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Ted Lasso on Today’s Toxic Positivity - Season 2 Ending Explained

Ted Lasso’s relentless optimism won us all over in season one. But by season two, Ted’s refusal to look anywhere but on the sunny side of things is looking less and less healthy. So what really went wrong with Nate, and how can you achieve a “Light Side” that’s based on a genuine, rock-solid foundation?

TRANSCRIPT

Ted Lasso’s second season is about the dangers of toxic positivity. Back in season one, Ted’s relentless optimism won over his world and ours at a time when this was incredibly needed. But by season two, Ted’s refusal to look anywhere but on the sunny side of things is looking less and less healthy. He’s putting off getting the help he needs for his mental health, risking his team’s performance, abandoning the game for panic attack, and avoiding dealing with the deep insecurity of Nate Shelley — the brilliant yet fragile assistant coach who’s increasingly lashing out in arrogant, insulting behavior. Eventually, Nate feels so “abandoned” by Ted that (in the finale) he turns to the Dark Side — defecting to West Ham, now led by Rebecca’s terrible ex-husband, Rupert. So how did this happen? Here’s our take on how Ted Lasso’s forced-smile positivity can fuel dangerous negativity, what really went wrong with Nate, and how you can achieve a “Light Side’’ that’s based on a genuine, rock-solid foundation.

Turning To The Dark Side

In season one, Ted Lasso’s force of nature personality acts as a Jedi-esque magic that inspires hope in his players. But Nate Shelley’s transformation into the villain of season two illustrates why — even offered the power of the Light Side — we might still choose to embrace darkness. Nate’s character arc actually mirrors one of our culture’s most iconic antagonists: Darth Vader. Nate Shelley and Anakin Skywalker are both naturally gifted prodigies whose abilities are recognized and elevated by a positive mentor. The prophecy in Star Wars that claims Anakin will bring balance to the force is also echoed in Nate’s promotion from kit manager to assistant coach, where it seems his understanding of football tactics combined with Ted’s empathetic team-management will culminate in a more complete team that gets wins. However, like Anakin, Nate grew up without a loving father figure and is plagued by insecurities that, combined with a lot of anger, ego and hunger for glory, leave him vulnerable to charismatic negative influences.

Nate: “Do you guys ever want to be in charge? Be the boss. Get all the credit.” - Ted Lasso

This light-side and dark-side binary in Ted Lasso is intentional; creators Bill Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis have explicitly compared the series’ second season to The Empire Strikes Back. Like in that film, the Luke Skywalker figure, Ted himself, ends on a down note, and just as The Empire Strikes Back complicates and challenges the light side of the force, in season two Ted’s brand of positivity is tested — especially through the character of Nate.

Nate’s “descent into prickdom,” as Vulture calls it, begins during a seemingly innocuous plot of taking his parents out to their favorite restaurant for their anniversary. Whereas positivity and kindness open doors for the charming Ted, acting nice and even playfully offering his status as a football coach doesn’t get Nate the window table he wants, and he ends up feeling embarrassed and powerless. What does get Nate that table is abandoning kindness, and confidently demanding that he’s listened to. While this moment feels like a “win” (he’s learning to be a more assertive version of himself, as Keely and Rebecca wanted), the scene underscores that a lack of self-confidence is fueling his newfound aggression. Just before he speaks to the waitress he uses self-hatred as a motivator by spitting in the mirror—like we’ll see him do again later in the season after he’s embarrassed by misreading the moment and kissing Keely. Because his unbridled assertiveness gets him the table he wants, where Ted’s philosophy failed, the event validates and emboldens the darker, more entitled side of Nate’s personality. He taps into these same qualities to carry the team to victory in Richmond’s quarter-final match, when he overrides the doubts of the other coaches and team to implement his risky “park the bus” tactic.

