Just how much collateral damage does trauma leave behind? In one of its most character-driven episodes yet, that pile keeps growing in this episode of Ted Lasso. “Manchester” plays out like a horror film, as it begins with the unexpected bicycle accident of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles). Cut to a shot of shattered pieces of car headlights and a trail of blood pooling down the cracks of the cobble-stoned road – a symbolic image of what will happen in the rest of the episode.
Working on multiple registers, this eighth episode pushes its characters to their emotional brink. Some breakdowns result in more physically explosive ways, like Jamie Tartt’s (Phil Dunster) altercation with his abusive father. The best way to describe this scene would be like having an out-of-body experience. Shouting derogatory terms to Jamie and shoving his way into Jamie’s face, it was a shocking moment when Jamie finally strikes his father in the face. Jarring for both the viewer and Jamie.
In one of the season’s – and perhaps the entire series’ – most emotionally debilitating moments, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) steps up to a stunned Jamie and hugs him until he breaks apart in his arms. I can’t emphasize the emotional depth of this particular moment. These two actors transcended a level of emotional gravitas that you can only achieve when two people trust one another. I would highlight this moment as one of the best in the episode and one that’s been a long time coming for them. It’s watching Jamie and Roy finally cross that bridge to meet in the middle. It’s also a resounding moment for everyone on the team as they watch with slack jaws.
Some moments make your stomach churn. Watching Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) agree to dinner with Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) and subsequently witness what follows was the equivalent of watching the basement scene from a horror film. You know the one. The character hears something coming from the basement and makes the senseless decision to see what it is. Meanwhile, the viewer chants, “no! stop! don’t go down there!” even though no amount of chanting will avoid the inevitable tragedy that will ensue. We all know what’s waiting at the bottom of those steps.
For Rebecca, that dark set of stairs comes in the form of Sam. What leads Rebecca to pursue a romantic relationship with Sam is not the need to feel desired but that need to regain control. The one Rupert spent 12 years stripping away from her, little by little. Like the protagonist of a horror film, Rebecca can only face that monster lurking under the stairs if she faces it for herself. The tragedy here is that in the process, she’s hurting both herself and Sam. During the big reveal at the restaurant, Rebecca has that moment of clarity. That moment where the hand hesitates in opening the basement door. She gives Sam the same list of objections to the relationship that viewers are reciting in their heads. Only, she chooses to disregard it.
Watching this unfold triggered an acrid feeling to rise in my throat. Not just because of Rebecca’s impulse to pursue this relationship, but the uncanny similarity this plot has with Mike Nichols’s dark film The Graduate. The Graduate was never a love story. It’s a bleak critique on gendered dynamics and needs to indulge in taboos to satisfy an unsettled interior. You’re not assumed to root for Ben and Mrs. Robinson. As a viewer, you are supposed to find this relationship between these two lost people incredibly sad.
Even more, the real tragedy is the way Mrs. Robinson is used as a tool for Ben’s own rite of passage into adulthood. Sadly, Ted Lasso cites a similar scenario in the most adverse way possible and to its female lead’s detriment. Worse, it’s making light of the situation by normalizing what’s about to take place, as Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” plays when Rebecca rushes to find Sam in the end.
To say that this relationship is conducive to a healthy step forward for Rebecca would be a lie. It’s disappointing to see the show treat its lead female character a lot like The Graduate did with Mrs. Robinson. As trophies for younger men to attain as a means to find enlightenment in their own lives. A rite of passage into manhood. Sam’s narrative could’ve been pushed forward in ways that don’t involve this relationship. I’m reminded of the prior episode, where Sam shares his private messages with an unsuspecting Rebecca to the rest of the team that only added to the tragedy of the situation.
Was reducing Rebecca to a stereotype necessary? Not really. It’s incredibly unsettling when flashes of the gala scenes from season 1 between her and Rupert emerge in this plot. Where Rupert spends the better part of the evening – and the season, for that matter – reminding Rebecca of her age and “lack of sexual appeal” because of it. There’s nothing to go to come out of this for Rebecca. It’s setting her up in a position where she’s questioned as club owner of AFC Richmond and ultimately as a woman of power and wealth. It’s involving a lot of moving parts to flesh this out fully.
Where does she land morally with viewers? How could those who work at the club and the press perceive her should this get out? In a male-dominated space, how does Rebecca come back from dating one of her own players? Why is her journey of self-discovery link itself with her romantic relationships, especially it being with Sam? Was the solution to pair her with a substantially much younger man to somehow prove Rupert wrong? I guess the real question here is what does this plot say about Rebecca Welton? Not much, if I’m honest.
It’s disheartening to say that it only minimizes a lot of Rebecca’s abuse under Rupert. Having pieced Rebecca this season, it’s disappointing to see so much wasted potential. Spending most of the season looking at her phone, Rebecca has felt like a distant memory this season. Her entire arc is reduced to her mobile phone where maybe, just maybe, she’ll “find” herself in the hollow profiles of the men in apps. We saw flashes of other aspects of her life that did not revolve around “finding herself” through romantic relationships and men. But that’s all they were: flashes of what could have been. Can the show fulfill a satisfying narrative for both of these characters in the final four episodes? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is slowly learning to trust someone other than himself. In the final scene, Ted reveals the source of his cracks to Dr. Fieldstone. Specifically, he mentions that this father committed suicide. Suddenly, viewers are fully entrenched in this fog of sadness that has lurked just beneath the surface of Ted Lasso. What do years of suppressing the sudden death of your father do to a man like Ted? As it turns out, it creates this one-dimensional persona he uses to hide the lingering wounds. The show is brilliant in tearing Ted apart and show the cracks to its audience. Ted is the caricature so many have spent time identifying with, unwilling to realize he too carries demons on the inside. In this episode, the show completely unveils the man behind the orange-tinted Aviators. The one that’s always carried the burden of the world on his shoulders.
Responsible for this reveal is Dr. Fieldstone’s relentless, albeit sometimes unwillingly, need to help Ted overcome these fears and anxieties. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight Sarah Niles’s beautiful work thus far in this season of Ted Lasso. Niles weaves an effortless balance of stoicism and vulnerability in her portrayal of the sports psychologist. It’s also the cracks in her own characters that shine through in this episode. Her frustration with Ted’s reception of therapy, her own distance towards others, and even more telling is the empty bottles of hard liquor littered around her house. Not exactly the Dr. Melfi of The Sopranos, Dr. Fieldstone nonetheless has her own internal demons to conquer. It seems everyone in Richmond is forced to face their demons.
The episode packs an emotional punch. To that, I applaud it. Paralleling all these dark narratives in one episode sets everything up as a tragedy. Or, to be more precise, the midway point of a Greek tragedy. Whether it’s playing the Rex Orange County song “Loving is Easy” to a montage of Sam and Rebecca’s first date, knowing full well loving is never easy. Or the deafening silence after Jamie strikes his dad, the season promises to follow this line of misfortune to its final inch. But to say every story arch is a success would be unfair to the show itself. Ted Lasso is failing its female lead. By putting her in yet another unfavorable position, she again becomes the moral scapegoat of the show. Maybe some of it’s salvageable in the final four episodes of this season. Maybe not. It’s the hope that kills you. – Mariana Delgado
Ted Lasso Season 2 episodes premiere every Friday on Apple TV+.