Does 'Ted Lasso' Need A Villain?

- Ted Lasso -
Does 'Ted Lasso' Need A Villain?

Who knew that Season 2 of Ted Lasso would turn out to be Nate's villain origin story? Spoilers ahead. Like society is the key to the Joker's bad guy turn, Ted is apparently to blame for Nate's. But as the season ends with Nate being the coach of Rupert Mannion's team West Ham United, does Ted Lasso need a villain?

Nate has been going down a dark path throughout Season 2 of Ted Lasso. If you're like Ted, you may have thought Nate the Great would apologize for leaking that Ted had a panic attack during a big match. If you're like Coach Beard, you knew that an apology wasn't going to come. And when Ted asked Nate why he was mad at him (asking, "What do I've got to learn here?" in classic Ted fashion), Nate unleashed his feelings of hurt.

"You made me feel like I was the most important person in the whole world and then, you abandoned me," Nate tells Ted. "And I worked my ass off trying to get you attention back, to prove myself to you, to make you like me again. But the more I did, the less you cared. It was like I was fucking invisible."

Nate's the victim in his narrative, but his ego is what's making him the villain. Sure, Ted wasn't able to devote as much time to nurture Nate this season as he dealt with his own mental health, but Nate's justifying his anger at that through his belief that's he's a better coach and deserves to be coaching a football team in the U.K. while Ted doesn't. He belittles the players and Ted's abilities, as well as making personal attacks on Ted for not being in the U.S. with his son. "Without me, we wouldn't have won a single match," Nate claims. And when Ted apologizes for not making Nate feel seen, it's too late in Nate's book — "You're full of shit, just fuck you, Ted."

Nate storms off the pitch when AFC Richmond wins and is promoted (using "Nate's False Nine," no less). When the finale jumps forward two months, he's the head coach of Rupert's team. With the team doing drills in strict, disciplined lines and Nate and Rupert rocking all black, West Ham United is like the Cobra Kai of U.K. soccer compared to the scrappy AFC Richmond led by Ted's Mr. Miyagi. The ending of "Inverting the Pyramid of Success," with Nate approaching the camera and his slight eyebrow twitch, leaves his future unambiguous — Nate is the villain of Ted Lasso now.

Though there have been plenty of characters who are jerks, Ted Lasso has made it a point to eschew traditional hero and villain roles. Rebecca, with her reluctant henchperson Higgins, attempted to be a villain in Season 1. But the show upended the expectation that she needed to be a foil to our hero, Ted. She brought him from America to tank AFC Richmond to get back at Rupert, but her plan failed — either from her desire to not get caught (like with the photos of Ted and Keeley) or from Ted & co. nurturing her own genuine goodness to come out. It feels like another world when Rebecca could've been considered a "villain" on Ted Lasso, and I prefer the current version.

When there is a potential source of drama, the train is typically stopped in its tracks by the type of proactive, direct, and honest communication that Ted facilitates, like Jamie apologizing to Roy for saying he loved Keeley. Even a character like Jamie, who so easily could've been a villain with all his self-absorption, has shown that being a dick sometimes doesn't have to intrinsically make you a bad person if you're open to listening to other people's feelings.

There was discourse online early in Season 2 that because the show had no conflict between characters, the storytelling wasn't worth investing in. That Ted Lasso was simply people being nice to one another, and who the hell wants to watch a show about that? (May I direct you to the series that won the Emmy the year before Ted LassoSchitt's Creek?) That criticism largely started to dissipate after Episode 6, "The Signal," as Ted's mental health issues became more prominent. And — if you ignore Nate's evolution — the back-half of Season 2 proved a show can still have a narrative drive without relying too heavily on dissension.

The one exception to the Ted Lasso villain rule has been Rupert. But he's a villain who only occasionally enters the fray to cause problems — rarely directly impacting the day-to-day lives of the characters. He was a background player in Season 2, with his hold over Rebecca finally diminished at her father's funeral in "No Weddings and a Funeral." But with the reveal that he bought West Ham United and poached Nate as a coach, he's bound to be more prominent in Season 3 — like Emperor Palpatine to Nate's Darth Vader.

Turning to the Dark Side has already made Nate go completely gray. And knowing Ted Lasso, his bad guy turn won't be so cut and dry as, say, villains in Star Wars or The Karate Kid (figured Ted would approve of the references).

Nate is bound to be Ted's football nemesis in Season 3, which the writers have already begun working on. And he'll likely be at his most hate-able at the start of the season as he's feeling smug about getting the recognition he thinks he's due. But that doesn't mean the show won't challenge viewers to empathize with how Nate got to where he is now — with his hypercritical father and his constant (and oftentimes valid) feelings of being overlooked. And when he inevitably realizes that Rupert is manipulating him, there may be a redemption arc in the cards for Nate the Great... as long as there's enough good left in Nate at that point for viewers to care.

Although Ted Lasso has proven it doesn't need a big baddie to be worthwhile TV, it seems that's what the audience will get in Season 3 with Nathan Shelley facing off with Ted Lasso. But as long as the show sticks to its core values of braving a cruel world with empathy and yes, kindness, Ted Lasso should subvert most of the hero versus villain tropes. Because even though good TV needs tension to move the plot forward, that tension — particularly, in the case of Ted Lasso — doesn't need to be of the villainous variety.


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Images: Apple TV+

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