Season 1 and Season 2 spoilers immediately ahead.
The second season of Ted Lasso ends with an image of Nate. The former kitman, since-promoted Greyhounds assistant coach is not wearing Richmond attire as we see him lead team exercises on the pitch. Instead, he’s in all black, staring at the camera, as we realize he’s the head coach of Westham United, the team recently purchased by season one nemesis Rupert Mannion. Just minutes before, we’ve watched Nate verbally berate Ted during halftime in a game that could put Richmond back in the Premiere League.
Nate’s arc, from neglected staff member to dismissive and arrogant coach, who struggles with self-loathing and insecurity, is just one of the themes we want to discuss. But a show known for the kindness and forgiveness of its characters also had much to say this year about toxic masculinity and father and son relationships.
Marybeth Baggett is professor of English and Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University and an associate editor for Christ and Pop Culture. Her 2019 book Morals of the Story received a CT Award of Merit in our Book Awards. And she’s working on a book about the philosophy of Ted Lasso with her husband, who is also at Houston Baptist.
Baggett joined global media manager Morgan Lee and editorial director Ted Olsen to discuss how the show defines redemption, why it focused so much attention on father-son relationships, and what Nate can teach Christians about love.
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Read Morgan’s Ted Lasso article: ‘Ted Lasso’ Won’t Settle for Shallow Optimism
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Music by Sweeps
Quick to Listen is produced Morgan Lee and Matt Linder
The transcript is edited by Faith Ndlovu
Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #284
One of the big themes that we want to get into today is redemption. Because you are someone who has thought a lot about this, how do Christians think about redemption? How do we define it and how does the show find it?
Marybeth Baggett: My interest in this with storytelling and redemptive arcs predates Ted Lasso, it's a thing that I think about quite often when I read stories that I probably give a little too much and look for redemptive moments, wherever I can find them.
But what I understand is that to be in terms of storytelling would not attain to a salvific level. That's the redemption of the world and Christ’s redemption of the cosmos through his crucifixion and resurrection. That's the ultimate, but I do think in stories and there's something about the human condition where Christian non-Christians alike, in this fallen world, being all made in God's image, we long for it. We want to not just let something bad happen and then let something good happen. I'm not a sports person, but what I understand is a redemptive moment in sport is where there's a missed goal and then the person makes a goal and that's redemption.
We wouldn't even see that as fully satisfying in stories where something bad happens and then something good happens. I think a redemptive moment in a story to me is an echo of the ultimate redemption where you can enter into it something bad and then there's a moment of grace and forgiveness and somebody does the work to not just cover over or look past, but to go in and create something good,
a new creation. I do think that has happened in several different places in Ted Lasso and you almost have the anti-redemption or maybe hope for redemption for Nate.
Even though it's moving in another direction, we still have redemptive themes or at least redemptive hope for him.
Could you give an example of where the show has done redemption well and an example of where the show has faltered in presenting this?
Marybeth Baggett: I think the big theme for Season One would be with Rebecca and Ted. We learn more about Ted as the show goes on and he's much more than his appearance but for Rebecca to come in and to completely set him up to fail, having nothing to do with Ted Lasso himself, she doesn't know him, but it's much more out of revenge for her ex-husband who has treated her terribly. We learn in the first episode that he's brought there and he's excited to be there, about the possibilities, but she's brought him there basically to fail. You go almost through the entire season before that is rectified and Ted does win her over.
When the moment happens and she confesses what she has done it's very moving because Ted immediately forgives her. He doesn’t say she needs to meet a certain standard, he accepts it and offers her that grace and it's again a beautiful picture.
So I would say that that's a moment of redemption that is done well.
I'm having a hard time seeing where they were way off. Not that I'm saying the show is perfect, but I guess I don't see personally that among them. If you have maybe a scene you'd like to talk about or a situation, we could process it.
