had such remarkable chemistry since Jack’s introduction in the previous episode. The kiss seems to take Keeley by surprise, but not in a bad way, and as the episode ends, it’s clear that Keeley and Jack are becoming A Thing.
Despite appearances, romance is not also in the air for Nate, or at least not of the kind that’s landed him in a tabloid’s gossip page, thanks to his appearance with the disaffected supermodel Anastasia (Elee Nova). That item has most of the Greyhounds unable to hide their jealousy, except for Zava, who tells them, “My wife, Christina, is the only woman I see with clarity. Every other woman is a smudge.” He seems entirely sincere, too. Zava may be an egotistical eccentric, but as cryptic as he can be, he always seems to mean well and to tell the truth.
Zava’s a man who is comfortable being himself. Nate is not. Or, perhaps more accurately, he’s not comfortable continually having to pretend to be someone he’s not: the acidic, take-no-prisoners Wonder Kid who travels about town with a model on his arm. Even after being given the brightest of green lights by Ms. Kakes, he has to practice asking Anastasia out on the phone with his mother. For their date, he takes her to A Taste of Athens, the sort of humble, delicious neighborhood restaurant that Anastasia has no use for. The food doesn’t even photograph well! When she bails, Nate’s joined, at last, by Jade the hostess, the woman he actually wants to spend time with.
We’re at an odd juncture with Nate’s story this season; one made less odd by Nick Mohammed’s performance, which is maintaining a consistency in the character that the show around him doesn’t always match. We’ve seen Nate behave awfully — to Ted, the Richmond players, and his fellow West Ham employees — but we’ve also seen him soften when alone with Ted in the elevator. This week, he’s all softness. In fact, he’s pretty much the lovable Nate of the previous seasons. But who’s ready to love him yet? There’s seldom been any doubt that he’s heading toward some kind of redemption, but it’s kind of jarring to see the sweet, old Nate return in full in this episode.
Whatever changes Nate’s going through, they may not be as dramatic as the change about the sweep through Richmond. With little warning, Zava has decided to retire. That he does so on the heels of a rousing speech that fires up the team (a speech that Jamie starts, though no one seems to notice this) only intensifies the sting. And who are the Greyhounds now without Zava, the superstar they’ve come to lean on?
Apparently, they’re a team that once again needs Ted, who delivers his own rousing pep talk. Zava was their magic feather. They don’t need him to fly. In fact, they don’t even need the “BELIEVE” sign that’s come to mean so much to them. When it starts to peel off mid-speech, Ted simply tears it up. Though still unsure, the team hears him. And nobody hears him louder than Jamie, who’s eager to take Zava’s place.
• This is an odd episode, one in which the subject of malaise has seeped into the tone a bit. Season three has upped the drama for a handful of its characters and taken on so many subplots that even the 45-plus-minute running times that have become standard don’t feel long enough to contain all the narrative every episode needs to burn through. At the same time, the balance between character business and spritely humor has tilted toward the former, never more than in this episode. The cast’s work is as strong as ever, and it might be expected for a series (maybe) entering the home stretch of its run to take on more gravity, but the moments of leavening humor have started to become more sparse.
• In some ways, that’s served supporting characters like Beard and Higgins, who have some of the episode’s funniest moments because they’re not carrying as much of the dramatic burden (apart from Higgins raising the issue of firing Ted). Roy’s revenge monologue, Higgins revealing that a gross, insulting text comes from his dad, and the scene where the team riffs on She’s All That are all vintage Ted Lasso.
• Is it possible that Barbara is starting to develop respect for Keeley post-Shandy?
• The Keeley-Jack relationship serves as a reminder that Colin’s relationship remains a secret.
• Have we actually seen the last of Zava? This seems unlikely.