Every great sports story needs a rival.
From iconic films like ‘Remember the Titans’ to the real-life drama of trades, drafts and geographical enmity, the adversary is essential to the underdog athlete’s odyssey. ‘Ted Lasso’s AFC Richmond are underdogs as an English soccer club with a sweet but inexperienced American manager, but that was poised to change in Season 3. After two seasons of ‘romantic communism’ and soft men, Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed), Richmond’s “wunderkind”, quit in a fit of rage and went to work for West Ham, a giant team run by Richmond owner Rebecca’s evil ex Rupert (Anthony Head) (Hannah Waddingham).
Yet even with the high stakes of league drama and personal history, “Ted Lasso” has missed the mark in cultivating a truly compelling rivalry. Season 3 falters for multiple reasons — IndieWire’s Steve Greene wrote that season 3 put the cast “into a giant saucepan of plot where individual ingredients got lost in the overall mix” — and this particular weakness could have anchored the story. whole story if given adequate attention.
The defense here is that Nate was probably never a villain in the first place; his descent into darkness during season two was driven by feelings of insecurity and abandonment, feelings that don’t go away but shift and transform to fit his new environment in season three. dealing with mental health, which is for the character to have a lonely, meaningless interaction with a figure from one’s past that functions as an epiphany (he plays the violin and yells at his father).
The remainder of Nate’s character development and screen time goes into getting him a girlfriend, so viewers can trade Jade Nolastname’s love for self-actualization as circumstances push Nate back to Richmond. His desire for redemption and second chances makes perfect sense, but the team’s acceptance is much harder to believe. In episode 10, Colin, Isaac, and Will visit Nate at the restaurant and say the team discussed bringing him back, a conversation that is more than worthy of screen time but never comes (season 3’s “Ted Lasso” is a lot of things, but not afraid of the length of the episode). Only Ted and Beard get insightful views, but players who lost an episode 4 game solely because of their hatred for Nate are now seemingly ready to welcome him with open arms.
So Nate returns to Richmond, having probably never been the true enemy and merely a pawn of Rupert. But “Ted Lasso” doesn’t know what to do with Rupert either – it’s strongest when he directly opposes Rebecca and Richmond, but in the second half of season three there is no fascination for Rupert’s machinations; he’s just gross. He condescends to Jade (Edyta Budnik) and invites Nate for a night out with other women, both for reasons that never quite calcify. Their decisive separation occurs inexplicably overs, leaving the audience to ponder the details. Did Nate stand up to Rupert himself? Did he mention Jade or Rupert’s implied relationship with his assistant? Did they even talk or did this man email his resignation to HR?
In episode 10, Trent Crimm (James Lance) says he has heard whispers of ‘inappropriate workplace behaviour’ at West Ham, which would include but certainly not be limited to the ‘boys night out’ Rupert had in mind with Nate. Rebecca meets Rupert and the other old whites of the hypothetical Akufu League with this awareness, presenting her misconduct in a professional setting even when she learns he was disruptive enough for her assistant to quit or be fired. They act like old friends in this superfluous subplot, and it’s Rupert’s kiss rejection — not his lack of professionalism, infidelity, or general creepiness — that helps her finally let go of their animosity.
Ahead of the season 3 finale, which leaves the series bereft of a villain in its final hours. Nate is back and Rupert is questionable; Akufu (Sam Richardson) is also out of the picture. It’s not unthinkable that a series that peddles sincerity and kindness would want everyone to walk away happy into the sunset, but to reiterate: this is football. As much as it should be about the friends we’ve made along the way, sports are filled with heroes and villains, allies and foes, wins and losses. For all its tenderness and humanity, “Ted Lasso”’s inability to build a proper villain arc makes it the most awesome sports show around.
The “Ted Lasso” Season 3 finale premieres Tuesday at 9 PM PT on Apple TV+.