Technically speaking, the central “goal” of Ted Lasso’s second season was established at the end of its first: relegated by their loss to Manchester City, AFC Richmond’s obvious path is to get promoted back to where they belong and eventually win a championship. Easy, right?
Thus far, the second season has made clear that this won’t be a simple task, but it has done so without any external pressure: eight straight ties isn’t going to get you promoted, but Ted and the rest of the club have been framing this problem as more of an existential crisis than a professional one. “Do The Right-est Thing” is the first episode where the front office are shown grappling with the reality of relegation: the same salaries at lower revenue levels, with the team needing to hold onto their existing sponsorships in order to stay afloat financially. Sam’s Dubai Air campaign isn’t just a great opportunity for the team’s young star: it’s a key endorsement during a pivotal moment in the team’s financial future.
“Do The Right-est Thing”—with a script from Ashley Nicole Black—is a great example of the ability to use the various layers of a professional sports team in order to tell stories. In this way, it reminds me of what co-creator Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs—which I also wrote about here at The A.V. Club—would often do with its power hierarchy. At any given time, stories in Sacred Heart would be anchored in the day-to-day work of the interns/residents (J.D., Turk, Elliot), the attendings who supervise them (Cox), and the administrators who run the hospital (Kelso). While they were all technically working together, each group would have a perspective the others couldn’t necessarily share, and faced challenges the others didn’t even know were part of the situation.
Ted Lasso works the same way: the front office (Rebecca, Higgins, Keeley) is focused on business, the coaches (Ted, Beard, Nate) are looking ahead to their next opponent, and then the team have to figure out how to communicate amongst themselves in order to meet the expectations placed on them by everyone else. Each group is working to help the others, but they’ll never fully understand their perspectives, and oftentimes find themselves playing a game the others don’t understand.
That’s what happens throughout this episode, as Sam’s revelation regarding Dubai Air’s parent company Cerithium Oil and their role in the environmental destruction of the Niger Delta sets off a chain reaction that solves some of the team’s problems while complicating many more. The story is a riff on the controversial relationship between sport and activism, as Sam follows his principles into canceling the campaign and taping over Dubai Air’s logo on his jersey. As noted last week, it’s great to see Toheeb Jimoh given more material to work with, even if there’s a bitter irony in it happening without him being promoted to series regular as he deserves. To see Sam follow his principles and for it to become the thing that brings the team together despite Jamie’s disruptive presence is a feel good moment, and it’s thrilling to see him standing up for what’s right.
However, it’s also dread inducing, given what we learn about the team’s finances in the other parts of the story. Because right now, none of the levels of AFC Richmond are fully aware of what’s going on in the others, and it’s created a moral victory with potentially disastrous consequences. When Higgins and Rebecca explain the team’s financial struggles to the latter’s goddaughter Nora—who’s staying with Rebecca with Sassy busy at a conference—they admit that she grasped the situation faster than Ted, and we shouldn’t be shocked that the front office dynamics of a football club and the tiered system of the Premier League isn’t front of mind for Coach Lasso. Ted was hired to coach the team, and that’s where his focus is, which is why as Rebecca is dealing with Sam’s request to exit the campaign Ted is transforming himself into the cruel “Led Tasso” to try to give the team a common enemy. It’s a silly story—and frankly too Michael Scott for my taste—but that’s sort of the point: it’s never actually worked, but Ted’s spending time on it, because he doesn’t realize that there’s more dimensions to the story that make his efforts mostly futile.
The reaction within AFC Richmond to Sam’s decision to extend his protest of Dubai Air and Cerithium Oil into the game itself is honestly a fantasy, and thus totally in line with the optimistic worldview the show has cultivated. Rebecca is totally supportive of his withdrawal from the campaign, refuses to release him when the head of Cerithium asks her to, and ignores the CEO’s call after the team’s collective protest is revealed. Despite the fact that Richmond loses the game, Ted emphasizes that Sam’s voice is more important than any game, and gives over the mic to let him explain his actions to the press. And perhaps because of his chat with Dr. Fieldstone, or because he wasn’t able to get his hands on those PS5s, Jamie is the first player to join in with the Nigerians to tape over the Dubai Air logo, winning Sam’s respect and helping the team come together to—much as he resented early in season one—celebrate a loss as though it’s a win (because they finally broke the streak of ties). Outside of Higgins briefly noting that the protest might represent a problem, no one else in AFC Richmond treats doing the right thing as anything but logical, and it’s refreshing in a climate where this is so often not the case.
