Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” Spoilers Ahead
The long-anticipated wait is over, and it’s time to accept that we’re still in the middle of the dark forest with Ted Lasso Season 3, Episode 1, “Smells Like Mean Spirit.” But we never actually left, did we? “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” leaves us torn to shreds, holding on for dear life as we attempt to stitch ourselves together with anything we can grab in close proximity. The episode’s writer, Leann Bowen, is no stranger to quiet revelations occurring in simple moments when it comes to this show, and that’s the case with the season premiere as it delivers something for everyone, setting up what will undoubtedly be one of the most emotionally satisfying journeys.
Writer’s Note: For the sake of transparency and giving these reviews an overarching theme that threads this story together, I’m going to take Jason Sudeikis’ comments at Deadline and apply them here. We don’t know if Season 3 is the end of it all, but we know that it’s the conclusion of a three-part story. And for that reason, I suppose we’re now entering the Return of the Jedi era—the one where we win the whole f—king thing.
In more ways than one, as a premiere episode, Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” asks us to look back. It nudges us to consider our options, but most importantly, the why. Why does winning matter? Why does the sport matter? Why do people make stupid decisions when fighting for something important becomes challenging? Why can’t good people catch a break? And, ultimately, why are we here? There’s not a single character whose journey doesn’t subtly come to light in this episode as it plays with the show’s familiar and sidesplitting antics while tucking the sensitive, difficult emotions deep into a corridor they aren’t ready to enter yet. But beyond it all—the words onward, forward flicker like a ghost light, demanding that we confront every little thing necessary to get to the next step.
Smells Like Mean Spirit
The finest detail in Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” is that the Star Wars references are so overtly evident that even those who have no clue about the franchise would be curious about the tones and colors on our screen. Rupert Mannion was always an explicit image of Palpatine, and now he’s got the 500 Republica Tower-esque field as well as his very own Death Star Throne Room. Red floors, black and white lining, assistants in monochrome colors, there’s an empire coming together here, which isn’t a great thing for our underdogs—the rebels who’ll become leaders and winners. Still, it’s already making the season fascinating, and when examining Nate’s arc from the final few moments of “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” to now, Anakin Skywalker could still potentially stop himself from falling into the traps of becoming Darth Vader. But that’s an excavation for another time because right now, how the series juxtaposes Ted’s first conversation with the press in the Pilot to Nate’s makes for the kind of scene we’ll undoubtedly parallel back to in the coming weeks.
Interestingly, anger here isn’t a problem. It’s an emotion we’re all capable of feeling, but what we do with the rage matters. Nate has plenty of unexplored anger, which differentiates from Roy’s gruff edges. Because, at the very least, Roy shows his rage, and for years, Nate’s concealed his, burying it deeper and deeper until the boiling pot started to spill. And while there’s much we have to learn, Nick Mohammed gives us a tiny snippet when his entire demeanor crumbles at his father’s comment via a text message from his mother. This detail then begs a dark question—would Anakin have turned into Vader if he had never lost his mother in the first place? How much of his arc would’ve been different if she were still here? And later, in that universe, we’d also examine how much more of a substantial loss occurs when Padme dies. Much of Nate’s arc centers around pleasing his father and trying to keep the peace with his mother while he grapples with whom he wants to be. And this isn’t to excuse any of his actions, but the series continues to show us where the decisions come from, reminding viewers that people aren’t inherently good and evil. People are complicated, and exploring these complexities is where the show persists to be riveting because, in its means of keeping us in the dark forest, it’s mimicking life’s uncertainties, which will ensure that seeing the exit feels more rewarding.
Thus, Nathan Shelley has a long road ahead of him as he carries himself with crude jokes when it comes to Ted while still acting like a guinea pig next to Rupert. He could insult players, no problem, and he could tell a journalist that he earned his role, but deep down, he doesn’t truly believe any of that; otherwise, he’d behave differently with Rupert. And imposter syndrome is a tricky demon; she comes in when we’re least expecting her to, resulting in uncertainties and a plethora of emotions we still don’t know how to deal with. He’s still clarifying the whole “wunderkind” and “wonder kid” mix-up, contradicting himself at every turn, and proving that he himself hasn’t even fully grappled with whom he wants to be and why he’s here. Now, while Ted’s question of “why we’re here” is literal for him, referring to the fact that he’s still miles away from Henry, for the other characters, it’s about figuring out why this game matters in the here and now. Has this always been Nate’s dream? Is it just about pleasing his father, formerly Ted, and now Rupert, or has he always wanted a bigger role in football? Figuring out this why as we move forward will ultimately tell us whether he’s on the road to redemption or if his downfall equates to building a home in the dark forest.
