“I got one.” We won’t find out what those words mean for Ted until next week’s episode, but we know, don’t we? From the first episode, season three has been building toward the moment when Ted decides to return to the States and, more specifically, to Henry, the son who clearly misses him. Ted lost his father. The guilt of leaving his own son without a father — even apart from any lingering feelings for Michelle — would only allow Ted to stay away for so long. What’s more, while it remains to be seen whether the Greyhounds will win a championship, he doesn’t have much left to prove. He brought a coaching style and, more importantly, a philosophy to Richmond, and he’ll leave it in a better place than he found it. Reuniting with his mom, Dottie (Becky Ann Baker), was just the last push he needed to realize this.
We’re starting at the end of “Mom City,” the penultimate episode of Ted Lasso’s third season, which takes a somewhat bumpy road to get there. Over the course of this series, we’ve seen Ted, a fundamentally cheery man, made fearful and doubtful but never as uncomfortable and angry as Dottie makes him. He’s tense when asking her to stay at his place rather than the hostel filled with horny Australians and tenser still introducing her to Rebecca. Yet if he’s embarrassed by her jokes about being his new bodyguard, he must surely recognize how much of his personality comes from his mom and her gift for corny charm. (Baker is, as usual, really good in the part.) Rebecca sees it right away, and so does the team, which surrounds her in the locker room to listen to Ted Lasso stories (though they sometimes don’t have that much resemblance to the truth).
Still, Ted just gets more uncomfortable the more time he spends with her, so uncomfortable that even May notices it, reciting Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” to shed light on the situation. It doesn’t really help in the moment, but perhaps the words stick with him. After the big game, he lets Dottie have it with a speech alternating thanks and obscenities as he recalls all the ways Dottie helped him after his father’s death and all the ways Dottie forced him to repress his feelings as she was doing instead of properly mourning the loss. Then Dottie gets to the heart of the matter. Ted’s son misses and needs him. Ted knows, but hearing it said out loud makes him break down.
Yet in some ways, Ted’s emotional swings look mild compared to Jamie’s, which are tethered to some mom issues of his own. He’s glum and self-deprecating in a press conference and breaks down crying in Roy’s arms when he tries to motivate his star by yelling at him. “I feel like I’ve lost my wings, Roy,” he sobs. But why remains unanswered until later.
That mystery turns Roy and, later, Keeley into emotional detectives. In Manchester, Keeley finds Jamie growing weepy when considering his suitcase. (“It’s like a drawer without a home.”) As a Mancunian, coming home might have something to do with it. Manchester is hometown, and, however briefly, he played for one of his hometown teams, Manchester City, the Greyhounds’ opponents. His ennui sends him out on the streets of Manchester with Roy and Keeley following behind him, unseen. Or at least they try to remain unseen. After they’re found out by Jamie, he invites them along to his secret destination: Jamie’s childhood home.
There they find a kind stepdad named Simon (Steve Edge) and Jamie’s mother, Georgie (Leanne Best). Jamie and Georgie are extremely close and physically affectionate in ways that make Roy and Keeley exchange puzzled looks. Things only get weirder when Simon’s grand tour brings them to Jamie’s childhood bedroom, which contains posters of two figures he idolized as a boy: Roy (commemorated in a vintage, glaring photo) and Keeley (commemorated with a football-themed pinup). Left alone, Roy confesses that he doesn’t want to be “just friends” with Keeley, and the look she gives him suggests he’s not going to like what she’s about to say. But before she can say it, it’s time to go.
Meanwhile, Jamie and Georgie have a heart-to-heart about what’s going on with him. Talk turns to Jamie’s dad, who’s been absent from his son’s life since his drunken heckling session at Wembley. And that’s the heart of the issue: Jamie’s returned to where he first got hurt, and the man he first tried to please, then spite will likely be in the stands during the game tomorrow, and that’s messing Jamie up. “You’re not lost,” Georgie tells him. “My sexy little baby.”
