In the third episode of its final season, Ted Lasso tightens the screws on the extended AFC Richmond family. Foregoing the trend of song title riffs, this episode is titled “4-5-1,” lifting the formation the team adopts to accommodate their new star, Zava (Maximilian Osinki). As one might then expect, much of the episode revolves around the team’s varied reactions to Zava’s New Age egomania. Dani (Cristo Fernández) leads the burgeoning side of worship, while Jamie (Phil Dunster) is the key skeptic. All the same, Zava’s presence has Richmond rocketing up the EPL standings, closing the gap with West Ham. Yet as is always the case with Ted Lasso, on-pitch success opens the door for a feast of personal crises. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) visits her mother’s psychic and gets rattled. Ted (Jason Sudeikis) discovers there’s a new man in his family’s life. Angst is afoot.
Before “4-5-1” digs into any of that though, we’re treated to a cold open that puts Colin (Billy Harris), a character usually contained in the comic relief category, at the center. Brilliantly set to Fastball’s “Out of My Head”, we follow Colin as he wakes up and makes his way down to say good morning to Michael (Sam Liu), who it turns out is his boyfriend/hookup/hard to say exactly. We do know that Colin and Michael are sleeping together and that neither is making that known to those around them. On its own, the cold open is a tender glimpse into Colin’s life. Harris and Liu have an immediate chemistry. One exchange when Colin reminds Michael he doesn’t drink caffeine leads to his quip that his body isn’t a temple, but “an airport chapel.” There is warmth, humor, and obvious history.
In a broader context, that cold open introduces an angle to examine the homophobia and insecure masculinity that is all too common in sports. A short scene in the locker room sees AFC Richmond players talking about how they would “go gay” for Zava, a variation on the “no homo” approach of toxic masculinity that creates discomfort around praising other men. In that scene, Colin jokes about how they’ve “convinced [him] to sleep with Zava,” which gets a big laugh. Later on, when Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) has the whole team to dinner at his new restaurant, Michael comes to join, but Colin introduces him as a friend. The sequence of beats suggests that Ted Lasso is gearing up for a direct confrontation with homophobia. While the show is a masterclass in many ways of examining masculinity, it is overdue to incorporate queer masculinities.
Beyond the locker room conversation about Zava, the all-star’s presence is a rich development. Osinki makes a meal of Zava’s absurd personality. Styled to bear more than a passing resemblance to Swedish football legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Zava runs the Richmond team through a full-course meal of culturally appropriative, goop-style wellness exercises. Jamie is the only person not to buy in, as we see everyone get on board during a montage of matches set to Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol” (another masterstroke by the music supervisor) where Zava decimates opponents. In a pair of reliably perfect scenes, first with Ted and Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) and then later with Roy (Brett Goldstein), Dunster molds Jamie’s discontent into a mix of professional jealousy and genuine concern for the AFC Richmond community. This culminates at Sam’s restaurant when Roy agrees to train Jamie so Jamie can try to be better than Zava. Color me excited.
This week on Ted Lasso, the Love is Pain™ corner is jointly occupied by Ted and Rebecca. Right before their first match with Zava, Ted calls home to wish Henry (Gus Turner) luck on his own football match. Buzzing the landline, he ends up talking to Michelle’s (Andre Anders) new boyfriend Jacob (Mike O’Gorman). That fact would be bad enough, but in a case of the ethics board should really strip Jacob of his license to practice, the guy also happens to be the Lasso’s previous marriage counselor. The discovery sends Ted reeling right into a panic attack and some more heavy drinking. For Rebecca, a doomed session with her mother’s psychic leaves her with the image of a green matchbook being important for her future and the promise of a family. Does she find a green matchbook? Only when Sam hands it to her at the restaurant gathering.
The Rebecca beat is the first moment in this season that gives me pause and a level of concern about where Ted Lasso might be going. Rebecca and Sam’s relationship in season two was my biggest issue with that season because it introduced a loaded power dynamic (read: boss sleeping with an employee) without doing much to interrogate it. It seemed that any such romantic flame was in the past, but “4-5-1” makes it clear that Rebecca maintains some sort of hope. The choice here may simply be a red herring, one that nods to Rebecca’s complicated feelings for Sam without actually taking us back down that path. Alternatively, it could be the first step toward revisiting that storyline and creating a love triangle, since the restaurant scenes also make it clear that Sam has a budding romantic connection with his head chef (another boss-employee power dynamic). Regardless, it’s messy.
After all this tension-building, “4-5-1” ends with a cliffhanger. Trent (James Lance) leaves the restaurant, strutting along to Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” (seriously, the music supervisor ate this episode), and spots Colin and Michael making out. In the brief moment he watches, you can see the journalists gears in his head turning. Here’s hoping that the confrontation with Roy last episode pays dividends and Trent does the right thing and let Colin handle his coming-out on his own terms instead of rushing to turn a personal life into a scoop.
In the third episode of its final season, Ted Lasso tightens the screws on the extended AFC Richmond family.
Devin McGrath-Conwell holds a B.A. in Film / English from Middlebury College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting from Emerson College. His obsessions include all things horror, David Lynch, the darkest of satires, and Billy Joel. Devin’s writing has also appeared in publications such as Filmhounds Magazine, Film Cred, Horror Homeroom, and Cinema Scholars.