Ted Olsen: I do think that there's a cheapening of redemption sometimes, certainly in sports, but a little bit in Ted Lasso. I had a different reaction to that scene you mentioned about Ted forgiving Rebecca and it's an issue I have with American society right now, which is like grace still needs to reckon with the gravity of sin and forgive it in that context.
Was Ted Lasso’s quickness to forgive and move on part of his passion to deal with people as individuals and make everyone a little bit better, or was it part of what Season Two got into, which was Ted Lasso sometimes using those kinds of opportunities as a way to not deal with stuff?
His optimism is both catchy and inspirational, but it also can be a defense mechanism to not deal with his stuff and not deal with the reality of the situation. So I felt that seemed to be a little bit more ambiguous.
Marybeth Baggett: I hear you, but I might offer a little bit of a counter to that. I had mentioned earlier that Ted comes off extremely superficially and yes very optimistic and there seems to be part of that that has gotten to his wife, that he does do this optimism almost to wave things away. With regards to Rebecca, I might suggest it's a little bit different, and here's sort of how. There are many moments with Rebecca and especially when Rupert is there, the auction scene, when Rupert's leaving and Ted and Rebecca are out there on the steps, also the dart scene which I think is brilliant. I love that episode, where Ted has a very optimistic look on this world on life, on people. But I think he sees very clearly who Rupert is and there's certainly a sympathy toward Rebecca in his seeing who Rupert is but it's even more than that. I think he sees something about the damage that Rupert has done to Rebecca and can encourage her, that scene outside of the auction where Rupert is leaving. Rupert is so awful during that whole thing that I wonder about his redemption if that's possible within the confines of the show, but Ted says something very quickly to Rebecca. It's very quick and it's very confirming of Rebecca, that this is not her fault, that she deserved better. Then there is the dart scene, which is certainly him standing up for Rebecca, but I think putting Rupert in his place in a way that's honorable and good, showing Rupert that he doesn't have it all figured out. So I would put the scene with Rebecca and forgiveness within that arc. Yes, Ted himself has issues with avoidance, et cetera, but I think the ground was primed for that forgiveness of Rebecca well before the embrace. That would be my reading.
Morgan Lee: So one of the things that we learn in Season Two is that when Ted is talking to Sharon, he says that one of the reactions he had to his father's suicide was being aware or empathetic to the fact that people may have a larger context or backstory that they may not be bringing to the particular moment that they're in.
I do think that you're showing right here is that in Season One when Rebecca is telling him what happens, he's stitching together some of that larger arc there. Rebecca’s confessions are echoed in the second season when she comes over to him and lets him know that she and Sam have had a relationship and Ted in my mind was way too quick to dismiss what was happening there and to approach it with a very laissez-faire attitude.
To what extent does Ted's ability to see everyone's larger context and to try to show empathy in that way ever keep him from seeing what's exactly in front of him and what harm that might be causing?
Marybeth Baggett: This is one of the criticisms that I would have of the show and the point that you had highlighted about some inconsistencies within the show itself. You can't expect a secular show to embrace Christian values and sexual ethics, et cetera but this is a show in my mind that is trying to affirm the dignity of people and highlight the value of people.
Jason Sudeikis has said that he tried to model Ted Lasso off of Mr. Rogers and of course, Mr. Rogers is known so much for that, again promoting the value of human beings. You do see that a lot in the show and perhaps I'm a little more sympathetic to some of the things, or maybe a little more forgiving myself of some of the things that maybe seem a little superficial.
But it resonates with people I think for a reason and that seems to be one of the reasons; that human beings are valuable and meaningful. In my mind, the way that they've handled sex, especially in Season Two, which is much more over the top, that funeral episode, I think was way off, it was vulgar.
Sex was not presented as something relational. There was no recognition of possibilities of pregnancy or anything like that and I think that Ted's quick affirmation of Sam and Rebecca being together seemed to be part and parcel of the show's broader embrace of sexual almost free for all. I think that that's deeply inconsistent with their saying that human beings are valuable because, in this other instance, it is suggestive of human beings are there for my pleasure.