And that, coupled with a pep talk from Ted, in which he suggests Jamie forgive his father rather than let his hate motivate him, seems to work. Jamie has a phenomenal game, even after sustaining an injury that at first makes his return to the match questionable. The crowd even shows respect to their hometown hero, even though he’s now playing for the opposing team.
While all this plays out, Nate is going through his own struggles. They don’t seem like struggles at first, however. As the episode opens, he’s perfectly happy waiting tables at Taste of Athens. But football won’t leave him alone. Shortly before the restaurant opens, he is visited by three ghosts from his recent past: Will, Colin, and Isaac, who’ve arrived with an invitation to return to Richmond. All is apparently forgiven, almost as if they somehow realize that Nate is nice again. (That note to Will did a lot of work, apparently.) Nate brushes them off — apart from agreeing to put in an order for 75 kabobs — but the idea won’t go away in part because Jade won’t let it.
Neither will others. Nate’s boss at Taste of Athens likes to brag about Nate’s past, but this only shines a light on his odd career path. “Was it drugs?” one customer asks, then, despite Nate’s denial, decides it has to be drugs. In the end, the decision is made for him. Watching Nate watch the Greyhounds play prompts his Taste of Athens boss to let him go. He can run from football but not forever.
The notion that Nate could return takes root in the Greyhounds’ locker room, too. Higgins is open to it. Ted has no problem with it. It’s only Beard who has objections. Strong objections. But when Ted talks to him about second chances and how no one should be judged by how they behave in their weakest moments, it hits home (as Ted knows it will). Instead of going directly to karaoke, Beard visits Nate at his apartment, sharing how he and Ted became an inseparable team. It’s not a pretty story either, one that involves meth, prison, and stolen cars (and echoes of Les Misérables). Beard’s learned the importance of forgiveness firsthand and offers it to Nate, who accepts it, and a job. One gentle head-butt later, they’re friends again. And with that, Ted Lass is positioned to bring the season (both the football season and this season of television) to an end.
• “No, Ted, I’m buying a horse.” As bogged down in serious business as Ted Lasso can get, especially this season, it’s little asides like this that provide reminders it’s still a very funny show when it wants to be. Also especially funny: Roy calling the kids heckling Jamie “good lads” and the season’s running gag about Keeley serving as the host of tourist videos wherever the team travels.
• A couple of postscripts: Jamie’s dad is not dead, as the episode suggests at first, but in rehab, where he cheers his son on. On this show, no one’s a villain forever, are they? (Except maybe Rupert.) Speaking of Rupert, Rebecca gets two unexpected visitors as the episode ends: Bex and Ms. Kakes. This team-up will likely not please him.
• Honestly, Van Damme’s mask makes him look tough, not stupid, right? It certainly doesn’t hurt his performance.
• “Sleepless in Seattle is still a far superior film,” Ted is 100 percent correct. (But there’s not enough room to get into it here.)
• Beard and Ted’s big emotional scenes mark turning points for the characters and Nate. Do they work? By this point, we’re just supposed to consider Nate redeemed, apparently. Not to be too Beard-like, but his road back to niceness still seems awfully short and the consequences for his betrayal perhaps a little mild. Beard’s origin story makes sense for the character and explains his devotion to Ted (not that Ted doesn’t inspire devotion just by being himself, but Beard’s clearly the brains of the operation and could do fine on his own). It’s Ted and Dottie’s scene that feels a little off. It’s tough to watch him curse out his mom. This is Ted Lasso, after all. But the hurt he’s expressing also seems too deep and complex for one argument, however sharp, to settle.
• Speaking of settling, this show has a lot of unfinished business to attend to in the finale. What of the prophecy about Rebecca’s future? How’s Sam’s restaurant doing? Will Keeley’s PR firm pick up a third employee at some point? Seriously, where is Doc? And, oh yeah: Is Ted really going back to America? We’ll find out next week. Or we won’t.