It was great to see Nate stand up for himself in a restaurant where his reverence had been used against him, and demand (politely) the vacant window table so his parents could celebrate their wedding day in style. But the way he psyched himself up for that request by spitting at the mirror in the bathroom suggested that Travis Bickle should come.
Of course, the fact that he spits on himself (repeatedly) points to the self-loathing that underlies his recently assertive behavior. But that disgust is then directed outward at others – everyone from the powerless boot boy Will (Charlie Hiscock) to Ted himself, in an underhanded leak to journalist Trent Crimm from The independent (James Lance) – and that turns Nate from the play’s unsung all the way to the villain. (Note as a side how his hair turns grayer when his psyche gets darker, as if the goodness of his soul was washed out.)
Obstructed ambition and a stunted sense of self-worth are at the heart of his malaise, but Nate is not alone. Roy Kent’s (Brett Goldstein) incipient violence is mostly played for laughter, but there is a real threat in the way his jealousy and possessiveness weave over little Keeley and threaten her football star ex-boyfriend Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster).
Jamie has his own serious problems, mainly with his father, a squirting, blaring, brainless execution of toxic masculinity that both explains and apologizes (to some extent) for his son’s mistakes in the emotional maturity department.
Ted’s offsider Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) gets a spectacular bizarre episode for himself, a dark night for body and soul with clear echoes of Martin Scorsese’s After hours. He stumbles all over town, chasing the good times that never quite come, getting scratched, losing his phone and wallet and almost his life, all caused by a twisted co-dependent love affair with Jane (Phoebe Walsh, one of the series’ writers). The chaos is strong in this one.
And of course there’s Ted. From the moment he drives down the tunnel with 10 minutes left in an FA Cup quarterfinal, we know there is something not quite right — and no one buys the story that it was just a dodgy shrimp sandwich (hey Roy Keane). After much pairing with team psychologist Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles), the truth emerges: Ted had a panic attack. After more probing, there is a probable cause: his father committed suicide when Ted was 15, and he has had trouble giving up since.
Wow. Sunny optimism be gone.
The change in tone will not be to everyone’s taste, and it’s understandable: take one off Ted Lasso was a real breath of fresh air and perhaps the perfect pepp (not Guardiola) for these lockdown times. But with his insistence on confronting the darkness beneath the surface, Ted taking two can be even more timely. Here’s hoping the third and final season will provide a way out of this mess.
Do not imagine for a moment that it is all gloomy. There are still plenty of lively moments in season two, even in the darkest episodes.
Nor do you imagine that this is a relentless hammering of men. It is not. It celebrates male friendship, the camaraderie in the locker room, the support and encouragement that men can offer each other when they fail their guard and open their hearts and minds. Above all, it says that it is OK to need and ask for help.
“Faith,” reads Ted’s handwritten sign over the dressing room door. And what season two most want us to believe is that in vulnerability lies strength.
Ted Lasso is on Apple TV +