Nate: “We gotta be aggressive here.” *spits* “Reynolds, Winchester, Babatuende, you’re going in.” - Ted Lasso

This leads him to get a wave of public praise, which grows his ego—making him increasingly narcissistic and power-hungry, yet simultaneously more fragile than ever. As he obsessively scans headlines and listens to podcasts about himself, Nate is buying into very real misconceptions that external validation will cure self-doubt, and career success will automatically bring us happiness (when in fact blindly following ambition can often mean not working out our inner demons). Showrunner Lawrence confirms that Nate’s fundamental issue is low “self-esteem.”

Bill Lawrence: “We’d all be lying if we didn’t say we knew plenty of people (who get success) that say, now it’s my turn to do all the shit that was done to me. That’s the bummer about low self esteem and the seduction of fame, power, and success.” - Deadline

Meanwhile, Nate’s surrogate father figure, Ted, isn’t providing enough support to counter the pull of the Dark Side. Throughout season two, Ted is wrapped up in his personal issues, so the initial positive reinforcement Nate got from Ted championing him goes away, allowing all these insecurities to fester. The scene in the finale where Nate explains to Ted why he’s turned on his mentor underlines what kind of “toxic positivity” Ted is guilty of, in Nate’s eyes.

Nate: “You made me feel like the most important person in the whole world, and then you abandoned me.” - Ted Lasso

At the game’s most pivotal point, Ted has a panic attack and literally runs off the field, which seems triggering for Nate. And then when Nate responds to that situation by miraculously pulling off a win, he doesn’t feel that Ted truly notices as much as he should. More importantly, Ted’s always-positive outlook only scratches the surface of Nate’s insecurities, not confronting the core problems. In the season two finale, even though he knows Nate leaked the story about his panic attacks, he’s still avoiding dealing with the Nate issue or indirectly serving him vague inspirational quotes, which just serve to annoy Nate.

Despite this valid criticism of Ted, though, what’s most striking in their argument scene is how Nate is really angry with himself. He’s mad at himself for leaking the story about Ted, and furious that he made a pass at Keely, which led him to be (in his view) humiliated by receiving both Keely’s and Roy’s pity and understanding. The truth is that his rants about others’ bad intentions are projections. He believes Ted must be setting him up to fail, when of course that’s something Nate might do but Ted never would, and in fact Ted (and the team) both genuinely trust in Nate’s abilities. The problem is Nate takes every tiny piece of “feedback” he gets personally, like a terrible insult, instead of as an opportunity to be humble and improve.

Nate: “And now you’re gonna play Nate’s False 9 so when the team fuck up, which they will, you can blame it on me.” - Ted Lasso

There is validity to Nate’s anger. Yes, as the team manager, Ted’s responsible for the team’s performance for better or worse, but Nate’s knowledge of the game is arguably what has made the team competitive, and he’s still treated somewhat dismissively or patronizingly by a lot of the other characters. It’s an imbalance made even starker given both coaches’ backgrounds: Nate is a working class person of color who’s been working his way up for years, while Ted is a complete outsider with no knowledge of the sport flown in by the wealthy ownership. Sometimes, the natural reaction to a perceived injustice is anger, and it’s ok to feel it; it’s just crucial to air and discuss it when you do. Because Nate can’t find a constructive way to vent in Ted’s happy-go-lucky locker room, his anger becomes toxic and eats away at him until he feels he has no choice but to throw away everything he’s built at Richmond.

Nate’s petty arrogance in season two makes him an easy-to-hate, slow-burning villain-in-the-making, but when we step back, there’s something uncomfortably relatable about Nate’s turn toward the Dark Side. Watching ultra-happy, ultra-successful people get recognized can be alienating, especially when everything seems to come easy to them or we feel underappreciated for our efforts. Even watching Ted Lasso with its cast of wonderfully kind, rich, famous people being great friends and living their best lives could (instead of inspiring us to emulate them) just as easily depress us, because our own situations and behavior probably can’t measure up to that high bar.