Rebecca Welton’s arc will always feel profoundly beautiful in this series because it’s redemption in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s redemption in an unconventional form that leads to the type of exquisite character growth that concentrates on past trauma and motives in an utterly riveting form. In Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit,” Rebecca drops a small bombshell that’s colossal in meaning; she tells Keeley that in the years she was married to Rupert, she doesn’t think she cried, even once. But let’s look back at her moment in Season 1’s “For the Children,” where she tearfully tells Ted she doesn’t want to be alone anymore because even if we already knew, it’s further proof that Rupert robbed so much of the agency from her, in the same way, he’s currently doing with Nate.
And agency is a compelling idea to look for here because, like Nate, while Rebecca chose to be with Rupert, she made various decisions based on how he’d perceive her, some of which undoubtedly stemmed from the issues she had with her father and herself before she got in the relationship with him. The thing about someone like Rupert is that he has a way of making people feel like they aren’t enough—as though they need to keep reaching and stretching to be deserving of him. It’s why he can make a powerhouse like Rebecca feel small and vulnerable in a taxing way. The real Rebecca is strong, not cold. She played a part in her descent, yes, but so much of it emanated from her desire to be loved and seen and worthy. Because isn’t that what everyone wants at the end of the day? To have someone beside them who’ll see them at their darkest hours and still think the world of them? And the more Rebecca reveals her desires, the more she returns to herself, growing and improving the most promising pieces inside.
And right now, it’s about needing someone to fight with her. It’s not about ruining Rupert’s life but about AFC Richmond—the team she’s grown to love and care for tremendously. Is there a bit of spite left in her and heartaches she still needs to work through? Absolutely, but Hannah Waddingham does such a hauntingly heartbreaking job of telling Ted she needs him to fight because she can’t do this alone. She needs people in her corner to win—to see the rainbow after eons of clouds floating above her, enveloping her in places where she couldn’t reach out from. Rebecca has a beautiful road ahead, but as Keeley reminds her, she must also work with the people around her. She needs to vocalize her needs, but concurrently, she needs to let Ted be Ted—because that’s the best outcome, fighting fire with humor and darkness with light. Rebecca needs to trust that Ted’s on her side, working with her and not against her, ready to fight as best as he knows, even while battling his own demons.
A Sewer System
Henry Lasso is far braver than I am because I’d be convinced that venturing into the sewers would mean that It would come out and immediately murder me. It’s a hard pass. But the idea of facing fears makes for a grossly gorgeous metaphor only a show like Ted Lasso could accomplish. After Rupert’s purchase of West Ham and a six-week hiatus from the team’s promotion, it’s understandable that pundits wouldn’t have the world’s faith in AFC Richmond. In the words of Roy Kent, in “Rainbow,“—they’re not in the locker rooms with them; they’re not out on the pitch—they’re judging. And naturally, that will get to the team, which is why creating an interconnected sewer system amongst themselves is a solid tactic.
In Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit,” Ted proposes that the team must compartmentalize, use what they know, work together, and filter out the voices that don’t matter. There will be wins and losses, but the team is now more dependable than ever, with a character like Jamie Tartt fully understanding what it means to be a team. Sure, there’s still a big “I” there, and there might always be, but they’re a family now, stronger than before, even when it doesn’t feel like it. And it makes sense that West Ham would use this against them—it’d make sense that Ted wouldn’t push back, but he’d find different angles. It makes sense that the team has a long, perhaps painful, road ahead of them. We’re not out of the dark forest yet, but we’re seeing progress.
Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” thematically highlights character flaws while overtly vocalizing how stupid some decisions are. And yet, who here hasn’t made a foolish decision? But it’s also incredible to outright have Phoebe call out Roy and Keeley’s decision because it isn’t logical. It’s a jarring, odd stretch from where we leave them in the finale, and it’s hard to believe that the two haven’t fought to keep what they have from falling apart. Like Phoebe, they tell us it didn’t work when we should’ve seen the why. But after some thought, that’s partly why it works because it’s not a thoughtful, lasting decision. It can’t be. If Roy and Keeley were to end for good, the writers would’ve shown them slowly losing grip as they do with Jamie and Keeley in Season 1. They wouldn’t reveal it in this manner and expect us to swallow the information without reacting like the confused seven-year-old kid.
