Perhaps the most remarkable thing this phenomenon of a show has pulled off is its ability to balance the classic sports narrative with touching and emotional human stories. In the polarizing—and in my mind highly underrated—second season, there was the challenge of promotion hanging over AFC Richmond’s head. However, even though there was a thrilling final match in the finale, and it was an emotional rollercoaster, it wasn’t really about the game on the field.
It was about the interweaved personal growth, and lack thereof, of the players of the prismatic Richmond-iverse. Can Lasso retain the respect of fans, press, and his team with the story of his panic attack going public? Will Sam choose to play in Africa for Mr. Okuda’s newly acquired Raja Casablanca or stay with AFC Richmond and fight for the glory of his teammates, his coach, and the owner he loves (romantically)? Can the wild-eyed 30-somethings of Roy Kent and Keely Jones (“Keelent?”) stop overquestioning their relationship? And how do you solve a problem like Nate?
By season’s end, Lasso’s charisma won back the Richmond world, Sam scorned Mr. Okuda to the latter’s childish chagrin, Kent and Keely continued their reverse will-they/won’t-they, and Nate turned full heel. Also, we have a new puppy mascot, Dani Rojas overcomes his fear of kicking penalty shots after accidentally killing said puppy’s predecessor, Roy Kent & Jamie Tartt settle their differences for good, the team therapist goes on to her next assignment after sharing a pint and assuring Ted he’ll be alright without her, and, oh, yeah, Richmond wins promotion with the most exciting tie in fictionalized sport.
The bulk of this final season’s first episode is spent re-introducing our relevant characters, as you do. We open the third season on a close shot of a dishevelled, utterly frazzled looking Ted. As the camera pans out and we start to see he’s in an airport, the intercom chimes “paging Mr. Lasso.” Is he headed home? Of course not. The Mr. Lasso being sought is his rarely seen son, so absent from the program’s world thus far that as I write this I’ve forgotten his name and had to go back to remember it. The actor’s not even one of the 56 actors listed on its Wikipedia page. (It’s Henry.)
Even though fatherhood is so central to Ted Lasso, the irony of his actual, biological son being an incidental character is no accident. Even with two seasons of proof that Lasso’s cornpone, “aw shucks”-ily charming persona is not a facade (it truly isn’t… Nate!), it clearly still covers a lot of flaws (you weren’t ENTIRELY wrong… Nate!). Lasso’s drive to propel others to greatness has inevitably made him an absentee father to… I’m already blanking here… Homer?
After putting young Harold on the plane—after he shows a deadpan political acumen due to Lasso’s CNN habit—Lasso calls Dr. Sharon Fieldstone for some post-plane-partum therapy. After he shares more emotion than he would have a season… we mean year ago, it’s clear he still harbors boundary issues as he grills her for personal details. She hesitantly obliges, but a smile as she hangs up reveals the line-crossing goes both ways. Well, to a degree. She secretly has a young man in her bedroom, likely a player. This show has no shortage of May-December relationships. To its credit, the balance goes in both directions. Cue Mumford & Not Son.
Lasso arrives at team owner Rebecca Walton’s office where she and Leslie Higgins are livid at the disrespect AFC Richmond is getting in the press. They’re picked 20th out of 20. Well, the Daily Mirror pegs them as “twentielth” which Higgins dubs an “adorable but devastating typo.” To make matters worse, Rebecca’s ex-husband Rupert’s newly acquired West Ham is getting too much respect. “Everyone’s predicting him to finish in the Top Four.” Him? Not theirs?
Lasso astutely makes note of Rebecca’s pronoun-switching tendency when referring to her(their) rival(s), quipping “is Rupert going to play this year?” He has to make this correction multiple times in the conversation. It’s this show’s subtle reminder that in spite of his deflective seeming obliviousness, Lasso is acutely aware of what is going on around him. Her obsession over her petty ex will clearly be a key theme of the final season as she scolds Ted after he rebuffs the executives’ desire to bulk up the team with new players.
