Ted Lasso S3E3 — 4-5-1

Zava is here. And everything is about to be very different for AFC Richmond. But is all change good? Remember that old trope about living in interesting times. These are definitely going to be interesting times with the equivalent of Ronaldo or Lionel Messi on the ascendant team. Now let’s all give it up for the adorable DJ Damage Control and his hype man Shandy and get to the recap and review.

In the craziest thing, whiel the episode all about Zava (and it really will be all about Zava in so many ways), it starts with an emotional swerve. We see a naked Colin slip on shorts and the rest of his outfit, descend some snazzy stairs to a handsome boy in his kitchen. Online peeps speculated about Colin’s sexuality. Well, now we know, but his teammates and fans do not. They likely won’t think anything is wrong with it, but his coming out is still his story to tell. Colln furtively exits his flack into his sports car, recites a mantra, and peels off. Cue Mumford & Not S…. oh wait, as the music starts, he apparently crashes into the music editor as the theme skips. But after a hiccup, it quickly resumes and we’re onto the show. Cute meta-gag, guys!

And we’ve got the first hint of a theme of the difficulty of navigating relationships, let alone ones which take place in the public eye. Keelent, I’m looking at you! We’ll get to that. This episode is about Zava. And it also isn’t. And, in another way, can anything ever not be about Zava? We’ll get to all that, too.

When the crew organizes a welcoming extravaganza at Nelson Road for their unlikely signee, everyone on the team and in town are popping out of their britches for Zava. Rebecca and Higgsy are panicking about the validity of the contract. As the latter (tries to) distract the assembled press and fans in his alter ego DJ Damage Control, the rest of the gang go on a Zava hunt. As you do in a farce, Rebecca is startled mid-Zava insult to see the man, myth, legend, and Zava sitting proudly at her desk. If you thought Zava was a lot from last week’s episode, as the center of the plot, Zava is even more than you could have dreamed. He proceeds to greet everyone in the manner most Zava.

When he gets to Coach Lasso, he embraces him and imparts “My leader. I am an empty vessel filled with gold.” Even Zava’s humblebrags are touched by the hand of God. However, it slowly starts to dawn on the coaching staff, if not the players and fans that there is trouble in superstar-blessed Richmond paradise. To paraphrase UK grimer The Streets, Zava is fit, but gosh darn don’t he know it.

Jamie Tartt knows it. And while you can chalk it up to jealousy — and that’s a part of it — he’s not wrong. It’s the second week in a row the right twat has shown wisdom.

To Zava’s credit, he calls out for the Kit Man, William, before he talks to any other player. But then Zava immediately literally moves to eclipse Coach Lasso, standing directly in front of him. After a speech that is glorious spiritual nonsense, but vitally is at its core about how there is no “I” but “we” in team, he proceeds to rearrange the coaches’ whiteboard so that the new formation is one dot in front and ten dots in back… way, way in back. And the one is clearly Zava. There is no team in Zava.

Ted and the rest of the coaches are concerned, but allow it. The team members (minus Tartt) have bought into it wholesale, however. “He’s so down to Earth.” Hope makes anyone do strange things.

Keeley and Shandy pull aside a smattering of AFC Richmond Zava sidekicks, questioning them about how to handle publicity in the times of Zava. The two longtime pals are on very different pages. Keeley recommends what essentially is puffery about Zava, while Shandy suggests saying something shocking to go viral. Isaac leans in, intrigued. She adds “like that you eat your own hair.” Shandy’s not wrong.

Shandy also calls out Roy Kent, asking him why he dumped her friend. Shandy speaks for all of us! Roy Kent is confused as to who she even is, but eventually recalls that she’s, “the one who eats her own hair.” Shandy’s hardly shamed, but, still, touche, Roy Kent. But again, the hair eater’s not wrong… except about eating hair!

Speaking of right, for two weeks in a row, Jamie Tartt is the most observant character in the virtual room. He’s never once fooled by Zava’s egotistical charm. Jamie Tartt calls out Zava as a self-centered prima donna. Roy Kent’s got a great point with his Jack Benny take at Tartt’s obliviousness when he says players like Zava are “self-absorbed glory hunters who only care for themselves.” It’s a funny moment, but Tartt also ain’t wrong about Zava. Also, it’s worth noticing that as they call him out, they still buy into Zava’s thrall. And it’s a problem given that he just completely redrew their play board to be all about him. This has to fail, right?

