Nate The Debate

Nate The Debate

Nota bene: SPOILERS for Ted Lasso will abound.

I think a lot of people are getting Ted Lasso wrong, especially when it comes to the question of “What [the actual fuck] is going on with Nate?”

Near the end of season two I, like many of us, felt uneasy about what the writers were doing with Nate. It seemed like a heel-turn that Hulk Hogan might have penned. It didn’t make sense in the Ted Lasso Cinematic Universe (TLCU)—where people do change, but typically from worse to better, and on a trajectory that was obvious and usually inspiring. This one learned humility. That one learned to trust others. Another learned to speak up for himself… but now he’s lashing out at the very people who helped him find himself?

Reviewing things in preparation for season three, I found myself thinking, “Oh! I get it…. He’s the opposite of Ted!” We already had a seemingly irredeemable character in Rupert, but what Ted really needed was a redeemable asshole. A final project. Someone had to fill that role, and so why not Nate. It would make his prodigal kit man return so much greater in the end.

But then my wife and I watched the season two finale again, and something changed. This time it clicked. Nothing seemed forced, ham-fisted, inaccurate. Hulk Hogan was not at the whiteboard in my imaginary writer’s room anymore. In fact this painful scene felt intuitive and achingly familiar to me, and to my wife, I learned later.

When Nate says to Ted in that last episode of season two “you abandoned me,” (go watch that scene again after reading this and see what you think) he’s not talking to Ted. With another year of therapy and a second chance to watch that episode, it seemed obvious to me that Nate was projecting his father—and maybe everyone else that’s ever made him feel small, forgotten, invisible—onto Ted. That’s why the things he’s saying to Ted don’t make sense on their face, why so many viewers reacted to that scene (myself included, the first time) with “what?” To us, the semi-omniscient audience, Ted obviously never abandoned Nate. But to Nate it’s just as obvious that he did. How?

Starting at the beginning, Ted noticed Nate. He invested in Nate; built him up. He promoted him. Projecting my own experience onto Nate, I can say that for Nate that building up came with a complex, confusing set of emotional responses. There’s the exhilarating rush of feeling seen in a way you’re not used to mixed—in an awful cocktail—with the sudden terror of raised stakes. You have somewhere from which to fall, now. You think “now they’re really watching me,” “they’re just waiting for me to screw up,” and, perhaps worst of all, “oh shit… I got my hopes up.” You feel stupid for having gotten excited, and there’s a pit in your stomach that grows as you anticipate what you know to be the next scene in this script—someone, probably the person you least hope it will be, will soon turn on you.

Nate has been abandoned before, probably many times. It’s a deep wound for him. But you can’t be abandoned without first attaching to someone. Previous to Ted’s arrival, Nate wasn’t attached to much beyond his parents, therefore not opening him up to much risk of abandonment. He could get fired, I suppose, but would the person firing him even remember his name? But then Ted shows up and suddenly Nate has a name, gets to have opinions, get to have the floor. Ted elevates his position figuratively and then literally with the team, and all the while Nate’s nervous system is screaming louder and louder “Now we have something to lose!” Because of Nate’s past, most notably his relationship with his father, Ted probably felt more like a dangerous frienemy to Nate more so than the safe place Ted sought to be.

All this rushed through my head as Nate stared at Ted, having just said “you abandoned me!”. The shot reverses, and we see Ted’s face. I found out later this was this moment in which my wife had a similar, mirror-image experience. She’s been on the receiving end of this kind of projection many times, and she recognized the pained, caring, “I really want to shake you awake right now, but I think the best way to love you is to just listen” expression on Ted’s face. Sudeikis deserves an Emmy for that scene, as does Mohammed.

Nate is not the villain of this show. He is its very thesis, I think. Season one saw Ted spreading kindness and love throughout the team like an infectious disease (as depicted in the opening credits). It was inspiring, but many of us were left thinking “I wish real life could work like that.” Season two brought Ted down to earth, with a mental illness, an aversion to therapy and/or therapists, and eventually with what appeared to be an enemy in Nate, the apparent “boss battle” for the next season. Ted’s superpower isn’t what we (and he?) may have first thought—not his charm, not the ease with which he shows kindness and inclusion. His superpower, as he learned (or perhaps was reminded) in season two, is his vulnerability. At the moment, near the start of season three, this doesn’t make any sense to Nate—it probably even fuels Nate’s delusional rage. We’re seeing vulnerability versus fragility in this battle between Ted and Nate.

We’ve seen Ted remain Ted when people pre-judged him, doubted him, took him for granted, or just plain didn’t get him, winning them over in the end with his kindness and honesty. So far two people have seemed immune to Ted’s charms: Michelle and Nate (not counting Rupert, who actually is made of stone). In both cases, maybe, he must learn to let go, to love without expectations, to know what he looks at while looking at himself in a dark mirror. To choose vulnerability even when Beard might remind him that “Love Is a Battlefield.”

Nate, I hope, will be awakened by the stark juxtaposition between the demons in his head and the angels in his periphery. His call is to “be here now,” knowing the differences between the past that haunts him, the future he dreads, and the present moment, where opportunity is found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.