But even if the episode hadn’t made a direct reference to the dreaded “cancel culture,” it feels likely the “stick to sports” crowd is going to be all over this, and the loss of a major sponsor is going to create problems that won’t be easily fixed. Ted tells Sam that “doing the right thing is never the wrong thing,” but that is emblematic of how Ted’s worldview straddles the line between optimistic and naive, and it feels like the other shoe will have to drop eventually. The episode doesn’t emphasize this, allowing the ending to be about the team celebrating Sam’s activism, Jamie giving a toast, and Nora getting her photo taken with the team. The show has introduced its first major external conflict, but there’s an insulated quality to this world and its characters that means it doesn’t necessarily register. And although that’s going to help morale, and result in a happier workplace, it doesn’t feel like it’s sustainable given the business realities that this episode laid out before the characters chose to ignore them. Rebecca might be a “Boss Ass Bitch,” but she won’t be able to ignore that phone call forever, and that hangs over the celebration of a loss that will further set AFC Richmond back on their ultimate goal of promotion back to the Premier League.
By introducing more conflict, “Do The Right-est Thing” is the most substantive episode of the season thus far, in part because newly introduced elements like Dr. Fieldstone and Jamie’s re-arrival naturally fit their way into the story. Ted Lasso has a great way of threading stories through episodes: Rebecca running into Roy gets us an update on her dating life which Keeley’s promotion of “bantr” reinforces, while Jamie’s attempt to talk to Keeley brings him into Dr. Fieldstone’s office as though it’s just part of the workplace. And while I was originally concerned that Nora would lean too hard on the “precocious teen used to disarm characters” trope, integrating her into the Sam story was a good way to deal with necessary exposition, and her nervousness around Sam disarmed her enough to let her still be a teen despite also being a “teen written by TV writers.” And while Led Tasso felt too sketch-like for my taste, I understand that the rest of the episode is leaning more into the show’s dramatic side, so I see the instinct even if I wasn’t sold on the execution, and am curious how that balance will continue to play out as AFC Richmond faces even more external pressure as the season continues.
- My original headline for this article was “Ted Lasso reveals the risks of righteousness in relation to the realities of relegation for Richmond,” but lucky for you Led Tasso wasn’t in charge of the copy desk this week and good sense prevailed.
- Full disclosure: I tried looking up how relegation/promotion work, but I got more confused the more I read, so I’m going with the “the bottom teams in the Premier League season are relegated and the top teams in the Championship League season are promoted to replace them” explanation I read first and no longer trying to understand the calendar of the season. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
- “Did he talk like that the whole time?”—Rebecca made the mistake of asking for more information about Ted and Sassy’s sexual encounter, but it was Sassy’s cut-off suggestion of why timing isn’t the only reason Nora couldn’t be his child that scarred me a little, to be honest. And to think I remember when Apple was allegedly trying to only make PG-13 content!
- On the note of calendar, Sassy and Ted had sex roughly six months ago, and it’s clearly getting to be winter, but as previously established I have no idea how the football schedule works so whether that makes sense is unclear to me.
- Beyond his run-in with Rebecca at the Dolls of England Shop with Phoebe in tow, we get a brief glimpse of Roy’s appearance on Soccer Saturday to discuss Jamie, which is a nice way to keep him involved. I’m curious how he continues to integrate into the show beyond that, as we move forward.
- I presume that we’re supposed to read Keeley’s eyebrow raise when Colin notes that bantr is spelled/stylized like Grindr to mean that he is queer, but I would like to make the suggestion that somebody knowing that Grindr exists and is spelled that way does not actually make them queer (not that I wouldn’t appreciate the representation). Anyway, we’ll see if I’m reading too much into Keeley reading too much into that.
- I’m curious how much Apple is actively requesting the show work in mentions of products like iCloud - Coach Beard’s digital intimacy joke also works to keep seeding his chaotic relationship with Jane, which means it isn’t a waste, but it always stands out.
- Speaking of Apple, I’m wondering how much it costs to use “She’s A Rainbow” as Higgins’ ringtone.
- Sam compares his emotions preparing to see his ill-fate Dubai Air campaign to driving with Colin in his Lambourghini, so I guess he had a spare set of keys other than the one he tossed in the fire in season one.
- I don’t know where the show found young Kiki May to play Nora, but she really managed to match the energy of both Sudeikis and Waddingham, so kudos to her and casting on that one.
- Lots of fun seeing the team go off on Jamie—who is honestly trying so hard, and whose one misstep was joining in on making fun of Sam’s campaign when he wasn’t welcome—but I think my favorite was Jan’s “I don’t know you, but I don’t like you.”
- Is anyone else rewatching season one concurrently with the second season? I’ve started it with my parents this week, and it’s intriguing to see the small details you catch. I’ve watched the pilot at least four times now, but this was the first time I noticed that we see Ted’s hands shaking as he’s preparing to begin his first training session, as though a panic attack is about to trigger. I’m also noticing some small details that will be more relevant as we get deeper into the season, so the lesson is there’s never a bad time to rewatch season one.