How Ted Lasso Sneakily Crafted its Empire Strikes Back Season

Or at least that’s what we critics declared it to be. And I don’t blame us. Awash in a flood of screeners about antiheroes, dystopias, and the end of the world, the simple kindness of Ted Lasso seemed revolutionary. They made a TV show about a guy who is…nice? They can do that? But the inherent goodness of its lead character was always Ted Lasso’s elevator pitch, not its thesis. 

There’s been a darkness at the center of Ted Lasso since its very first moment, when an American man got on a flight to London in a doomed attempt to save his marriage. And, as season 2’s brilliant eighth episode rolls around, it’s become clear that that darkness is what the show has really been “about” this whole time. 

Season 2 episode 8 “Man City” (the title is referring to AFC Richmond’s FA Cup match against opponent Manchester City but also stealthily reveals that this installment will be all about men and their respective traumas) is quite simply the best episode of Ted Lasso yet. It also might be the best episode of television this year. Near the episode’s end, right before AFC Richmond plays a crucial FA Cup match against the mighty Manchester City, coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) finally comes clean with his coaching staff. He’s been suffering from panic attacks of late. His assistant coaches hear him, accept him, and then head off to the pitch where Man City absolutely obliterates their team.

Man City destroys AFC Richmond. They annihilate them. Embarrass them. Stuff them into a locker and steal their lunch money. The final score is 4-0 but it might as well be 400-0. The coaching staff is rattled but the players are hit even harder. Richmond’s star striker and former Man City player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) is forced to endure watching his scumbag father cheer for his hometown team from the Wembley Stadium stands at the expense of his son. 

After the game, Jamie’s father, James (Kieran O’Brien), enters the locker room where he drunkenly accosts him for being a loser and demands that Jamie grant access to the Wembley Stadium pitch for him and his scumbag friends to run around on. When Jamie refuses, his father pushes him, so Jamie reflexively punches him right in the face. James is dragged out of the locker room by Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), leading a stunned and traumatized Jamie Tartt standing in the middle of the room, as if in a spotlight of pure pain, surrounded by teammates too afraid to even approach him. And then something amazing happens…

Here’s the dirty secret about television: there’s a lot of it. Due to the sheer number of TV shows released each year, even the best of them are destined to become little more than memories long-term. Sometimes all you can ask from multiple episodes and seasons of television is to provide you with one moment, one line, or one warm feeling to carry with you into the future. I don’t know how much I’ll remember from Ted Lasso 30-40 years from now when I’m immobile and reclined in my floating entertainment unit, Wall-E style. But I know I’ll at least remember the moment that Roy hugs Jamie.

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