Ted gets bad news, then more bad news, then the hardest news of all. Keeley and Roy are out of sync, and Sam gets an intriguing offer that Rebecca wants him to refuse.
Sam is killing it on the pitch for Richmond, and he's now so hot of a property that he's attracted the attention of a Ghanaian billionaire named Edwin Akufo, played by Sam Richardson (very, very different here from how you might remember him from, say, Veep, although he's a versatile guy). In fact, Sam has helped get Richmond to a point where, if they win their final game of the season, they'll be promoted back to the Premier League. He's still a little blue because he and Rebecca are, you might say, on a break.
When Akufo arrives (via a helicopter landing on the pitch), Rebecca quickly realizes that she has a problem. Akufo doesn't want to buy the team; he wants to buy Sam's contract. He's working on behalf of a team that he won't name for her, but that he tells her is located in Africa, and perhaps Sam would like to come home and play there, closer to home. Rebecca, of course, sputters and stumbles, because she doesn't want to sell her star player, but on the other hand, it would be a lot of money, but on the other-other hand, she also is thinking maybe she wants to make out with him some more.
Edwin takes the position that maybe they should at least offer Sam a chance to decide for himself, and Rebecca can hardly disagree with that, so Edwin takes Sam out to lunch. Rebecca finds Ted in his office a little later and spills the beans that she's been having a thing with Sam. Ted gives her advice that mostly amounts to "do what you think is right."
Meanwhile, Edwin takes Sam to a museum to show him a piece of art by Kelechi Nwaneri (a Nigerian mixed-media artist) that Edwin has just bought so that he can donate it to a museum in Ghana. "This piece belongs in Africa," he says. Sam finds this argument compelling, clearly, and he's intrigued when Edwin says he's essentially an ethical billionaire who's breaking up the empire he inherited so that he can "make better things, and hopefully make things better." Wooed with West African food in what turns out to be a pop-up restaurant Edwin set up, Sam is clearly tempted by the offer Edwin is making, even though his initial response is that he's not likely to leave Richmond. It turns out Edwin is buying Raja Casablanca in Morocco (a real team!), which he hopes to fill with players who are from Africa but are playing around the world. Sam inspired the world with his protest, Edwin says, and he's just the right person to join the effort. Sam says he'll think about it.
When Sam gets home, he finds Rebecca sitting on his doorstep. She confesses that she can't give him any kind of an answer about their relationship, but she knows she can't ask him not to leave, but she hopes he won't leave.
Keeley, Powerful Businesswoman
Keeley is super excited about the fact that she's going to be in Vanity Fair as a powerful woman who's "on the rise." What's more, they want to come to her place and take some pictures of her and Roy together (including his eyebrows, which apparently Vanity Fair has issues with, although for the record, I do not).
Keeley runs into Nate, who wants her help buying a fancy suit (he doesn't say what it's for), and she says they'll go shopping together, since she needs something for the photo shoot.
Meanwhile, Roy goes to Phoebe's school and learns that he missed her; her mother picked her up. But the teacher is getting ready for a fundraiser, so Roy winds up hanging around and chatting with her. While they're talking about how she gets hit on by parents, she asks him (maybe 70% idly, 30% curiously) whether he's married, and Roy says no, with no mention of Keeley.
For her part, Keeley has fun trying on clothes with Nate. But as she's putting a tie on him, he starts asking her the questions he asked Roy and Beard earlier about whether she's ever had the urge to be in charge, be the boss. She says she does; she learned it from Rebecca, and it's been inspiring. Nate responds by grabbing her and kissing her and then apologizing. She attempts to smooth it over by saying "it happens to the best of us sometimes," even though I would put money on the fact that it has never happened to Keeley or to a lot of other people.
When Roy gets home for the photo shoot, Keeley is having a meltdown, feeling nervous that this is attention given to her as a person, not just her as a beauty, like when she was modeling. Roy gives her the pep talk to end all pep talks, and he's just the best and most wonderful boyfriend, and the photo shoot gets off to a great start. But during a break from some couples pictures, Keeley tells Roy about Nate trying to kiss her, which doesn't seem to bother Roy much; he mostly thinks it's a little funny. Roy tells Keeley, a bit more seriously, that he didn't tell Phoebe's teacher about her when asked if he was married. And then Keeley tells him, most seriously, that Jamie told her at the funeral that he still loved her. It's clear from the mood of this scene that this is all Big Trouble for them.
