Introduces new conflicts for the finale, and brings long-simmering conflicts from throughout the season to a head.
It’s not uncommon for any TV show to drop the shoe, dramatically speaking, in the penultimate episode of a season and use the finale as an opportunity to explore the fallout. Ted Lasso so far hasn’t gone outside the norm in this regard with both of its seasons – season one had the revelation that Rebecca was secretly undermining Ted and rooting for his downfall, which she cleverly alludes to here – but the show has still found compelling ways to pull this off. “Midnight Train to Royston” introduces new conflicts which may or may not carry over until the next season, and brings its long-simmering conflicts to a head, and it’s yet another confidently realized episode of television doing what it does best.
The biggest lingering question after last week’s “No Weddings and a Funeral” had to do with the status of Sam and Rebecca. Would we see the two circle each other for the rest of the season as they try to confront their feelings for each other? The answer gets even more complicated right from the start this week, as an eccentric billionaire (played by the always loveable Sam Richardson) swoops into town, hoping to whisk Sam away with him. And did I mention that he’s also from Nigeria? Rebecca’s morbid but stoic expression at what this would mean for her and Sam – which Hannah Waddingham sells to perfection – brings everything she thought she had pushed down back to the surface. For the remainder of the episode, Sam is courted by Edwin Akufoz as he tries to sell him on what he has planned: not a Nigerian soccer team, but a new club in Casablanca that could be a haven for Sam and all native African players. The show goes a little too far in depicting Edwin’s eccentricities but makes his case compelling enough to understand why Sam would consider leaving his adopted home. Sam seems to have found a solid place for himself with his teammates, but with his romantic possibilities exhausted, and with the prospect of bringing glory to his home continent, what reason does he have to stay?
Meanwhile, Ted and the team are preparing to say goodbye to Dr. Sharon, whose stint with the team has come to an end. Dr. Sharon has provided some excellent dramatic opportunities this season, and Sarah Niles has been a solid presence as a foil for Ted, so her absence will surely be felt if the show indeed doesn’t bring her back next season. But things hit a snag for Ted when he learns that she plans to leave a day earlier than intended, without saying goodbye. With the events of last week still fresh in our mind, especially with respect to Ted and Sharon’s conversation, it’s understandable that Ted would react so viscerally to her leaving unexpectedly. His confrontation in her apartment is the angriest we’ve ever seen Ted, and only once he reads her farewell letter to him does he calm down. I don’t know if we’ll ever know what was written in the letter, but I appreciate the show’s confidence in knowing that it doesn’t need to spoon-feed us an answer.
While Ted is ironing his abandonment issues out, Roy and Keeley spend the bulk of the episode away from each other. It’s funny how the previous episode worked so hard to introduce tension to their relationship but felt very clunky, whereas this week they barely spend time together until the end, and the drama that’s introduced comes up much more organically. Keeley takes Nate shopping after he’s reminded once again that the only suit he owns is because of Ted. And Roy spends the afternoon with Phoebe’s art teacher, where he learns that Phoebe is a very, um, observant artist. Though neither Roy nor Keeley overtly flirts with their scene partners, the show certainly wants to imply that they could consider that the grass is greener elsewhere. I like that Keeley feels confident enough in their relationship to be honest about Nate kissing her, and in Jamie’s confession from last week. Though it is telling that Roy’s bigger reaction comes from the news of the latter, despite the complete lack of tension between Jamie and Keeley. I could buy a subplot where Keeley is drawn to Nate, especially given their dialogue this week, but I still couldn’t buy her leaving Roy for Jamie.
But it all comes back to Nate – both with Roy and Keeley, and with Ted in the final moments of the episode*. After Rupert was seen at the funeral whispering in Nate’s ear last week, it was strongly implied that Rupert was trying to put illusions of grandeur into Nate’s head to try and force a wedge in the team’s chemistry. And Nate seems to have taken those ideas to heart this week, though it feels like a natural extension of Nate’s arc throughout the season. The show hasn’t been terribly subtle when setting up Nate as the season’s villain, but it’ll be interesting to see how confident he is when he’s confronted by his boss and his contemporary.
*I’m conflicted about how I feel regarding that final text message from Trent Crimm (The Independent). While I buy his friendship with Ted, despite his absence this season, I don’t know if he feels so compelled by it to betray his journalistic integrity. Surely the show could have revealed this in a more natural way.
I wasn’t aware until the other day that Bill Lawrence, the show’s co-creator, had stated that Ted Lasso likely won’t go past a third season. While I’ll be sad to see the show go away, whenever it inevitably happens, I appreciate that Lawrence has the good sense to not let the show linger and reduce its credibility by fabricating more and more outlandish storylines. It’s tough to think that next week will not only be the end of this season. It’s even tougher to consider that next week is the beginning of the end for the show overall. I don’t know what’s to come for each individual storyline in the finale (though I’ll be refreshing Apple’s screener site with eager anticipation until the episode is uploaded). Lawrence seem content not to give us everything we’ve wanted, like a clean solution for Sam and Rebecca, but he and the writers have consistently stayed honest to the emotional cores of the characters this season. At the end of the day, that’s what makes for the best television, and “Midnight Train to Royston” is great television.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.