And the episode goes one step further by having Phoebe ask the big question—why? Why is all of this happening throughout Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit?” It exhibits the detail that these characters aren’t thinking things through as carefully as they should, jumping to a decision that might not be smart at the moment but will lead to the growth necessary for them to pass through yet another fallen tree in their path. The interesting thing about the episode is that off-screen, Kenneth, the high-on toad venom bus driver, tells Roy to ask the earth to help carry some of his burdens. And while breaking the news to Phoebe, Keeley takes a moment to state that though she knows Roy’s nervous about having to do Nate’s job as well as his that she believes he can handle it before stopping herself.
Roy and Keeley’s relationship fundamentally emphasizes the importance of helping with the crosses one’s partner carries. It’s about taking each other’s burdens and allowing themselves the safe space to be vulnerable, no matter how hard. But that’s just it—as easy as it is to say it’s okay to be vulnerable, it takes time to let the words truly sink in. You don’t recover after one therapy session. It takes ages to unlearn the toxic stigmas we all carry because of what society has imprinted about vulnerability being a weakness. If these characters weren’t in such a dark place, they’d allow themselves to be each other’s safe space; instead, they’re letting their burdens make them believe it’s impossible—they’re too busy. What a silly excuse.
And yet, it makes sense because seeing Keeley’s new office and the dry tone at KJPR compared to her sunshine spirit is so heartbreaking because, like Roy’s past, this place is taking too much from her. It’s not allowing her best to come forward, and while Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” is only the beginning, Rebecca’s visit shows us how drained and worn down she is when she states she schedules in time to cry. (But also, same.) Still, this is what the dark forest will do—it will push everyone through the wringer to have them understand that leaning on people isn’t a form of deficiency but the strength necessary to push through difficult times. I’m not giving up on Roy and Keeley’s happy ending yet.
If Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” sets the tone for one character more obviously than others, it’s our titular hero. The episode opens up with a disheveled Ted, sitting somberly at the airport, and we learn that he had the chance to spend the last six weeks with Henry. A goodbye like this will naturally hurt, especially for someone like Ted, who later tells Sharon about a time when his dad forgot him. Ted’s abandonment issues and the heartaches he carries from his father’s death are still going to haunt him for a while, which makes sense that guilt finds a way into his mind regarding his relationship with his own son. If he initially came here to give Michelle the necessary space, why is he still staying when their divorce is finalized? The space did what it needed. It gave Michelle answers. But what does it do for Ted?
As the episode openly asks this question, the season will quietly explore and cement his reasons. Like Rebecca, he loves and cares for this team. This job Rebecca gave him changed his life—he says as much in “All Apologies.” But where is that change going to propel him? What’s the endgame for his character that results in a big, eureka moment? This is where we’re going with Ted Lasso, and it’s gut-wrenching to watch because there’s no one whose happiness feels more important to us as viewers. In a world where people are mean-spirited, Ted Lasso carries on with kindness. He deserves the best things in life. And seeing him grapple with uncertainties this early on is near-anxiety inducing.
Ted Lasso doesn’t fight fire with fire; he brings the laughter and the water to put the flames out, and one of the most thought-provoking details is that he forgets his promise to Rebecca about “winning the whole f–king thing.” It’s interesting because what it tells us is that Ted is still a little broken—they all are, and while his head doesn’t seem to be entirely in the game, there are parts of him that will always be with this team, trying to do his absolute best for them in every area. The final bombshell about Michelle having a “friend” will lead to some fascinating arcs as we deal with the character trying to figure out his next steps in a more permanent way.
Whether the scenes of Henry in the Season 3 trailer are flashbacks or if he’ll return, the premiere tells us that Ted Lasso is, first and foremost, a father. Henry knows his dad adores him, and more than that, Henry adores the game and team just as much. He will put his kid first, no matter what, so long as he has the choice to govern his path here. At the end of the day, Ted merely has to try; that’s what matters for his character and the journey he’s on. And while he’s usually the one giving out toy soldiers for protection, he has an army beside him willing to do whatever is necessary for him. A character like him is conditioned to think that he’s doing more damage than good when he’s the one changing lives. Thereby, I, for one, can’t wait to see how the season explores his mindset with the correlating actions that will bring him strength.
Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit” is a solid premiere that puts us on edge while subtly reminding us that we have the promise of everything working out in the end. As mentioned in our trailer breakdown, “Rainbow” made Season 2, Episode 5 an unbeatable gem, and teasing Season 3 with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” feels tailor-made for the rom-communism aficionados. We’re leaving the dark forest soon, and I’m sure the journey will be worth it.
