Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso is one of the most generally heartwarming shows on television. Watching it can often feel like cuddling up with a cozy blanket, escaping into a world where everyone’s making good choices and constantly evolving into the best version of themselves. Yes, the idea of a kindhearted American coach who forges a squad of squabbling young soccer players into teammates and friends using little more than folksy platitudes and dad jokes may seem ridiculous on its face. But the result is one of the best shows on television, an unabashedly hopeful tale that openly embraces kindness, compassion, and vulnerability in a world that too often encourages us to reject those traits to get ahead. And yet, a big part of its Season 2 finale, “Inverting the Pyramid of Success,” went a different way.
Part of the overall brilliance of Ted Lasso is the way it constantly plays with its audience’s expectations about what kind of show it is and what sort of story it’s telling. On almost any other series, Ted himself would be the butt of the joke, an embarrassing cautionary tale about uncouth Americans who hate tea and embarrass themselves when visiting foreign countries. Instead, this show asks us all to become more like him, urging us to embrace his open-hearted emotion and intellectual curiosity with both hands.
One of the reasons why “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” was ultimately so rough, though, is because in Ted Lasso’s world the locker room is a place of emotional growth and understanding, rather than a refuge for toxic masculinity and crass language. Rich friendships between men are the established norm rather than the exception, and the series’ women are allowed to have just as big a role in this supposed “sports story” as the men around them do. Things like communication, forgiveness, and camaraderie are paramount, and the least important thing about the show is whether the AFC Richmond Greyhounds (the ostensible reason for its existence) ever actually win a game.
Nathan Shelley, AFC Richmond’s put-upon equipment manager, was the heartwarming underdog of Season 1. Bullied and put down by most of the players he cleaned up after week in and week out, Nate remained sweet and kind whether the team won or lost. He was one of the first people who took Ted seriously as the Richmond coach, offering advice and background information to help him succeed. He earns the nickname “Nate the Great,” and the two men seemed to become genuine friends in addition to being colleagues.
So how did we get to the point—less than a season later!—where Nate has not only revealed a deeply personal secret about Ted’s mental health to the British press, but seems to feel basically zero guilt for doing so? How did we all so thoroughly miss his complete descent into utter terribleness and wankery? Am I a moron for ever believing that there was something larger at work here than just a weak man being corrupted by his first taste of power and popularity?
Nate justifies his anger at Ted in the most childish way possible, claiming that his actions are acceptable simply because his boss is not paying enough attention to him anymore. His insistence that Ted has somehow abandoned him because he, I don’t know, decided to do literally anything other than feed his assistant’s apparently bottomless ego for five minutes lands like a live grenade. I’m not sure there’s been a more uncomfortable scene this season than the one in which Nate declares he has earned his place at Richmond while Ted, who has demonstrably changed the team’s culture for the better, has not. Unless it’s the scene that immediately follows, in which a glowering Nate appears to be openly hoping his team will lose, even as Jamie selflessly allows Dani Rojas to step forward and save the day while exorcising his dog-killing demons from earlier in the season at the same time. This self-proclaimed Wonder Kid could never.
Truly, I can’t remember the last time I was this disappointed in a character, or maybe even a show. (Possibly Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, but I still don’t consider her sudden descent into madness her fault.) Ted Lasso doesn’t set up its finale twist in a way that feels either necessary or natural. Yes, Nate’s been a class-A jerk this season, but the series hasn’t really done a lot to provide context for his (increasingly cruel and bizarre) choices.
Certainly, there are moments throughout Season 2 that highlight Nate’s growing frustration and increasingly unlikeable, bully-ish tendencies. (And, as a colleague of mine reminded me in a Slack chat, you can certainly read Nate’s vicious roasting of the AFC team at the end of last season as simply the first in a long list of red flags.) But it’s hard to look at all those pieces and put them together in a way that results in Nate’s decision to throw Ted under the bus to the media. That’s a straight-up monstrous level of cruelty, one that marks a significant escalation in his behavior.
As a coach this season, Nate has seemed to delight in punching down at those he perceives to be weaker than he is, like quiet Colin or new kit manager Will. (It’s interesting and somewhat telling that he never goes after Jamie or Isaac in a similar way.) He’s obsessed with what people are saying about him on social media, and lashes out when he doesn’t get the validation he both craves and feels he deserves, whether from his parents, his colleagues, or strangers online. He kisses Keeley—a woman he knows is in a committed relationship—out of the blue, without her consent, and seems personally affronted that Roy isn’t angrier about it.
Yes, Nate’s obsessed with validation and how others view him, but I’m still not sure I buy the idea that a middling season in the Championship League is quite enough to serve as his supervillain origin story. I mean, I’m sorry, but a lot of us have terrible fathers. Get in line!
It’s true that every story needs conflict, and to a point, Nate does make a natural villain for next season. After all, no one can hurt you like family can, right? And Ted Lasso’s spent most of the past two seasons rehabilitating its prickliest characters: Rebecca’s been forgiven for trying to tank the team, and caustic Roy has been rehabilitated into the series’ romantic leading man. So they need something to come together against next year. But Nate’s sudden heel-turn feels as unnecessarily scripted as anything we might see in a professional wrestling match, a twist that happened not because it’s the natural next step in this particular character’s journey, but because someone, somewhere, decided Nate needed to be the team’s adversary next year.
Even in the most charitable reading of the events of this episode, it still feels like we’re missing a trick. Nate has always been a character with self-esteem issues—but when did they become so damaging that they actually turned him into the villain of the show when no one was looking? I don’t know, and it’s not clear whether that’s because Ted Lasso counted on its viewers being so distracted by the show’s sunny optimism that they failed to see the serpent under it, or simply because it chose to not really show us that evolution at all. Either way, it’s going to be a rough hiatus. (And West Ham can get in the sea.)
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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