[Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of Ted Lasso]
I can understand those who felt betrayed by season 2 of Ted Lasso. The first season bore itself as a largely uplifting sitcom in which a non-fish trainer used his sunny disposition to improve the lives of everyone he met. The showrunners then made a bold decision to try to keep a sense of romantic comedy at the core of the show, but build something more complex and a little darker around it. Not everyone went for that change, though Ted Lasso Season 2 showed change is crucial. The more we remain stuck in our anger, guilt and rage, the more it will eat of us.
Nowhere was it clearer than how the show portrayed father-son relationships. The show’s biggest revelation was that Ted’s father had died by suicide, but the show kept returning to the relationship between fathers and sons. Sam, arguably the show’s most positive and thoughtful character, has a good relationship with his father, and while his father challenges his son (as on the team’s controversial sponsor), he largely supports and trusts Sam to make his own decisions. Then you have the toxic relationship between Jamie and his father, where Ted and really the entire Richmond AFC team were able to step in as a surrogate father and protect Jamie. But this kind of group parenting was able to work out cracks where certain participants could see where Jamie should be checked and when he should pamper his more dubious traits, like when Roy tells Ted that Jamie should be a dot on the field rather than always making the extra pass.
But the father-son relationship that really came to mind in season 2 was between Ted and Nate. The first season really leaned into the positive protégé-mentor relationship between the two, with Nate being promoted from kitman to assistant coach due to his clever play-calling and ability to identify the weaknesses of the team. Nate then spent season 2 looking for recognition that never came. As Higgins (a surrogate father for the entire team as seen when he pretty much has everyone for Christmas dinner) points out to Keeley, a good mentor trusts when their protégé is ready to no longer need help. But Ted, who was fighting his own demons this season, did not see Nate suffer, and Nate misguided all his anger that had built up against his biological father.
All this season, Nate seeks approval from his own father and never gets it. His father is a cold man, which is why Nate continues to seek approval and finds it in the worst places – social media, where it is fragile and unstable, and with Rupert, who has his own agenda. Nate wanted that kind of approval from Ted, but instead of considering Ted a man with his own problems, Nate continued to see him as a perfect father figure, a pedestal that Ted was destined to fall off because he could never live up to that kind of cloak. Season 2 worked diligently to remove the skin from Ted Lasso as an individual and make him more human, but Nate did not want a human peer; he wanted the father figure who gives him the praise and worship that his own father continues to withhold.
So it’s really no surprise that Nate struck and attacked Ted in the last two episodes of season 2. Worship had fallen in anger, and while it would be nice to pin all this on Rupert pouring poison into Nate’s ear, come it all back to fathers and sons and what sons have to learn from their fathers. Nate is really just a boy (even his own increasingly graying hair seems to mock him as a sign of age without maturity) because instead of learning to stand on his own two feet, he still leans on Ted. This is not to say that Nate’s anger is not unfounded. He was looking for Ted for a specific relationship that Ted was unable to provide, and Nate is right that he understands football better than Ted (although he misses that Ted’s coaching is about interpersonal relationships and mentorship rather than just being able to to call the right plays). But when Nate shines at Ted, he knows how to hit him where it hurts. “Why don’t you go back to America and be with your son?” Nate asks. It is like saying, “You have failed as a father, just as you think your father failed you, and you have failed me.”
This may not be the show that season 1 fans had hoped for, but I feel it does Ted Lasso a stronger show in general because it is not enough for characters to cheer on each other. As Beard tells Ted in season 1, wins and losses have absolute significance. There can be no joy of victory without the pain of defeat, and Ted Lasso could not show the range of father-son relationships without taking Nate in this direction. I feel sorry for the actor Nick Mohammed, who is such a talented comic book actor and did not get as many opportunities to make Nate funny this season. But in the end, he also got one of the most interesting character arcs, and now Ted Lasso fans are wondering first and foremost what will happen to Nate in season 3.
It’s a painful twist for the character, but it’s also necessary because Ted is not Nate’s father, and as long as Nate continues to seek other men for patriarchal support (it now appears that Rupert is filling that role) rather than confronting his own father and standing alone, he will continue to look in the mirror and spit on his own reflection.
KEEP READING: ‘Ted Lasso’ ink lucrative deal with Premier League after season 2 final
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