OK, Ted Lasso fans, show of hands: is there anyone who doesn't kind of hate Nate Shelley right now?
After a season of slowly becoming more and more unlikable, Nate finally crosses the line in the final two episodes of season two, outing Ted's panic attacks to the press and then doubling down on his cruelty when confronted about it by Ted. Nate's big betrayal packed a major emotional punch, but it was, unusually for today's TV world, a very predictable turn of events. All season long, we've been waiting for him to finally snap and do something awful, and in a way, the predictability made the arc work even better than it could have if it had been a twist.
One of the things that sets Ted Lasso apart is that, for the most part, its characters behave in relatable, familiar ways that feel realistic and human. It deprioritises the kind of "bet you never saw that coming!" twist-based storytelling that has been so popular, favouring instead a slow, steady arc that gives characters time to evolve like real people do.
That's why Roy and Keeley's relationship has been so refreshing (actual adults working on their issues instead of just miscommunicating and breaking up for drama), and it's why Nate's storyline has worked, as uncomfortable as it's been. The tension has built slowly, with all of us hoping the whole time that Nate would turn back before it's too late. We've been rooting for him; we want him to be redeemable — after all, this is the season that managed to redeem Jamie Tartt, of all people! By the end, we're not just mad at Nate for betraying Ted; we're also mad at him for not living up to the best version of himself, and isn't that a familiar, real-life emotion too?
In a way, Nate's betrayal just might be one of the most predictable things we've seen on TV in a while. Looking back, the signs have been breadcrumbed for us since the first season. We saw how much he enjoys "roasting" the team, how he bullies new kit man Will, how his father withholds approval (the show's depictions of parents and children could be a dissertation of its own!), and how his attempts to build his confidence manifest in puffed-up, stereotypically toxic behaviours like snapping his fingers to get someone's attention or spitting at the mirror.
By the end, we're not just mad at Nate for betraying Ted; we're also mad at him for not living up to the best version of himself, and isn't that a familiar, real-life emotion too?
Every awkward moment has slowly revealed how Nate has become the very kind of bully that used to target him. As soon as he has enough power to be a bully himself, he does, presumably out of his deep-seated insecurities and desperate need to feel powerful. He even blames Ted for his nasty transformation. His claims that Ted "doesn't belong" in Richmond but Nate does and that he made Nate feel "special" then paid attention to other people are clearly projecting his issues with his father onto his relationship with Ted. What's more, he also immediately seeks out the protection of an even bigger bully, or, depending on your interpretation, another surrogate father figure to impress: Rupert. It's ugly and painful to watch, but it's so deeply familiar — we've all met someone like that.
The emotional impact of this storyline actually comes from its predictability. Instead of the sudden shock that would come from a random reveal, we get to experience a slow build of dread and disappointment, going on a longer and more complex emotional journey. As viewers, it feels much more rewarding to feel like the show trusts us, rather than that it's constantly trying to trick us. It also means that we, in turn, trust the show to follow through in a way that makes sense and feels satisfying.
I'm not upset in the least that I, along with so many others, saw this turn of events coming weeks ago. (Though I have to confess it hurt all the same.) After seeing how everything goes down in the finale, I'm just excited to see where it's going next!