SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read if you haven’t seen the series finale of The Rehearsal entitled Pretend Daddy.
“I felt like I was solving a puzzle that I designed myself,” says Nathan Fielder in the season one finale of The Rehearsal. He takes his fake son to a Jewish school. Right behind him drives the boy’s real mother, who immediately picks him up to take him to his real school.
Nathan wants to feel like he’s taking his child to Jewish school to make him feel like a “good Jew,” an insecurity stemming from an issue with his former co-parent Angela, who the entire sim is originally developing for became. 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 beginning of the series he was Willy Wonka. Now he’s Charlie Bucket.
The school drop-off is the kind of gag we’ve seen throughout the HBO series, ie Nathan covers his fake home in fake snow to simulate winter, or he hires a fake postman to pick up Angela’s fake mail. Nathan keeps tackling intricate, seemingly insignificant problems with uncomfortable and absurd solutions for the sake of comedy. But in this episode, he discovers the heartbreaking consequences when the lines between reality and fantasy blur when one of the child actors, 6-year-old Remy, can’t separate Nathan from Daddy.
On his last day on set, Remy refuses to take off his “Adam wardrobe” and cries because he doesn’t want to leave rehearsal. After trying to comfort the little boy, Nathan strikes up a conversation with his mother, who tells him, “He sees other kids with dads… and he’s definitely like, ‘Where’s mine?'”
Later, Nathan visits Remy at his real home to spend time trying to gently explain to him that they are just friends and he is just a “fake daddy”.
“I don’t want you to be Nathan,” Remy says, and it dawns on Nathan that the boy may not understand the intricacies of acting.
When Nathan returns to his fake home with his fake son (now played by a 9-year-old Liam), he finds it difficult to emotionally engage with the simulation. For the first time in the entire series, he breaks his character.
“You know I’m not your real father, right? We’re just playing, you know that, right?” Nathan asks Liam. “Do you have a father?”
“Yes,” says Liam, to which Nathan replies, “Do you feel believable as a father?”
Then, in what is somehow the show’s most heartbreaking line, Liam says, “I mean, you’re a great co-star.”
In that brief moment of emotion, it seems as if Nathan could finally catch his breath and realize the harm his experiment had done to the subjects—and perhaps himself. 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 at this point would be to figure out what I could have done differently,” Nathan says offscreen while analyzing footage of his scenes with Remy like a quarterback would study a movie. He repeats his tough conversation with Remy, but with actors. This time he’s rehearsing.
Then Nathan uses the Fielder Method and transforms into Remy’s mother to fully understand the other side of “The Rehearsal”. Rather than participating directly in the simulation, Nathan is found in the control room while Episode 4’s fake Nathan (Alexander Leiss) fills in for him around the house. It’s an endless Russian drama as Nathan once again simulates his conversation with Remy – this time as his mother.
In a disturbing final scene, Nathan (playing Remy’s mother) explains to Liam (playing Remy) that Leiss (playing Nathan) is not his father, but a “fake dad”. It is an exact replica of an earlier scene.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have done this show. That’s a strange thing for a little kid to be a part of. But, you know what? Mom is not perfect. She makes mistakes too,” Nathan tells Liam, who is holding back fake tears.
“It’s okay if you’re confused. It’s okay if you get sad. Because no matter what you experience, we have each other,” Nathan continues. “And I’ll always be there for you because I’m your father.”
“Wait, I thought you were my mom,” Liam says in a whisper, breaking character to remind Nathan of his role.
“No,” Nathan replies, almost viciously. “I am your father.”
And after a moment, Liam, who plays Remy, smiles and hugs Nathan, lost in the puzzle of his own design.