Season two comes to an end, with hope for the future but frustration for the present.
Is Ted a bad coach because he allowed Nate’s toxic attitude to fester unchecked? His leak of Ted’s panic attack was clearly a shot in the dark to show he deserves more credit for the team’s success, if not an outright cry for attention. Or is Ted a bad coach because, when presented with the prospect of Sam leaving the team – or even the news of Sam and Rebecca’s romance – he didn’t think first of the on-field ramifications first? After all, Ted’s primary job is to get the best out of his players to produce a winning team. Or is he a bad coach at all? He managed to bring Richmond to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and, as we see in the finale, bring the club back from relegation in one mere season.
I’ve been a stern defender of the season for the most part, including the Sam and Rebecca storyline, which I know has its detractors. Even when the show seemingly skimped past the Dubai Air protest to explore other narrative opportunities, I was mostly fine with its choices. And I like how things play out in “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” as a way to set up season 3 (which, by all accounts, will be the final season). But what I found disheartening are the narrative shortcuts that the show takes throughout the episode to wrap up the various season two stories. It almost feels like the show finally realized that it had several threads dangling in mid-air and wanted to wrap them up as neatly as possible before the hiatus, without thinking about how best to do so.
Consider Sam’s storyline: at the end of last week’s episode, the biggest lingering question was whether he would leave Richmond to pursue an opportunity in Casablanca, or stay in the hopes that he could re-kindle his romance with Rebecca (and help the club reach greater success). At the beginning of this episode, he’s speaking with his father, who tells Sam to look for a sign from the universe. As soon as Sam hangs up the phone, he sees a group of kids playing football in the park, one with his jersey, and one with a black bar over the sponsor, calling to mind the aforementioned Dubai Air protest. Never do we see another “sign from the universe” to doubt which side Sam will ultimately fall on. Which makes the ultimate reveal once he announces his decision feel less like a surprise and more like an inevitability. I felt, several times throughout the episode, that there were a handful of scenes that were missing, but that was sadly not the case. Even with the extended runtime – this is now the longest episode of the entire show at 50 minutes – I could have used a few extra scenes of inner turmoil as Sam wrestled with his decision.
Meanwhile, Ted and Nate’s collective energy takes up most of the dramatic oxygen throughout the episode. After last week’s bomb drop that Nate leaked the story of Ted’s panic attack, we were left wondering how Ted would confront a newfound crack in his team’s morale. What would this do to Ted’s psyche, after his chosen protégé had betrayed him and shown how flawed his system could be? Naturally, Ted’s first instinct is to deflect any confrontation – much to coach Beard’s chagrin – and show Nate the attention he’s been missing. I actually liked most of the Ted vs. Nate portion of this episode, as Nate continuously squirmed under (what I presumed to be) guilt over the truth getting out. But everything past the halftime scene, when Nate lays everything out on the table, felt muddled to some extent. Even after Ted apologizes and recognizes his own failures, and continues to support Nate’s “false nine” strategy, Nate continues to seethe and even goes so far as to rip up Ted’s “Believe” sign. Maybe it’s because he knew he already had job security with Rupert at West Ham – a delicious tease for next season – but I struggled to understand his continued frustration. Ted’s side of the story is intended to springboard a larger conversation about mental health, which is in keeping with the themes of the season at large, but that conversation is fairly short-lived here. We have the introduction of it at Ted’s press conference, but the scene only scratches the surface of what the season has built towards. I don’t need Ted to confess his deepest darkest secrets to a room full of journalists. I just need something that last longer than the two minutes we got here. To that end, I find the appearance of Trent Crimm (The Independent/Independent) at the end of the episode curious. Unless the showrunners have an entire arc planned for him in season three, I don’t understand the purpose of dedicating valuable air time to his conversation with Ted. Maybe you could argue that Trent is an example of Ted’s philosophy extending beyond the football club. Maybe he’ll take Keeley or Nate’s now-vacant positions next season (one can only dream, right?). It just felt like the show could have focused its attention elsewhere at such a crucial moment in the episode.
Speaking of Keeley, she’s moving on to bigger and better things, as she receives an offer to start her own PR firm. It’s refreshing that someone’s dynamic with the team will change next season, and the show will be able to mine the drama of the demands of her job against her relationship with Roy. We already see glimpses of this at the end of the episode, as Roy surprises her with a luxurious, extended getaway. But the way it’s handled leaves more confusion: does Roy actually go on the trip, after leaving the tickets on the desk? Are they still in a relationship by the time the credits roll? Is Keeley’s job really so demanding that she can’t work remotely for a few weeks? Despite my concerns, I found the bulk of their storyline in “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” to be pretty successful, as the show continues to find natural ways to insert drama in their relationship. You also have Roy’s continued softening – another season-long arc – manifested when he confronts Jamie after last week’s reveal.
As riveting as the football drama always is, I found the “promotion/relegation” aspect confounding as well. This season has been so laser-focused on off-the-pitch issues that it felt jarring for the final match to have such heightened stakes so quickly. We all knew in the back of our minds that promotion was the ultimate goal, but the show never once mentioned the standings of the club in the lead-up to the finale. In fact, we don’t even know if Richmond needs a win or tie in their match with Brentford until there are 15 minutes remaining in the entire season. This, along with Jamie’s reluctance to take the final penalty kick and give it to Dani Rojas feels like it could have been expanded further. I understand the symmetry the show is going for with Dani – after the season premiere kicked off a conversation about mental health with a penalty kick from Dani – but the show fails entirely to explain the decision from Jamie’s perspective.
It’s easy to point to the one-off episode of “Beard After Hours” – which continues to fail to pay off in any meaningful ways – and say the show could have used the episode to set up what it failed at this week. We’ll never know how much of the episode was Apple’s fault, for ordering more episodes after the writers had presumably broken the season’s story. But the season two finale could have easily been more successful, by dedicating even a fraction of previous episodes to the stakes at play here. I remain a fan of the show, and season two overall. I may even re-watch it someday down the road. And I remain excited for season three, especially given the arcs that the finale sets up. But the show’s deficiencies – which I may or may not have glossed over when I enjoyed the first season simply as a fan – came to light in an unfortunate way, especially in the finale.
Thanks to everyone for reading and watching along with the show this season. This was the first show I’ve reviewed week to week (if it wasn’t obvious already) and it’s been a fun experiment to see a great show through this lens. I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the season, and the finale, in the comments.
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.