Ted Lasso 2×11 “Midnight Train to Royston” Spoilers Ahead
Written by Sasha Garron, Ted Lasso’s “Midnight Train to Royston” is without question, thematically one of my favorite episodes. Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope once said, “find your team and get work,” a message I’ve personally always taken to heart and held on to for dear life. No one can achieve anything on their own—it’s lonely at the top, it really is.
“We used to believe that trees competed with each other for light. Susan Simard’s field work challenged that perception, and we now realize that the forest is a socialist community, trees work in harmony to share the sunlight.”Coach Beard
Where “No Weddings and a Funeral” beautifully encapsulated the healing potency of shared grief, Ted Lasso’s “Midnight Train to Royston” highlights the importance of a community, the detail that this isn’t about competition, but instead, the beauty lies in the brilliance of everyone playing their part. And here’s the thing, this message isn’t necessarily new to this show, it’s an ever-present tail all throughout that carefully places emphasis on shared joy and belief being at the forefront of a solid team. Ted Lasso, though named after a single character isn’t a one-man show. It’s about a team and it’s a collaborative effort that exhibits the fact that human beings were not designed to be alone. If that were the case, simply put, we wouldn’t exist.
We’re deep in the dark forest, Greyhounds, and we might not get out of it until next season, so it’s time to prepare. We were warned about this, we’re going to make it through, and the price of growth will be worth the challenges.
Midnight Train to Royston and The Importance of Vulnerability
I will never get tired of covering the praiseworthy exhibition of vulnerability in Ted Lasso, and I hope none of you get tired of reading about it. “Midnight Train to Royston” dealt with Sharon’s character so beautifully, I’m certain I’m not alone in wishing she’d stay in Richmond forever. (Sarah Niles is that good, too!) But before she leaves, she is ambushed by an upset Ted who’s disappointed she was going to leave without saying goodbye.
As Sharon tells Ted, though her time in Richmond has helped her understand the prominence of allowing herself to be vulnerable in order to help her clients, she’s better at goodbyes on paper. (As someone who’s also better at articulating her feelings on paper, I understood her completely.) But Ted’s issues with abandonment are still front and center even though she’s written a beautifully vulnerable letter while spelling favourite wrong.
But this growth is still a beautiful detail that exhibits the importance of shared credit. Sharon’s future clients might never know who inspired her to be more vulnerable, but it’s still lovely that she tells him. He’ll know that. We’ll know that. One of my favorite verses from the Bible is from Matthew 6:1-4 “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The Bible emphasizes humility more often than not. Are we helping others solely to receive the credit and say that we are, or are we doing it complete earnest—because it’s the right thing to do. While sometimes public displays of kindness can act as a chain reaction of sorts, it isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, what’s done privately, without searching for or demanding credit is the very thing that can have monumental outcomes. (There’s a lot that can be tied with Nate in this too.) Ted didn’t intend to help Sharon, but he did so by being himself. He did so by sprinkling kindness into her life because that’s what he always promised himself he’d do.
Ted and Sharon later go the Crown and Anchor for drinks, but this time, Ted steals her move while adding one of his own—a toy soldier in a beer cup. This one is on him. And we don’t have to look too hard to understand that Sharon gets it.
In the same way that her guidance is something that Ted will carry with him through breathing exercises and whatever else she has taught, the toy soldier is a reminder for her that though vulnerability is scary, it’s worth it in the end because it’s freeing for her too.
And now, Sharon Fieldstone has someone back in Richmond who’ll never say no to drinks and pinball. She’s got someone in Richmond who believes in her, someone who’s thankful for her, and someone who’s on her side.
Bye Bye Bye
I completely understand Ted wanting to use N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” as a surprise for Sharon’s going away party because the choreography is everything, but because the lyrics don’t really fit for the great role she’s played in their lives, the performance is still done in front of the one person who actually deserves it.
“Midnight Train to Royston” is Nathan Shelley’s villain origin story. Or so, that’s what we’re calling it until (and if) there’s a redemption. If Nathan Shelley was Anakin Skywalker, this is the episode where he becomes Darth Vader. Narratively, what the show has done to Nate’s arc is so brilliant, it hurts. It actually hurts. I angry cried and sat in complete silence then was shaken for the entire day. (Still am.) Though it makes me so sad as a fan, it makes complete sense because the story that’s being told is of great importance on this show.
