The opening sequence of “Scion” feels light compared to the spookiness of the final scene of last week’s episode. We begin with Nathan Fielder standing in front of a wall of monitors, directing the action of a mysterious scene that seems to involve swapping one baby in a nursery out for another. He is so laser-focused that he looks as if he’s directing the aerial mission in Top Gun: Maverick, giving a tight little nod when the maneuver is accomplished.
Then we’re introduced to the new rehearsal: a two-month-long simulation of parenting a child from zero to 18 for a woman named Angela, who has “chronically put off having children” until her 40s. “Most people say that nothing can prepare you for becoming a parent,” says Fielder in voice-over. “But most people don’t have the resources to hire dozens of child actors to create a round-the-clock simulation of parenthood.” (Can’t argue with that.)
The setup is full of now-familiar gestures. Fielder interviews Angela, who hints at a few eyebrow-raising beliefs — some light Bible stuff and a comment about babies’ skulls absorbing radiation — but nothing too overtly freaky. There is the slight awkwardness of the scene in which Fielder makes everyone role-play the baby’s adoption (“Maybe you can elaborate a bit on why you’re not suited to be a mom,” he directs the child’s actual mother). And, of course, there’s the elaborately detailed nature of the rehearsal itself, with its meticulous timeline, expansive wardrobe, and constant switching off of child actors. There’s only one piece missing: Angela wants to have a child with the love of her life (“a man,” she clarifies), so Fielder needs to find her a partner.
Watching Angela go on her string of Tinder dates, I assumed that at least some of her prospective suitors were actors. I wavered only a little when that one guy said his greatest fear in life was eels, a line almost too good to be scripted. When she finally connects with Robin, a cute young Christian who seems immediately into her, I figured he must be a plant; he seems a bit too perfectly placed.
Angela isn’t sure whether she wants to see him again. But Fielder, eager to create the most realistic simulation possible by pairing her up with a partner, really wants her to bring him into the rehearsal. Until this point, he has been measured and neutral in his conversations with Angela. But when he says, in voice-over, that he’s worried she might not be “taking this whole thing seriously,” a tiny crack begins to show along the surface of his affect.
As viewers, we know the situation is not that simple. This woman is halfway across the country from her home, alone in a large house with a sped-up, shape-shifting baby, surrounded by cameras, and being asked to commit 24/7 to a charade that would be emotionally and physically exhausting if she did it “the right way.” Sure, devoting herself completely to the rehearsal would make it more accurate, but maybe she doesn’t care as much about accuracy, now that she’s in the middle of this bizarre situation. Maybe she didn’t really know how taxing the simulation was going to be; maybe she is feeling overwhelmed or creeped out. Or maybe she really doesn’t want to have a kid. All of this is speculation, of course; I’m just saying it’s not impossible to imagine why she might be less invested in playing by the rules than the guy who invented them. But Fielder’s frustration serves a narrative purpose: The hint of emotion makes him feel less like an omniscient director and more like a participant with conflicting desires.
When Angela decides to go on a second date, Fielder agrees to look after her fake child “just this once” since she has failed to hire a babysitter. It may seem strange to say that this part of the show was the first time in The Rehearsal that I felt truly manipulated, but it’s true. Watching the montage of scenes in which Fielder played sweetly with the baby, I wondered what I was being set up for — whether this was really an organic development or if it had been part of the plan all along.
Angela, too, has some ideas about control and authorship. The next day, she invites Robin over; before he arrives, she sits on the couch and prays in a low whisper, hands folded in her lap. The camera cuts closer as she asks God to show everyone involved in the production that “even if they think they are choreographing or guiding this process, they will see that it is not them but you.” The moment is equal parts eerie and elucidating: Everyone involved in this exercise has their own ideas about its purpose and who the protagonist is.
