Recap: Ted Lasso Season 3×01 – “Smells Like Mean Spirit”

Welcome to The Spoilist’s Ted Lasso Season 3 coverage! I’m Sabrina, you may already know me from my Shrinking recaps on here, Ted Lasso is life, and I hope my writing on this show will be somewhat coherent, but I can’t promise anything. I have spent so much time thinking and talking about the show in the past 1,5 years, being lucky enough to have a found a community of friends online because of it, that I sometimes forget if something actually happened on the show, a friend theorized about it, someone wrote a fanfic on it, a cast member mentioned it in an interview, or I simply hallucinated it.

 I will do my best to stick to my ca. 1000 words a week and focus on the episode at hand, because when this season, and thus the show as we know it ends, (a spinoff seems most likely at this point), I will eventually write something much longer, and possibly more academic on it. So for now, I’m here to enjoy the ride in biscuit-bite-sized installments. I am not cool enough for screeners, so I know as much as you do every week; I may wildly analyze and speculate, but I won’t actually spoiler this for you beyond the episode at hand.

A recap, you say? *Extreme Marcus Mumford voice* Yeah, it might be all that you get.

“Smells Like Mean Spirit”

(written by Leann Bowen, directed by MJ Delaney)

We open Season 3 with a close up of Ted (Jason Sudeikis) himself, thus likely making him the focus of this season’s biggest transformation, continuing with the framing device of Season 1 (Rebecca) and Season 2 (Nate). It is immediately clear that the show has finished its own transition from comedy to dramedy to drama; not only are all episodes now classic one hour drama length (47 to 50ish minutes, reportedly), we also see our hero visibly changed. The show has followed Ted’s journey of coming to terms with his own mental illness, dealing with his past trauma of his father’s suicide and resulting panic attacks. Now, he is clearly depressed. Unshaven, sullen, staring into space, and almost missing his son Henry’s (Gus Turner) flight to Kansas City from Heathrow. (A brief misdirect, as we think for a moment it may indeed him returning to his former home and wife, Michelle – who however is dating someone new, we find out by the end.)

Henry has spent the six-week summer hiatus with him in Richmond, and it’s clear that now that he’s returning home, Ted is left focus- and purposeless. It’s difficult to see him like this – Ted Lasso, no longer believing? At least he is still talking to his therapist, Doc Sharon (Sarah Niles), on the phone.

But AFC Richmond seems to run on its own by now. He completely won over cocky striker Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), who has practically turned into mini-Ted, spouting Lasso-isms left and right. Curmudgeon Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), has settled into his role as coach (more on that in a second). Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) is a well-oiled machine as his right-hand man anyway. And yet, every pundit predicts that Richmond will land in last place this season and be relegated again. It’s clear to everyone but Ted that Richmond still sorely needs him, that much of what he has changed is not yet as permanent as it may seem to him – without his spark, without his belief in them, and himself, they are all a former shell of themselves.

For instance, the field trip to the sewer feels like Ted  is trying desperately to keep with his usual antics of anecdotes that never really quite seem to go anywhere (until they do), and powerful speeches, but now, it all falls mostly flat. Everything simply feels off; to him, and thus, to us, the viewers. To me, who is currently in a day clinic for depression, it’s an all too familiar, and unsettling, feeling – to see it play out so clearly here almost physically hurts to watch. Ted doesn’t know where he belongs anymore, or rather, he doesn’t know why he is still there. He may joke about it during the press conference, but he truly doesn’t seem to think he’s a great coach anymore. He originally ran away to Richmond, away from his impending divorce, from his career in American football, and most of all from himself and from his past. Now that he’s faced it, where will he go? (The answer may eventually be, back home to Kansas, but much like Dorothy, he hasn’t quite figured out he simply has to click his own heels, or Nikes, together three times).

Ted however isn’t the only one who is battling his own demons. Roy has broken up with Keeley (Juno Temple) – who still insists they are merely on a break. (Friends, anyone??) He seems to lack faith in his own abilities, casually compares himself to “master strategist” Nate “The Great” Shelley (Nick Mohammed), the prodigal son, and insists on the team playing a safe strategy this season. Actor and writer Brett Goldstein has noted in interviews that when we first meet Roy in Season 1, he is borderline suicidal, as he nears the end of career and lost his own purpose. Season 2  then saw him struggle to find his calling, and settle into his partnership with Keeley – having it yanked away from him now, has clearly made him regress. His insistence on this break-up being final mainly feels like self-sabotage, like his own self-doubt screaming at him so loud that he can no longer see or hear the truth. After Keeley and him tell his niece Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) that they split, she makes clear that she thinks he’s being – sorry for the fruity language – “stupid”. Only the kids seem to talk any sense this week.

Keeley herself now has her own PR firm, but also hides her grief over the break-up, regularly scheduling cries into her immensely busy schedule. And even the job is not as perfect as it seems, given she has to contend with a surly CFO and team. We don’t spend too much time with her on her own this week, but I am sure there’s much more to come.

Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is also regressing to her preoccupation with her abusive ex-husband, Rupert Manion (Anthony Head), now that he is Richmond’s direct competitor as owner of West Ham United and thus, Nate’s new boss. Head has also been promoted to series regular, and is cemented as the show’s übervillain (or Überhund?). Rupert is a master manipulator perfectly attuned to Nate’s Daddy issues; he’s the Palpatine to his Vader, and Nate keeps gradually succumbing to the dark side, not even stopping at cheap personal insults at press conferences.

Despite the doom and gloom, however, it’s so good to see the whole team and their banter back: Kola Bokinni, who plays Captain Isaac McAdoo, and Billy Harris, who you know as resident Welshman and the man for killer one-liners, Colin Hughes, are now also series regulars. Other familiar faces on the team are of course Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh), who didn’t go to Nigeria at the end of last season, but instead took up roots in Richmond by opening a restaurant, and Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez), whose world is casually shattered this episode when he finds out Paddington Bear isn’t real, and the “not rude, just Dutch”  Jan Maas (David Elsendoorn). Higgins (Jeremy Swift), however, still has plenty to gag about, given how in disarray everyone is, and it looks like that won’t change quite so soon, even when Ted still manages to save the press conference by making himself the butt of the joke – preempting Nate, while also refusing to sink to his level. It’s a glimpse of the Ted we all know and love. May he return from the dark forest soon.

WTF of the week: Doc Sharon isn’t a lesbian?? In the 500+ days hiatus, fanon had cemented in my brain so much I full on expected this to be a confirmed fact. But oh well, good for her anyway. But it does seem like a missed opportunity for queer representation that is still sorely lacking on the show. Although my money remains on Colin. And perhaps Trent Crimm, independent, who was still absent this week, despite James Lance’s own newfound series regular status.

Best line of the week: Roy’s exasperated “That nutter told me to ask the fucking Earth to carry some of my burden”, followed by the signature Ted and Beard banter/exchange of looks. Brendan Hunt just makes me laugh; it’s weird to think he was almost the only consistent comic relief this week. Of course in addition to Phil Dunster saying “poopeh”.

Trivia of the week: Brendan Hunt’s wife, Shannon Nelson, and their infant son make a brief cameo early on in the episode when Ted crosses Richmond Green. Keeley’s notes about Ted say “Let Bartlet be Bartlet” (shout-out to this tweet for pointing it out), a West Wing reference,  further riffed on when Ted and Beard do their Sorkinesque walk-and-talk but run out of street to do so (Paved Court is indeed quite short).