The first piece of information is that it appears that Remy is fine. When fans of The Rehearsal were worried about the young actor, his grandma reassured them on Twitter shortly after the season finale aired that he is “doing well.” (On the occasion of Remy’s sixth birthday, she also posted a video of him saving a ladybug.) Despite the trauma we witnessed on film, we now know that Remy’s personal life is not in shambles thanks to the assurances of a close friend or family member.
Since of our worries regarding Remy and because we still don’t know a lot about The Rehearsal, the news is welcome. It’s unclear how much of Nathan Fielder’s narrative was planned ahead of time and how much was discovered in post-production. There is no record of the period between crucial scenes or the order in which they were filmed. We don’t know how closely Fielder followed a script for some of the rehearsal sequences or how much information he gave to his subjects. Did Fielder, whose wife Angela has a troubled past related to substance abuse, warn her that he intended to have their “kid,” who is pretending to be a teenager, fake an overdose so that he could get a reaction out of her? Is that how he saw her grudging approval (“Whatever you think is needed for the play, that’s fine”)?
All conversations concerning The Rehearsal take place in a void since no one has any solutions. Fielder has always been interested in and even dabbled in the mysterious art of magic. In a New York profile published before the debut of The Rehearsal, Nathan for You co-creator Michael Koman mentioned Fielder’s appreciation for British illusionist Derren Brown. Koman praised the creator, saying, “He’s a guy who developed something where you can’t figure out how it’s done and how it’s that good.” If I had to speculate as to what motivated Nathan, it would be the desire to see those characteristics in a product he created. At least by that metric, The Rehearsal succeeds magnificently. Fielder, like Bo Burnham, an artist with technical mastery and intense self-scrutiny, seems dedicated to letting the work do the talking.
Is there more to the story, and if so, what boundaries did The Rehearsal strive to push? There are still unanswered questions like these going into Season 2 of The Rehearsal, which has just been revealed. We’ve seen Nathan Fielder, as Fielder, lie to his subjects and refuse to tell the truth while in character. There have been cases where players were rushed into signing releases without having the chance to read them. We’ve seen the performers Fielder chose cast doubt on his entire endeavor, perhaps at his direction. You claim that we’re in communication, but this is ultimately your initiative. There’s not much of a role for me here.”) All of these passages show Fielder’s dominance over the situation and make us wonder if and how he’s misusing his authority. None, however, explains the moral conundrum quite like “Pretend Daddy,” in which Fielder sincerely blames himself for an objectively immoral act—the harming of a kid.
In conclusion, The Rehearsal is supposed to get progressively crazier, but we still need some background on Remy’s predicament. Remy is among the actor’s Fielder has cast in the role of Adam, his made-up son. Initially, Fielder plays God by creating Adam for Angela, a single lady who wants to “rehearse” motherhood by having a baby. Adam is played by different actors from infancy to puberty to avoid breaking child labor regulations and to more accurately portray his development on screen. Remy plays Adam, a 6-year-old boy, and later gives over the role to an adult actor named Liam during Adam’s birthday party, which is held by Fielder, who is “parenting” Adam on his own now that Angela has decided to leave. Remy doesn’t want to go anywhere, and that’s the problem.
Amber, Remy’s mom, reveals to Fielder that her son has always known he doesn’t have a father figure. Remy has become so immersed in the role of Dr. Fart with Fielder that he is unable to turn off the attachment as easily as he turned on the role. Amber explains, “He doesn’t want it to not be real.” However, despite Fielder’s best efforts to calm Remy down (“Remember we were making a TV show? “), Remy’s outward display of distress persists (“I just want to stay with him”). The talk concludes on a positive note, but not before we’ve seen a child brought to tears by the caprices of the performance, and then those tears woven into a story about the adult guy in charge of the show.
A fielder can claim ignorance up until this time. He was unaware of Remy’s history, and the problems it raised are practically universal in kid acting. (Amber says she has her doubts about whether or not Remy has any concept of acting.) The events that follow are what truly propel The Rehearsal into unexplored territory. Later, Fielder and Liam ostensibly bring their play date to Amber and Remy’s place. Amber assures Fielder that Remy will be alright, saying that she recognizes parts of herself in him. The sentiment is so sweet that we hardly notice Fielder asking Amber where she bought her sweater. When Fielder finally asks Liam whether he’s “had enough,” the audience is prepared for the show-stopping closing scene, in which Fielder, dressed as Amber, rehearses a dialogue with Liam, disguised as Remy.
