If someone would have looked me in the eye after I started watching the first season of Ted Lasso and told me with unwavering confidence that the obnoxiously insufferable Jamie Tartt would somehow, some day find a way to surpass even my insurmountable love for Roy Kent, I would have laughed. A lot. I would have probably offered a Roy-esque, expletive-filled sentiment to really drive the point home.
And yet here I am now, years later, utterly thrilled to have been proven wrong.
Portrayed by Phil Dunster, Ted Lasso‘s Jamie Tartt is a striker for AFC Richmond, and he’s also the football club’s most talented player. However, when we first met his character in season 1, it was clear that all the talent in the world couldn’t make up for his arrogant, self-absorbed attitude — something which ruffled more than a few feathers both inside the locker room and out. Yet somehow, against all odds and as a testament to both the ingenuity of the writers’ room combined with Dunster’s own acting prowess, he went on to have what’s arguably one of the best character redemption arcs of all time.
When we first met Jamie in season 1, he was as off-putting as they come, exuding copious amounts of narcissism while spearheading a toxic locker room environment rife with bullying. On loan to Richmond from the revered Man City, he was the Greyhounds’ star player — a fact that he knew all too well. He had no interest in being a team player at that point. The goals he sank into the net were for himself, not for his teammates. Not for Richmond at all. Both Ted’s and Roy’s attempts to get through to him were hapless efforts that struggled to find their mark, bouncing clean off of Jamie’s unbothered, swaggering exterior. As a viewer, seeing an antagonist like Jamie thrown into the mix of this heartfelt comedy wasn’t surprising. But what was surprising was that rather than leave him as a static character that would ruffle feathers for the sake of the plot and then be dialed back a bit when the conflict he brought forth no longer served the story, the writers’ room had far more in store for him. Who needs slow burn romance when you can have slow burn redemption?
At the halfway point of the season, an angry, impassioned speech from Ted about the importance of practice and the arrival of another new player that could potentially outshine him, Dani Rojas, finally managed to wedge some cracks in Jamie’s armor. When he showed up at the after hours ceremony to break the curse on the club, his surprisingly personal admission about the difference between his individual relationships with his parents began to shed light on some important things. Though he originally started playing football for his mother, his absent father became a figure in his life again when he began to make a name for himself, and thus Jamie’s priorities shifted. As a result, he adopted a tough personality so as not to give his father a reason to call him soft ever again. While Jamie shares this with the team, he has a quiet moment of clarity as he reflects on who he’s become.
I wonder if sometimes I forget about making her proud. I don’t think that she would be lately.
Though I for one may not have been quite ready to forgive him for his actions toward Sam, Nate, and the rest of the team, this was a startlingly human moment that gave me a flicker of hope for his potential as a dynamic character (but even at that point, I hadn’t the slightest inkling that this was just a mere foothold in the mountain of development he was due to climb).
Unfortunately, the smoldering embers of hope for Jamie Tartt were swiftly extinguished when he was then recalled by Man City. At one point, Jamie showed up on his ex-girlfriend Keeley’s doorstep, and armed with the knowledge of what he’s been through, viewers could begin to start seeing his words through a different lens. Like when Keeley asked him how he was doing, he didn’t actually answer for himself and instead began listing off his accomplishments in his latest game … like it was a conditioned response for his goal-hungry dad. Then, in the season 1 finale, we were given a glimpse of just how toxic his relationship with his father really was. Although Man City won the match against Richmond, Jamie passed the ball and let a teammate score that winning goal. His father proceeded to furiously berate him after the game, throwing things across the room and yelling in his face. Ted, meanwhile, sent Jamie home with a note congratulating him on the pass that he made — a key shift in the tides (and a punch right to the hearts of viewers, honestly).
Season 2 saw Jamie briefly leave his footballer career behind for reality TV, making his debut on a romantic reality show called Lust Conquers All (and that reveal definitely pumped the breaks on digging deeper past the shallow shores of his personality). Unfortunately for him, he was eliminated from the show, and Man City didn’t want to take him back. Bearing a newfound, budding sense of self-awareness, Jamie met with Ted to ask if he could come back to AFC Richmond, revealing that his stint on the show was really just his way of getting back at his dad. The team didn’t make it easy for him when he arrived on the pitch, but between therapy sessions with Dr. Sharon and Jamie’s solidarity with Sam during the Dubai Air logo debacle, those burnt bridges slowly but surely began to heal.
