Nate Shelley -- Villain or Basket Case?

"Ted Lasso" finally gave us someone to hate. Should we?

Nate Shelley -- Villain or Basket Case?

Spoilers to Friday’s final episode of “Ted Lasso” are contained herein.

How It Started

The great surprise of “Ted Lasso” when it premiered on Apple TV+ in August 2020 was that it was a show about kindness, forgiveness, and the pleasures of nice at a time when that was sorely needed. Suitably beloved and showered with Emmys, Ted (Jason Sudeikis) and company entered their second season with the surprise gone and a question posed: How long can you do nice before it turns sticky?

A pretty long time, it turns out, even if there were bumps in the road. (Needle drops like “Karma Police” at the end of the penultimate episode approached perfection, but I cringed every time that melancholy piano signaled a Very Special Emotional Moment.) As the episodes rolled up to Friday’s season finale, it became clear that the theme of almost every story arc was abandonment and the crippling wreckage it brings. Fatherly betrayal and cruel patriarchs hung heavy over Ted, team owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), returning player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), and assistant coach Nate (Nick Mohammed). Team star Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) has a loving and supportive dad but feared getting dumped by Rebecca. Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) were each terrified of being abandoned by the other. And Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) suffered yo-yo abandonment at the hands of on-again/off-again girlfriend Jane (Phoebe Walsh), no more so than in the fabulous one-shot episode (and niche Martin Scorsese homage) “Beard After Hours".”

It’s typical of the graciousness of this series that everyone had at least started to deal with their damage by the final installment — everyone except Nate. In the hours following the show, I was surprised at the social media outpouring of venom toward the character, whose often painful storyline led to a climactic act of betrayal that sets the stage for the conflicts of Season Three. Is Nate to be despised, as one friend has put it, or is he to be pitied as the lone figure whose yearning for a trusted father figure only warps him further (for now)? “Ted Lasso” has an interesting blind spot about race and racism — consciously or not, the show pretends they don’t exist — but Mohammed has posted online of the micro-aggressions toward Nate we may or may not have noticed. The actor isn’t excusing his character; rather, he’s shedding light on Nate’s self-loathing rage and a need to be seen that he thinks is what is meant by “being a boss.”

So which is it, crew? Do you think the show can forgive Nate — do you think you can — or is he the one irredeemable figure in a show notably without villains (except for Rupert)? Was his toxic resentment put there by a castrating dad or is it something that’s just in him? Are we cruel by nature or by nurture? As the final episodes of Season Two piled up, my mind kept flitting back to “This Be The Verse,” the Philip Larkin poem that may be the final word on the ways hurt tumbles down through the generations. One child psychologist of my acquaintance can quote the entire thing at the drop of a co-pay, but here are the opening lines:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

How It’s Going

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