Ted’s whole philosophy is that — to be the best players and coaches on the field — you have to be a better person everywhere. Nate, instead, is laser focused on becoming an elite soccer coach, at the expense of everything else (including being a good person or a personal role model for his players). Yet many people agree with Nate that this is the price of success — and Ted’s record isn’t proof that he’s taking the most direct route to winning. As his hair slowly becomes a sleek silver Nate even appears to be physically transforming into a near-doppelganger of Jose Mourinho, the divisive iconic football manager known for his arrogant mean-spirited personality, but also his brilliant tactical mind and track record as one of the most successful managers ever.

Jose Mourinho: “Please don’t call me arrogant because what I’m saying is true, I am a European champion. I think I am a special one.” - Introductory Press Conference at Chelsea

So through Nate, the story raises this very legitimate challenge: maybe turning to the dark side can potentially bring you more glory —if that’s what you want most of all.

The “Toxic” in Ted’s Positivity:

In season two, it becomes clear Ted Lasso’s positivity isn’t all roses and home-baked biscuits — it’s also being used to cover up fear and avoid dark realities. Even in the show’s early episodes, “toxic positivity” is present in the way Ted won’t face that his marriage is failing. When his family comes to visit him in England, his insistence on having fun and his confidence that their long-term arrangement can work cause his wife to hide away and burst into tears. And we see how toxic positivity can actually be distressing as she feels she has to deny her feelings and vows to push through her pain.

It’s understandable how audiences latched onto Ted Lasso’s optimism in the series’ 2020 first season, with millions needing a lift to escape the bad news as the Covid-pandemic hit, which surprised the show’s creators

Bill Lawrence: “We were all very surprised the way the show was being treated as a TV show that is the human equivalent of a hug. We felt, ‘this was about a guy whose wife is leaving him with his child even though he still loves her.’” — Deadline

This failure to catch on to how Ted’s positivity already contained toxic and avoidant elements in season one actually coincided with a rise of toxic positivity in our own culture. Psychologist Dr. Jamie Long noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a sharp rise in our culture’s toxic positivity.

Dr. Jamie Long: “With something as unpredictable and uncertain as COVID-19, a knee-jerk reaction might be to slap on an overly optimistic or positive face to avoid accepting a painful reality.” - Healthline

In season two, though, Ted’s panic attacks are his body forcing him to acknowledge that something deeper is wrong. And the key breakthrough in his behavior comes through his relationship with the team’s new therapist Dr. Sharon. Ted’s not used to scratching beneath his “surface” self — he pushes away any feelings that don’t fit his nice, good guy identity — and at first he’s so resistant to opening up in therapy that (when he can’t use sweets or humor to deflect.

Dr. Sharon’s entry into the overly positive culture Ted’s created is so crucial because — while she’s ultimately working for the positive too — she’s doing it through recognizing the necessity of honesty, especially with ourselves. Eventually we learn Ted’s positivity is in part a defense mechanism shaped by profound sadness and loss.

Ted: “My father killed himself when I was 16.” - Ted Lasso

His “man-up” mentality resembles the old fashioned, “stiff upper lip” approach to negative emotions — and is actually part of the same toxic masculinity Nate is infected with. They’re two sides of the same coin — both forms of not really dealing with feelings. Ted even has a mean, shouting alter-ego Led Tasso he occasionally uses on the field — illustrating how he’s totally bottled up his “not-nice” self into a separate, cartoonish doppelganger.

Nate, Ted, and Jamie’s internal struggles share a tragic root — absent or inadequate fathers. Jamie’s dad pretends that his needlessly cruel verbal abuse will make his son strong, but actually it just teaches Jamie how to be a status-obsessed bully, something Jamie has to work hard to reform in season two. Ted responded to his fear of abandonment by trying to be the opposite of his father (through his relentless optimism), but this has still had an isolating effect on him. Nate’s emotionally distant father may be right that his son has an arrogance problem, but Mr. Shelley’s reaction of withholding approval only makes Nate more desperate to prove himself.

