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'Ted Lasso' Season 2 finale recap: A big game, a big decision and a heel turn

Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso.
Apple TV+
Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso.

Game Highlights

It's the end of the season (for the team and the show), and Richmond plays a big game that drives Sam to a decision about whether to leave with Edwin Akufo. Ted wonders what to do about the information he now possesses about Nate ratting out his panic attack to the press, and Roy and Keeley try to figure out whether anything is actually wrong in their relationship.


Ted and his panic

In the wake of the publication of Trent Crimm's story exposing Ted's panic attack, he's being raked over the coals by commentators, but he's glad to have messages of support from Rebecca, Sharon and even his ex-wife. Coach Beard, of course, claims he's not paying attention to whatever this hubbub is all about. But as soon as Nate gets to work, Beard waves the tabloid in his face, emphasizing that he knows perfectly well that Nate was the source. Fortunately, the team is supportive when Ted talks to them at practice and apologizes for not being honest with them.

Later, Beard asks Ted if he's going to say anything to Nate, and Ted admits that he wants Nate to apologize on his own. Beard, who knows more about where Nate's head is than Ted does, warns him that that's not going to happen, and says Ted needs to let his frustration out before his mustache flies off from the pressure. (Heh.)

Roy and Keeley

Roy confronts Jamie about his confession to Keeley, but before Roy can follow through on his vow to knock out Jamie's teeth, Jamie tells him that he knows it was wrong, and he respects the relationship, and he'll never do it again, and he only did it because he was messed up by the funeral. Roy has no answer to this thorough assumption of responsibility, and he walks off.

Keeley gets news: The people behind Bantr want to give her the financing to start her own PR firm. (Do PR firms get venture capitalists involved? Never mind.) She comes to talk to Higgins, who is running what he calls "Mascot Idol," the process of picking a new greyhound mascot. (Baby sighthounds!) Keeley explains to him that she's afraid to tell Rebecca that she's leaving. But of course, when Keeley tells her, Rebecca — though weepy — is completely supportive. Rebecca also gets news while they're having this discussion that Rupert has bought West Ham United, which means that maneuver (and not some new burst of kindness) explains why he gave back his shares in Richmond at her father's funeral.

At home, Keeley shares the news about her firm, and Roy tells her that he forgave Jamie after he came clean. So things are looking nice for them, and they're getting very cozy when Keeley suddenly gets a preview of the Vanity Fair spread. It turns out the magazine didn't use any of the couple photos, only ones of Keeley by herself.

Edwin and Sam

Edwin Akufo is still courting Sam hard, but nobody knows what Sam has in mind. Sam's father tells him to look to the universe for a sign, and Sam sees some kids playing football in a park, one of whom is wearing a "Obisanya" Richmond jersey.

Jeremy Swift is great as Higgins, always, but also: PUPPIES!
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Jeremy Swift is great as Higgins, always, but also: PUPPIES!

Game day

Before the big game, Roy doesn't exactly ask the Diamond Dogs for advice, but he does share his feelings, which are that Keeley looked awesome in the pictures all by herself, and it kind of made him feel unnecessary. And because he also mentions that he was baffled by his own reactions to Jamie confessing his love to Keeley, Nate interrupts to confess that he tried to kiss her. Roy is not bothered by this, which Nate seems to take personally — instead of taking it as maybe a very different situation, given that he grabbed her without her consent and is not her ex-boyfriend, while Jamie is her ex-boyfriend who shared his feelings with her in a way that was obviously pretty well thought-out.

In the first part of the game, Nate's strategy isn't working very well, to which he responds by berating the team for being unable to execute it. At halftime, Ted asks the coaching staff what they should do about this new tactic, and Nate spits that they should abandon it, since the players are screwing it up. Ted thinks they should keep trying, but he asks Roy, who says Ted should ... ask the team. Led by Jan Maas (established all season as the straight shooter, for good and for ill), the team decides to stick with it. And then, led by their captain, Isaac, they all put their hands on the BELIEVE sign.

As halftime breaks up, the inevitable confrontation between Ted and Nate finally comes. Ted pushes Nate to tell him what he's upset about, and Nate comes clean: Ted built him up, and then Ted forgot him. And even though everybody loves him: "I think you're a [freaking] joke. Without me, you wouldn't have won a single match and they'd have shipped your ass back to Kansas where you [really] belong, with your son. Because you sure as hell don't belong here." Nate also now believes Ted is calling it "Nate's false nine" so that he can blame Nate when it inevitably fails, just as he claimed Ted was going to take all the credit when it inevitably worked. It's safe to say that even though Ted apologizes, there is no resolution here.

