It’s that week — a week so “big” that the episode is titled “Big Week.” It does not get any bigger than AFC Richmond vs. West Ham United F.C. Well, at least in the Ted Lasso universe it doesn’t. This is Lasso vs. the Boy Wonder Nate, ex-husband Rupert vs. ex-wife Rebecca, the culmination of the last two seasons of built up tensions.
On paper, it’s a great game as both teams enter London Stadium on absolute fire. But it’s a cliche of football (indeed every sport) that games are not played on paper. Nor is life. And as powerful as Richmond looks with superstar — nay, superman — Zava at its center, something is very off. The malady is not localized and infects the entire Ted Lasso world. And this program is so meta that the unease even leaks into what is a very discomforting and uneven (by design?) episode.
After all Zava, all the time, the pre-Mumford & Not Son cold open is a Zava-free zone. And we are treated to an array of vignettes involving various main characters. Between bookend scenes of Roy Kent’s Jaime Tartt-to-Zava in five weeks intensive workout program, are two very powerful and telling moments featuring our two head coaches.
When we first see Ted Lasso, he is enmeshed in a scene of bliss with Sassy. He’s so satisfied, he’s briefly quiet, devoid of cheeky references. Well, that’s not true as his first words are “Good morning, Sassy Smurf!” But there’s fewer puns anyway. That’s probably for the best as Sassy lists his sappy puns as one of her least favorite Lasso aspects. Everything is serene and lovely until caught feelings drift in. And so does the flavor of the episode. Ted misreads the post-coital room and launches into that classic speech that almost never ends well, at least on television. Ted wants more; Sassy likes it as-is. When Ted presses, she says the three words at the heart of this episode: “you’re a mess.”
It’s jarring for Ted, obviously, but it also comes out of nowhere for the viewer — at least it did for me. Underneath Ted’s bubbly, joyful, pop-culture happy exterior, we’ve always known there’s a reservoir of severe sadness. Hell, it’s virtually the theme of the show. That does not make it any less of a sudden start when Sassy cuts through the nonsense and reminds us that for all his high-level goofery, Ted is still mid-breakdown. The center is not holding, for Ted, for Rebecca, for Keeley, for the show itself. Maybe Zava is fine. However, there is another whose mask is slipping even as his rags-to-riches story appears to be at its peak.
Following two weeks where Nate was barely an afterthought, appearing in one scene where he sighed at a newspaper, the turned-heel West Ham manager pops back into frame. He’s adjusting figurines of the two teams on a mini-pitch. In a most whimsical fury, Nate sweeps Ted Lasso’s tiny stand-in off the board. It’s an obvious callback to the first scene of the season in which Ted moves Nate’s tiny Lego rep into the stands. However, a glint of humanity and sadness peeks through Nate’s incel exterior. With a stunning tenderness, Nate scoops little Lasso back to his perch on the sideline. It’s a fascinating contrast to Lasso — who had to be shamed by his son (Hubert?) to return his rival back onto the board.
Nate is a walking crisis of conscience in this episode as he alternates between a confident front and humanizing clumsiness. At one point he returns to the restaurant that arguably started his heel turn and tries to turn on charisma he hasn’t got for a second attempt to pick up Maitre D’ Jade. It would be utterly cringe if he hadn’t awkwardly crashed into the door on the way in. The eatery’s owner swoops in confirming Nate’s level of fame, promising him free eats for perpetuity. Well, no alcohol.
Still, while these accolades and this stranger’s token of respect should be everything Nate’s wanted, you can see just how sad and uncomfortable he is. Nate could have taken the restauranteur’s fawning and retreated into a false arrogance. Instead, he just sort of stands there. Jade sees it too. It’s subtle, and a testament to the acting chops of not just Nick Mohammed, but Edyta Budnik who in a brief role conveys the heart of a multiple of the show’s themes. How do we align our outer and inner selves? Even more germanely, what does it mean to be a good person?