That was the deep wrong and deep hurt against Rebecca and in that funeral episode, it's also discussed that her father had been unfaithful to her mother. So I don't think that the show handles this well. I think that it undermines in some ways, some of the other things that are good about it.
It is the same characters so you probably do need to figure out a way that those two things go hand in hand. The earlier confession and confiding in this later one I feel like that was a mistake and that's maybe the way that I would discuss it and handle it.
Ted Olsen: In Season Two, in the church scene, there was a comment about prayer, Ted Lasso comments on which god we should pray to and what if we pray to the wrong one and make whatever god mad et cetera.
There are these comments about them not being a religious show. Because the show has had all this attention and there's a lot of freshness, it’s nice and there's a kind of a certain kind of morality and honestly, I still think that the show is kind of fable or morality play in some way. They keep coming back to that “don't worry, we're preachy, but we're not trying to be preachy.” It’s almost like assurance and I thought to some of the extent to which it includes profanity in it.
It allows them to make certain kinds of preachy points if they can be like, “as long as we do this, then maybe people will let us be preachy.
Marybeth Baggett: That's exactly the way that I see it. On one hand, they seem to be deeply counter-cultural, where there is this moment of vitriol and I think a lot of disdain seems to be the order of the day in some places. You have relationships and love and Ted presenting himself as extremely humble, very counter-cultural on that side, but then you have this other side that is lock and step, we had talked about the sexual ethics of the show but I think too, with religion. It does hint at it here and there, at least the fact that there is maybe the possibility of a spiritual realm, even in that misguided statement at least there's something there. So why, it's hard to say, I think probably the result is that it's very clear, that yes, there's this bubbly character, but there's also all this other stuff. It shows him in this world that is not completely utopian or something along those lines, but I do think it also can make it more palatable even if he modeled his character after Mr. Rogers, it's not Mr. Rogers’ show on Apple TV. I do think maybe it serves a purpose too, in terms of really underscoring, how different Ted is as well to be in that environment, especially against somebody like Roy Kent.
Morgan Lee: Returning to our discussion of Rebecca and Sam. This also feeds into the conversation that we're having too, about the way that the show explores morality and to the extent that it's preachy or not. One of the dynamics that is extremely present and at least at the beginning seems to be acknowledged is the fact that Rebecca is the owner of the team, that Sam was a player, and that there's more than the 20-year gap between those two characters.
As a viewer, it is troubling to not see any of those issues later on explored. When Rebecca decides to end things with Sam, this is not given as a reason for why this has ended, but what I also found even more interesting was I read a number of show recaps during the past couple of episodes as I was watching them is how the audience or these reviewers seemed hungry for something that would critique that or something that seemed self-aware about what was happening with that and that many people seem to feel very unsatisfied by the fact that the show did not address this or bring this into the conflict.
What would you have liked to see the show explore? Do you think that this is a storyline that they should not have considered at all? Or is it just disappointing because they didn't ask deeper questions out of the characters?
Marybeth Baggett: I don't understand how it fits, so I guess I would have preferred that they didn't even enter into it because it just seems to raise questions that they seem completely unwilling to answer. One thing I've rolled around in my head is that the show does seem very much about female empowerment. Keely is a key figure with this, Rebecca trying to figure out a way to get past the mistreatment.
So it's almost like Metoo and now what is the response to that kind of position that women have held in many circles, quite broadly pushed to the margins, not having much cultural capital. It seems to me that the way that sex is handled, because often it is women initiating, they do seem to emphasize female pleasure and I think that the Sam storyline maybe could be seen in the same sort of vein of this, where it's, let's present a world where women do kind of come out on top. This seems to be a real miss because I don't think a correction to an injustice like that is to reverse victim victimizer and now have Rebecca in the position of power over one of her players. I know Sam is such a likable character and maybe that was some of the thinking behind the writers. I struggle to figure it out because I just think that they opened a can of worms that they have no interest in dealing with.
