Season 1, Episode 4, “The Fielder Method”

Nathan Fielder in rehearsal

Nathan Fielder inside The rehearsal
Photo: Thanks to HBO

Can you ever be authentic if you are paralyzed by your own self-awareness?

As I ask myself this question every day, I’m jotting it down today because I wondered it when I finished the fourth installment of Nathan Fielder’s genre-defying series. The rehearsal. Ostensibly, the non-fiction show is set up like this: Nathan for you creator/star while helping ‘ordinary people’ rehearse pivotal moments in their lives (difficult conversations with siblings or trivia friends, the challenges of parenthood, for example). Only, with each subsequent episode, that provocative premise (who doesn’t want coaching and a full production crew helping you take every possible twist a complicated conversation with a loved one can take?) has turned into something much more than that. more ambitious. But also something much more insidious.

To be fair, this was there all along. After introducing us to Kor, who eventually helped Fielder, the show revealed that the host was so screwed that the first interaction with this willing contestant was because he hired an actor and tested that back and forth to exhaustion. Namely, while the rehearsals in the show would be aimed at people who would like to be helped by the kind of production budget HBO can affordit was already obvious the conceit of The rehearsal was, not least, a result of how Fielder himself wishes he could live his life. As someone who often spends sleepless nights reliving silly things I said while out with friends (“Oh god, I should have said X…. What they must be thinking of me now!”), I understand Fielder’s impulse – a…and his desire to extend such a comfortable blanket of an experience to his various guests.

But practicing for real life just isn’t, well, practical. After all, any simulation will necessarily be a lesser copy. By definition, it can never be the real deal. It can only approach it. And Fielder seems determined to make his rehearsals as authentic as possible—which requires a degree of fable that necessarily pushes him into ethically murky territory. This is someone who sets up a fake acting school in Los Angeles where he encourages potential actors to stalk people in order to better imitate them and who, without a hint of irony (I think? Or is he such a good actor? ) tells the class that this is the kind of gig where if you get it wrong you can ruin someone’s life.

That whole scene and the questions it raises are also on Fielder’s mind. That’s why he doesn’t set up a rehearsal but a recreationone of that first class so that he can better understand the many concerns of his students. Here he adds himself once again to this life-as-acting exercise he’s been making up all along. Oonly this time he is not just any contestant. He has become an actor. Thomas actually. I admit the sight of Fielder in a wig(!) made me laugh. But not as loudly as when, later in the episode, Fielder and Thomas share the following exchange, after the aspiring actor confesses to Fielder why he’s struggling with his assignment:

“I don’t like to lie to people,” Thomas says.

And then, in the deadpanest way possible, Fielder responds with this: “No, neither do I.”

It’s one of those moments that feels so absurd that I couldn’t help but double up. But in that laughter I recognized the ace-and-switch The rehearsal continues to attract us. Because I do believe Fielder when he says he doesn’t like to lie. Only, he knows it’s a necessary part of his job. Even his mission.

Nathan Fielder in rehearsal

Nathan Fielder inside The rehearsal
Photo: Thanks to HBO

But that whole experiment, in which he tried to become Thomas to better understand himself and his own class, I thought this whole premise went too far. It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with this nesting doll of a proposal, but one thing remains clear: The is an exploration of Nathan Fielder’s own method of madness. This makes the choice to reshape Adam’s own upbringing/personality when he returns to Eagle Creek a lot easier to understand. That is no longer an exercise in Angela’s service. lIt will now remain entirely in the service of Fielder’s own interests. I hesitate to try to associate words like ‘selfish’ and ‘solipsism’ with these choices, but if you orchestrate a fake opiate overdose to better capture how a teen would react if a father figure was gone for years, because that’s the story as you experienced it, you have to wonder where it’s all going.

That’s all to say: I can’t be the only one shocked by this episode, right? And terrified, too, by the way Fielder has to be acutely aware of how terrifying he comes across. Which brings me back to that question of self-awareness that keeps nagging me. There is such an investment in authenticity in all these “rehearsals,Still, Fielder can never get out of his head. huhe’s reaching for emotional truthfulness (in himself as he demands of his actors and thus of his participants), but it all seems like it’s forever out of reach for him. Is this why he feels so much more comfortable at these ‘rehearsals’ than he is at it himself? Are we building to a point where the falsehoods around him cease to be crutches and risk becoming reality? Is he deliberately trying to drive us crazy by reminding us how performative our daily lives are?? Guess we’ll know next week.

stray observations

  • “You used cocaine?!” may be the line of the delivery. No doubt.
  • I loved the visual bloom at the end of the episode (the slide transition) and loved that Fielder made sure the teenage actor who played Adam came out of the slide (“Is that it?”) and broke through every version of truthfulness that fantasy transformation could have created. After all, we are here on Brechtian soil.
  • As fascinated as I am by the thematic concerns of The rehearsal, I’m just as intrigued by its own logistics. For example, I was wondering how Fielder & Co. came to use Eagle Creek, Oregon as their home base. What was it about this community that made it so suitable for these various rehearsals? Fielder notes that Eagle Creek had a lot to offer, just to show us, in a John Wilson-esque bloom, images of two signs: a makeshift sign that read “We’ve got eggs now” (above it says “BROWN EGGS” ) and a more professional-looking advertisement for “Pole Buildings”. Likewise – and especially during that real WTF OD moment – I kept wondering how in control Fielder is. We’ve seen how hands-on he is so…did he know the overdose would happen? (Did Angela?) And if he did, what purpose did it serve?
  • I’m still concerned that the denim jacket Thomas wears on his first day in Nathan’s workshop has a picture of a fluffy cat with the words “Eat Me” on it. I don’t know what to do with this information other than how prominently it is framed. lit’s hard to miss – balso difficult to understand. lafter fictional show, I’d point out that it might tell us something about Thomas, but honestly, I don’t know what I’d say about such a costume choice, other than further baffling it. us about who Thomas is as an individual. (Also, again, I want a full interview with the many actors who took part in the show – either as themselves during these classes or as performers in the actual rehearsals because…I have questions!)
  • An aside, I agree with Fielder, actors can be very intimidating. Also, Barry when to switch?
  • I ask all of you, again, to look Synecdoche, New York. And I’ll stop suggesting you do that when I stop writing “How Kaufman-esque!” in my notes after each individual episode.

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