But nope, in the pre-game meeting, Ted Lasso et al introduced their all-Zava-all-the-time offense. It’s a bit of a stretch that they would fall so far under Zava’s spell, but it’s to Zava actor Maximillian Osinski’s credit that he has crafted a mystic douchebag character that’s zero caricature. He’s ridiculous, but he’s not unrealistic. But it’s got to fail, right? While the coaches admire Zava as he exits the locker room, Tartt just shakes his head.

Tartt is the target of Zava’s most cruel manipulations when they hit the pitch to play Wolverhampton, aka the Wolves, and definitely not the Wanderers or the Wolverhampton Wandering Wolves. And he does it with a move straight outta Lucy Van Pelt’s playbook. Zava seems to benevolently offer to set up Tartt for the first goal of the season, but proceeds to launch a tremendous shot that somehow eludes the opposing goalie. Zava has his first goal. It’s a great start, but with such a me first player in Richmond, it’s got to fail, right?

But, no, from here we launch into a climbing-the-table montage as Zava scores dramatic and improbable goal after dramatic and improbable goal. And mid-montage we get an almost perfect metaphor for how the team has changed where instead of Lasso leading a warm up chant with the team’s hands entwined, Zava sits at the center of the team universe with each player meditating individually around him.

If you thought this episode about Zava was an episode about Zava, well, you’re right. But you’re also very, very wrong. Zava has brought an unlikely winning record to Richmond in the Premier League. However, Zava is also sucking all the energy out of the rest of the Richmond-iverse. Lasso starts to see everything with Zava is not as it seems, as early on as the Tartt deception, as his panic attacks start to rear their ugly head right at that moment.

To be fair, Lasso had also just discovered who his ex’s new nighttime partner was and it hits him right in his gut. When he calls his son Henry (Heinrich?) to wish him luck in his own soccer match, his ex-marriage counselor answers the phone with his take on a Donald Trump imitation. It’s to fool what he thought would be a telemarketer, but it’s ill-timed, if better than Alec Baldwin’s version. It’s hard for him to not feel like its a betrayal, not just by the ex-wife he’s not quite over, but by the very idea of therapy itself. He’s been pierced through the heart by the very science that has been helping him overcome his emotional woes. That next session with Sharon is going to be very interesting.

And it’s not just Ted Lasso who is spiraling as AFC Richmond soars. Rebecca is clearly not over Sam. Coach Beard’s relationship with Jane Payne is clearly toxic, even if he asserts their dysfunctions match. Colin is torn between his privacy and his love of his doting boyfriend. Then of course there’s Keeley and Roy Kent still pointlessly flying solo, both still feeling their way through their new professions. To grossly misquote one of the best lines from one of the other top five or so TV shows about depression, Zava is alive and everything is worse now. And there’s no such thing as a free churro in the Richmond world, either.

We’ve talked about the danger at the heart of this show’s three-season narrative. The temptation would be to stay true to what was lain out in season one. We’d have the rapturous victory, where Richmond is triumphant. It’s a tone that would neither fit the world of English football or the heart of this show itself. However, we never anticipated the Zava turn. Getting a player like Zava in the real world could work. It would solve the football part of it. If a bottom-of-the-table-team added a Zava, they could conceivably pull off the unthinkable. But it doesn’t solve the issue of how it would be a Ted-Lasso’s-therapist-level betrayal of the show’s fans.

As “4-5-1” progressed, we saw the nuanced and beautiful Ted Lasso we love — a program about connection, depression, revival, togetherness, emotional vulnerability, and human growth that does so in a non-stop hilarious fashion — fade into the background. It’s replaced by a rah-rah sports show with a trail of sadness in the background. If we didn’t know Ted Lasso, it might be highly unsatisfying. But with the insight into how this world works, it’s still a third straight banger of an episode, even as we watch the writers threaten to burn it down and replace it with a gold statue of Zava.

AFC Richmond sees a path to an improbable win in the Premier League, and a way to fulfill the show’s third season championship prediction. But it would be at the cost of the absolute essence of the show that we’ve grown to love. Instead of a uniquely goofy yet dark yet warm ragtag underdog tale, we’d have a tepid account of a generic superstar-led sports team’s rise to glory. Is that the show’s endgame? For my thoughts, I refer you to my most obscure referece in my recap last week… the Silverado Principle. Would Ted Lasso really destroy all its goodwill by making the rest of the season about Zava singlehandedly leading this team to an English championship? Well, would Jake really fall off his horse?

