It’s fitting that “Inverting the Pyramid of Success,” the final episode of Ted Lasso’s second season, should end with a moment of triumph that’s a bit qualified. In the season’s final game, the Greyhounds tie their opponents, an outcome that’s good enough to allow the team to rejoin the Premier League after the humiliating demotion of the previous year. It’s an unmistakably great moment for the team, but not exactly a sweeping victory, a remarkable achievement but one with an asterisk attached in an episode filled with warning signs about the future. The Greyhounds come together to achieve an important goal. But, at the same time, some are also drifting apart.
Most obviously: Nate. The episode’s final coda reveals that Nate has joined the coaching staff of West Ham United, now owned by the hated Rupert. We saw Rupert whispering something in Nate’s ear at the funeral of Rebecca’s father, so this isn’t a total shock in some ways. If there’s a through-line to Nate’s mounting dissatisfaction, it’s been a sense of grievance at not getting enough credit for his contributions to the Greyhounds. Objectively, this is nonsense. Nate had his “Wunderkind” phase in the press. Ted takes his ideas seriously, even sticking with them when they don’t seem to be working, as he does in this crucial game. But for Nate, it’s not enough.
Nate’s success has turned cracks in his personality into full-on fissures. He’s become a toxic mix of insecurity and narcissism, the sort of man who can see Ted’s failure to display the photo of the two of them Nate gave him — a photo that has pride of place in Ted’s home, no less — as a grave insult and the symbol of a more considerable abandonment. Ted’s actions don’t really support those accusations, but Nate’s so lost he sees signs of persecution anywhere. He even takes the way Roy dismisses his kissing Keeley as a mistake as an insult. He’d rather be seen as the sort of threat that Roy would want to punch. Yet for all his delusions, he still knows how to hit Ted where it hurts: first by saying he should be with his son, then by tearing the “Believe” sign in half. And with that, Nate the Great leaves the building.
He can’t destroy what the sign symbolizes, however. Let’s focus on the positive for a moment: the Greyhounds claw their way back into the Premier League, and however much they owe their success to Nate’s False Nine, it’s also the result of Sam’s superstar performance, Isaac’s leadership (he’s the one who makes a point of touching the “Believe” sign on the way to the second half), and the moment when Jamie gives the penalty shot to Dani Rojas, bringing a season that began with Dani taking a disastrous penalty shot full circle. They had a job this year, and they got it done together.
If the win doesn’t determine Sam’s choice to stay, it confirms its wisdom. As the episode opens, he’s still weighing whether or not to take Edwin Akufo — whose helicopter remains planted in the Greyhounds’ practice field — up on his offer. But his heart says to stay, and so do all the signs that he’s making a difference in his new home. “I’m staying because it’s what’s best for me and my personal journey,” Sam tells Rebecca (even if he’s looking at Ted). But their story doesn’t feel over, either.
Regardless, it’s nice to have any suspense that Toheeb Jimoh might be moving on resolved. He’s been a highlight of this season. Also a highlight: Sam Richardson’s Akfuo. His meltdown at Sam’s decision is the perfect punchline for a character who seemed too good to be true and, in fact, was. Sam doesn’t even get a good-bye handshake by proxy. He gets a fake-out.
Keeley, on the other hand, is moving on. She’s received an offer to head up her own PR firm, and she can’t say no to that, no matter how much it pains her. It pains Rebecca, too, but she knows it’s the right choice for her apprentice. Her reaction bears out Higgins’s bit of wisdom that “a good mentor hopes you’ll move on. A great mentor knows you will.”
But if Rebecca isn’t having trouble with Keeley moving on, Roy is. He’s proud of her and loves what she’s accomplished. But Roy’s also not sure how he fits into her new life as a professional badass. That he doesn’t make the cut in the Vanity Fair photos feels symbolic to Roy, even though he loves how powerful Keeley looks on her own. The vacation tickets he offers her in the first coda seem like both a nice gesture and an act of desperation, an attempt to confirm that they have a future together.
Here’s the question: Is he insecure or insightful? The episode, and the season as a whole, don’t really supply enough information to answer the question definitively. Has Roy seen this happen too many times to think it won’t happen to him? Or is he being a macho baby being made uncomfortable by Keeley’s success? The season has suggested they might not be built to last, love each other as they do. Keeley’s reaction to Jamie’s confession isn’t to push him away in revulsion. Roy did linger too long with the schoolteacher. On the other hand, maybe not working in the same building and being together 24/7 is just what they need.
All that will have to wait until next season, however. As will other bits of teased business, like Trent Crimm now being independent of The Independent and Beard’s breakup to makeup relationship with Jane. In some respects, “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” illustrates just how Ted Lasso often doesn’t have to be about Ted Lasso. Ted remains central to the story this week, but his season-long journey more or less ended with the preceding episodes. He had his breakthrough with Doc Sharon and came to accept both his anxiety and the past that contributed to it. He doesn’t let the haters get to him, and he sees the match through to its end. But the series can work just as well when he’s the still axis around which the other characters revolve.
Where those revolutions take them will have to wait, however. Like the Greyhounds, we’re heading into the offseason. But a final question: Where will a third season take Ted? He loves being the Greyounds’s coach but, two years in, he remains a bit rootless. He misses his son, if not Kansas itself (though it might be nice to return to a place where no one asked you to clarify if you wanted “still” water). At the end of the match, a Greyhounds announcer notes that the team still hasn’t won a major championship, which sounds like the show setting up what comes next. But at what point will Ted have accomplished all he needs to accomplish? Or will that day come? Is this the story of an American finding a new home or taking a sojourn? We’ll find out, but not soon.
• When did you first notice Nate’s hair was turning white? It first became obvious to me around mid-season without going back and checking, but it felt like Nick Mohammed just letting his gray hairs show. But it progressed too steadily not to be a symbolic choice.
• Great Roy Kent Scene 1: Roy vs. Jamie, a showdown turns into Jamie being sincerely contrite and annoyingly reasonable. They’ve both grown as people, which didn’t seem that likely just one season back.
• Great Roy Kent Scene 2: Roy joins the Diamond Dogs, maybe, after realizing, “So sometimes the fuckin’ Diamond Dogs is just chattin’ about shit, and nobody has to fuckin’ solve anything and nothin’ fuckin’ changes?” The possibility leaves both Beard and Ted quietly freaking out in joy.
• “She’s a sneaky, salty bitch.” “Like Heather Locklear on Melrose Place.”
• I think Keeley speaks for all of us when she says, “Fuck you, Piers Morgan.” More people need to say that more often.
• This episode’s installment in the Coach Beard Book Club: Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, a 2008 book by prolific sports writer Jonathan Wilson.
• Finally, the human-rights activist–international icon–Ted Lasso fan Malala Yousafzai asked the cast members to share stories of people in their lives who taught them to believe for her newsletter in conjunction with World Teachers Day. It’s really sweet.