‘Ted Lasso’ S2, Ep6 – ‘The Signal’ Review: “Mommy Dearest”
The following review contains spoilers for the episode.
Viewers are at a crossroads both in the trajectory of the show and many of its lead characters in Ted Lasso‘s sophomore season. It’s also, somehow, become the divisive season of the series. The one where reason and feelings come ahead, as the writers destabilize perceptions by those who thought Ted Lasso was only about the jolly good nature of its titular character. In the end, those who displaced their own expectations of what Ted Lasso is about and not what it is can only blame themselves.
Earlier in the season, writer/producer Bill Lawrence took to Twitter to address concerns for this second season. He explicitly addresses this thread here. The thread, posted around the Christmas episode, heavily criticizes a lack of tension and conflict this season. It seems that Earl’s unsettling death in the first episode wasn’t enough of a foretelling of what’s to come. Lawrence points out that it’s somewhat premature to judge an entire season based on four episodes, one being standalone. Well, Lawrence wasn’t exaggerating. Ted Lasso and its writers are just getting started. “The Signal” is the catalyst for what’s been planted in its earlier episodes, spearheading these characters into unforeseen trajectories. Sometimes, the journey there is the hardest to watch.
This episode opens with the startling sight of a naked man in the kitchen of Rebecca Walton (Hannah Waddingham). With a charming smile and no last name, Luca is one of Rebecca’s most recent hookups from the online dating world. Waddingham gives a masterclass in toeing the line between oozing sex appeal and an uneasy vulnerability while sharing emotional intimacy with her mystery Bantr man. This is a side of Rebecca that seems to be taking control back into her own hands. That is until her mother Deborah (Dame Harriet Walter) shows up. Yes, the same actress that plays Caroline Collingwood, mother of the Roy children from Succession. Quite the association there.
Like the Roy children, Rebecca’s relationship with her mother isn’t any less difficult and volatile. More so, it’s absolutely tragic. Not quite like Ted puts it, mothers being “instruction manual as to why people are nuts,” Rebecca’s mother provides an insight into Rebecca’s internalized fears and motives. Ted Lasso is brilliant at creating characters that resemble beautiful trees, with their long roots and rings that narrate years of history. Deborah Welton happens to leave behind a thicker and twisted ring in Rebecca’s root.
Finding out that Rebecca’s parents have continued this on and off toxic relationship all her life says more on Rebecca than her parents. In one of the most heartbreaking Rebecca confessions yet, she tells Higgins (Jeremy Swift) to stay out of Beard’s (Brendan Hunt) turbulent relationship with his girlfriend Jane (Phoebe Walsh). With a small voice, Rebecca says to Higgins that it only causes more trouble than good after she tries to help her mother the first time Deborah decided to leave Rebecca’s father. All Rebecca gets is her mother’s cold shoulder for six months.
What’s worse than her mother’s indifference is grounding Rebecca’s worth in fearing herself. Rebecca endures years of emotional abuse at the expense of never being alone because that’s all she knew. Pain becomes the lingering ghost that haunts everyone this season: the ghosts of their past.
Marrying an older man like Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head) was her way of romanticizing her parent’s marriage and their behavior. Only this time, she was brave enough to recognize the vicious cycle and leave Rupert and her father, unlike her mother. This is why the words “it takes two to create a pattern and one to break it” coming from Deborah’s mouth, become all the more ironic. Rebecca’s strength lies in truly breaking those patterns, not enforcing them. That doesn’t mean she’s entirely infallible, which the writers go to great lengths to unravel as the season wears on. That’s what makes Rebecca such a captivating mixture of poise and fragility. That, at any moment, the strength that keeps her standing tall most of the time will topple over like a house of cards.
It’s also very fascinating to see this subtle and invisible bond that binds Ted and Rebecca. It’s not explicit, but if you look closely, it’s there. In this episode, Ted gets a call from his son’s school letting him know Henry forgot his lunch. The school is unaware that Ted now lives 5,000 miles away in London. At this moment, it hits Ted all over again how absent he’s been from his son’s life. This event only spirals throughout the episode until Ted ends up having another panic attack, forced to leave a match right in the middle of it.
Funny enough (or maybe not), it’s Rebecca who immediately recognizes what’s happening to Ted. This is very reminiscent of the “Make Rebecca Great Again” episode in season one, where Rebecca helps Ted climb down from the overwhelming feeling of a panic attack. Rebecca, without hesitation, gets up to look for Ted. Only this time, she can’t seem to find him. Triggers for both seem to come from their pasts directly. For Rebecca, it’s her failed marriage and her own mother’s unwavering loyalty to her emotionally abusive father. For Ted, it reminds him of his father’s absence and the one in his own son’s life. Both redirect these failings into themselves, somehow convincing themselves it’s their fault. That they’re somehow not enough for the people they love most.
This leads to the shocking final reveal that foreshadows an even more unsettling ending than the first season. We come to find out that the man Rebecca’s been flirting with on Bantr is Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh). Yes, the 21-year-old charming football player of FC Richmond. As I sat down to write this review, it took a while for my emotional mind to catch up with my more logical mind. Not just because the previous episode included a very intentional cut between Rebecca texting on Bantr to then a smiling Ted looking at his phone, but because it is just unexpected.
Immediately, my mind conjured a lengthy list of why these two characters could not and should not cross that line. And then it hit me. For the past few weeks, the show has made it a point to display Rebecca’s position of privilege and wealth. Whether it’s by unloading an obscene amount of cash in the Christmas episode or solving Nate’s confidence problem by simply “buying the restaurant,” the show points out Rebecca’s unresolved issues with Rupert. Years of internalized behavior, much like those of her mother’s, don’t resolve themselves in five months, let alone a year.
The underlying issue here is that Rebecca still sees herself through Rupert’s image of her. Someone who would sabotage an entire team or use money as a tool of power, much like Rupert does. Audiences should remember that a character who dismisses the notion of therapy, much like Ted did, is bound to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. How can we expect Rebecca to not make the same mistakes when she hasn’t thoroughly addressed the shortcomings of marriage? Or the psychological scars left behind by Rupert’s ruthless words that cut deeper into Rebecca than she ever realized? It’s much like the illusion of online dating. What is seen or read on a screen isn’t often what’s encountered in reality.
My only concern is that Rebecca will become the only center of moral judgment in this season. Engaging in a romantic relationship with someone who works for her, is almost 30 years her junior, and knowingly holding all the power in the relationship will lend itself to avenues that I don’t think the show has enough time to resolve. Or maybe they do. The not knowing and “belief” of the writer’s intentions set the tone for this morally ambiguous season. Does healing come in a straight line? or does it lend itself to the morally wrong choices of a well-intentioned character?
This season promises to take apart these characters down to their core. What we find as viewers may not be to our own moral liking, but does further humanize these characters. In a charged episode that culminates with Ted on Dr. Sharon Fieldstone’s (Sarah Niles) couch, it’s safe to say things are only going to get more… conflicted. – Mariana Delgado
Ted Lasso Season 2 episodes premiere every Friday on Apple TV+.