Philip Larkin’s cynical poem about parenting takes us to the heart of Ted Lasso episode eleven with This Be the Verse which begins: “They (expletive) you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.”
The show Ted Lasso has always been a triumph over cynicism so the poem might seem an unlikely choice. But it was the perfect set-up for this episode, entitled Mom City, which tackles the subject of our less-than-perfect parents and how forgiving them is ultimately the best gift we can give ourselves.
Ted’s mother (Becky Ann Baker) arrives in London to visit but she and Ted spend most of the episode circling each other, not saying what they really want to say. We already know that Ted’s panic attacks stem from the suicidal death of his father. By the end of the episode, we learn what troubles him about his mum.
He is angry with her for not talking to him about the death when he was a teenager. Also, for not seeking help herself. Her choice to pretend everything was fine, masking her grief beneath a façade of cheerfulness was, as she explains, the only thing she knew to do. But Ted is resentful because it made him think that was what he had to do too.
By speaking his resentment aloud, he gives his mum the opportunity to apologise, and himself the chance to forgive. It’s a salutary message. None of us can change the past but forgiveness is a good step towards accepting it, according to psychologists. Understanding that “hurt people, hurt people,” usually unintentionally, as Ted points out, is important too.
This episode is equally devoted to striker Jamie Tartt and his resentments against his own less than perfect parent – in his case, an abusive father. Back in his hometown of Manchester, while in the embrace of his mum, Jamie explains that his drive in football has always been a product of his rage against his father, but now his feelings seem to have changed. He talks about his soul hurting. Anger can be an excellent motivator, but also at personal cost.
Later in the episode, on the sidelines of a crucial football game with Jamie injured, Ted suggests to him that he try forgiving his dad as a healthier alternative. “If hating your pop ain’t motivating, it might be time to try something different – forgive him,” he says, adding how forgiveness is the best gift that he can give, not to his father, but to himself. Of course, it works like a dream, symbolically played out by a world-class performance on the football field by Jamie.
Forgiveness has always been a fundamental component of the show’s DNA. ‘Sorries’ are littered through every episode. They even turn up in a joke when Rebecca tells Ted’s mum that she’s from Surrey, but Ted’s mum thinks she’s apologizing. We also see Nate, the Great express his apology in a sixty-page letter to Ted.
Most moving of all though, is Ted’s speech about second chances: “I hope that either all of us, or none of us, are judged by the actions of our weakest moments, but rather the strengths that we show when, and if, we are ever given a second chance,” he tells Coach Beard encouraging him to offer forgiveness to Nate for an earlier transgression.
That is the first time, we get a closer understanding of his relationship with Coach Beard. It is when we discover that their relationship is founded on forgiveness and second chances, bringing the message full circle in a way that none of us saw coming. It is when we in the audience understand that forgiveness of anyone, including and perhaps most importantly our parents, is a gift to ourselves.
Lucy Broadbent is the author of What Would Ted Lasso Do? How Ted’s Positive Approach Can Help You. Find it on Amazon here.
Ted Lasso Season Three is streaming on Apple TV+