The Rehearsal S1E6: “Pretend Daddy” (Season 1 Finale)

Nathan hunches to talk to a crying Remy, who is held by his mother Amber, in The Rehearsal
Courtesy of HBO

The following contains spoilers for The Rehearsal S1E6, “Pretend Daddy” (written by Nathan Fielder & Carrie Kemper & Eric Notarnicola and directed by Nathan Fielder)

As the first season of The Rehearsal comes to an end, I find myself wondering how much of what happened within it was planned from the beginning. There are those who seem to have been thinking (rather cynically, in my opinion) that we’d ultimately find out that everyone in the series is an actor, or that everything has been scripted, but I’ve never thought this would be the case. Though that doesn’t mean we’ve been seeing unfiltered reality either.

Obviously the events of the series have been framed by structures both within and without, even as The Rehearsal has complicated the very distinction between inside and outside. And obviously someone like Angela was seeking fame from the show. She’s been releasing reaction videos.

S1E6 features a couple of moments where Nathan asks whether children understand the concept of acting. Do we?

Nathan talks to Liam, who is dressed as Remy, in the Season 1 finale of The Rehearsal
Courtesy of HBO

Certainly some things in The Rehearsal Season 1 were planned from the outset, like the basic structure moving from Episode 1 to Episode 2, and surely “The Fielder Method” was a part of the idea from the beginning, as there was really nothing in the narrative movement of the show that necessitated it. But by and large, I interpret Fielder to be creating situations with The Rehearsal that he then allows to play out, adapting to what happens to determine what comes next.

There’s a beautiful irony in that, insofar as the whole conceit of the show involves pre-planning for everything as much as possible.

Nathan wrestles with a dummy version of Adam on the floor
Courtesy of HBO

“Pretend Daddy” centers on Nathan’s relationship with Remy, one of the children who has played Adam, who doesn’t want to leave when he is replaced by Liam because Adam has gotten older. We learn that Remy doesn’t have a real father in his life, and he seems to have built a strong attachment to his pretend daddy Nathan (the term in psychoanalysis would be cathexis).

To his credit, Nathan can’t brush this off. It’s sad and disturbing, and I have to believe it’s something that really happened in the process of making The Rehearsal, as opposed to something they’d mapped out from the beginning.

In a weird way, some might find it consoling to think otherwise, despite the mental gymnastics that would be involved in thinking that Remy was just pretending to be upset, but I actually think it would be more disturbing that way, if somehow Fielder was getting a child to fake this kind of distress. Whatever the reality, I choose to believe this is all genuine.

An older actor portrays Adam, in overalls and a striped shirt
Courtesy of HBO

Of course it’s also disturbing for the distress to be real, and of course it might mess a fairly young boy without a dad up to spend weeks with a man pretending to be his father. But it’s also poignant that he loves Nathan, and I think Nathan loves him too, in his way. At least he cares enough to maintain contact.

In fact, he seems to care so much that The Rehearsal spirals out into an attempt to recreate past events to see where things went wrong. It’s worth noting that this is actually an inversion of the premise, even if the spirit is the same, and even if we saw the first iteration of this back in “The Fielder Method.”

Here in S1E6, Nathan carries the “retrospective rehearsal” to absurd lengths, as he ultimately takes on the role of Amber and has Liam pretend to be Remy. And it’s worth noting how the soundtrack becomes downright ominous as this carries forward, as if we needed a musical cue to know that Nathan is going down a darkly neurotic path, veering far from anything that could be called reality.

Nathan looks into a mirror with a version of himself as Amber looking back
Courtesy of HBO

So the final moments of “Pretend Daddy” hit at once both as the culmination of this movement and as a moment of catharsis. It’s quite striking. Has Nathan become truly unhinged, or has he finally found genuine emotional connection? (Why not both?)

Of course, when he tells Liam that he’s his dad, he is really talking to the Remy that Liam is pretending to be and, as Liam rightly notes, Nathan is supposed to be pretending to be Remy’s mom. So the scene breaks down, and the blurred lines between reality and pretense that have formed the tension of the series to this point snap.

Roll credits.

Nathan Fielder stands looking at an array of screens in The Rehearsal
Courtesy of HBO

The Rehearsal has been renewed for a second season, but I honestly have no idea where the show might go from here. By the end of the Season 1 finale, Nathan has pushed the idea of rehearsing for reality so far that it has almost come around to touch reality, leaving the smallest gap which makes everything uncanny (and deeply funny).

Overall, the series lampoons rationality itself. Nathan wonders how he could possibly move on from a mistake without knowing what he could have done to avoid it, which is eminently rational, but the point is that we have to accept that we can’t always know. Particularly when it comes to our interactions with other people, we have to learn to cope with the fact that we can’t always right past wrongs, or even know what we could have done differently. Our relationships are too complex for that. Angela is always going to take her tea and leave.

Nathan and Fake Angela sit on a couch, in a shot through a doorframe
Courtesy of HBO

And this is what I take to be the lesson The Rehearsal is teaching us behind our backs: that the whole approach to life Nathan Fielder (by which I mean the character played by Nathan Fielder) is taking is doomed to a particular kind of failure. He demonstrates as much, rigorously.

There’s also something really refreshing in how The Rehearsal interrogates itself as Nathan faces what has happened with Remy. He’s grappling with the real-life consequences of what happened in the staged rehearsal, and maybe this was always a part of the point and a part of the plan for the series in its broad strokes. It’s impossible to know, but it opens a whole thicket of interesting questions about what’s real and what isn’t, which implicates the whole of what’s known as reality television.

If Nathan, Remy, and Amber all sat down with Oprah and said these events were all scripted, we’d still have to decide whether to believe them. And I, for one, wouldn’t. It’s just more enjoyable to not believe that.

Did the waivers people had to sign to be part of The Rehearsal differ meaningfully from the ones people sign to be on a show like The Bachelor? Or does your standard reality TV contract allow for the possibility of wrecking a child’s life?

I think Remy is fine, and/or will be fine, but my only evidence is within the show itself. And even if he is OK, The Rehearsal clearly shows how it could have caused him actual trauma through his participation.

Is this how we want things to be?

I guess so, because I’m looking forward to watching Season 2.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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  1. Remy is my sisters grandchild. Amber is my niece and this was not scripted. The emotions are real and Remy is just fine. He is just a super loving kid. He still remembers Nathan. Nathan was genuinely interested in how Remy was and really sweet to Amber and Remy ❤️

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