Mr. Shelley: “They say humility’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” - Ted Lasso

All these fathers show us how easy it is to perpetuate the old-school masculine ideas that “real men” don’t feel — they tough it out, hold it in, or lash out on those they have power over.

On the flip side, the positive impact of a good parental figure is illustrated in Sam’s dad. He regularly communicates that he’s proud of his son’s success, but he’s also most proud when his son follows his principles. And when he feels Sam isn’t doing that, his father isn’t distant or indirect but clearly voices the kind of choice he hopes for from his son.

Even though the season exposes the limitations of Ted’s positivity, it still greatly values what Ted brings to the world and teaches all of us. Ted Lasso concretely improves the lives of almost everyone his positivity touches. Ted’s ability to see the best in everyone is still his superpower, but that power only works if you deal with conflict head-on.

Ted: “I want to share with you all the truth about my recent struggles with anxiety. And, well my overall concern with the way we discuss and deal with mental health in athletics.” - Ted Lasso

The Light-Dark Balance: Honest Positivity

The best lesson to come out of season two is that we have to find a healthy balance of both light and dark. The trick is to be positive but honest, and not use positivity as a crutch to avoid difficult truths.

In season one, when Ted pushes Nate to pass on his (sometimes brutally honest) notes directly to the players, this is a healthy example of combining cutting truth with positive intentions in order to make productive change.

Nate: “Your speed and your smarts are never what made you what you are, it’s your anger, that’s your superpower, it’s what made you one of the best midfielders in this league.” - Ted Lasso

This episode is actually a great example of how Ted’s big-picture human insight and Nate’s sharp, critical thinking could have added up to the perfect balance for Richmond—an observation that makes the season two finale all the more tragic.

The light-dark balance is also illustrated perfectly in Jamie Tartt’s transformation from an arrogant prima donna into a sweet team leader. In the first season, Jamie’s a toxic, negative presence in the Richmond locker room. But then, in season two, he almost overcorrects. So in Jamie, we see how both sides of oneself are important; you can be a team player in the locker room, while directing controlled versions of your ego and aggression into the right places… like a highly competitive game. Roy Kent achieves a lot of balance this season too — he’s not about to ditch his trademark gruff, foul-mouthed persona — but thanks to the power of loving, honest communication, he finds ways to be a better role model, a more supportive boyfriend, and a friend to his former enemy. Meanwhile, Keely searches for balance on the other end of the spectrum: she’s used to being sweet and supportive to everyone around her, but starts to recognize it’s time to assert her power as a professional woman. And Rebecca and Dr. Sharon—both incredibly composed professional women—learn to let themselves be more vulnerable (Rebecca in her love life, and Sharon in her work).

So season two isn’t about abandoning positivity. Instead, it’s about embracing the complex truth, pausing to listen to ourselves, and feeling even our darkest feelings.

OUTRO

Really, Ted Lasso shows us that being better requires forgiveness — of both others and ourselves. It’s natural to hope we’ll eventually see Nate punished for his petty or disloyal behavior. But the whole point of Ted’s outlook is his willingness to see the very best in everyone, even those who treat him poorly.

Nate suffers precisely because he can’t forgive — not people who once bullied him, not anyone who’s expressed even the slightest criticism, rejection or joke at his expense; and most of all, not himself for his perceived shortcomings. So he lashes out, zeroing in on others’ insecurities to try to bring them down to his level of self-loathing.

Nate: “Without me you wouldn’t have won a single match and they would have shipped your ass back to Kansas where you f*cking belong.” - Ted Lasso

The “turning to the dark side” moment in the finale is when Ted sees that Nate has torn down the team’s “believe” poster. It’s a symbol instructing the team to believe both in themselves and in the collective—because ultimately, these two things are inseparable. Nate’s tragedy is that, unable to trust in himself, he feels the world is against him and he must go it alone.