The most significant turning point for Jamie Tartt, the boy who was terrified of being “soft,” was when he let his walls come crumbling down in the locker room after the FA Cup semi-final. In what would go down as one of the show’s most powerful and emotional scenes, Roy stepped forward to comfort him after he punched his belligerent dad, hugging him while the footballer let himself be vulnerable for once and cried in his arms in front of the entire team. When I finished drying my own tears, there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that I was all in on this one, ready to die on the hill of defending Jamie Tartt.
Up to this point, Ted and Keeley both played important roles in the development of Jamie’s character, which came as no surprise, given what we know of both of them. However, the real stroke of genius was to make the gruff, impenetrable Roy Kent a bearer of the next olive branch. Despite his rough exterior, fans were quick to latch on to Roy from the get-go — so his tendency to (violently) butt heads with Jamie every time he provoked him did the latter absolutely no favors in trying to crawl into the good graces of viewers. But to see Roy show a rare flicker of compassionate emotion — for the utter bane of his existence, nonetheless — begged the question: if Roy could find it in himself to forgive Jamie, why couldn’t we?
Throughout the remainder of season 2, Jamie’s uphill journey continued, including a shocking twist where he actually apologized to Roy for telling Keeley that he was still in love with her. It was the finale, “Inverting the Pyramid of Success,” that really drove it all home when Jamie handed off the penalty kick to Dani, letting him score the winning goal that secured Richmond’s return to the Premier League. In that moment, we were all Roy Kent as he ran out onto the field and proceeded to jump around and hug Jamie (after headbutting him, of course, just for good measure). This was a satisfying, full circle moment that proved number 9 had become far more than the haughty, egotistical footballer we once knew.
Now, moving on to Ted Lasso‘s third and final season, the script was flipped on Jamie when he was suddenly no longer the most talented player on the team following Richmond’s acquisition of Zava. To his credit, he didn’t regress back to his old personality as a result of his frustration, though he did hold his own silent petition against the team’s complete and utter adoration over their shiny new striker. This led Jamie to begin training solo with Roy, something that would have been unthinkable in the prior season when he outright refused to coach him. From 4 a.m. training sessions to Jamie teaching Roy how to ride a bike in Amsterdam, the two — as Phoebe would argue — quite literally went from enemies to best friends. And on the field, Jamie’s newfound camaraderie with the team, paired with his innate talents as a player, played a large part in the success of their new game-winning tactic: total football.
And finally, the show’s penultimate episode (and one of the best of the series), “Mom City,” ushered in the final piece of Jamie’s epic tale of character development. No longer fuelled by his hatred for his father, Jamie was dangling over the edge of a precipice, struggling to grasp a foothold of motivation to carry on playing football at all. After tearfully admitting this much to Roy, who desperately needed Jamie to channel his inner “prickiest prick” for their upcoming Man City game, the coach brought in backup in the form of Keeley Jones. Jamie was shaken when the full gravity of what it would mean to step back onto Man City’s pitch hit him, and he eventually found himself paying a visit to his mom and stepdad (Roy and Keeley secretly in tow), where he had an important, much needed heart-to-heart with his mom. Paired with a mid-game pep talk from Ted, who helped him realize the power in no longer bearing the weight of his hatred for his father, Jamie limped out onto the field — injury and all — and managed to score and win the game for Richmond. It was a surreal moment (one that mirrored Roy’s last game) as Man City and Richmond fans alike cheered for Jamie, who exited the field with his head held high and tears in his eyes.
Finally reaching the wonderfully satisfying summit of a brilliantly crafted redemption arc, Jamie Tartt as a character and Phil Dunster as an actor deserved every single second of “Mom City” and that utterly triumphant moment of victory. We were all Roy when he turned to Jamie over beers in the series finale with a sentiment that — though simple at face value — meant the world to the footballer beside him.
Whatever happens on Sunday, I want you to know I’m proud of you for the work you put in this year.
While tales of redemption are nothing new in films and television … Ted Lasso and the journey of Jamie Tartt have set a ridiculously high bar for this kind of storytelling moving forward.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over here campaigning for Dunster to finally get the Emmy nod he deserves.