Rebecca also reminds her of his offhand promise to win the Premier League championship this year. As she reminds him of that pledge, she asserts that she wants the Ted Lasso “who was willing to fight.” It’s a none-too-subtle passive-aggressive dig at the coach’s gentle, just-do-our-best nature. His sidekick and sporting life-partner Coach Beard knew the right time to call him out on this, but this is likely not the time. While we get that emotions run wild at this moment, no one points out the absurdity of a newly promoted squad winning it all.
While it’s clear neither Ted nor Rebecca, each of whom were thrust into their positions, deeply understand the nature of the Premier League where teams like Hull and Derby annually bob between promotion and relegation, Dutch center Jan Maas definitely recognizes the potential inevitability. In a locker room meeting, the players are livid at the snub, but Maas reminds them “statistically speaking, most teams who get promoted are relegated the next year.” It’s true but the players don’t want to hear it. Isaac instantly screams “shut the fuck up.” Sam Obisanya has the most Sam response ever with “maybe they want to motivate us.” Ah, Sam, you’re just too pure for this world. It makes me wish his Nigerian restaurant existed on the temporal plane so we could support it.
Cut to Coach Beard and Roy Kent drawing up plays in the office part of the locker room. The loss of tactical genius, if social dummy, Nate stings. Coach Lasso has learned some of the game’s intricacies by playing FIFA, while Roy Kent observes that an underdog needs to be “more solid and clever”.
Up to this point, we have not seen Nate. He’s introduced in a brief montage as he enters the West Ham facilities. Dubbed the “Wonder Kid,” Nate’s now the manager of a top-level squad. The few words he speaks show just how thorough his heel turn is. Later, we’ll see his managerial style, which is mostly abuse. It’s a tad unbelievable that the players would tolerate this ruthlessness from him, and one might suspect it would hamper the team’s performance, but we suppose we’ve been sold the bill of sale that Nate is a soccer savant. One can definitely see Bill Belichick speaking to his charges this way.
Keeley and Rebecca meet for lunch at the former’s new place of business. After she’s out of the view of the most indifferent and subordinate staff in the universe, Keeley breaks down about how hard it is to run a business. She’s Keeley, she’s capable; she may be overwhelmed now, but we know she’ll be fine. As with so many of our Richmond-ites, she’s more concerned about the serial dissing of her boyfriend’s team by the press. We’ll see later that all is not perfect between her & Roy Kent. Well, it is, but we’re dealing with two self-saboteurs here.
And there you have it, everyone is back and re-introduced. Well, we haven’t got to Rupert, but he’s a twat anyways. There’s a lot to say about his heel-mance with Nate as the manipulative tool takes his spot as the worst father figure since Abraham, but for now we’re in a no-spoiler zone, and this recap has gone on forever and is in danger of reaching Television Without Pity levels of overkill. Remember TwoP? My Dad & I loved reading those. I miss TwoP. I also miss my Dad. And we’re back to fatherhood. We’ll surely hit more on that in future recaps, and I may even do a standalone article exploring this theme in Ted Lasso. Spoiler alert: Childless Roy Kent is clearly the best father on the show. But that’s for another day.
Without giving things away, Coach Lasso takes the team on a clever, if dubious trip which is slickly interweaved into a Nate press conference which leads to a Ted Lasso press conference that perfectly conveys the stark difference between the two men. Rupert continues to groom Nate. And the final season, both of Ted Lasso and for AFC Richmond, has begun.
When debating what is the opposite of “underdog,” Lasso & Beard agree that in their case, it’s West Ham. On one hand, this is a classic TV narrative simplification eliminating the idea that there are many teams they will have to beat. Moreover, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how their spot in league football would work. Richmond would more likely be battling the lower teams to avoid relegation. And even were a miracle season to happen, West Ham is only listed as Top Four and would be just one team they would need to surpass. That said, I do get that the personal nature of the rivalry and their owner’s mandate might elevate West Ham as the one true opponent—this season’s big bad.
That brings us to a fear I have about the show’s endgame as we enter the final season. It’s the existential conflict I have as both a sports fan and TV lover that the third go-around’s arc naturally hasTed Lasso going out on a bang, celebrating a Premier League championship. This is fundamentally untrue to how this sport works. About a decade ago, Hull lost its final 17 or so games in the Premier League, yet its fans were elated that a quick start allowed them to evade its usual fate of relegation.
