Season 1, episode 4, “The Fielder Method”

Nathan Fielder in The Trial

Nathan Fielder in Essay
Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Can you be authentic if you are paralyzed by your own conscience?

While I ask myself this same question on any given day, I’m writing it down today because it’s what kept me thinking as I finished the fourth episode of Nathan Fielder’s gender-defying series. Essay. Apparently, the non-fiction program is presented following the Nathan for you creator/star as he helps “normal people” rehearse crucial moments in their lives (difficult conversations with siblings or trivia friends, the challenges of parenthood, for example). Only, with each subsequent episode, that provocative premise (who wouldn’t want a full-fledged coach and production team helping them test each and every turn a complicated conversation with a loved one could take?) has become something much more more ambitious. But also, something much more insidious.

To be fair, this was there the whole time. After he introduced us to Kor, who Fielder eventually helped out, the show revealed that the way his host had gotten that first interaction with this willing participant was because he hired an actor and beta-tested it back and forth until the end. exhaustion. . That is, while rehearsals on the show would be centered around people eager to be helped by the kind of production budget HBO can payThe very concept of Essay it was, in large part, the result of how Fielder himself wishes he could live his life. As someone who often spends sleepless nights reliving idiotic things I’ve said while out with friends (“Oh, gosh, I really should have said X instead… WWhat must they think of me now!”), I understand Fielder’s impetus, aand his desire to spread that blanket of comfort of an experience to his various guests.

But practicing for real life just isn’t, well, practical. After all, any simulation will necessarily be a lesser copy. By definition, it can never be real. You can only approximate it. And Fielder seems intent on making his essays as authentic as possible, which requires a degree of storytelling that necessarily pushes him into ethically murky territory. This is someone who sets up a fake acting school in Los Angeles where he encourages would-be actors to harass people to better impersonate them and who, without a hint of irony (I think? Or is he that good of an actor? ) tells the class that this is the kind of job where, if you mess up, you could ruin someone’s life.

that whole scene and the questions it raises they are also in Fielder’s mind. That is why he later organizes not a rehearsal but a recreation.n of that first class, so that you can better understand the many concerns of your students. Here he is once again inserting himself into this exercise in life as an actor that he has been inventing all along. EITHEROnly this time, it’s not just a mere participant. He has become an actor. Thomas, actually. I’ll admit the sight of Fielder in a wig(!) he made me laugh. But not as loud as when, later in the episode, Fielder and Thomas share the following exchange, after the aspiring actor confesses to Fielder why he’s struggling with his homework:

“I don’t like lying to people,” says Thomas.

And then, as deadpan as possible, Fielder responds with the following: “No, me neither.”

It’s the kind of moment that feels so absurd that I couldn’t help but bend. But In that laugh I recognized the bait and the switch Essay keep pulling us. Because I believe Fielder when he says that he doesn’t like to lie. Only he knows it’s a necessary part of his job. His mission, even.

Nathan Fielder in The Trial

Nathan Fielder in Essay
Photo: Courtesy of HBO

But that whole experiment, where he tried to become Thomas to better understand himself and his own kind, I felt like I was taking this whole premise too far. It’s getting harder and harder to keep track of this nesting doll proposition, but one thing is still clear :THis is an exploration of Nathan Fielder’s own method of madness. This makes the choice to reshape Adam’s own growth/personality when he returns to Eagle Creek much easier to understand. That is no longer an exercise in Angela’s service. meNow he will remain fully in the service of Fielder’s own interests. I hesitate to try to attach words like “egoism” and “solipsism” to these options, But when you orchestrate a fake opiate overdose to better capture how a teenager would react if a father figure was gone for years because that’s the story as you’ve experienced it, you have to wonder where it’s all headed.

Which is all to say: I can’t be the only one horrified by this episode, can I? And terrified too by the way Fielder must be well aware of how terrifying he’s showing up. Which brings me back to the self-awareness question, which keeps bugging me. There is such an investment in authenticity in all these “essays,However, Fielder can never get out of his head. He is seeking emotional truthfulness (in itself as it demands of its actors and thus of its participants), but it seems that everything is out of his reach forever. Is that why he feels so much more comfortable in these “rehearsals” when he’s in them himself? Are we reaching a point where the falsehoods that surround it are no longer crutches and are in danger of becoming the real thing? Is he intentionally trying to drive us crazy by reminding us how performative our everyday lives are?? Guess we’ll find out next week.

missed observations

  • “Did you take cocaine?!” may be the line of the episode. Hands down.
  • I loved the visual flourish in the episode’s end (the slide transition) and the love Fielder held for the teenage actor who plays Adam coming off the slide (“Is that it?”) and breaking whatever version of plausibility that fantasy transformation might have created. After all, we are in Brechtian territory.
  • As much as I am fascinated by the thematic concerns of Essay, I am equally intrigued by its own logistics. I was left wondering, for example, how Fielder & Co. he came to use Eagle Creek, Oregon as his base of operations. What was it about this community that made it fit so well into these various trials? Fielder points out that Eagle Creek had a lot to offer just to show us, with a John Wilson-esque flourish, images of two signs: a makeshift one that reads “We’ve Got Eggs Now” (on top of another that reads “BROWN EGGS”) and a more professional looking advertising “Pole Buildings”. Similarly, and especially during that truly WTF OD moment, I kept wondering how in control Fielder is. We have seen how practical he is…Did you know the overdose was going to happen? (Did Angela do it?) And if she did, what use was she?
  • I’m still stuck on the fact that the jean jacket that Thomas wears on his first day at Nathan’s workshop features, on the back, a picture of a furry cat with the words “Eat Me” emblazoned on it. I don’t know what to do with this information other than to notice how prominently it is framed. meIt’s hard to miss—but also difficult to understand. mea fictional program I’d point out how it can tell us anything about Thomas but I honestly don’t know what I’d say about such a costume choice other than it helps to further mystify. about who Thomas is as an individual. (Also, again, I want a full interview with the many actors who participated in the show, either as themselves during these classes or as performers in the actual rehearsals because…I have questions!)
  • An aside: I agree with Fielder, actors can be very intimidating. Also, barry cross when?
  • I ask you all, once again, to observe Synecdoche, New York. And I’ll stop suggesting you do that when I stop writing “How Kaufman-esque!” in my notes after each episode.

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