Sharon exits, stage left
Ted tells Rebecca and Keeley that Sharon is almost at the end of her time with Richmond, and there's going to be a gift: a wad of cash. But as it turns out, he's also training the team to perform NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye" for her, and let me tell you that whatever you think about the rest of this episode, not seeing the rest of that routine is a travesty. I enjoyed the snippet we did see, though, and special kudos to Phil Dunster (Jamie) for being the most committed dancer I wasn't expecting to ever see dance.
But when Ted drops by Sharon's old office — which is finally Higgins' office again — to invite her to her own surprise party, he learns that she's already gone. She left without saying goodbye, but she left letters for everyone. Higgins has to nudge Ted with a pun ("Don't letter get away with it, Ted") to get Ted to even take his letter, but Ted takes it and storms off in search of Sharon.
Ted confronts Sharon when she comes home on her bike, so she invites him up to her apartment to talk. Not too surprisingly, he's unhappy she didn't say goodbye. And when she points out that he was supposed to read her letter, he insists that he didn't, and he isn't going to, and doesn't she understand that his fears of abandonment makes this a really bad thing for her to do to him? Of course, he eventually does read the letter, and while they don't say exactly what's in it, it's clear that it moves Ted greatly, and their rift is quickly healed. They head off to the pub for a drink.
At the pub, after some pinball, they order another round, and Ted goes off to the bathroom. But when Mae returns to Sharon, it's with only one drink — and a note. Ted has left without saying goodbye, just like Sharon wanted. What's more, at the bottom of her drink is a little army man, just like the one he gave Jamie at the end of last season.
Nate the Not-So-Great
In the team offices, Nate is needling Will, and Beard is still looking on disapprovingly. But Nate's big agenda early in this episode is pitching a new strategy to Ted, and while Ted doesn't understand it very well at first (again: Ted is not actually qualified to coach football/soccer), he winds up liking the sound of it and says they'll try it. But as soon as he's gone, Nate starts complaining to Beard and Roy about how Ted will just use his technique and take all the credit, which they say is how it goes with assistant coaches. (I'm not sure Ted would take all the credit. I think it's more like Ted would get all the credit.)
Nate asks if the other guys ever want to be in charge and get all the credit, and Beard attempts to impart some wisdom that ends with "trees work in harmony to share the sunlight," but Nate has never really come down from his "wonder kid" experience, and he's clearly feeling pretty resentful toward Ted, plus he just kind of doesn't get the metaphor. Boo, Nate. (In this scene, Beard is reading a book about fungi called Entangled Life. A Renaissance man, that one.)
In a scene that we will realize is part of Nate's story only at the end, Ted gets a text from Trent Crimm (of The Independent), who shares a story that's running in tomorrow's paper. It reveals that Ted left the game a few episodes back because he was having a panic attack. Ted looks terrified at the possibility of this becoming public. And Trent offers up his source for this information: Nate.
They handled the end of Sharon's arc beautifully, I think, even though I'm broken-hearted at the idea that it's done. The acting in the letter scene between Ted and Sharon from both Jason Sudeikis and Sarah Niles is extraordinary — both his reading the letter and her watching him read it. That kind of stillness is so hard to get right, and it's like ... well, it's like choreography, getting those reactions to seem in sync with each other, because she knows when he's reading particular things that she said. There's a very clear moment when he reads something he didn't expect, and he looks at her, and she looks down. And you don't know exactly what it said, but you know how it felt for her to share it with him and how it felt for him to read it — and how it felt for her to see him read it. It's just a wonderful scene, brilliantly done. (I bet you five bucks they wrote a real letter, even though you don't get to hear it. If they didn't, then even more of a hat-tip goes to those two actors.)
