Ted Lasso's most fascinating aspect is the way it examines masculinity, and next season's story looks primed to dismantle Ted's savior complex.
Note: We're headed for spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Ted Lasso in this article. If you haven't finished the season, you'll probably want to do so before reading further.
In the final episode of Ted Lasso Season 2, "Inverting the Pyramid of Success," the show drops a bombshell on its eponymous coach, fired by the likes of Nate (Nick Mohammed), one of Ted's first seeming successes. Over the show's past 12 episodes, animosity has been building in Nate. He tells Ted that, with the coach's attention elsewhere, Nate has felt unimportant. He says that he tried to regain Ted's interest, only to fail. From Nate's point of view, he's been left in shadow, abandoned, by someone he respected--and, clearly, needed.
Ted (Jason Sudeikis) barely has a chance to deal with that information before the end of the season, and in a quick time-skip scene at the end, we see that Nate has abandoned the AFC Richmond team to take a coaching job on the team owned by series antagonist Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head). It's something of an unprecedented moment in Ted Lasso, a show ostensibly about the strength and power of being nice (which, as Mason Downey notes, was never actually its best feature). Ted was nice to Nate, elevating him to a position of authority and providing him with friendship and mentorship. Nate repays that kindness by leaking the fact that Ted is suffering from panic attacks to the media, then leaving the team to coach a rival and work for someone whose actions have made worse the lives of people who Nate seemed to care about.
Season 2 does a great job of slowly and carefully building Nate's arc in small steps, and as Vulture's Jen Cheney points out, Nate's blowup is far from unjustified (or at least, far from coming from nowhere). Beyond seeing the situation build up, though, I think it also shows where Ted Lasso is heading, and the next iteration of the themes the show is working to explore. Nate may well see a redemption arc, but it won't be because he was won over by Ted's indispensable niceness and folksy charm. Instead, Ted is going to have to learn something from Nate: that Ted can't always be everyone's savior.
Through the first two seasons, as a show, Ted Lasso has been working through and dismantling various ideas of masculinity. In Season 1, most of that was of the standard toxic variety--the Richmond locker room was a place of bullying (largely targeting Nate, in fact) and animosity. Ted helped to break the show's characters out of those cycles; he softened Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), who has learned to become more empathetic in two seasons, and he helped Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) grow up, ditching a lot of his selfish prima donna tendencies in favor of becoming an accountable member of a community.
In Season 2, though, Ted had issues of his own to deal with. Though he was accustomed to dealing with the problems of others--he's a coach, after all--much of the season concerned him allowing himself to ask for help when he needed it. As GameSpot's Steve Watts put it in an excellent tweet, "Men will literally become a beacon of light and encouragement to all those around them instead of go to therapy." On top of that, the season repeatedly dealt with the relationships of characters and their fathers, and struggling with those fathers' failures and meeting their expectations. In almost every case, Ted Lasso's characters turned to and relied on one another to get through. Nobody could do it alone.
But Nate's shift highlights a recurring issue with Ted as a person that the show has been seeding all along, but has purposely avoided dealing with: the responsibility incurred when taking someone under your wing. Ted has a tendency to parachute into a situation, Mary Poppins-like, and, well, meddle. His intentions are, clearly, always good, and he often leaves people in a better way than he found them. But as Nate points out, he then has a tendency to look for the next problem to fix--except that problem is a human person, and they have more going on than the one issue that's readily apparent to a coach with a can-do attitude.
Ted gives Nate a promotion, takes a few of his ideas, and buys him a suit, and then he's basically like, "My work here is done," and turns to the next thing. With the Nate situation "handled," Ted seems to completely stop thinking about how his later decisions might affect him. Ted does things like reinstate Jamie to the team and hire Roy to the coaching staff without taking anyone's feelings into account. Consider that Nate considers Jamie a personal tormentor who betrayed the team, for instance, or the way Nate sees success with his strategies and Ted responds by hiring Roy, after earlier laughing at the idea of Nate being inspiring enough to talk team captain Isaac (Kola Bokinni) out of his funk. Ted has moved on to finding new people to save, and in so doing, he leaves others in the dust.
Nate's surface problem was confidence, which Ted helped him address--but clearly, his deeper issue is some awful, internalized toxicity, a deep hatred of himself. Nate isn't just mad that people like Ted and Roy dismiss him as being small and weak; he's actively angry about those traits within himself, as we see when he spits at his own image in the mirror after kissing Keeley (Juno Temple) in the penultimate episode this season. And going back to the theme of dads, we see Nate dealing with feelings of inadequacy stemming from his relationship with his own father. Those deeper problems has gone completely unaddressed, and Ted missed it altogether, despite Nate himself becoming a bully. Ted has already onto the next thing, having never considered the state he left Nate in by trying to help him.
With Nate, Ted Lasso has created an important check on the show's main character, and it demonstrates just how much of a simplification it is to say that this is a story about the power of one man "being nice." Critics have noted that the show can be unrealistic in how it portrays Ted as able to turn just about anybody to his side simply by being a good guy, and here we see the undercurrent Ted Lasso has been building up all along. This is the show forcing Ted to reckon with the fact that "being nice" is not enough, that you can't always win everyone over with a pop culture reference and a cookie. Here's a person who Ted took an interest in, who Ted tried to help, and who Ted ultimately failed. Ted created something of a father-son relationship between himself and Nate, then, to some degree, abandoned the responsibility that relationship incurred. Earlier in the season, we see how Nate's relationship with his father actually plays out, and the acceptance and encouragement he's missing from that relationship. When Ted pulls that rug out from under Nate, it's clear to see that it increases the pain even more. In a season about fathers, Nate calls out Ted twice for being an absent one--once by discussing his own abandonment, and once by bringing up how Ted has left his son behind in Kansas.
So if Season 1 was about dismantling toxic masculinity in a male community, and Season 2 was about dismantling it in allowing yourself to ask for help from others, I'd say Season 3 will be about Ted dealing with his own need to try to "fix" everyone else, a savior complex that takes his attention away from the relationships he should be focusing on. There's a very real tendency, as we saw in Season 2, for Ted's attempts at helping people to disregard the actual person being helped. What Nate needed was friendship and guidance, not a new suit and a pep talk. In a show that's constantly dealing with men coming to grips with being better men, Ted's about to learn that he can't be everyone's hero--and that good intentions and the motto of "Believe" aren't enough. You have to do the work, too.