Ted Lasso 3×01, “Smells Like Mean Spirit,” poignantly and hilariously welcomes back the AFC Richmond family. Written by Leann Bowen and directed by MJ Delaney, the episode isn’t a typical season premiere that definitively illuminates character arcs for the season. Instead, “Smells Like Mean Spirit” finds its strengths in how it bridges the time jump after Ted Lasso 2×12, “Inverting the Pyramid of Success,” with thoughtful reflection.
The Greyhounds Aren’t Out of the Dark Forest Yet
The signs that this could be Ted Lasso‘s final season are as evident in the opening minutes as the ones (Henry watching IT) signaling that the show isn’t shaking off the leaves from the dark forest and moving on. It’s not that simple, and it’s a relief that Ted Lasso knows that. It wouldn’t serve the story — let alone any of the characters — for the show to pretend that darkness has entirely lifted or that it didn’t leave a lasting impact.
Consequently, it’s affirming that Ted maintains his therapy appointments with Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, and it’s quite the thrill to get a peak into her personal life. It’s fitting that their conversation comes around to what Ted tells Rebecca’s mom, Deborah, in Ted Lasso 2×06, “The Signal” — the best thing he’s learned is to leave people well. “Smells Like Mean Spirit” puts that practice to the test. Ted questioning his purpose in Richmond works for the character’s conflict of wishing to be a present father for Henry and not wanting to quit what he’s started with the team. That tension would reach a new high in the final season.
That thread is a logical continuation of Ted’s arc, as, for Roy Kent, is the reveal of Roy and Keeley’s break-up in the episode’s final minutes. It’s easy to see it coming as soon as the camera finds Phoebe with ice cream, knowing that Roy denied her the dessert on Ted Lasso 2×03, “Do the Right-est Thing.” Delivering the news through Phoebe’s perspective is heartfelt and hilarious, especially as it’s met with Phoebe’s mature reaction that underscores the transparent reasoning behind Roy and Keeley’s decision.
The break-up isn’t about the relationship; it’s about Roy. Keeley reaffirming their relationship in the Season 2 finale is a sharp turn to it ending in “Smells Like Mean Spirit,” but it’s not a shock. Roy assumes they are breaking up when he learns that Keeley will be busier with her new job, and he admits to the Diamond Dogs that she looks “natural” on her own — without him — in the Vanity Fair photos. Those scenes foreshadow a break-up, whether in the Season 3 premiere or later. Roy has an individual story about learning that he is worthy of love that Ted Lasso needs to explore before he can be in a relationship.
Keeley Jones Is Learning What It Means to Be a Lion
Unfortunately, Ted Lasso‘s time jump means that “Smells Like Mean Spirit” picks up with KJPR established. Season 2 sprinkles in bouts of Keeley doing various jobs to promote the team and Bantr. Still, seeing a more prominent focus on the work that gets Keeley to this point would be much more rewarding. Thankfully, Keeley is still learning the ropes, like what a CFO is, and the juxtaposition of Keeley with her employees leaves plenty of room for the story to grow like the flowers Barbara won’t let Keeley get for the office.
Knowing Keeley is a mirrorball, it’s concerning that she has to schedule a time to cry. So it’s nice that even in the unfamiliarity of KJPR, “Smells Like Mean Spirit” finds touchstones in “Fuck you, Joe Rogan” having the same energy as “Fuck you, Piers Morgan.” But, of course, the best and most comforting thing to come from KJPR is the on-screen reunion of Juno Temple and Hannah Waddingham. The brevity of Keeley and Rebecca’s lunch date works in favor of wanting to see so much more from the best friends. It’s exciting to imagine how Ted Lasso will expand the friendship beyond double-booked schedules.
Rebecca Welton Wants to Win the Whole Damn Thing
Waddingham seamlessly steps back into Rebecca’s stylish shoes and biscuit-box pink coat in “Smells Like Mean Spirit.” This season premiere has a much stronger handle on Rebecca’s characterization than some of Season 2’s outings. Her hyper-fixation on Rupert, including her inability to separate him from West Ham United (Fútbol is life!), logically continues her arc. Her self-doubt regarding her growth also sets Rebecca up for the introspective work that Season 2 misses and sidesteps because she avoids it.
