The Fielder Method
Nathan and Angela continue their journey of parenthood together in Repetition season 1 episode 4. To Nathan’s surprise, Angela opens up to Nathan about her past – how she hated her father for not being around and put her parents “in hell” by drinking and doing drugs. They can only hope their own son doesn’t do the same to them, but shouldn’t the simulation be as realistic as possible?
At least Adam is only six years old when Nathan leaves his home in Eagle Creek to return to his real home in Los Angeles. Turns out he can’t quite get a steady supply of actors for his show at Eagle Creek. It’s time to return to the Fielder Method Studio, then train the actors in the rigorous process of participating in Repetition.
Nathan lectures on his method, which his students interpret as “harassment” (a proud moment for Nathan as a teacher). He gives them the mission of finding a “primary”, observing them closely and returning to class the next day dressed like them. At first, it doesn’t even occur to Nathan that some students might find his method a bit problematic.
By the end of his first lesson, Nathan largely cares about what his students think of him. So, as he wants to do, he relives the class as a student by populating the class with actors. Specifically, he takes on the role of a real student in his class named Thomas. What he notices from Thomas’s seat is that the method the fake Nathan is teaching looks intriguing, but the environment seems too formal.
Students return to the next class to find the chairs arranged in a circle (a much better atmosphere, according to Nathan). Most students share findings about their primary, but Thomas – the real Thomas – struggled to get much information about his primary, an employee at an Açaí Bowl restaurant.
Nathan takes Thomas aside to give him advice – “disrupt the situation” to somehow get closer to his primary. When Nathan relives this class from Thomas’ perspective, he feels good about how things turned out.
Afterwards, Nathan arranges for his students to work in their primary’s real jobs. He notices that the more extreme his method becomes, the more his students respect him. Thomas, however, remains uneasy.
When Thomas confesses that he doesn’t like lying to people, Nathan has to back down. He didn’t feel that when he was Thomas. So, he decides to re-enact his first day of class and really try to get inside Thomas’s head this time.
In this rehearsal, we hear Nathan’s inner dialogue. Or rather, what he imagines to have been Thomas’ inner dialogue. He takes on the persona of someone excited to be on camera and, at the same time, nervous about impressing Nathan. He’s suddenly someone who is uncomfortable with his surroundings, but also wants to follow what other people are doing. This Thomas is starting to feel real.
Nathan feels good about rehearsal. But he knows he has to go further to understand Thomas. So he visits Thomas at the acai where he works now. Now Nathan can experience Thomas by visiting his own elementary school workplace.
But when Nathan looks back on a day one reenactment, he realizes how invasive Thomas would see his practices as. What better way to fully understand this state of mind than to make its practices even more invasive? Nathan needs to get closer to his subject, he realizes. He must live in Thomas’s house.
Nathan suggests that Thomas move into an apartment similar to his principal, with the ulterior motive of taking over Thomas’ house for himself. He even finds a job at another acai restaurant. Now Nathan can be Thomas 24/7.
And yet, he’s still able to realize that there will always be parts of Thomas that he can’t understand. “It’s hard to know exactly what’s behind an actor’s smile,” Nathan muses. “But once in a while, it’s good to pretend that everything is fine.”
Thomas and the rest of Nathan’s students have graduated from his program, so it’s time for Nathan to return to his fake family in Eagle Creek. Adam and Angela are warm and welcoming, but that doesn’t sit well with Nathan.
Because Adam is 15 now. Much like Angela’s father, Nathan missed out on so much of his child’s life.
On Nathan’s instructions, the Adam actor reenacts the reunion with Nathan, much more coldly this time. “Good,” Nathan replies, more impressed with the actor’s performance than invested in his role as the despised father.
From this point on, Nathan and Angela experience the terrible teenagers. Adam, fueled by his father’s absence, stays late drinking and doing drugs with his friends.
It’s quite a performance for Nathan, but Angela seems to resonate with it. She tries to connect with Adam by bringing up her own experiences with drugs and an absent father. But that doesn’t really matter. Because repetition is no longer about Angela; Nathan almost completely hijacked it.
Feeling he’s missed too much of his son’s life, Nathan asks Angela how she would feel if she returned to Adam’s six-year-old. Whatever is best for the show, she responds.
Shortly after, Nathan rushes into his son’s room to find Adam coughing and foaming at the mouth. He overdosed and had to be taken to an ambulance. Before they can get him to the hospital, however, he flees.
Nathan goes in search of Adam, discovering him the next morning in a park with his friends. But when 15-year-old Adam goes down a toboggan to meet his father, a 6-year-old child emerges again.
“It’s easy to assume that other people think the worst of you,” Nathan mused as he watched Adam at the park. “But when you assume what other people think, maybe all you’re doing is turning them into a character that only exists in your mind.”
“The good thing is that sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to make the world feel new.”
“Okay, Adam,” Nathan told his 6-year-old son. “Let’s go home.”
The episode review
More than any other, this episode is at the heart of what Nathan Fielder is trying to do with Repetition.
It’s actually – at first – a little nauseating to observe how easily Nathan can hijack rehearsals to serve his own purposes. Getting inside Thomas’ head is less about empathizing, as Nathan thinks, and more about perfecting Nathan’s act.
Building a life in Eagle Creek is less about helping Angela achieve what she wants for her future and more about outlining Nathan’s idea of a perfect scenario. Even when Nathan realizes how his bias affects a rehearsal and tries to correct his controlling nature, he does so in both scenarios by asserting even more control.
Nathan has a knack for summing up each episode’s themes in succinct statements, even if he (or rather, the character he plays for this show) remains completely oblivious to how those lessons reflect his flaws.
The real Nathan, however, must be absolutely aware of the arrogance he puts forward. Observations like the one in this episode – “sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to make the world brand new” – intentionally underscore his own hypocrisy.
Nathan is not the hero of Repetition, but he is its deeply flawed protagonist, inviting us to critique with him the inauthenticity of his journey towards authenticity. It is an intensely fascinating and mind-blowing process.