For Nate, the struggle between his angels and demons is poisoned by the boss and father figure he selected at the end of last season. Almost every time the Nate Shelley we fell in love with in the first season starts to emerge, the oily owner of West Ham pops up to whack that empathy mole. Clad in all black with slicked-back colored hair, Rupert looks every inch a serpent as he blocks every moment that Nate’s humanity hints at a return. He’s equal parts Emperor Palpatine and Lucifer.
On the other end, with the help of Trent Crimm, Roy Kent and Coach Beard have unearthed footage of Nate striking at the heart of Ted Lasso. Earlier, Isaac, while trying to hype up his teammates, discovers that the “Believe” sign had been ripped in half (we of course now why). The coaches want to show the team to rile them out of complacency for the big game, but Lasso is doomed to walk the high ground. While I agree that exploiting Nate’s temper tantrum is wrong, and it might also turn out to be the wrong strategy, it does play back to an enduring pattern. Ted Lasso’s desire to people please can sometimes read as a lack of inner fire. We know deep down Ted’s drive to win is pure, but at times it can betray his coaching.
Then we get to the game, where we’re reminded just how much of sports is the best lain plans ganging aglee. Richmond comes out tight, focused, and dominates the first half. There are moments where Richmond looks poised to pull away. However, the reasons they don’t also have to do with familiar demons. Jamie Tartt decides to take a shot when he should have passed to Zava. It just misses going in for a 1-0 lead. However, it’s still Tartt going back to old habits. Richmond misses the chance which leads to revived tension in the cold war between strikers.
Richmond’s failure to capitalize on the hot start becomes more damning when West Ham score a fortuitous breakaway goal. But it’s the waning moments of the first half, so going into the locker room down just a goal on the road is something. However, a devlish glint forms in Nate’s eye as he clandestinely signals to one of his players. The brilliant tactician in Nate rises, as does his more bloodlusty side. West Ham catches Lasso and Richmond off guard. Our team sulks back into the locker room utterly defeated, down 2-0.
So at halftime, it’s total chaos and time for Rebecca to give Ted Lasso the world’s worst pep talk. Totally unhinged she grabs Lasso with a cockeyed grin and assaults him with how much she believes in him. In a sense, it’s a bit of his own medicine, but with only the toxic elements. As they do this, Coach Beard and Roy Kent call an audible. By the time Lasso returns, the whole team has turned feral, ready to 28 Days Later-style rage out at West Ham, having been shown the video of Nate vs. Believe Sign ’22.
Coach Beard reminds a wary Lasso that anger can be good sometime. So, can they harness the anger in the second half and comeback? We think you know the answer to that. The second half is some of the best fictional sports lunacy since perhaps the baseball scene in The Naked Gun 35 years ago. It’s all the more effective, hilarious, and oddly moving in a reality-based show.
In any case, the disconnect between Lasso’s cucumber coolness and the rest of his coaching staff’s and team’s need for fire has raised its ugly head again. And it’s not just his low key, “we’ll get them next time”/”the important thing is we have fun out there” approach to football that’s wearing on his colleagues and best friends. Sometimes even when we mean well and hold in anger and frustration trying to make everyone happy, it’s disingenuous whether we know it or not. Ted Lasso truly wants to please everyone. His aw-shucks nature is sincere. He’s a good guy. That said, Roy Kent and Coach Beard are not wrong when they agree he’s, “such an arsehole.”
Meanwhile, both of them are also messes — Beard is caught up in what Lasso has termed a matching dysfunctions relationship with Jane Payne while Roy Kent may be in a bit of a better spot coaching Jamie Tartt, but he’s not resolved things with Keeley and even his Tartt training could be looked at as weird in the light of Zava’s hold on the team.