Ted Talks and Further Thoughts
- Flight 822 – look, I’m bad at math, but I feel like these numbers can be important, and hopefully, someone figures it out.
- “To my country’s political landscape” not so much. Same, Henry. Same. Actually, I said these exact words in Heathrow when I left London last year.
- Ted still has sessions with Sharon, even though she isn’t around in Richmond anymore, and this is a tremendous step in the show, reminding us that nothing is an overnight fix. I love it!
- “I remember when I was left at school. I helped Mr. Maher, the custodian, until my dad remembered to pick me up. He gave Mr. Maher cash for babysitting me. I showed up to school the next day, and Mr. Maher gave me the money as payment for the work I’d done. So then I used that money to buy him a thank-you gift, but I never got the chance to give it to him ’cause, well, he ended up getting hit by a train.” MORBID.
- I didn’t see that coming either, Sharon.
- He still wonders why he’s here—why is he sticking around?
- Sharon is seeing someone. Will this revelation be relevant in the future?
- Terry Higgins, a 10-year-old, has a sports blog.
- “That is the Ted Lasso I want coaching this season. The one who’s going to fight.”
- The believe sign is up there!?!??!?!
- “Maybe they’re trying to motivate us?” DANI ROJAS I love you.
- JAN MAAS. ENOUGH.
- Ted’s been playing FIFA. Beard is proud of him. I love it here.
- “Solid than clever when you’re the underdogs” Yes, Roy—hard agree.
- West Ham is just Star Wars. Period.
- I love it when Keeley and Rebecca HUG!
- You know what moment I might never forgive the show for in Ted Lasso 3×01 “Smells Like Mean Spirit?” The detail that Paddington Bear does not believe in AFC Richmond!?!? Look, I just. I don’t know this broke me. I’m not ready to talk about it yet, and I’m just as broken as Dani realizing an actual bear isn’t tweeting.
- Kenneth, the bus driver, was a cult leader???????!
- Rebecca referring to crying as “It’s like an orgasm for the soul” is my favorite thing EVER.
- Rupert is definitely still stuck in her head
- Keeley just wants some joy with flowers, and I think we should let her.
- Rebecca: “Why didn’t you just google it?” Keeley: “Because I trust in the universe?” Have I mentioned I love them?!!
- Rupert laughing is actually terrifying. This is some serious evil emperor shenanigans.
- “Nathan Shelley, you are a Killer.” Oh, this is the very early stages of Palpatine and Anakin. It gave me straight-up chills.
- What is toad venom? (I’m scared to google it.)
- “Can’t believe she wears stuff like this on her eyes.” There’s so much we do, Leslie.
- Creepy clowns are indeed the scariest.
- Nate: “I earned this job.” But do you really believe that—do you feel it?
- Surrounded by poopy, emphasis on eh. I’m scared of how famous this line could get.
- Internal sewer system within yourself and connecting to each other’s tunnels is such a great metaphor, and I can’t believe how well it works.
- No one’s ever going to eat seafood after this episode.
- “Their coach is so shitty.” Is such a childish comment.
- Jamie: “It’s just poopy-eh. Let it flow.”
- Hannah Waddingham is INCREDIBLE in this episode, but then again, she’s always an unbelievable goddess.
- Rebecca: “Rupert is laughing at me, Ted. I am begging you, please, fight back.” And I am HURTING.
- Ted: “His hopes are as high as a giraffe’s top hat.” Ted Lasso talking about my favorite animal feels personal.
- “Marcus Adebayo, The Independent.” Ooooh! This is going to come back, isn’t it?
- “I still spell pounds LBS” Same, Ted.
- “WAY TO LET TED BE TED.”
- “I’ve had more psychotic episodes than Twin Peaks.” Brett Goldstein vouched for this line, didn’t he?
- “Ted Class-o.” YES.
- Rupert buying Nate a new car, yes okay, Palpatine.
- I never thought my reactions would mirror a seven-year-olds, but here we are.
- “I know you’re scared about that, but it’s gonna…” she’s still trying to be his safe space, even apart. This is beautiful.
- “one of my core beliefs is that nothing lasts forever.” WHY IS THIS CHILD SO JADED? SOMEONE PROVE TO HER THAT SOME THINGS LAST.
- “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?” No, Pheoebe, they aren’t.
- “You can still be friends, right?” Henry about Ted and Nate—bringing back to the same line. He’s away from Henry for something big—to win the whole thing. You gotta try .Jake, Mommy’s friend, gave Henry a Thanos’ gauntlet. And…I have thoughts.
- I have concerns. But I’m here for it.