When Ted realizes that Dr. Fieldstone will be remaining with the team on a permanent basis, he grabs the biscuits he was planning to deliver to Rebecca and makes his first move. He has clearly played it all out in his head: biscuits as the opener, a pop culture question (he goes with favorite novel, after choosing first/best concert with Rebecca), and then boom! Instant friendship.
Needless to say, it doesn’t go as Ted imagined. Sharon doesn’t eat sugar, for one, and by the time Ted’s halfway into explaining how The Fountainhead could be his favorite book she stops him to observe that this must be his “thing.” She admits it’s disarming, but she is not exactly disarmed, and Ted is forced to slink away with cursory gratitude for the gesture and a half-eaten biscuit, unsure of what to do.
It’s not that Ted’s approach hasn’t been resisted before. Jamie Tartt is easily Ted’s greatest “failure” from the first season, insofar as he was robbed of the opportunity to see things through after Rebecca gave him back to Manchester City. He knows that he got through to Jamie enough that he passed the ball in the match that relegated Richmond, but he never managed to do what he was trying to do, which was successfully integrating Jamie into the team dynamic he was striving for. Dr. Fieldstone eventually diagnoses the club as an environment where employees are generous, caring, and listen to one another, and that’s exactly what Ted was trying to achieve. But he never managed to sell Jamie on his philosophy, and just because he learned to pass doesn’t mean that he has learned how to not be an absolute wanker. This is why Ted’s answer when Jamie shows up at the pub with figurative hat in hand to ask for another shot after Man City and every other club want nothing to do with him is straightforward: it’s not a good idea.
However, as “Lavender’’ progresses it becomes clear that it’s only a bad idea if your sole priority is team morale, and eight straight draws has underlined that team morale doesn’t always result in the wins that are necessary to escape relegation and keep the club prosperous. What struck me about Ted’s eventual about face on Jamie returning to Richmond is that the show doesn’t present a strong external stimuli to foreground the need to win matches. Rebecca isn’t breathing down his neck about relegation’s impact on the bottom line; there’s no mustache-twirling minority stakeholder threatening Rebecca’s control of the club over their record; the fanboys at the pub are more interested in taking photos of Jamie and Ted than badgering him about the winless season. Ted brings back Jamie because he wants to, overriding the opinion of his assistant coaches and risking his relationship with Sam, who walked out of practice when he thought it was a possibility. Whatever happens next is entirely on him.
Structurally, this felt inevitable: they wouldn’t have kept Phil Dunster on as a series regular if he was just going to take ecstasy on Ibiza while Roy seethes at him with the yoga moms, and the work the show did with Jamie at the end of last season—the pass, the abusive father—went a long way to suggesting he has a path to redemption. And so once the episode reveals that Jamie’s stint on Lust Conquers All was only possible because he abandoned Man City, and that a combination of that and his mistreatment of poor Amy has turned the league and the public against him, it’s hard to imagine the show having put all that effort in only for him to be signed by a team other than Richmond. As soon as he got voted off his reality show, it was easy to predict that he’d be back on the practice pitch by episode’s end.
Predictable as it might be, though, the show has made it thoroughly complicated. On the one hand, Ted is bringing back Jamie because it will help the team win, and he knows that this is important even if no one is actively pressuring him to take action to fix it. But on the other hand, Jamie is Ted’s white whale, and despite Sam’s speech being about his relief that Jamie wasn’t coming back, his mention of his own father and his trust in Ted’s coaching brings Jamie’s own daddy issues to the foreground. The most telling thing Sam says in his anger when he thinks Ted is planning on bringing Jamie back is how it shows a lack of faith in the team: they haven’t won yet, but they’re working well together, and Sam believes that they will pull things together. Ted’s choice to bring in Jamie is a betrayal of the very idea that belief—*gestures at the sign again*—isn’t enough, and Ted is placing Jamie’s individual journey and his own perhaps selfish need to solve others’ problems ahead of the opinions of some of the very people he has been selflessly supporting all along.
It’s a productive conflict, and allows the show to disrupt the kumbaya vibes of last week’s premiere and return to building a new, distinct dynamic from the chaos that ensues. The show is smart to avoid an outright villain here, as it positions Ted as the closest thing the show has to a “bad guy.” This wasn’t something that Sharon told him to do, or something Rebecca forced him to do. It’s a choice he’s making that will have short-term and long-term consequences, and which he will need to answer for. If the first season was Ted diagnosing and then trying to solve problems that he inherited, the second season has Ted in the difficult position of causing problems with the promise that he will solve them before the people he cares about are negatively impacted, and the responsibility of that is going to weigh heavily on his shoulders moving forward.
With Rebecca still only tinkering with her online dating profile, the other forward momentum in “Lavender” comes from Roy, who begrudgingly agrees to try out the Sky Sports gig after he catches Keeley masturbating to his retirement speech. We don’t get to see the whole thing—I sort of hope they’ll put it online—but as expected he’s a blubbering mess, and Keeley regrets that he hasn’t shown the same vulnerability since he’s refused to even get close to professional football again. The speed at which he races out of the parking lot when Ted spots him dropping off Keeley is a clear message, but Keeley keeps pushing, and Roy—in a reminder that his petulance, unlike Jamie’s, comes with a degree of maturity—acquiesces because he sees how important it is to her that he tries.