The character of Fielder is challenged throughout The Rehearsal to recognize the boundaries of his method. Furthermore, Fielder the filmmaker consistently declines to provide closure or hope for his or her audience. The second-to-last episode opens with a montage of Fielder’s victorious transition into the position of a single parent, but the show ends with a heated dispute about Israel with Adam’s tutor. As a result of these conflicting tendencies, the Fielder we observe does not often correct his poor behavior.
Fielder’s natural response, whenever he sees indications that the rehearsals and his attempts to re-create reality to stage them aren’t having the intended effect, is to double down on his dedication. Adults seem to make up the bulk of those who have suffered from this. Patrick, a man at odds with his brother over their grandfather’s fortune, falls for Fielder’s intricate scheme to incorporate human feelings into his experiments. While trying to get to know Fielder, acting student Thomas unwittingly lets him stay in his apartment. Even though these events violated trust, we could console ourselves by telling ourselves that it had been formed between two consenting adults, even though Fielder made care to show us the strong-arming that can go into acquiring agreement.
Yet, when you have a kid, even that justification falls by the wayside. Just minutes after Remy warns Fielder about the consequences of his conduct, Fielder is seen again using his young charge as a pawn to further his own goals. His next round of practice sessions will be framed as an effort to prevent a repeat performance of the same result since he knows he did something wrong. However, he fails to remember and act upon his wisdom from a former episode: “When you presume what others believe, maybe all you’re doing is turning them into a character that only exists in your head.” To help Liam process the reality that Remy is a person with feelings he didn’t account for, Fielder turns Remy into a fictional character.
However, within Fielder’s theory, Remy’s perplexity is not wholly undesired. On the surface, Fielder’s intention with The Rehearsal is to heal the rifts in his relationships. The more he attempts to exert authority over his surroundings, the more he realizes he has no real power over anything, and the more he longs to release a suppressed aspect of his personality. He says, “I’m often envious of others’ ability to just believe.” (Such is how Amber has faith that Remy will be well.) As for performers, he says, “They have a way of channeling other people’s feelings that I don’t comprehend.” When Angela and her counterpart have a fight, the actress portraying Angela says with a hiss, “Do you want to feel something?” Do your best, but you won’t succeed. The Rehearsal begins with Fielder conducting experiments to see if his idea holds water, but he is ultimately the subject and the experiment in his mad science experiment.
Seeing Remy cry is heartbreaking, but perversely, that’s exactly what Fielder has been after. Remy, though, is so engrossed in the show that he loses track of what is real and what is acting. Remy is the only character in the story for whom the manufactured fiction elicits a genuine reaction, albeit negative. When Fielder (as Amber) says to Liam (as Remy), “I think it’s a good thing you’re sad because it shows you have a heart,” he may be a little envious. As the saying goes, “It proves you have feelings.”
With Remy, Fielder is both closer and further away from a breakthrough than he has ever been before. Fielder realizes what’s wrong with his plan (“life’s better with surprises”) and tactics (“The Rehearsal is a bizarre thing for a tiny kid to be a part of”) when he puts himself in Amber’s shoes. However, he only gets there by rejecting all warning signs and stubbornly sticking to a faulty premise, which may only end up convincing him of its truth. The regeneration in The Rehearsal undermines even Fielder’s insight. What first sounded like a logical conclusion—an acceptance of spontaneity over structure—reads more like a precursor to bad things to come.
The fact that the unease in The Rehearsal is on purpose doesn’t make its divisive reception any less real. Using real actors, especially children, to investigate the nature of acting invites controversy, as does the failure to provide any additional information beyond what the subjects (Remy’s grandmother, Angela’s bad date) chooses to reveal. The successes of the Dress Rehearsal would be meaningless if they were not accompanied by genuine danger. The Rehearsal urges us to follow Fielder into the rabbit hole, but it ultimately deflates its and our sense of self-seriousness. Fielder gets up after that mind-boggling monologue, giving the season a final shot of his butt crack. Some forms of self-disclosure are more direct than others.