'Ted Lasso' just gave us TV's next great villain

Technology 9-10-2021 Mashable 37

For months now, Ted Lasso fans grew increasingly more terrified. As our beloved show moved through its second season — a season full of Roy Kent expletives, Sam Obisanya smiles, Ted’s struggles with mental health, and at least one dead dog — it became impossible to ignore the growing darkness in one Nate Shelley (Nick Muhammed).

With the last two episodes of Season 2, Ted Lasso clinches it: Nate is the show’s new villain.

Painful though it has been to watch dear, sweet Coach Nate become warped into a both embittered and empowered new incarnation, it’s some of Ted Lasso’s best character writing by far. Where other emotional beats this season came seemingly out of nowhere — Rebecca’s history with her father, Jamie’s feelings for Keeley — we’ve been peeling back layers on toxic Nate onion since early episodes.

At the top of the season, Nate is where we left him; Nate the Great, assistant coach extraordinaire, a little too worked up about scented fabrics, but all-around good guy. Keeley and Rebecca help him to be more assertive, which culminates in Nate telling his reflection “You are Nathan fucking Shelley” and spitting at it. The gesture shook me every time I saw it, and which now feels exactly what Ted Lasso’s writers intended.

Coach Nate learned to take up space, but he's no longer using his power for good.
Coach Nate learned to take up space, but he's no longer using his power for good. Credit: apple tv+

That's the same episode where, upon a rewatch, you'll see things begin to unravel for our formerly great Nate. Like so many characters on Ted Lasso, he's got some issues with his dad, a man who puts far too much stock in symbols and status and who Nate wants desperately to impress. If Ted saw greatness in Nathan fucking Shelley, surely his own father can too? At the same time, Ted recruits Roy for a coaching job, unleashing Nate's barely-at-bay insecurities. He sees it as a message: You’re not getting the job done, so we’re bringing in this guy.

It ties directly to Nate's actions in episode 11, when he kissed Keeley during their shopping trip, and Roy's response (or lackthereof); all Nate wants is to take up space, to be noticed and seen as an equal or even a threat — but Keeley and Roy both forgive him immediately. They see him as a nice guy who made a mistake and this some how infuriates him more.

In the finale, a tearful Nate tells Ted that he feels abandoned. “I worked my ass off trying to get your attention back, to prove myself to you, to make you like me again," he says. "But the more I did, the less you cared.” He might as well be talking to his father, but he wouldn't dare speak to the indifferent Mr. Shelley that way. Ted gave Nate a taste of what it's like to have someone you admire be proud of you, a feeling Nate has chased for probably his whole life. Now that he knows what it's like, he can't bear to lose it.

It’s remarkable work from Muhammed, who makes you feel deeply for Nate before wanting to rip him in half like he goes on to rip Ted’s “BELIEVE” sign. He storms off after Richmond win the match, not to be seen again until the last of three (?!?) flash forwards at the end of the episode, which reveals that he now works for Rebecca's ex-husband Rupert as coach of West Ham. The season ends on Nate, looking into camera with all the megalomania of a Real Housewife, the words "Fuck you, Ted" still echoing in his eyes.

Ted Lasso's return is probably nine months away (at best), but Nate's positioning promises an undeniably juicy third season. Loathsome as he is, much of Rupert's antagonism in the first two seasons was off-screen. We know he was a bad husband to Rebecca, but that occurred B.T. (Before Ted), even if he's still a jerk in the present day. We barely saw Rupert this season, and the last time we did was actually to prop up Nate; to whisper insidiously in his ear at Rebecca's father's funeral and make those beady little eyes light up the way they once did for Coach Lasso.

The beginning of the end.
The beginning of the end. Credit: apple tv+

Painful though it is to witness, Nate's Season 2 arc gives Ted Lasso those stakes everyone was griping about mid-season. This is a show about unfettered kindness, a show where masculinity is about open communication and empathetic leadership. "Rom-communism" is a heartwarming comfort, but not everyone buys into the fantasy.

And now Ted Lasso has something it never quite did, an essential part of the sports show or movie: A rival. There's someone in this world who hates Ted Lasso's guts way more than Richmond fans when he first got off the plane. The team itself has competitors, sure, but there's no way they're going to look at West Ham now the way they look at Man City or anyone else who hasn't deeply personally wronged them. In terms of actual game play West Ham is way out of Richmond's league — literally, because Richmond just got out of relegation — but the added drama of ex spouses and ex coaches will prove irresistible even to super professional sports reporters.

In a 2020 interview with Mashable, Mohammed said he'd like to play Lord Voldemort. Nathan Shelley isn't quite the Dark Lord, but we’re scared as hell of what he'll do in Season 3.

Ted Lasso is now streaming on Apple TV+.


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