Keeley is also a mess, as she is letting Shandy get away with a bit much and accidentally reveals she has no idea who her boss is and meets “Jack” in the ladies’ room. Yes, they pulled the name trick. Keeley comports herself fine, although she has to explain away a lot of the players’ actions. In spite of her skill and best efforts, her interactions with Jack leave her feeling less than. She put her best foot forward, everything still falls apart.
And it’s like that with practically everyone in the Richmond-iverse. Don’t get us started on Rebecca who, between her halftime burying of Lasso in praise and her broken heart, is totally spiraling. Sam would appear to be dating his sous chef, and Rebecca’s clearly not over it. Nor is she likely over her visit to her mom’s psychic. She does manage to at least get one moment of upper hand with Rupert.
Zava might be fine, but he’s also a lot of the reason why everything in Richmond is careening towards a metaphorical iceberg. “The Big Game” is an odd, jittery episode, but that’s kind of the point. The disconcerting pace mood matches the content. We even have two examples where people miss jokes — not that they think the jokes are unfunny, but completely miss that a joke is being made. This episode has the feel of a misfired joke. Normally in a comedy, that’s a bad thing. However, with Ted Lasso, it’s right as Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute in the American version of The Office that Zava may or may not have seen.
- And even that last attempt to close with a Lasso-ism feels like a misfired joke. The messiness has even infected the recaps. Well, at least my recap.
- Ted Lasso’s 5.0 Uber rating passenger does not surprise me one bit. It’s also no shock that Sassy’s is sub-4. It’s a testament to the sharp character depth coming out of the writer’s room!
- “2011! Friends be fucking” Ted & Sassy are not wrong about the Early 2010s rom-com scene… and their knowledge runs deep.
- Ted calls Leslie Higgins “Higgy Pie” when “Higgy Pop” was right there and totally in Lasso’s pun-meet-pop-culture wheelhouse. Ted Lasso, you truly are a mess!
- “My friend, you can be whoever you want to be. I let all my children name themselves when they reach the age of seven. That’s why my eldest is called Smingus-Dingus. Dream big and you may never wake up.” Is there meaning behind Zava’s absolute piffle of a philosophy?
- “[Richmond] played angry, ugly, and dirty. Which is also the names of Zava’s three youngest kids.”
- Zava’s charisma is so strong that he gets goalkeeper Zoreaux to change his name. He picks Van Damme because the “Muscles from Brussels” is his favorite movie star.
- Gotta love Trent Crimm’s self-awareness and humility in realizing he’s more Bernstein than Woodward. Everyone might not feel that way, but I’m loving his team biographer redemption arc.
- Beard: “I was thinking about your Sassy situation, Jane’s sister is in town.” Lasso: “No thank you, coach!” Beard: “That’s the right answer.”
- Yes, we saw it before during last season’s finale, but Nate’s slow, awkward path of locker room destruction is even more devastating after some time has passed. This is especially true now that we’ve seen glimpses Nate’s humanity still lurking below his dark exterior.
- Jamie Tartt & Shandy weirdly make perfect sense. Call me UPS, because I am shipping them.
- Before her mid-game manic moment, Rebecca shares a sweet moment with Ted. He reminds her that she won when she removed Rupert from her life.
- The Ted Lasso music choice streak rolls on starting with the team walking into Richmond v. West Ham to Digable Planets’ 1993 classic “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).”
- There could be no more perfect outro song than that most passive-aggressive of Bob Dylan songs (and that’s saying something), “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” It’s the epitome of surface kindness and forgiveness giving way to repressed bitter feelings that cut deep. Dylan’s lyrics break down as he helplessly unleashes the inner rage he tried to keep hidden. “What an arsehole!”
- If I’m not crazy, the whole season has been scored to variations on the theme of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It must be driving the Verve bonkers, but the song is a perfect encapsulation of what’s going on in this episode and the show overall. Richmond wants the win. Lasso wants his past life back or to find new love. Rebecca wants to show up Rupert, Keeley wants to succeed in his new life. Richmond wants to win. The song ain’t wrong. Life is a symphony of the bittersweet.