In ‘Ted Lasso’ as in the Gospel: Forgiveness Is Frustrating | Sojourners

In ‘Ted Lasso’ as in the Gospel: Forgiveness Is Frustrating

Ted Lasso / Apple TV+

This review contains major spoilers for all three seasons of Ted Lasso.

Ted Lasso season three has been unbelievable, and not just because season two ended with the destruction of the series’ defining image: a yellow paper sign with the word “BELIEVE” scribbled across it.

When the titular American-football-coach-turned-English-football-coach (Jason Sudeikis) tells Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) that he’d like to re-hire former colleague Nate Shelly (Nick Mohammed), Beard cannot believe his ears. He declares to Lasso, with a choice expletive, that he will burn the place to the ground “if you bring that Judas back.”

Rather than bristle at Beard’s profane dissension from the feel-good vibes that have made Ted Lasso an unlikely hit for Apple TV+, we viewers cheer at Beard’s declaration. We want to see someone hold Nate accountable, and not just for becoming the head coach of West Ham United, the club owned by the series’ clearest villain, Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head). We burn with anger at Nate because before he left Richmond in the season two finale, he ripped the BELIEVE sign from the wall and tore it in half.

As season three progressed, fans watching weekly installments turned their lack of belief away from Nate, beyond Ted the character, and directly at the series’ creators — Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Bill Lawrence, and Joe Kelly. We expected a major showdown between Ted and Nate in this final season, even if it ended with Nate and Ted burying the hatchet.

But the showdown never comes. The two only have a few low-key interactions before Ted discusses bringing Nate back in the penultimate episode. For some viewers, the lack of a climax in the Nate and Ted story reveals flaws in the final season, which devoted screentime to new and unpopular characters like arrogant footballer Zava (Maximilian Osinski) and Shandy (Ambreen Razia), the friend of Keely Jones (Juno Temple). While the series chases plots revolving around these characters, Nate’s story continues in the background. In fact, the West Ham conflict is downplayed so much that Nate actually quit his job off-screen between episodes (he goes to work as a waiter at a local restaurant with his girlfriend Jade, played by Edyta Budnik). When Ted learns that Nate may be willing to rejoin Richmond, he doesn’t hesitate to pitch the idea to management.

As frustrating as this approach to forgiveness may be, it’s not new to Ted Lasso. Consider the first season finale in which Richmond owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) confesses everything to Ted — that she brought him to England hoping he’d fail, that she wanted to destroy the club to hurt her ex-husband, Rupert. After considering the info for a moment, Ted stands up, looks Rebecca in the eye, and says, without qualification, “I forgive you.”

Ted Lasso believes in forgiveness, to an unbelievable degree. If you wrong somebody, all you need to do is apologize and you’ll be pardoned, almost immediately. But that doesn’t mean the show is flippant about forgiveness. It’s more interested in the hard work a person needs to do before they ask for forgiveness, the work of repentance and internal change required to honestly say that you’re sorry.

Repentance has been the dramatic focus of Nate’s arc this season. We’ve watched as Nate grows uncomfortable with Rupert, reckons with his father’s behavior, and deals with his insecurity. In fact, Nate has spent more time this season waiting tables than he has on the pitch, simply because that’s where he gains the self-knowledge needed to reconcile with Ted.

Ted Lasso season three helps imagine something Christians recognize as vitally important but find hard to describe: the assurance of God’s forgiveness amid the hard work of making amends. We believe God “is faithful and just [and] will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9), but we also know that “sorry” isn’t just a word; repentance is a process. It’s one thing to say, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11), but quite another to live that out.

When Nate gathered members of the West Ham management to a special meeting modeled after a Ted-style “Diamond Dogs” support group, he was repenting. When he confronted his abusive father, he was repenting. In fact, Ted Lasso is one of the few pieces of pop culture that treats forgiveness as a foregone conclusion for those who ask for it.

This approach may make for frustrating TV-watching. We all want to join Coach Beard in burning down the offending party in an act of catharsis that clearly punishes the wrongdoer. But for those of us desperately working to repent, Ted Lasso’s belief in the process of improvement toward inevitable forgiveness is unbelievable, in the best way.