Connected to that she was seeing someone again, pretty much just for the sex. So you wonder, how does Sam fit into this because she was also talking to him through that anonymous app and didn't know it was him. What was she looking for with him? But then they immediately jump into bed and especially without working through what all that meant. I just found it a problematic feature and I kind of just wish it would go away.
Morgan Lee: So Nate, who is the focus of the finale and is someone that I think is quietly making us uncomfortable throughout Season Two.
For most of us who were watching the show, especially for Christians, we would have watched how Ted interacted with Nate in Season One in particular and observed that. It feels very Christ-like the way that Ted would go about acknowledging Nate or looking for ways to make Nate's voice more powerful on the team and trying to figure out the bullying situation. I'm sure there are articles written about the way that Ted loves people and Nate is included in that especially in a way that is worth emulating. However, of course, Nate is revealed in Season Two as being himself a bully, especially specifically with Will his replacement, with Colin, one of the players, and then we watch him betray Ted in many ways.
What is Nate's arc or how does Nate's arc in many ways, challenge how we Christians understand love and see what love looks like?
Marybeth Baggett: First of all, I think love is a risk. Love is not guaranteed. CS Lewis has that quote, I think it's from The Four Loves where he says, “love anything and you risk your heart being broken, you risk loss, somebody can betray you.” Even the fact that Nate was able to betray Ted was because Ted had opened up to him.
So I think remembering that love is a risk. It's not a calculation is an important thing. I haven't worked through that one fully because as I said, it just came to me, but I do think that's probably something to keep in mind. The second thing and I suppose it's related is that love can be resisted. Nate is offered gifts from Ted throughout Season One. Ted offered him because he saw something in Nate, that he is gifted as a coach and he is trying to nurture him and help him reach his potential.
But Nate takes it differently and I think he has a lot of father wounds. We had mentioned the fatherhood theme. Ted doesn't know about those father wounds, but the way that Nate has chosen to respond to them has further damaged I think not only himself, but others and his rejection of Ted's love and becoming more prideful. It's almost like he's trying to build up his ego in the wake of his father's complete apathy towards him. You see that in that one episode where he's trying to set up the anniversary dinner for his mother and father and the father is constantly sniping at him.
There's this desire for appreciation and we can read that another way where Nate is just so absolutely needy and he's completely insatiable because that's what he unloads on Ted in the last episode of, “you weren't there for me...” I'm not a psychologist but I might read that as projection, where Ted is a safe stand-in for his father.
Nate had had so many opportunities that he has seen barriers melted. He has seen Jamie, for example, receive Roy's love, that hug after Jamie's father berates him. For me, that might be the most powerful moment. He looks at that and he doesn't receive it. It seems like more pride is built up or something and that's the way that I understand the Nate situation so far, I'm hopeful of course, for his redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. It's not going to be as easy as Rebecca.
Seeing him get to that point where he can acknowledge that he's done something wrong, that's hard to see right now.
Ted Olsen: Yeah, the Bible verse that came to mind in the scene where Nate berates Ted was about Paul talking about us being the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who were being saved and those who are perishing, that to the one we are an aroma that brings death to the other an aroma that brings life and that in Ted Lasso’s actions, giving a lot of gifts, there's a lot of receiving of grace, there's a lot of receiving of mercy in the show. What you hear from Nate is very much entitlement and that's the theme of his speech to Lasso.
So I thought that was one of the better insights of the show, how much Ted Lasso’s gifts and grace and the way he responds to people can be received as something that just drives you deeper and deeper into resentment and anger.
Looking at another aspect of the show, the creators of the show made an argument for Nate being right. That he is a better coach of soccer than Ted Lasso is and that he does deserve to have a chance at a head coach. There's a lot of people saying it on Twitter and TV. A number of his plans work out for the soccer team and also that Ted says is a good idea and that's one of the reasons that the team keeps winning.