I ask this again, what did Palpatine (Rupert) whisper to him last week because the domino effect is in full swing now. Everyone’s got a villain origin story—no one is born good or evil, but their character is built around the choices that are made. Do I think that Nate is completely heartless? No. And neither was Anakin Skywalker, really—for those who aren’t Star Wars fans, he was a boy ultimately tempted by power. Star Wars runs on the idea of light and dark, which is cemented through the force, a type of power that is wielded by some, used for either good or evil .
The emphasis on belief in Ted Lasso illuminates the detail that it is a choice one must make every single day, and it’s a choice that not only impacts one’s own inner psyche, but the world around them. Nathan Shelley’s belief in himself is severely lacking, and as a result of it, one small taste of power equates to the rise of an ego. And the interesting thing about this villain origin story is that while it can be jarring, it’s so well done that in the world of television, so often we go backwards in this type of storytelling. But with Nate, the emotional beats hit as hard as they do because we’ve been right alongside the other characters witnessing it.
But God, it would have been one thing if Nate’s ego prompted him to spread a false rumor about Ted, but the fact that he took something expressed in secrecy and reported it to the press is so vile, disgusting, and brutal. I don’t know if the show has redemption planned for Nate, but I can’t imagine anything what could make this okay. That scene between The Diamond Dogs in “Man City” was so moving and beautifully executed, I can’t help but feel broken by the detail that Nate has tainted it a bit. It’s just gut-wrenching that he’d go behind Ted’s back like this, and it’s gut-wrenching that he’d use something like a mental illness to step higher. And I know hurting people hurt other people, but oof, it stings. It really does.
However, before we dig into that more, it’s key to mention Nate’s point of view through the possibility that perhaps he felt neglected by Ted. Perhaps, the addition of Roy Kent into the team contributed to his demons as opposed to tallying onto teamwork. We have seen more than a few occasions where Nate has clearly wanted Ted’s attention, but it wasn’t delivered in the way he wanted it to be. And that’s just it—sunlight cannot always give one tree more attention than the other. Equal parts, equal measures, and sometimes, rays extend towards something for a little bit longer before bouncing back. But the trees won’t wither and die, they’ll still grow because they’re all equal players.
Ted Lasso is a human being, and “Midnight Train to Royston” showcases this detail gorgeously by reminding the audience of the fact that we’re all team players in the same game. Ted’s attention is divided by Sharon’s goodbye and the possibility of losing Sam, all while nearing the big game. And rightfully so, because as much as his attention could be divided equally, at the end of the day, it’s fundamentally impossible because he’s human. Ted might be the human personification of sunshine, but he doesn’t have the power to rip himself apart. (For instance, today, right now, I’m spending more hours with this Ted Lasso review than I am with other pieces I need to write. It’s part of the job.)
Additionally, as a team, this idea that Ted gets all the credit is clearly so far-fetched because we watched Nate reap the benefits of his call in “The Signal.” We saw the Roy Kent effect. We even watched Beard navigate through his own inner demons. Coach Lasso might be the head coach, but he isn’t one to take all the glory, and he isn’t one to ever steal ideas without credit. Ted shares his wins because he understands the idea that this is what a team does. This is why Jamie Tartt had to learn the importance of passing the ball.
And because Ted sees the hard work people put into something, he gives them the breaks that they deserve. That’s the crux of Nathan Shelley’s promotion in “The Hope That Kills You.” He was rewarded because Ted and Beard saw him. He was rewarded and simultaneously given credit for all that he’d done up until that point. He joined a team where shared joy and belief are the forces that strengthen them, and yet, the thirst for power overshadowed the colossal respect he had received.
A home is just four walls without people to share it with. A team is nothing without every player doing their part to shine individually and as a whole. An MVP shares the glory because, without the help of their teammates, their part isn’t as momentous. We’ve heard it all, but it’s true, comparison is the thief of joy because the thirst for power never allows for a celebration, it only harps on vanity and leads toward alienation. What good is a win if you aren’t celebrating with people around you? What good is glory if, at the end of the day, you lie in bed alone, wondering what else is left to strive for? If perfection is achieved, what next? If you’re lonely on the top, is it worth it?
“Midnight Train to Royston” kicks all this into motion by making it clear that Nathan Shelley has no idea what he’s done. He could spit on himself in the mirror to gain confidence, but while his growing ego is fed, the boy inside of him who’d been neglected is left to drown. If 8-year-old Nathan Shelley met the man that he is today, something tells me he wouldn’t be proud.