And then he just, like, succeeds? There’s really no conflict here: he swears too much (it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t have been warned about this in advance, given everything he’s ever said in his career), but social media loves his candor, and Sky Sports is excited about his possible future contributions. He was afraid to tackle something, but Keeley followed her instincts that his fear—whatever its origins—was keeping him from something that he cared about, and it turns out she was right! It’s an argument that Ted and Rebecca’s dismissal of therapy is not entirely without logic: it is incredibly valuable to have friends in your life who will help you tackle your problems, and it’s obvious why that would be preferable to allowing a stranger into your world. Roy would have never agreed to see a therapist, let alone listened to them, but he listened to Keeley, and he made what I suppose one might identify as a breakthrough.
The problem is that in some cases people aren’t willing to show those vulnerabilities to the people closest to them, which is why when Ted and Rebecca share their distrust of therapy there’s an awkward pause when they leave room for the other to lay their burdens on the table. Maybe it’s that they don’t want others to know how much they’re suffering—remember that only we truly saw Ted’s sadness over his divorce, and Rebecca only saw the panic attack and not the full scale of the emotions behind it. Or maybe it’s that they feel like they don’t want their problems to be a burden, even if they’re more than happy to take on that burden for someone else. Regardless, the idea of how, when, and for what/whom we take responsibility feels especially prudent in the wake of Jamie’s return, and will be a critical question to Ted to ask himself and his friends until the point at which he decides that he might need to talk to Dr. Fieldstone about it instead.
- After last week’s episode focusing on Dani’s mental struggles and Sharon’s arrival, the ongoing discourse surrounding Simone Biles out of the Tokyo Olympics has definitely added some extra relevance to this dimension of that story. We don’t see as much of that here, but it will be interesting to see how the show continues to mine that dimension of the game with her continued presence.
- I don’t know if it’s as simple as Apple throwing around money and clout, but the show gains so much from the realism of the This Morning with Phillip and Holly and Soccer Saturday segments here. Seeing the characters integrated into these real shows adds a lot to the show’s groundedness, even when Jamie is spouting off nonsense about George Harrison.
- This is unrelated, but Googling Soccer Saturday informed me that host Jeff Stelling has nine cats and three dogs, and you don’t just learn a fun fact like that without passing it along. You’re welcome.
- Writer Leann Bowen, credited with the script here, also wrote the first season’s “Diamond Dogs,” so it’s fitting that it’s a big episode for the group even if there’s some drama in their ranks based on Ted’s decision with Jamie, Ted’s offer to allow Higgins to move in with Nate without first consulting with him, and Nate’s ongoing bullying of his replacement Will. I’m curious how long the show can go with the latter story before Ted and Coach Beard will have to face it head on.
- Jamie’s rollercoaster journey when Ted asks how he’s doing: “Awesome. The best. Pretty good. Okay, Pretty depressed. Real shit, Ted.”
- Toheeb Jimoh was very charming as Sam in the first season, but he really brings his character’s importance to the team to the surface here, and much as Rebecca is thrilled that Dubai Air has asked to work with Sam on a campaign specifically, I’m thrilled Jimoh gets a chance to bring Sam into perspective as the team’s emotional leader.
- I’m not necessarily convinced that Jamie would actually know who Julia Louis-Dreyfus is, but I appreciated the “Ted Danson → Julia Louis-Dreyfus → Dave Grohl” journey in the abstract.
- I would have preferred if the images we saw scroll by on Keeley’s Twitter feed about Roy’s appearance were grainy cell phone photos of the TV instead of what were clearly still images pulled from the show itself, but overall I was pleased with the social media verisimilitude, and appreciate the post-production folks who put that insert together.
- Speaking of Apple throwing money around, I wonder what “Anarchy in the U.K.” costs?
- For future reference: Roy’s position on lashes is “leave them the fuck alone” and his kink is people having sex in the woods because he “could never be that free.”
- Someone in the comments last week mentioned that Sharon came on kind of strong, but I think that’s her “thing”: whereas Ted’s move is “You are now my friend,” Sharon has a lot of reasons why she comes in with a more defensive posture. My sense is that now that she realizes the kind of environment Ted has created, she’ll let her guard down a bit, but the show is definitely resisting humanizing her too much to ensure she remains an antagonist figure in Ted’s world, for now.
- Speaking of the comments, someone else mentioned that they’d love to see a collection of quotes. And to be honest with you, I already wrote all these reviews (as I was watching screeners, so the reviews will never be “ahead” of the weekly airings), and my notes aren’t quote-focused enough to do so. But if you want to share your favorite quotes from the episode, I certainly encourage you to use the comments for that purpose. Thanks to everyone who chimed in last week: I’m chuffed to be able to have a dialogue about the show with y’all.