In the second half of the game, Richmond pulls to within one, with a goal from Sam. All they need is a tie to be promoted back to the Premier League. As time grows short, there's a long pass from Jan Maas to Jamie, and then Jamie is fouled. But Jamie, who hasn't missed a penalty all season, hands off to Dani — who, you will remember, started the season with the rather awful accident during a penalty kick that led to Higgins having to play "Mascot Idol." Dani looks at the new puppy mascot, now equipped with a tiny helmet, and says to himself, of course, "Football is life." Only now, it seems to be the confident, happy declaration of a man at peace, and I'm really glad they've expanded this character past the broad sketch he was when he arrived.

Dani scores the goal, Richmond gets the tie, and they have done what they set out to do: they'll be promoted. Everyone is ecstatic except for Nate, who is still very angry, despite the fact that a strategy Ted credited him for just worked, and there's every indication that Ted will continue to credit him. He stomps off to the locker room, and when Ted gets to his desk, he finds that Nate has ripped down the BELIEVE sign and torn it in two.

During the celebration, Roy head-butts Jamie, to which Jamie says, "What did you do that for?" Roy says, "So I could do this," and pulls him in for an ecstatic hug, followed by some happy-dude jumping around that you would never have thought you'd see from these two dudes.

Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis and Brett Goldstein as three coaches in a tense moment: Beard, Ted and Roy.
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis and Brett Goldstein as three coaches in a tense moment: Beard, Ted and Roy.


Back in the locker room, Sam is called in for the meeting in which he will give Edwin his answer. Edwin assumes that it's a done deal, but Sam has news: he's staying in Richmond. What follows is a profane, hilarious rant that explains why they got the very funny Sam Richardson to play the — up until now — only lightly funny Edwin Akufo. "I will dedicate my life to destroying you" is kind of the tame part.

And at the press conference, Ted notices that Trent Crimm isn't there. He proceeds to address the matter of mental health in athletics, and then heads up to Rebecca's office, where they're sharing a celebratory drink when Sam walks in. Sam tells them that he's not going with Edwin, and — very awkwardly — he delivers to Ted some remarks that he intends for Rebecca: "I wish I could say it was because of my feelings for you. But the truth is, I think I need to stop worrying about what others feel about me. I'm staying because it's what's best for me and my personal journey."

On his way out, Ted runs into Trent, who says that he's not a journalist anymore, because he got fired for giving his source up to Ted. (Reasonable!) I have a feeling we'll see Trent again. Maybe in Keeley's job?

We close with three flash-forwards. First, five days later, Keeley is packing up her office when Roy shows up with plane tickets for a six-week trip they can take together, but she has to tell him that she's starting work and she can't go. She thinks he should go, though, and when he asks if they're breaking up, she says they are absolutely not. Still, they walk out of her office apparently in a state of uncertainty about exactly where they stand. Then, three weeks later, we see Sam closing on a property that he intends to turn — presumably inspired by his lunch with Edwin — into a Nigerian restaurant. And finally, six months later, we see Rupert's team, West Ham United, warming up with their new coach: Nate.

Game analysis

A word about this episode title, "Inverting the Pyramid of Greatness": If you look at John Wooden's "Pyramid of Greatness," it builds on the things at the bottom like "Friendship," "Loyalty" and "Cooperation," and then at the very top is "Competitive Greatness." I think there are a few ways to think about the title relative to this episode, honestly, and mine is no better than anyone else's, but I think this whole season has really been partly about reexamining the relationship between competitive success and personal decency, so it's not a surprising title. On with the show.

The draw at the big game is so very satisfying. It was pretty obvious that was the likely result, since they lost the big game at the end of last season and nobody likes to repeat themselves. But still, a very nice job of bringing together story threads: Dani's disaster in the premiere (which brings in the importance of Sharon's work), Jamie's ongoing struggle to balance his individual brilliance with generous play, and Sam's continuing position as the backbone. Delightfully earned, and a warm and fuzzy feeling is what we all deserve.

I also really like where they went with Ted, ultimately: Some of what Nate said to him is entirely true. As I've said a couple times this season, Ted is not qualified to coach football, and Nate is right that without his assistant coaches, he would be useless. It makes perfectly sense that a guy who had to work his way up from equipment manager would be incredibly frustrated by Ted. A little less sense given that Ted is the one who made him a coach, but still: Nate being frosted isn't hard to sympathize with.