What Nate does to Ted at the end and what he does to Keeley by taking advantage of her ultimately proves that there is still so much he’s unaware of. Nathan Shelley doesn’t have an ounce of confidence and he masks his lack of self-love with rage. Even if Keeley was single, the detail that he just went for a kiss at that moment shows that while he was hearing her, he wasn’t listening to her. Keeley stating that Rebecca inspired her to dream big is the polar opposite of Nate taking advantage of Ted’s support. Some people have to fight a little harder than others, that’s a cruel unfairness in life, but it’s no excuse to step on people in the process of striving towards those goals.
The thing with Nate is that I don’t know if his choices are carefully executed. They’re done in fits of rage and frustration. I could be wrong, but more than anything, he’s always tried to at least be somewhat better. He’s tried to gain his father’s love. He’s tried to gain Ted’s respect (which he has). So, if we look deep into his character, I don’t think he realizes the detrimental effects of his decisions. Or, he’s long past caring.
Because to put it simply, that’s the thing between heroes and villains. It’s easier to act on our anger than it is to suppress it. It’s easier to throw a punch than to turn the other cheek. It’s easier to gloat than it is to stand in humility. It’s easier to close your heart than to choose love knowing with full conviction the chances of getting hurt are greater.
If it was easy to believe in spite of the pain, darkness, and uncertainties, then we’d all do it. We’d live in a utopia that way. But it’s hard. It’s hard to be kind when it feels like it’s getting you nowhere. It’s hard to keep fighting when it feels like no one is seeing you, but that’s when the fight matters most—when it’s hardest not when it’s easy. When pain and darkness consumes a person, standing at the top to reign over is much easier than fighting to keep love at bay. As Nathan Shelley drowned, instead of allowing himself to be saved, he sacrificed Ted in order to keep his ship as the singular one on shore.
No one can achieve anything on their own, but Nathan Shelley doesn’t understand this. And sure, sometimes when it comes to metaphors, we won’t always get the message, especially when they’re from a film or show we haven’t seen, but Beard’s metaphor was clear as day. Nate just wasn’t listening.
AFC Richmond is a team, and they’re all equal players. The thing is, Nathan Shelley had made it. He was given the opportunity of a lifetime and instead of working hard towards enriching the area he was in, he decided it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t enough because prior to the promotion, Nate didn’t believe in himself in the first place. Because something tells me that if he had, if he understood the weight of the benefits he’d just been given, he would have basked in the sunlight of this forest instead of playing a part in its drought. In the same way that Anakin Skywalker was meant to bring balance to the force, Nate was meant to bring it to the team, but instead, as a result of their own concavity, and the decision to chase power, both characters leave the area they were meant to augment in a state of darkness. They were both chosen were greatness, and yet, they chose the easy route of villainy.
Jason Sudeikis breaking down Ted’s complete and utter shock with the subtlety that he conveyed was just so utterly crushing. I have no idea how Ted is going to react to all this, and what’ll happen by virtue of, is something I’ll save for next week because the possibilities are plenty.
If I were Trent Crimm, I wouldn’t publish this. But I suppose I do respect his transparency in admitting the truth.
In a meta, penultimate parallel much like in “All Apologies,” Rebecca dropped another bombshell on Ted and told him that she was seeing Sam. And it’s so fascinating how the two of them are able to talk about such matters now, but before we wait until what’s in store same time next year, Ted’s advice is truly aces. “Just listen to your gut, and on the way down to your gut, check in with your heart. Between those two things, they’ll let you know what’s what. They make good harmony.”
As another thematic member of this show’s organism, the choices that are made matter significantly, and they especially matter when they’re made from the heart. The picture that’s painted here through Sam, Rebecca, and perhaps even, Ted next week after the ending could result in AFC Richmond looking a lot different next season.
Here’s the thing with Sam Obisanya. He’s a diamond, and he’s an ace. He’s one of the best characters in this series, and the fact that we’ve given more chances to get to know him this season will be something I’ll always appreciate. If I were Rebecca, romantic feelings aside, I wouldn’t want Sam to leave either. Heck, it’s something I don’t want to see happen as a viewer. I know teams change all the time, it’s part of the game, but alas, I’m a sap, and I want things to remain the same forever.
But this is also a monumental opportunity for Sam. Back in “Two Aces,” during the sacrificial ceremony, he vocalizes that one of his dreams is playing for the Nigerian football team. This is something Sam has always wanted. It’s a dream of his, and it’s a dream he deserves to follow. Though the opportunity on the table is for a team in Ghana, this way, he is one step closer to achieving his goal than he’d be in Richmond. And not to mention the fact that Edwin Akufo (Sam Richardson) sees him for who he truly is, overtly stating he cares more about the man than the player.
