HBO’s ‘The Rehearsal’ Recap, Episode 4: Meta Method Acting

The first episode of Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal set our expectations, only to break them with each subsequent episode, until number 4, “The Fielder Method,” shattered them into dust; we’re not watching a rehearsal anymore.

What are we watching, exactly? It’s hard to say!

The show feels a bit like watching the creative process in action, with all its chaotic spontaneity, Nathan’s original idea having branched out into layered simulations, prompting moments of discomfort, poignancy, and unexpected beauty.

The episode begins with another stilted conversation between Nathan and Angela, as she talks about her history of drug use, sparked by the anger she felt towards her father, with Nathan’s faux-surprise at hearing that she used to do acid and cocaine as a teenager.

It doesn’t pay off until the end – the majority of the episode sees Nathan head off to teach an acting class, convincing a bunch of bright-eyed students to essentially stalk a target, and imitate their life in painstaking detail.

The students pick up on the moral ambiguity of the task straight away, and Nathan outright encourages them to do what they can to gather intel, consent of the subject be damned. Of course, we don’t actually know how much of the task is an illusion – have the subjects already been informed? Are the actors acting? This show is designed to raise suspicion with every reveal – at this point, we just don’t know what’s been staged.

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Nathan has actually made some great casting choices thus far, in the actors he’s used in his rehearsals, and this time, he even casts an actor to play himself, while Nathan inhabits the role of another student, Thomas, complete with an amusingly unconvincing wig.

Fake Nathan nails Nathan’s calculated self-consciousness, while Nathan himself comes to the conclusion that he’s not the most engaging teacher, and that the chairs should be arranged in a circle.

For the next class, Nathan takes his own advice to heart, rearranging the chairs, armed with a more energetic delivery. At this point, the students have already embraced the task, and seem intrigued by Nathan’s unorthodox method. It does sound kind of artsy, right?

Next, Nathan tasks his students with working real jobs to mimic their targets, encouraging them to break every boundary of privacy imaginable to nail the performance – the only student that shows discomfort with their creepy task is Thomas.

Hence, Nathan does another rehearsal of his first class, then the second; he comes to the conclusion that the presence of the cameras, the reputation of HBO, and collective peer pressure is pushing his subjects into agreeing to things they normally wouldn’t, like signing a release form without reading it, or stalking a stranger for an acting gig. The knowledge that they might be on the cusp of receiving their 15 minutes of fame overshadows the red flags.

It’s an interesting reflection on Nathan’s previous work, Nathan For You, which very much relied on the power of the camera, and the egotism of the subjects to make them agree to the outlandish premises – it certainly wasn’t due to Nathan’s charisma (although, his intense awkwardness has proved an exceedingly powerful motivator).

That’s always been part of the joke of Nathan Fielder’s work – that the sensation of being filmed, while engaged in an uncomfortable conversation, is a hilariously powerful prompt. A lot of people just want to be on camera, no matter the cost! We see unfortunate fame-seekers tortured and manipulated by reality TV producers all the time – Nathan Fielder is one of the few who seem interested in examining that power dynamic.

From there, things continue to escalate, as Nathan attempts to echo the life of Thomas, which means sending Thomas off to an apartment designed to mimic that of his subject, while Nathan stays in Thomas’s apartment, which has an unsettling collection of stuffed animals, watching him sleep.

Did Thomas know Nathan was going to sleep in his bed? The question of how much Nathan’s subjects really know about their situation continues to linger over the show. But Nathan’s acting class soon finishes up, as his students demonstrate their aptitude by imitating the work of their subjects, an amusingly underwhelming display which ends with Nathan awarding them all diplomas.

Next, Nathan heads back to Angela’s house, where “Adam” has grown into a teenager – he greets Nathan with a warm hug, and the fake-family enjoy a wholesome dinner. But Nathan finds the charade unconvincing, and he has a genuine discussion with Josh, the actor currently playing Adam, to brainstorm ideas.

Josh, it turns out, is a pretty good performer, and suggests that Adam should be furious at his dad for being absent for the majority of his childhood. They perform the “welcome home” scene again, and this time, Adam is suitably resentful. Adam’s backstory even spirals into a drug addiction, culminating in a dramatic overdose scene which prompts a panicked reaction from Angela, presumably mirroring her own experiences as a teenager.

Again, how much was rehearsed, how much was spontaneous, and was Angela told this would happen? We don’t know, but if you look carefully, you can see two of Nathan’s acting students playing the role of paramedics, one of whom is Thomas – we’re knee-deep into Nathan’s alternate realities at this point.

Adam runs off, and Nathan reunites with him at a playground, where a nifty transition resets Adam back into a six-year old, so Nathan can wipe the slate and try to be a better father. Angela has already agreed to relive Adam’s “childhood,” but again, she seems reluctant, pressured by the presence of the cameras (although, this doesn’t seem like a bad gig for Angela).

The episode ends with Josh confirming his scene shot, with Nathan and little Adam walking off to start afresh. Each episode seems to turn the initial premise on its head – who knows where this show is going? I’m not sure Nathan knew during filming, but he’s certainly cobbled a narrative together in the edit.

One things for certain – there’s nothing else like this on television.

If you enjoyed reading, check out my recap of the previous episode here