If the predominant theme of the first season of Ted Lasso was the positive power of hope, an unfolding theme of the second season has been the problem of unaddressed pain. The addition of sports psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone to the Richmond United staff at the beginning of the season served as an invitation to team members and coaches alike to invest in an examination of their emotional life. It’s an invitation that’s been largely ignored. But in episode 8, as Dr. Fieldstone is away recovering from a bike accident, one character after another seems headed for an emotional crash of their own.
Roy is wrestling with the impact his unfiltered mouth is having upon his young niece. Nate’s enlarged responsibilities as an assistant coach are turning him into a smaller, more petty man. Jamie Tartt’s father unleashes a verbal tirade on him in front of his teammates that breaks him so badly he punches his father and weeps openly in Roy Kent’s arms. Witnessing this distressing incident between father and son is what drives Coach Lasso to call Dr. Fieldstone and tearfully reveal that his father committed suicide when he was teenager.
In the wake of so many sudden manifestations of personal pain, the agony of a humiliating loss to Manchester United might pale in comparison. But the concluding scene reminds us that when the game is the job, a loss is a failure. As Coach Beard strides off into the night, hand raised in middle-fingered salute as Ted Lasso’s entreaties about the next morning’s coffee-run fall on closed ears, the heretofore even-keeled assistant coach is priming himself for an evening drowning his pain in stronger beverages. By the end of “Man City,” it’s clear that the men of Richmond United are not alright.
According to an oft-retweeted Twitter adage, men will do all manner of things to avoid confronting their pain instead of going to therapy. What we see next in Ted Lasso seems to present a vivid picture of this very sentiment. In the next episode, titled “Bear after Hours,” the writers take us on a fanciful, movie reference-laden journey through what might happen when just one of those men experiences a number of them over the course of a single night.
It begins with Coach Beard’s initial retreat to his apartment, where the noise of the TV is violated by unexpectedly personal commentary by sports commentators Theirry Reid and Gary Linekar—a clear imaginary inner monologue that will dog him throughout the night. He flees for the noisier comfort of the Crown and Anchor—and the eventual fellowship of pub regulars as well as Richmond football uber fans, Baz, Jeremy, and Paul. With spirits raised by a notable number of pints, the foursome head into the night. Over the course of the next eight-ish hours, they variously scam their way into and get thrown out of a members-only club, cruise the London streets standing up inside a limo, narrowly avoid being beaten up by a giant angry lout, actually get beaten up by another one (Jamie Tartt’s father), play a pickup game on the Richmond soccer field, and wind up hula hoop–dancing at a rave inside a repurposed church, clothed in a pair of rainbow-striped and sequined bell-bottomed pants.
The trigger for Coach Beard’s night of painkilling revelry is ostensibly a professional loss in the form of a soccer match. But the second thread of pain woven throughout the episode is Beard’s wrestling with his relational losses as well, especially his losses with women. In a previous episode, when Coach Lasso asks after his mother, Bear notes glibly that she’s been “lost to QAnon.” And in this episode, it’s the loss of his girlfriend, the aptly named Jane Payne, that is tearing him apart. Beard’s night of revelry is also a quest for comfort—and for answers. And he seeks those answers in a very particular way.
Interspersed amongst Beard’s increasingly improbable adventures are conversations involving three very different women, who each offer him an experience that evokes something of the maternal, relational love he desperately seeks as he bares his soul.
There is Mae—the pub manager with the heart of gold and the mouth of a truck driver. She initially rewards Beard’s vulnerable confessions of angst over his girlfriend’s unreturned love with a tirade about the lost match. But when she overhears the lament about a dress code, she suddenly procures what is essentially a box full of clothes for Beard and his pals to play pretend dress up with.
There is the nameless woman in a red satin dress at the club. She invites Beard to her apartment to fix his pants, after they have been embarrassingly ripped after being thrown out of the club. All early signs point to him ending up in her bed. Instead, he ends up on her couch, clad in a previous guest’s striped and sequined pants, unburdening his conflicted heart to her about his girlfriend as she sews.