The writers know that uproarious celebrations of a tie is how the game we Americans call soccer works. That last season ended in a tie gives me hope they won’t go out on the Capra-esque flourish that is winning it all. Ted Lasso knows that football—and indeed life itself—is much more nuanced than that.
Stray Goals (and there’s a lot of them):
- Let’s start with an overall style note that will occur throughout these recaps. You may notice, unlike all the other characters, Roy Kent is always referred to with his full name. This is by design because he IS Roy Kent. He is maximum Roy Kent. There can be none more Roy Kent. In the beginning, there was light and Roy Kent, and Roy Kent saw the light and Roy Kent saw that it was good. Fuuuucking Roy Kent. We love Roy Kent.
- In their first scene together this year, Roy Kent and Coach Beard discuss Hoosiers. Roy Kent loved it, but wonders “why the fuck is it called Hoosiers?” Don’t we all, Roy Kent, don’t we all.
- Horatio’s observations about the mess that is U.S. politics, while somehow, someway on brand for show, does feel a bit forced.
- Ted has apparently built a Lego version of Nelson Road with versions of all our favorite characters (and Nate). Nate is separated from the rest of the gang, sitting in the stands. It’s both a fun visual and top notch, interlocking symbolism of a key theme of the third season. Is it foreshadowing when Lasso’s son (Hagrid?) coerces his dad to return Nate to the pitch?
- When our coach tries to tell Dr. Fieldstone about trying to pay back generous family friend Mr. Maher with a thank you gift, he reveals he couldn’t because he got “hit by a train” to which his therapist/friend responds, “wow, I didn’t see that coming.” “Neither did Mr. Maher.” Now that’s some primo Marx Brothers goodness.
- Dr. Fieldstone’s dude as she returns from her phone call with Ted: “You finally get off?” Sharon: “Not yet” Get yours, doc!
- “Rugby, what a game, it’s like American football and sumo wrestling gave birth to a baby all caked in mud…”
- Everyone is picking Richmond last which Rebecca notes includes “every lonely middle aged sports blogging loser writing in his mother’s basement.” Ouch! We feel attacked! Thankfully, Higgins has our back, reminding her that’s a hurtful stereotype as his 10-year-old blogs from a non-basement part of his home. Unfortunately, he also picked them to finish last.
- Even Paddington the Bear doesn’t believe in Richmond’s chances. On a scale of one to five marmalades, he gives the team zero marmalades.
- By the way, the rapport between Higgins and Lasso is totally a vibe when the latter says to Rebecca “tell Keeley we said howdy and…” to which Higgins chimes in “Yo”. Lasso is shocked, but he’s not judging you, he just wanted to make sure he heard Higgins right.
- “No rhyming salutations, something wrong?” Rebecca knows Ted so well that the absense of Lasso-isms means depression.
- We know Ted is back when he apologizes for his ‘tude later, saying he does not want to “tinkle on y’all’s toenails.” Quite the visual, Coach Lasso.
- Team driver Kenneth wasn’t just in a cult, he was the leader of a cult. Thanks for the distinction, Dani. He also loves mind-altering hallucinogenics.
- Ted is a good papa to Herndon as he brought lil’ Hushpuppy into his FIFA research where he observed “we both learned who Maradona was and I had to explain why it’s a bad idea to do cocaine.”
- He also promises Rebecca he will be fiery this season, citing Muhammad Ali’s famous poetic phrase about butterflies and bees “except i won’t die immediately after using my stinger. I plan to float and sting for the remainder of the season.”
- “Fuck you, Joe Rogan.” You speak for all of us, Keeley Jones!
- Over salad, Keeley and Rebecca call the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’ accidental burning down of her boyfriend’s (American football star Andre Rison) house “the ultimate gangster move” and “fucking legend.” Rebecca says she’s moved beyond this… but again, has she really?
- Nate’s reintroduction is mostly silent, with Eric B. & Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” providing the soundtack. It’s a reminder just how on point is the musical selection for the show. Check the choices in the Coach Beard standalone episode for further proof.
- On that musical note, Lasso’s R.E.M. referencing opening greeting of his newest coach (Roy Kent), “What’s the frequency, Roy Kenteth?” might be my favorite Lasso-ism to date.