I am also really impressed with the brutality of the reveal about Nate. That's a vicious thing to do to someone, revealing mental health information that's been entrusted to you. It's about as severe a breach of someone's trust as you can come up with; we all saw how hard it was for Ted to share it with his colleagues. And if Nate thinks it's justified because he doesn't get credit in the paper for all of his ideas — even though he has spent weeks basking in favorable public attention — he's grotesquely wrong. We still don't know exactly what was being whispered in Nate's ear last week by the evil Rupert: Is he being wooed away? Is Rupert in cahoots with Edwin?
I've often thought, when people talk about Ted Lasso as a show that's nice, that they underestimate its undercurrents of darkness. And this is a very good example. Not a lot of shows will give you a character you were originally taught to love committing a betrayal like this of another character you love, apparently out of pure spite and ego (although of course, there could be more to the story, in which case I apologize to Nate in advance). Also, in fairness to journalists, it's a little hard for me to believe that Trent would spontaneously cough up his source's identity like that, even to someone he likes. But: on balance, that's an emotionally devastating story, which I mean as a compliment.
Love, what is it good for?
I do not, however, have much to say that's good about either of the two romantic stories this week. Again: What came up with Edwin trying to woo Sam (and upsetting Rebecca) is one of the reasons bosses aren't supposed to have affairs with much younger people whose futures they control. This is not an unpredictable twist, and it's not a romantic complication; this is standard, and this is why this relationship is a bad idea. It's frustrating that while Rebecca struggles with the situation in which she's been put now, she doesn't do much reflecting on the fact that this is why you don't do this in the first place. And the situation as she leaves it at the end is very, very unfair! It's essentially "I came here to declare to you what I want you to do, but I know it would be wrong to tell you what I want you to do, and also I can't tell you what I'm going to do." She is leaving herself the option of using their relationship to convince him to stay, and then dumping him anyway! Rebecca. No. If that's supposed to be charming, I decline to be charmed!
But I save my greatest frustration for this Roy and Keeley story. It's not only that it comes out of nowhere, given their good relationship this season (and good very much includes the fact that they've worked on it!). It's the suggestion that a woman being kissed without her consent by one man and having another one confess his feelings to her is somehow an indication of something amiss in her relationship. Neither of these things reflects on Keeley and how she really feels at all, any more than an acorn falling out of a tree and landing on her head. And the fact that it took her a little time to tell Roy about Jamie, given how volatile his relationship with Jamie has been, isn't at all surprising.
This hopefully doesn't need to be said, but women don't get grabbed and kissed — or approached with unrequited yearnings — because they're somehow giving off vibes of availability or because men sense their discontent. If Roy and Keeley have relationship problems, it's got nothing to do with some dude planting one on her before she could react, and I don't particularly care for that moment being dragged into this. (Or for her reassurances to Nate. Yuck.)
How other men act towards Keeley is not a dark cloud over her relationship. The thing with Jamie, I mean ... it happens. What does his confession have to do with her and Roy and whether they're happy, if they were happy before?
As for Roy and the teacher, they've done a good job establishing this funny friendship he has with her, and he clearly feels some attraction to her and recognizes that he miiiiiight not have told her about Keeley (wouldn't she know about Keeley from Phoebe, though?) because he was enjoying her attention. At least this is something Roy did, rather than something that was done to him. But none of this seems, to me, to earn the very ominous ending this thread of the story gets. While the story with Ted and Sharon feels rounded and complete, this one feels more ... forced and television-y.
We have one episode to go in this season. There is a lot to get done. The team has to wrap up its season, and Sam has to decide whether to leave, and two love plots need addressing, and oh yes, we have to deal with Nate and his apparent heel turn, and with whatever it has to do with Rupert. Friends, I am concerned.
This Week In Ted
Peak Ted: "Do you know how hard it is to get grown men to learn choreography?"
Referential Ted: An Affair To Remember, Dumbo, "Bye Bye Bye," The Lion King (come on, Ted), Viola Davis, The Godfather, Samuel L. Jackson, Cheers, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Elon Musk, Lou Diamond Phillips
Analytical Ted: "On your way down to your gut, check in with your heart. Between those two things, they'll let you know what's what."
Stealth MVP: Sarah Niles is way too awesome to be stealthy, but I'm going to put her here anyway. I don't know if Sharon is really permanently gone, but if she is, boy, I'm going to miss her. This has been a beautiful, complex, and — this was one of the first things I said about Niles — patient performance.