There’s a scene in the latest episode of Ted Lasso (season 3, episode 2) in which AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton is watching her ex-husband Rupert Mannion (who owns a rival team, West Ham United) persuade a superstar soccer player, Zava, on the verge of signing a deal with Chelsea, to join his team instead.
Rebecca is despondent. While her assistant Leslie Higgins is convinced Zava is signing with Chelsea, she knows Rupert’s charm will win Zava over.
She knows because that’s exactly how Rupert pursued her at the start of their relationship. “I just felt so lucky because he wanted me. He made me feel special. Chosen. He made me feel like that,” Rebecca says in despair to her friend and publicist Keeley Jones, watching Rupert make Zava laugh.
This is an all-too-relateable moment; you experience the sensation that you’re outclassed, in some way, by a person you consider a rival. You’re competing for the same goal, though it feels futile for you to even try, so you don’t. You’re going to lose anyway; what’s the point?
“Rupert always gets what he wants,” Rebecca says, shaking her head.
Until she says something new to herself, and her friends. “You know what?”
“If Rupert can sweet-talk Zava into joining his club, then so can I.”
Rebecca walks to Zava’s box, and is stopped by Zava’s bouncer, who proudly declares, “No one gets in to see Zava.”
This minor indignity is amplified into a major one, when Rupert circles back with the smuggest of grins. The bouncer holds up Rupert’s sunglasses, “There you go, Mr. Mannion.” The charm was at work! “Thank you, Matthew.”
The bouncer walks back into the box, leaving Rebecca and Rupert together to chit-chat; Rebecca congratulates his latest win, Rupert attributes it to Nathan, the coach he poached from AFC Richmond, praising Nate’s incisive understanding of the sport (AFC Richmond’s manager, Ted Lasso, barely understands football at all).
Zava bounces out of his box, looking for the bathroom, and Rupert is quick to influence his first impression of her.
“Zava,” he says. “Let me introduce Rebecca Welton. My ex-wife.”
“And the owner of AFC Richmond,” she says.
Zava and Rupert say they’ll see each other soon, Zava leaves, and Rebecca states her intention to talk to Zava. She insults Rupert to get into his head, Rupert retorts and says something to get into hers. The dialogue is too cringe and cruel to expand on in this piece—Rebecca tries to get into Rupert’s head by reminding him she owns his favorite football club, AFC Richmond, and Rupert retorts that he got bored of it just like he got bored of their marriage—and he struts away proudly.
Rebecca, surprised (but apparently not as caught off guard by the insult as I was!), is not discouraged. She is enraged. She walks in the direction she saw Zava heading, powers her way into the men’s bathroom, and leans in next to Zava as he’s doing his business. She says:
“You are such a !@#$ing chickenshit!” she says to him. He looks up.
“I mean, if you were great—truly great,” she taps his chest, “You could play anywhere.” He turns his head to look her in the eye. She has his attention.
“But instead, you choose a club like West Ham, because it’s big and shiny, and you know that they’ll win whether you’re there or not.”
“And you’ll never have to wonder if you’re still as good as you tell everyone you are.”
Zava looks shocked. Rebecca is not done.
“But you and I know that you’re not. You’re overrated. You’re overpaid…
“And you eat too much !@#$ing asparagus,” she says, her mouth grimacing in disgust. She turns around and walks off.
As she returns to her box seat, Higgins asks, “Did you sweet-talk him?”
“Uh, what’s the opposite of that?” Rebecca asks.
“Sour-yell,” Keeley says. (Keeley has a ton of great one-liners, including a guess that the term CFO meant Corporate Flying Object.)
“Yeah, I did that,” Rebecca nods. She knows she has no shot, and she’s not upset about it; she looks satisfied.
It’s worth watching the full episode (Ted Lasso season 3, episode 2) to find out which team Zava chooses, though I’m happy to conclude this here. The moment most worth highlighting is not what happens after, but what happened just now.
Until Rebecca decided, “If Rupert can sweet-talk Zava into joining his club, then so can I,” she was like the meme of the horse that was tied to a lawn chair.
She doesn’t end up playing Rupert’s game either, because she’s not good at it, and because Rupert already was playing it.
Instead, she plays a new game. The sour yell.