The Spool / Recap
Ted Lasso starts with its protagonist struggling to find a reason to compete
"Smell Like Mean Spirit" sets up Season 3's challenges, internal and external.
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“Smell Like Mean Spirit” sets up Season 3’s challenges, internal and external.

To steal liberally from the show we’re recapping here, “Welcome back to the Dog Track!” If you want a review of the first four episodes of this season, almost entirely devoid of spoilers, check out my Ted Lasso Season 3 review. These recaps are in-depth and spoiler rich, so maybe hold off on reading this and future installments until you’ve watched the episode.

Ted Lasso Season 3 Episode 1, “Smells Like Mean Spirit,” comes to viewers courtesy of writer Leann Bowen, who previously penned Season 1’s “Diamond Dogs” and Season 2’s “Lavender.” Helping bring her script to visual life is director MJ Delaney, who helms her sixth Lasso episode here. Delaney’s prior effort was last season’s penultimate installment “Midnight Train to Royston.”

The episode kicks off at Heathrow Airport. Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is sending his son Henry (Gus Turner) home after a six-week visit to London. Ted is in full “Dad early on a Saturday” mode with a bit of stubble, his hair tamed but not fully combed, wearing a sweatshirt, jeans, and those chunky sneakers we dads do so love. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to his usual coach wear. Of course, you’d never register that as especially dressed up. Nonetheless, seeing Ted like this reminds viewers that for all the coach presents himself as relaxed at work, he’s tighter wound than he lets on.

Ted Lasso Season 3 Episode 1 (AppleTV+)
Who did this to you, Phil Dunster? (AppleTV+)

After a typical Ted goodbye—sweet but with plenty of unacknowledged emotions—he heads back to his apartment. As he discusses saying goodbye to Henry with Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles), we watch him get back into coach mode, including shaving and trimming that mustache just so. Again, it’s a visual signifier of the difference between Dad Ted and Coach Lasso. It also affirms that Ted is still in (a form of) therapy even though his doctor is with a new team and has other…pursuits to keep her busy.

Most of the conversation is what you’d expect until Ted reveals he isn’t sure what he’s doing still in England coaching Richmond. What if he’s already overstayed his welcome? What if his presence makes things worse, not better? The good doc offers up a quote, “Doubt can only be removed by action,” as encouragement. Even though it is really a fancy way of saying, “You won’t know if you don’t try,” it seems to help.

The quote, by the way, comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was very much a late 18th century/early 19th Century German renaissance man. While he’s famous for plenty, his play Faust is at the top of the list. While that could apply to Ted—pursuing knowledge of whether he is the right choice for Richmond now leading his downfall—it seems like a far better fit with Nate (Nick Mohammed). After all, he has a literal Satan in Rupert (Anthony Head). But we’ll get back to that.

[S]eeing a chocolate ice cream mustachioed Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) react with calm detachment before calling her beloved uncle stupid makes the scene go down better than it has any right.

Ted’s malaise couldn’t have come at a worse time as anyone with a newspaper column or sports blog, including one of Higgins’ (Jeremy Swift) numerous children, has Richmond finishing last and getting relegated once more. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) notices Ted is off immediately but buys his invocation of Henry’s departure as the reason. This may be setting up a similar dynamic to Season 2. There, Ted was trying to avoid both admitting and disclosing his anxiety. Season 3 may well be about his dysthymia/loss of competitive spirit.

While the predictions made Rebecca mad and Nate’s departure has Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) and Roy (Brett Goldstein) in a bit of a panicked “gotta outthink him” state, the team feels more in line with Ted’s attitude. The constant bombardment by the press has them down and distracted. It’s enough that the coach, despite his own black cloud, rallies and takes them on a field trip to the London sewers. If you think it’s for a protracted metaphor, congrats! You got it!

Ted’s point is the team has a choice. Act like a pre-sewer system London and die on the press’s “poopay,” as Jamie (Phil Dunster) insists on calling it. Or modernize and help one another to send that bullshit to the processing plant where the lousy press can’t hurt them anymore. Of course, it also gets them noticed. A local construction worker snaps and posts a pic on social media that quickly goes viral.

Ted Lasso Season 3 Episode 1 (AppleTV+)
Temple Juno and Hannah Waddingham have a fashion show for you. (AppleTV+)

Speaking of social media, Nate remains obsessed, checking Twitter first thing in the morning. He pauses only to rudely dismiss some other West Ham employee. That lousy attitude continues down on the field, where Nate humiliates a player for an unseen error. Before he can demean more of his team, though, he’s called before Rupert in his very Star Wars’ evil Empire-esque office.

Head is so good in these scenes, showing us how seductive Rupert can be while still clearly being a bad guy. He clearly has Nate’s number, perfectly playing the coach’s desire to feel respected and as though some father figure is proud of him. Mohammed, for his part, matches up well. The way his eyes go glassy when Rupert tells him that Richmond didn’t realize his greatness is just enough without over-egging the pudding.