Beard is driven into the presence of a third woman after he is locked out of his apartment in a rainstorm. The sight of a neon cross in front of a building prompts a memory of a picture his girlfriend had sent him, standing in front of that very spot, and he takes refuge inside what is revealed to be an old church. He sits in a pew and begins to pray out loud, introducing himself as “Margaret’s little boy” (borrowing the title of the 1970s young adult fiction classic by Judy Blume). And as he pours out his heart yet one more time, the camera cuts to the stained glass window that has captured his attention—a picture of baby Jesus and his mother, Mary.
Minutes later, muffled noise draws him out of the sanctuary and toward a hall filled with an outlandishly dressed crowd dancing in a dimly lit room decorated with numerous neon crosses. It is there that he finally finds his girlfriend, Jane. And what makes this last vignette memorable, and mysterious, is that even though he has found her, when there have been so many angrily texted words between them—in that moment, he says nothing. And they just dance.
So preposterous do these adventures seem that, when the scene cuts to Coach Beard’s nonchalant late arrival with the coffee the next morning, we’re reasonably led to wonder if the whole night hasn’t been a product of his beer-fueled subconscious. But then, as Ted Lasso proceeds to start the game tape, Coach Beard begins drifting off to sleep. He props a leg up on the desk, revealing those shiny striped pants, and we realize that, no, it all really did happen.
Numerous reviewers have called attention to the fact that this episode, like the Christmas one, was 1 of 2 additional episodes written after the initial 10—one-offs only tangentially tied to the plot of the series. While “Carol of the Bells” was apparently a playful riff on Love Actually, the string of vignettes in “Beard after Hours” clearly pay homage to Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name. And yet, it’s the numerous allusions to a host of other creative works such as Fight Club, Peaky Blinders, and Reservoir Dogs—all films and TV shows popular for their man-centric plots that examine the way men navigate their emotional lives—that indicate this episode is more than an experimental throwaway fulfilling a contractual obligation with Apple TV+.
One could argue that the choice to follow an episode directly examining the complexities of the male experience of emotional pain, with one that examines them indirectly through the lens of seemingly random stream-of-consciousness pop art vignettes, is an intentional strategy to mitigate the storyline’s emotional impact. It would be easy to surmise that the writers (all men, as it happens) are simply exercising the stereotypically male impulse to hold the subject at arm’s length, processing it in nostalgic, eye-winking jest through the filter of other, familiar stories. “Nothing too deep or serious to see here,” they might be saying. “It’s all just a bit of quirky, self-indulgent fun.”
And yet the episodes that follow “Bear after Hours” indicate otherwise.
The fact is all stories can and often do serve as a kind of therapeutic invitation—an opportunity to step out of our current experience and into the experiences of others, whether happy experiences we long to have, or painful experiences we’ve had and are struggling to understand. This was the brilliant conceit of WandaVision. In the Disney+ series with similar themes and similarly ardent fanbase, a leading character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe attempts to wall herself off from her grief by building an alternate universe of her own, one inspired by childhood memories of American TV sitcoms.
The WandaVision series ends somewhat darkly with lives left in loss and disarray as Wanda battles to come to terms with her grief. For the characters of Ted Lasso, however, their differing responses to personal pain are still working themselves out with no fly-away escape option for them. They need to stay put and sort things out the best that they can. With his relationship with the mercurial Jayne Payne seemingly mended, it seems Beard has decided all is sufficiently right with his world. Coach Lasso, on the other hand, is clearly signaling a readiness to investigate his pain with the expert help of Dr. Fieldstone.
And as for us, Ted Lasso’s viewers? Some of us may choose to watch a 45-minute fantastical story of one man’s quest to fix the wounds in his broken little boy’s heart instead of going to therapy. Others may watch it, and the episodes that follow, and decide that therapy is exactly where we should go next. Either way, the pain is here.
There’s no way to escape it, just very different ways to move past it.