Stray Goals:

  • Dani professes he lost his virginity to Zava Boots. When his teammate tries to correct him that it was “in” Zava Boots, Dani reveals he did not misspeak.
  • I’d call Zava’s midfield kickoff goal to open his Richmond existence absurd, unrealistic piffle. But then we’re only three months removed from Nyheim Hines opening with a kickoff return for a touchdown in the first Buffalo Bills game post-Damar Hamlin almost dying on field. It’s a real life moment that now as I type it has me bawling. So, Ted Lasso can have Zava’s impossible-but-maybe-not moment.
  • During Zava’s “inspirational” speech, everyone is so enraptured, none of them know what to do with their hands. It’s adorable.
  • Zava wears a shirt that reads “Zava & Zava & Zava & Zava”
  • Zava has a back tattoo that holds the same pose he holds as he shirtlessly celebrates his goals
  • Even Zava would be tired of typing Zava at this point.
  • Nate is again barely in this episode except as a spectre hanging over everyone. He angrily (does he have any other gear?) glances at a newspaper touting the Richmond roll.
  • Ted Lasso has a “bone to pick” with newly indicted former President Donald Trump. It’s just another reason we love love love ya Ted. He may be from Kansas, but his politics are his own.
  • When Trent Crimm notes he won’t publish a particular tidbit b/c he “cannot spell diarrhea,” is it a callback to its fellow innovative Apple TV+ comedy The Afterparty. In the Rashomon-style funny mystery, one of the clues surrounds the way the apparent murderer writes that word. When Sam Richardson’s Aniq has all the other suspects write it in order to clear his own name, no one spells the word the same way.
  • By the way, I will be recapping and reviewing the second season of The Afterparty when it comes out in Apr… we mean July.
  • When Rebecca finally, but with total ironic attitude, visits her mom’s psychic, the latter asks if “a shite in nining armor” means anything to her. It’s a pun, so is it about Lasso? Hat tip to my day job (or job job) boss Matt for pointing that one out. Also, will the show make her other prediction real by the end of its run. We surely speak for most fans as we would be there for it. Either way, since it’s Ted Lasso, we know it’ll pay it off. We just can’t wait to see how.
  • But then when we see Sam’s new romance, we’re reminded. It’s not Sam & Sous Chef, it’s Sam & Rebecca. Wait, was there a sous chef arc on Cheers? Is the sous chef’s name Diane?
  • The excellence of the music on Ted Lasso has been a constant theme of these reviews, but this episode is a masterpiece of song selection.
  • Colin’s sexuality reveal is backed by Fastball’s “Out of My Head,” a hidden gem reminding us the ’90s power pop band did more than show us “The Way.” Neither here nor there, but the song’s chorus earned second life in the 2016 top five hit “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello.
  • During the Zava/AFC Richmond climbs the table montage, the show sneaks in one of the weirdest hit songs in music history, “Prisencolinensinainciusol” by Celentano. In the 1972 single, the eccentric Italian artist wrote a song in words that sounded like real English to a non-English speaker, but were actually gibberish. It’s a perfect soundtrack for an Italian striker upending the chemistry of a British team.
  • A second sports montage is set to the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic “Superstar,” a 1971 top 20 hit for Murray Head, older brother to Anthony Head, who plays Rupert. “Who are you, what did you sacrifice” indeed.
  • The fourth great musical moment uses perhaps the most overused soundtrack song this side of “Mad World,” Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” It’s still a classic and its grimy gothic undercurrent perfectly sets up Trent Crimm’s post-pub stroll where he stumbles upon the secret that serves as the episode’s outro.
  • Sam Obinsaya knows! Norm MacDonald could get it! From any gender construct, if that was what he wanted.
  • Roy Kent also knows! Julie Andrews can still get it! Also love how Crimm & Roy Kent have already become this close. We’ll see what happens if Crimm leaks his secret.
  • That’s where we’ll close this recap of Ted Lasso‘s third episode, an episode where everybody knows the good guys lost, the poor stayed poor, the rich got rich. Oh, also a father and a dog have both died on this show. Hmmm….