When Nate faces the first presser of the season, however, it doesn’t take long for him to fall back into the jerk role. After trying to be like Ted, quoting The King and I’s “Getting to Know You,” he falls flat. Hiding under the desk, Nate gives himself another spitting pep talk. Then, he pops back up to immediately demeans a reporter and takes multiple cracks at Ted and Richmond. None of it is especially below the belt, but the way he looks to Rupert for validation reveals how being cruel is just as awkward a fit for him as when he was trying to be silly and fun at the start of the conference. Nonetheless, Rupert likes it. In fact, he likes it enough to give Nate a brand-new luxury sports car as a present.

[Anthony] Head is so good in these scenes, showing us how seductive Rupert can be while still clearly being a bad guy.

Having seen the conference live, Rebecca calls Ted on the carpet and again tries to yell him back into enthusiasm. It’s enough of an angry pep talk that it gets Ted to talk about Nate’s comments to the press. Instead of fighting back, however, he outdoes his former protege’s insults by making better jokes about himself. By the end of the press conference, it appears Ted’s won the press cycle. Additionally, he successfully made the story about himself rather than all the pessimistic predictions about the Greyhounds.

Finally, we head to Keeley’s (Juno Temple) to learn that the last season’s final episode’s foreshadowing has come true. She and Roy broke up. Or on a break, Keeley suggests. No, broken up, Roy insists. It’s a bummer. I remain skeptical and disappointed about the series’ choice to go through with it. Still, seeing a chocolate ice cream mustachioed Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) react with calm detachment before calling her beloved uncle stupid makes the scene go down better than it has any right.

Ted Lasso Season 3 Episode 1 (AppleTV+)
Nick Mohammed embraces the darkness. (AppleTV+)

Post-Game Analysis

  • It’s weird that Ted’s wife is listed as “Michelle Lasso” in his phone. I thought it might be some iPhone autoformat (I’m a Galaxy man ALL THE WAY), but then Rebecca’s number later comes up as something like “Rebecca, AKA Da Boss.” So it does seem like something Ted did himself.
  • I have mixed feelings about Henry imitating his dad’s speaking style. His political commentary felt like the kind of thing a kid might mimic, but the rhyming, “Amen, Big Ben,” only makes sense to me if Ted had already said that. The kind of dumb wordplay doesn’t feel like the kind of thing a child would naturally be able to spout off.
  • Ted’s story about his dad leaving him at school is a quintessential Lasso tale. It’s deeply sad, but Ted skates over that. It involves several people trying to do right by each other. There’s a grim bow to the story. Finally, Ted pushes past it with a clever-dumb joke.
  • As an American, Keeley’s neon business sign (KJPR )reads as a radio station.
  • Keeley and Rebecca’s discussion of Left Eye Lopez was perfection
  • The cutting back and forth between the West Ham presser and the sewer field trip generally didn’t work, but the moment where it cut from Ted talking about Pennywise, a “creepy clown,” to Rupert was very good.
  • I wouldn’t put it past Rupert to have set up that whole “accidental” towing situation to both shame Nate for his car and increase the coach’s later gratitude at the gift of the new ride.
  • Nate still can’t let go of the “wonder kid/wunderkind” thing. Worse, his father remains unimpressed by him.
Ted Lasso Smells Like Mean Spirit (AppleTV+)
Brendan Hunt kicks back. (AppleTV+)

Let’s Go To The Tape

  • “To all my toys, yes. To my country’s fractured political landscape? Not so much.”
  • “Now he’s up in a plane, 10,000 feet in the sky.” “I think they probably fly higher than that.” “Definitely.”
  • “You finally got off?” “Not yet, I didn’t.”- Dr. Sharon! You’re saucy!
  • “Except the Daily Mirror, which has us finishing twentielf, an adorable but devastating typo.”
  • “What’s the frequency, Roy Kent-eth.”- I’ll take R.EM. references wherever I can find them.
  • “Even that sweet little bear does not believe in us.”
  • “Kenneth was in a cult?” “No, no, no. He was the leader of one.”
  • “Thank you for your bosom.” “Anytime.”
  • “This is the dumb dumb line. This is where dumb dumbs go.”
  • “He’ll be fine in like 20 minutes. He’ll be forever changed, but he can drive, yeah.”
  • “That’s a good question, Isaac, and a direct, which is a personality trait your generation has truly embraced, and I tell you what, I’ve grown used to it.”
  • “The thing is, a great bottle of wine really doesn’t need to be an expensive bottle of wine.”
  • “One of my core beliefs is nothing lasts forever.”- Phoebe, like myself, had her parents get divorced when she was four. She is the type of kid who reacts to that by accepting the temporary status of all things. I’m of the other group, refusing to give up on things far longer than necessary.
  • “I look like Ned Flanders is doing cosplay as Ned Flanders.”