We often talk about mercy and grace as being something undeserved, but where do you see Ted Lasso talking about that grace and mercy are somewhat deserved; things that are gifted versus things that are earned?
Marybeth Baggett: I guess the question is what is it that Nate deserves. Yes, maybe he does deserve to be a head coach but think about where he originally was at the beginning of the series and he was the kit guy.
He is skilled and gifted. It also raises questions about what a coach is. Is it simply about winning or is it about also team unity? This is a big question that the series explores because Nate certainly won't be good at that and especially not with someone like Rupert being the owner of the team.
That team doesn't seem to bode very well for any kind of camaraderie or anything positive like that. So on one hand he may deserve something, but what exactly is that? He's not recognizing where his shortfall is, that things like coaching and any kind of sport would be a team effort.
He has no interest in that conversation. I can't remember if it was in the next to last episode about how Ted's going to take credit for this play that he was suggesting and Roy was the one that responded, “that's pretty much the job” and he's so resentful of that. He may be good but it doesn't mean that he's necessarily got where he should be to be a successful coach.
Nate was right in many areas. Ted is clownish and Nate is the serious one —
Ted Olsen: And given the stuff that Ted says, he should be home with his son.
Marybeth Baggett: The fact that he goes there, I think that was really cruel. Everybody has a vulnerability. I do think the show probably could have shown a little bit more justification of why he was there as opposed to with his son but it shows Nate's cruelty by that point, just how far gone Nate was, to hit Ted at his most vulnerable spot. Zooming back from that conversation, the tipping point for Nate was not specifically that game. In the previous episode, why he betrayed Ted was after he had kissed Keely and was rebuffed, and then when Roy dismissed him as not a threat was kind of the additional point. So it wasn't even so much about Ted and who Ted was. It was more about Nate's attempt to overcome that shame. I think we see that in Nate. His father has not given him the due recognition, children do deserve that recognition from their parents of them being valuable, that they matter, and you can just tell that maybe his mother has offered that to him, but his father has given him none of it and he's longing for it. It's almost like he's trying to build up what he never got and these are wrong ways to do it and I'm not trying to justify Nate at all. He has been given a choice and he has been given ways to heal and he is not taking them and just relied on his own devices that are just hideous.
The character of Nate is very challenging for all of us to know how to love correctly and to be in a relationship with. So obviously you've spent lots of time in the philosophical world or the world of philosophy and scripture as well. What type of guidance are we seeing there with how to be in a relationship with someone who is deeply self-loathing and insecure?
Marybeth Baggett: There are relationships that you can and sadly, sometimes must disengage from, and I don't think it's unloving whatsoever to do that, but if that person has made it so clear that they do not wish you well, they wish you ill, then it's not respectful to yourself. It's not even respectful to them to give them those opportunities because that's just giving them an outlet for frankly, sin. I think there are times to just engage. There are more difficult situations, where you have to be in a relationship with a family member and it takes a lot of prayer, a lot of outside support, a lot of counseling to get the best advice.
I think there is a way to insist on truth and not surrender to the mistreatment and still be open to the person. Ted probably is hopeful that Nate will return to the vote, maybe not come back to the team, but I'm sure he's heartbroken over this. We didn't see his reaction we just saw Nate’s, but you can just imagine that this was a heartbreaking thing for him. You see earlier in the season where Ted does welcome Jamie back into the team after a lot of problems and I think he probably has that same hope that Nate can get to some of those, those points.
Nate is a harder case because he's farther gone, but I think Ted would be open to that. This goes back to the earlier question of what forgiveness and redemption look like. I think we should be having a stance of openness toward reconciliation but not at the expense of truth and not at the expense of dealing with the issue. We will see how the show will handle it, what they do with it. I hope that they try to take it on. I think without Christian resources, it's going to be very difficult because again, that's so central to Christianity, the restoration and redemption, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the ultimate redemption overcoming death and sin. Nate is not beyond that reach, but whether or not he's beyond the reach of the show’s writers and characters remains to be seen.