Not to mention, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” delivers golden Tedbecca crumbs! It’s one thing that Rebecca notices that something is bothering Ted from how he enters a room. But, it’s another thing entirely for Rebecca to beg Ted to fight back against Rupert because he is laughing at AFC Richmond, Ted, and her. Before, Rebecca wanted to destroy Rupert to ruin him, not caring whom she hurt in the process. Now, it matters that Rupert is coming after her, her team, and (let’s be honest) her Ted. The change in her motivation, albeit subtle at times, represents growth and how important the team and Ted are to her.
Nate’s Journey to the Dark Side Looks Oddly Familiar
Star Wars fans will recognize that the inspiration for Rupert’s office comes directly from Emperor Palpatine’s throne room, which couldn’t be more fitting, especially after Season 2’s parallels to Emperor Strikes Back. Anthony Stewart Head is so good and so unnerving as Rupert goes full supervillain. The transition to Rupert after Ted says, “Ain’t nothing much scarier out there than a creepy clown,” is too good. That entire sequence of lobbying the dialogue from the sewer to the conference room gives “Smells Like Mean Spirit” kinetic energy that feeds nicely into how Nate’s spit-take parallels Ted’s in Ted Lasso‘s pilot.
Both spit-takes occur during an anxiety-inducing encounter with the press, and that stress has similar visual and audial cues. Otherwise, the actions couldn’t be more different. Ted’s spit-take is an accident, and it isn’t hidden. It’s not a calculated move to disarm himself or anyone else. Alternatively, Nate calls back to self-hating action’s origin story in Ted Lasso 2×05, “Rainbow,” and purposefully uses the motion to activate his darker side.
Ultimately, Nate’s time at West Ham is already bleak, continuing his search for validation — however hollow. Still, the episode’s sympathetic script and Nick Mohammed‘s performance create space to understand Nate while not excusing his behavior. But, like Nate tells Roy in Ted Lasso 1×07, “Make Rebecca Great Again,” it’s fearsome to think about what all Nate’s anger is going to do to him if he just keeps it all for himself.
Jamie Tartt Is Becoming AFC Richmond’s Biggest Cheerleader
In response to Nate, Ted expectedly makes jokes at his own expense, reflecting a subtle light on Nate’s tactics instead of stooping to his level. The more delightfully unexpected expression of character development regarding Nate’s remarks comes from Jamie Tartt — one of AFC Richmond’s aces. Jamie pulls the team back to what is most important. Phil Dunster‘s delivery of “Lads, remember. It’s just poopy. Let it flow” should be evidence enough for an Emmy nomination in the comedy category. If not, the Academy can look back at Ted Lasso 2×08, “Man City,” because “Smells Like Mean Spirit” certainly does.
Jamie’s growth is some of the best the show has executed thus far. His choices to be and do better since Ted Lasso 2×02, “Lavender,” and “Do the Right-est Thing” prove that not only are second chances possible, they can open a character up to something better than they ever imagined. As Ted Lasso commences what is likely its final season, it has the opportunity to give Nate a second chance to find the light, and it has a second chance to see how AFC Richmond performs in the Premier League. No matter how those storylines shake out, here’s to hoping it’ll be something better than we ever imagined.
Other Winning Moments:
- “Rupert’s gonna play this year?” has the same energy as “You talked to God?”
- Every musical theater reference makes my heart sing.
- For anyone also keeping track of every book Beard reads: The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinnis
- The FIFA mention
- Of course, Dani thinks that Paddington is real. No one take that from him!
- All of the players running to the bus is reminiscent of them chasing Ted and Beard in Ted Lasso 1×03, “Trent Crimm: The Independent.”
- Jamie’s reaction to Roy yelling
- Even Kenneth can tell that Roy carries a lot of weight on his shoulders.
What did you think of Ted Lasso 3×01, “Smells Like Mean Spirit?” Let us know in the comments!
New episodes of Ted Lasso stream on Wednesdays on Apple TV+.