Sam Obisanya is a great footballer, but he is an even better man. He has gotten to shine in Richmond—maybe the next step is shining for an African team. Maybe the next step is being the sun that pushes trees toward growth. Sam’s skills and what he could offer could make the insurmountable a reality. He could be the reason another team is thrust forward into victory. Opportunities like this don’t come often, and a part of life is realizing which risks are worth taking in spite of the sacrifices they entail. We don’t have his answer yet, but Toheeb Jimoh played with such a wide range of emotions this week, it was stunning to watch him grapple with what’s happening.
In all my years of watching television, I genuinely can’t remember the last time a man was placed in a position like this where a colossal opportunity stood in the way of love. Women have such storylines often, but I feel (at least in my experience) it’s much rarer for a man, and I appreciate “Midnight Train to Royston” bringing this story front and center.
Sam Obisanya deserves the world, and I hope he gets it.
The Real Keeley Jones
On par with the theme throughout “Midnight Train to Royston,” we learned that behind every extraordinary being, there’s a scared child afraid of what is to come. Keeley Jones is such a brilliant enigma because while there is a lot we know about her, there’s also so much that we don’t. And in the same way that “Headspace” allowed us to see just how much she needed time for herself, this week, we saw the reality behind the glamour.
While the penultimate meta parallels discussed on screen were Ted and Rebecca’s, the one I’m left screaming endlessly about is that between Roy and Keeley in “All Apologies.” Before Roy Kent walked off the pitch for good, he had doubts about where he’d be and who he’d be if he wasn’t a footballer, but Keeley Jones was there to remind him that the real person he is inside is the one that’s great and beloved, not the professional. This week, while Keeley was afraid because this photo shoot is all about who she is as a person and not just a modeling gig, her fears came in full force to overwhelm her.
In an episode where Keeley also revealed that she once believed she’d end up like her mother (working harder than one should only for a man to take the full credit), seeing this side of her is so brilliant because, much like in the last week’s episode, it’s a reminder that women are deeply layered beings. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman, isn’t just the fierce hard worker who’s seemingly got all the right answers and the right outfits, but Keeley Jones is a woman who doubts and aches and fears.
She knows her brand, she knows how to do her job, and she knows how to hype others up because she values vulnerability, but deep down, as all humans when it comes to our own feelings, it’s hard to be as transparent. And thereby, by vocalizing these fears to Roy, she shows us (as viewers) that this is entirely okay.
It’s normal to feel this way, it’s normal not to have all the answers, and it’s normal to need to rely on others. By virtue of the detail that no one achieves anything alone, Keeley Jones especially understands how beautiful it is to have a great support system. She has always wanted to be that person for Rebecca, for Roy, for Ted, and the team. And even, for Jamie.
Keeley Jones isn’t a woman who turns her back on others because she is a woman who understands the importance of needing guidance. She understands that vulnerability is hard, and she understands that fears are powerful emotions needing to be dealt with. I appreciated the word please being said to Roy because that’s what emphasizes the detail that she needs him now more than ever, along with the detail that she really is entirely grateful for him that he is beside her during this photo shoot.
Presenting needs and desires as innately human is one of the reasons Ted Lasso succeeds as a show. Because from the very first episode, writers have made it clear that needing people isn’t a weakness, and vulnerability is a strength. Keeley Jones, as a big dreamer, understands the importance of a team’s value. Yes, it’s horrible when one person takes the sole credit, but her mother’s boss isn’t Ted, and it isn’t Rebecca. Keeley’s corner is a supportive marvel. Rebecca screamed right alongside her because she felt that same amount of thrill and excitement for her. She screamed alongside her because, in the same way that Keeley has been like an arm to her (thank you, Hannah Waddingham, for this speech), Rebecca is going to be that same cheerleader for Keeley.
There is no toxicity with the women on this show because they both understand that climbing the ladder of success is more of a rewarding journey when it’s done hand in hand. They celebrate one another in equal measure, and they push each other whenever necessary. Keeley Jones has a long, beautiful journey ahead of her and with a heart as fiercely loving as hers, her growth is going to serve as an inspiring emblem to all.
