“I felt like I was solving a puzzle of my own design,” Nathan Fielder said in the season finale of “The Rehearsal.” He drops his fake son off at a Jewish school. Directly behind him drives the real mother of the child, who immediately picks him up to take him to his real school.
Nathan wants to feel as if dropping his child off at a Jewish school to make him feel like a “good Jew,” an insecurity that stems from a problem with his former co-parent, Angela, for whom the whole simulation was originally built. But Nathan is now the subject of his own rehearsal, raising Adam – played by dozens of child actors of different ages – all by himself. At the start of the series, he was Willy Wonka. Now he’s Charlie Bucket.
The school dropout is the kind of joke we’ve seen throughout the HBO series, namely Nathan covering his fake house in fake snow to simulate winter, or hiring a fake postman to pick up Angela’s fake mail. Nathan repeatedly fights complicated, seemingly minor problems with awkward and absurd solutions for the sake of comedy. But in this episode, he discovers the heartbreaking consequences of the blurring of the line between reality and fantasy when one of the child actors, 6-year-old Remy, can’t separate Nathan from Dad.
On his last day on set, Remy refuses to take off his ‘Adam wardrobe’, crying because he doesn’t want to leave rehearsal. After trying to comfort the young child, Nathan has a conversation with his mother, who tells him, “He sees other children with fathers…and he definitely wonders, ‘Where’s mine?'”
Later, Nathan visits Remy at his real house to hang out and subtly explain that they’re just friends, and that he’s just a “pretend daddy.”
“I don’t want you to be Nathan,” Remy says, and Nathan realizes that the boy may not understand the subtleties of acting.
When Nathan returns to his fake house with his fake son (now played by a 9-year-old Liam), he finds it difficult to emotionally commit to the simulation. For the first time in the entire series, he breaks character.
“You know I’m not your real father, right? We’re just acting, you know that, right?” Nathan asks Liam. “Do you have a father?”
“Yes”, says Liam, to which Nathan responds: “Do you feel that I am credible as a father?”
Then, in what is somehow the most heartbreaking line in the series, Liam says, “I mean, you’re a great scene partner.”
In this brief moment of emotion, Nathan seems to finally be able to breathe, realizing how much damage his experiment has caused to the subjects – and perhaps to himself as well. But instead, he dives deeper into the illusion, turning Liam into Remy into Adam to rehearse his own rehearsal.
“Perhaps the best use of my resources right now would be to figure out what I could have done differently,” Nathan says in voiceover as he analyzes footage of his scenes with Remy like a quarterback movie might study. He relives his hard conversation with Remy, but with actors. This time he is rehearsing.
After that, Nathan goes for the Fielder method and transforms himself into Remy’s mother in an attempt to fully understand the other side of ‘The Rehearsal’. Instead of participating directly in the simulation, Nathan is in the control room, while Fake Nathan from episode 4 (Alexander Leiss) replaces him in the house. It is an endless Russian theater puppet, as Nathan again simulates his conversation with Remy – this time as his mother.
In a disturbing final scene, Nathan (who plays Remy’s mother) explains to Liam (who plays Remy) that Leiss (who plays Nathan) is not his father, but rather a “pretend daddy.” It is an exact replica of an earlier scene.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have done that show. That’s weird for a little kid to be a part of. But you know what? Mom is not perfect. She also makes mistakes,” Nathan tells Liam, who calls back fake tears.
“It’s okay if you get confused. It’s okay if you get sad. Because whatever you are going through, we have each other”, Nathan continues. “And I will always be there for you, because I am your father.”
“Wait, I thought you were my mother,” Liam says in a whisper, breaking character to remind Nathan of his role.
‘No,’ Nathan replies, almost villainously. “I am your father.”
And moments later, Liam, who plays Remy, laughs and goes to hug Nathan, lost in the puzzle of his own design.