A lot can happen in between episodes of Ted Lasso. Sometimes the show makes a point of bringing viewers up to speed; other times it lets them fill in the blanks themselves. As “The Signal” opens, we’re told that AFC Richmond is winning again, at last, and that this is being attributed to the “Roy Kent effect.” The retired star hasn’t just settled into his new role as a coach, he’s thriving in it, and the team is thriving too. He also seems to have goosed team morale, not that it was sagging that much. But when Dani scores, he hugs Jamie, and their bond seems pretty genuine. Things are on an upswing all around. It’s hard to tell, from its opening moments, that it will end with a seemingly broken Ted shaking inside Doc Sharon’s office.
That’s still to come, however. When the episode opens, Ted never has seldom seemed happier or more, well, Ted. As he walks into work, he knows the names of all his co-workers and personal details, like parents’ birthdays. He also knows how to make them smile or break out in uncontrollable gasps of laughter, in the case of Liam (Obi Opara). It’s charming, Ted’s ability to ingratiate himself to everyone he meets, but is it also kind of worrisome, a way to cover up other concerns? Sharon seems to think so, telling him he can make an appointment whenever he needs to talk. But, nah, he’s fine, he insists. Sharon seems unconvinced.
There have been developments in others’ lives, too. Rebecca is now at least occasionally sharing her bed with Luca (Oliver Savile), or “Sexy Luca,” as he’s listed in her contacts. It’s unclear how long this has been a thing or how long it will remain a thing. Whatever’s going on with Luca hasn’t inspired Rebecca to stop checking Bantr, where she, under the name “Bossgirl,” remains in touch with the mysterious and charming “LDN152.” Could Keeley have been right? Has Bantr really cracked the code for finding true love online?
That question will have to wait a bit, however, thanks to the arrival of Rebecca’s mom, Deborah (Harriet Walter), who appears with the shocking news that she’s left Rebecca’s father. Or at least it seems shocking. We’ll learn later that Deborah’s in the habit of getting fed up, walking out, then being lured back into a fundamentally unhappy marriage with some kind words and an environmentally conscious gift. Rebecca’s seen it all before and feels it’s better to let the cycle play out, especially since the one time she did speak her mind, telling Deborah she’s better off without her husband, it came back to bite her.
Relationships are complicated, and that’s true from both the inside and the outside. It’s unclear what, exactly, has happened between Beard and Jane between their pagan Christmas celebration and now, but it comes as a bit of an unhappy surprise to the other Diamond Dogs that they’ve gotten back together. Although Ted and the others offer encouragement while biting their tongues, Higgins can’t join in. He spends much of the episode tortured by his need to advise Beard to uncouple from Jane. Citing her own experience, Rebecca advises him against it, but, by episode’s end, he can’t help himself, telling Beard, “You’re a great man. Does Jane make you greater?” For his efforts he receives — after a pause — a hug.
Does that mean Beard will break up with Jane? Who knows? And is Higgins right? Again, who knows? Keeley recounts a disturbing incident in which “she once followed me all the way home to ask if Beard was shagging Ted.” Rebecca, on the other hand, says, “She’s a bit intense, but she’s adorable.” It’s hard to say who’s right, as we only get fleeting glimpses of Jane and Beard together, but it may be significant that, of the bunch, only Higgins is in a happy, stable, long-term relationship. (Roy seemingly also matches that description, but he opts out of offering an opinion.)
Beard’s and Rebecca’s stories suggest this season is interested in exploring what makes love work and what makes it fail. Despite the lousiness of her collapsed marriage, Rebecca has rediscovered she’s a romantic at heart. That might also be what drives Beard, who’s no stranger to intense relationships, based on the hints offered in throwaway lines about his past, which apparently involves not just one tumultuous relationship with a dancer but a string of them. (Then again, everything about Beard’s past sounds intense. “How’s Mrs. Beard doing?” Ted asks of Beard’s mother. His reply: “Full-blown QAnon,” to which Ted can only offer an unsurprised nod.)
One relationship that now seems on surprisingly solid ground, however: Roy and Jamie. Though Roy begins the episode refusing to coach his old rival, he eventually coughs up some advice that proves essential to the Greyhounds advancing in the FA Cup Semi-Final: Jamie needs to remember how to be a prick. Now a team player — which is fine most of the time — he needs to remember how to be the selfish, taunting jerk who can score goals while angering opponents. And, given the cue at the right time — this obscene hand gesture that doubles as the signal of the episode’s title — that’s exactly what he does. But now that he’s remembered how to be a jerk again, can he control it?
Ted might be concerned about that if he didn’t have bigger worries. Feigning food poisoning, he leaves the team mid-game. Why? We probably won’t know for sure what specifically made him crack under pressure at this particular moment in this particular game, but it undoubtedly has something to do with the phone call he received earlier in the day informing him that his son has left his lunch behind. The crisis quickly resolves itself, but it makes Ted realize how far away he is from his kid, that his marriage is over, and that there’s little keeping him grounded apart from his job. It’s enough to send even the most reluctant patient to seek out therapy. Whether he finds it works or not, however, will remain unseen until future episodes.
In the meantime, it’s Nate who saves the day, confidently stepping up and ordering an unconventional strategy that pays off. He’s no “wonder kid,” he declares, however. Just a guy doing his job. But we’ve never seen Nate act so commanding. This is a guy who wouldn’t have to ask twice for the window table at Taste of Athens.
And that’s it … unless there’s some detail we haven’t touched on yet. Hmm … Oh yeah! After her mother inevitably returns to her father, Rebecca has the choice of focusing on Sexy Luca or her Bantr match. She chooses the latter, and we learn that it’s Sam. Who saw that coming? And does this relationship have a future? “The Signal” leaves that answer hanging like an unanswered message on Bantr.
• I don’t want to dwell on this, but it was a big week for Ted Lasso online, where it sparked an intense but sometimes confusing debate. Honestly, I kind of lost the thread of the argument, which, as these things do, quickly devolved into the polarized for-us-or-against-us state that’s characterized online discourse since at least The Last Jedi. There are thoughtful critiques of the show and the discourse around it to be made. (Look at Vulture’s own Kathryn VanArendonk’s piece or Doreen St. Félix’s nuanced review in The New Yorker.) Thoughtfulness is not what I’m seeing on Twitter, however.
• I still adore this show and think what it’s doing in this second season — experimenting with what can be done with a sitcom without traditional conflicts — has been just as compelling as what it did in the first season. (Which, it’s worth remembering, quickly drifted away from the original conflict.) Instead, we’re getting a slow burn of inner conflict. I think what Ted’s going through, for instance, is rich in drama and beautifully played by Sudeikis, to say nothing of the way he can handle an H.R. Pufnstuf reference, then effortlessly add, “That is a joke for people born in the early to mid-’70s” without breaking character. I don’t see a show in crisis or one on the other side of a shark jump. That’s not to say that those who do are wrong, but where’s right and wrong in liking or not liking a TV show? I don’t think I’m alone in continuing to think there’s more to Ted Lasso — from the gags to the character’s struggles — than those who see only plotless cheeriness.