The Vanity Fair Photoshoot
I lost count of the number of times I said Oh my, God all throughout “Midnight Train to Royston.” (And during the photoshoot especially, I’m pretty sure I said it every second, so count how many seconds the scene lasted and there we have an answer.) Juno Temple and Brett Goldstein floored me as Keeley and Roy searched for the answers within each other’s expressions that they could only find within themselves. Their expressions changed so subtly that I went from trying to read 101 emotions to just flat-out staring with my jaw on the floor.
If “Midnight Train to Royston” proved anything, it’s that Roy and Keeley are, in every way, perfect for each other. But there are a few things the two of them need to figure out, whether that’s together or apart to really come to a place where their relationship is fortified even more than it is now. I’m not worried about them—not even the slightest bit because no couple on TV right now is exhibiting as much transparency as they are. The honesty is incredible, and ultimately, what it does best is it allows them to grow stronger as individuals in order to be an unstoppable pair.
This show isn’t going to harp on a love triangle when we’ve only got three seasons. Keeley and Jamie are a thing of the past, but at the same time, it’s human for Roy to perhaps feel the pangs of heartache for a myriad of reasons. And while I don’t think there is going to be some ridiculous back-and-forth banter, it’ll be interesting to see how the show paints their gait out of the dark forest. Roy Kent might have found his rainbow, but the rain doesn’t stop once and for all. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I’m intrigued with the routes that’ll be taken for them to find further growth.
Once again, I thought he was going to propose… but has Roy ever thought about marriage? We know he’s seen a failed example of it through Phoebe’s parents, but overall, what’s his view on marriage and a family?
Before Keeley Jones, Roy Kent didn’t even believe in the fact that he could have a girlfriend whose sole mission wouldn’t be using him for their own personal gain. But why did the idea of marriage stun him when Phoebe’s teacher asked? Does Keeley want marriage and a lifelong commitment? She mentioned her mother, but what about her father, is he in the picture? Ted Lasso is a show that knows the rules of Chekhov’s gun, and the questions it poses in “Midnight Train to Royston” are surely to get answered someday. Whether it’s during the finale or next season, I don’t doubt for a moment that the answers will only help inspire the best outcome for the two of them.
Ted Lasso’s “Midnight Train to Royston” gorgeously encompasses necessities in every aspect of life—the desperate needs, the kindred needs, the selfish needs, and the professional needs. It reiterates the notion that a single person shouldn’t carry an entire team alone, and AFC Richmond isn’t for the first time. They’re in a good, healthy place now. They’re striving towards bigger and better and they’re doing it together.
A team gives advice, learns choreography, and cheers for each other. The number of times we’ve seen the boys hugging this season in celebration compared to last year is incredible because even when it isn’t a win, even when it’s just personal, there’s an inherit thrust towards celebrating each other and that’s where the noteworthy angle of this show stands on.
So, no matter where the finale takes us… I’m ready—however dark it may be, however sad, we’re coming back together in season three.
Related Content: This Week’s Most Noteworthy Performance: Juno Temple
Ted Talks and Further Thoughts
- I cannot, I repeat cannot wait to see Rebecca’s reaction to what Nate has done because another person who’s tried to harm his reputation, but took the high route, the character journeys that can be compared would’ve resulted in another 5k words or so. The idea of being sad and alone just took a whole new route.
- DARK HEATHER CHARCOAL. (I also love it when grown men discuss fashion.)
- “Your eyebrows aren’t crazy, they’re psychotic.” Beard to Roy. Aces.
- The bar boys wanting advice from Dr. Fieldstone was goal. I feel you, Paul, snakes are the worst.
- I really appreciated Edwin Akufo saying billionaires shouldn’t exist. I mean really though, unless you’re helping out others, the man is RIGHT.
- Higgins having an office again is lovely, but I’m going to miss him being right there with The Diamond Dogs.
- Ted screaming with the women? Beautiful!
- THE TEAM DID SO GOOD WITH THE DANCE. SO SO GOOD.
- What’s in the letter???? I would like to read this and cry.
- How is Phoebe drawing nudes at her age?!????? I just…HOW? Also where is she getting examples from … I’m so ???
- Sam’s blue hoodie is something I need.
- Rebecca shoving the biscuit in her mouth? A whole mood.
- UEL L. JACKSON? TED! (Also, when thinking about the Star Wars references … y’all.)
- I really, really wish everyone got to talk to Sharon about their problems. (Myself included.)
What are your thoughts on Ted Lasso’s “Midnight Train to Royston?”