*spoilers for the Ted Lasso season 2 finale*
Here I go again, cheering for the bad guy. Ok fine I didn’t actually cheer for Nate to succeed, but there’s something satisfying about a well-written and well-performed villain origin story. I feel a hint of pride for the guy, who had a conviction, acted on it and stuck with it, and now he’s gained his independence, his power. His convictions were wrong and his actions were horrible: he’s now positioned as the villain after all, in an immensely clever bait-and-switch that follows directly on everything we’ve seen him experience, even if a far cry from the loveable, almost bumbling towel boy from season one.
We’ve seen him experience it. A cardinal rule of storytelling is “show, not tell,” and this show played that perfectly. We saw his horrified face when Roy came back to coach, relegating Nate’s influence to the literal and proverbial sidelines. We saw how he became motivated to up his confidence, transforming his fashion and developing that evocative, self-loathing and self-liberating spit. We saw how his father treated him, demanding, withholding praise but easy and direct with the criticisms. Nate was looking for a father to welcome and value him, and he never got it. If only he had spent some time with Dr. Fieldstone. Then he would have been able to see himself and others properly.
But now, at the end of season two, he sees us. That parting shot, smirking triumphantly from the touchline of the West Ham training session, is a glare that not only breaks but decimates the fourth wall. “I see you, and I see how you create villains like me.” It takes a village to make a villain. Withholding, critical fathers. Shame and fear at the reality of human vulnerability and all our struggles with mental health. A society that offers the tempting prospect that more money and power will paper over those struggles, wish them away, or worse, fix them. Sam shows us what happens when a man has a loving, supportive father. Ted and Jamie show us the true strength that comes when those whose fathers were absent or abusive learn to face that reality. Nate, our sympathetic (or utterly unsympathetic, your mileage may vary) villain, is going to further warn us that we still fall short of our ideals.