On the other hand, his handling of his anger — not quitting, but particularly ripping up the sign, knowing it was not only special to Ted but special to the whole team — is loathsome. So is his apparent conviction that Roy not punching him in the head for kissing Keeley is a manifestation of disrespect. That is what people mean by "toxic masculinity" — Nate's version of being a big man in that moment is being threatening to another big man by putting his hands on his girlfriend. They've definitely put the narrative work into establishing Nate as a full-on villain, but my assumption is that they'll eventually try to bring him back from that, and between all these moves, it's not going to be easy. I get why Nate is mad at Ted, but ... now he's also an entitled dude vis-a-vis a woman who tried to be his friend. Bringing Nate back, at this point, would take almost as much work as it took to get him here, which was an entire season.

This is one last blow, too, to Ted's belief that being kind and supportive to people will pay off in the end. To the degree Ted hoped he could transform his relationship with Nate for the better, he failed. Letting Nate really hate Ted, and letting Ted survive it, is a choice I certainly didn't see coming.

Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) are excited about her big moment, kind of.
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) are excited about her big moment, kind of.

On the other hand ... look, not to dwell from week to week, but this Roy and Keeley thing just does not hang together. The idea that Roy would look at pictures of Keeley by herself and decide, based on that, that maybe they should break up? That seems ... silly. And anyone deciding to schedule a six-week vacation without asking their partner and then being upset when it doesn't work out? That also seems silly. I'm glad they didn't break them up and particularly glad they didn't go with a love triangle. But the treatment of this relationship has been so smart before now, and this last chapter in it has been not so great.

One of the things I learned writing fiction (a sports-adjacent love story, no less) is that sometimes, particularly when you're trying to write with some subtlety, you know what the motivations are, and they're just not quite coming out on the page. My first reaction to this Roy and Keeley story was that it was underconsidered, like they were just looking for reasons to break them up according to the "happy couples are boring" non-rule that's based largely on myth. But given how emotionally complex the rest of the season has been, my guess is that the disconnect here is that whatever the motivations are in this relationship, and whatever the dynamic is supposed to be, it's just not quite coming through in the writing, rather than not being thought through in the first place. Perhaps when you get used to writing with a lot of nuance, sometimes the nuance tips over into confusion. Creative ambition has risks; that's why people don't do it.

I did really like this as a Beard episode — maybe the best Beard episode in the whole series, other than ... the Beard episode.It drove home how observant and quiet he is, particularly when he calls out Nate to both Nate and Ted, and if anything, I wished both of those conversations were a little longer. Beard is Ted's best friend, and although it's clear that his way is the way of the man of few words, I would have listened to more of this.

Full credit to Phil Dunster for gradually turning Jamie from a little bit of a cartoon (a very funny cartoon!) last season into a guy that I really, really root for. Seeing him be as mature as he's been about the Keeley thing, acknowledging that he shouldn't have done it and not putting the responsibility on anybody else, is worth cheering (and the opposite of Nate), and he seems to be working from such a position of ... dare I say intelligent reflection? ... when it comes to his play. Jamie is a good kid.

There are people who didn't like this season, but I really, really did. I think the suspicion that it was going to lack conflict turned out to be very short-sighted, and anybody who read everything that happened this season as positive and uplifting is maybe more of an optimist than I am. Ugly things happened with Ted this season, and ugly things happened with Nate. Rebecca and Sam are left in a situation where she's not been very fair to him, Beard is still in a bad relationship, and Roy and Keeley seem to be Not All Right. Rupert has bought his way back into making Rebecca's life miserable, and Sam has alienated a powerful billionaire (love that rant scene, though, along with Sam's increasing amusement at it). The fact that not every effort to fill out the complexities of the feelings among all these characters succeeded at the very end doesn't make me wish they hadn't gone at this season with so many interesting ideas.

Until next time, you Greyhounds. Well done.

This Week In Ted

Peak Ted: "Looks like a Renaissance painting portraying masculine melancholy."

Referential Ted: Pauly Shore, A Few Good Men, Fig Newtons, Melrose Place, John Wooden, The Hangover, Nate the Great

Coach Beard Noise of the Week: "Horticulture, bab-eeeeeh!"

Stealth MVP of the Season: This feels like an impossible task, because all the supporting characters are so good. But if you're talking about the characters I think grew the most between last season and this season, both in performance and writing, I would go with Phil Dunster's Jamie, Jeremy Swift's Higgins, and Toheeb Jimoh's Sam, although even saying that, I already feel like I'm leaving people out.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.