Robin arrives, and Angela explains the project, introducing the baby and showing him around the house. They seem to be getting along well. There is even a moment on the couch, scored with a romantic soundtrack, when Angela tells him her “convictions on purity” involve staying celibate until she is married, which Robin seems to interpret as a challenge, or at least an opening to flirt. (Later, he tells Fielder he feels like “the door’s open” for them to have sex despite having received no indication that that’s the case. He never violates her consent, but there’s something a little sinister about how he blithely ignores her clearly stated boundary simply because he wants to do things his own way.)
Maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but at this point in the episode, I still thought Robin might be an actor. He accepts the show’s premise too readily and agrees to stay the night way too fast. When Fielder followed him out to his car, it dawned on me that this guy is real. By the time he was clearing old banana peels off the passenger seat so they could drive to his house together, I felt like my brain was melting. In the first episode, the twist (over and over again) was that all those real people were actually actors; in this scenario, the trick is reversed, but the impact feels the same.
They travel to Robin’s house, Fielder anxiously monitoring Robin’s unsafe driving while he repeatedly points out nearly every number he sees as some cosmic coincidence, a habit he displayed a little bit on his second date with Angela but which is beginning to seem more like a compulsion. The scene when they arrive at his place is an instant classic in the Fielder pantheon of weird guys — a brief immersion into a real person’s life that feels like a psychedelic trip into an alternate reality. There are too many perfect moments to count, from Robin casually squeezing through the maze of mattresses in his bedroom, to Fielder’s response when confronted with a bong, to Robin’s pronunciation of may-o-nnaise, to his insistence that you don’t need a license plate to drive.
But the wildest part is his fight with his roommate, which seems to arise with zero intervention or orchestration from Fielder. Robin points out that he saw some portentous numbers on a water bottle, and his roommate breaks in. “I have a hard time seeing the coincidences,” he says, asking Robin why he thinks “so much more about numbers than real-life experiences.” The question feels bracing, like he’s breaking the fourth wall. Robin’s obsession does indeed seem to ride the line between fixation and disorder; maybe it’s a coping mechanism after the trauma of crashing his Scion tC at 100 miles per hour. But whatever its origins, it clearly gives him a sense of control over the chaos of life, a way of organizing what can’t be organized. No wonder he responds defensively when it’s called into question. “What was that about?” asks Fielder after the argument has blown over. “I was just telling the truth,” Robin says. “And this demon doesn’t like the truth.” Then they drive back to the house where Fielder is in charge of his own simulated reality.
When Robin inevitably bails on Angela halfway through the night, Fielder says in voice-over that “it can be scary to let a new person into your life … You can never be sure what their motives are, and even if you wish for the best, they often end up disappointing you.” I found myself wondering whether he wasn’t referring only to Angela’s feelings about Robin but also his own feelings about her. I was still contemplating this possibility as I watched him meet with her in his replica of the Alligator Lounge (which he has transported from New York and rebuilt inside a nearby warehouse in what may be the show’s best punch line so far) to propose that he enter the rehearsal with her as a co-parent. Maybe his frustration wasn’t just because she failed to follow his rules but because he wanted to be inside the scenario all along.
And just like last time, a glimmer of something new and unsettling flashes through the episode’s closing moments. “I know I’m in a position of power when I say this to you, and I don’t want that to influence your willingness to decide,” he says to Angela after he makes his proposal. “I want you to be honest with me if it’s something you don’t want to do.” He flashes her a puppy-dog look as she tries to figure out how to answer. She has already told him she wants to pray about it first, and she’s clearly uncomfortable — sitting in his imaginary bar, surrounded by his cameras and crew, with the fictional baby he has assigned to her at her feet. What would happen if she decided to say no?
We never find out. “Why not?” she asks, more than once, nodding in a way that feels almost defensive; maybe it’s just easier to agree. But does she really know what she’s saying yes to? What happens when the designer of the simulation decides to enter it? The show doesn’t give us any hints; instead, we see Fielder using a script to call each of the child actors’ parents, asking if they consent to him “performing the role of father.” If anyone says no, we don’t see it.
• It’s interesting to me that this show handles the concept of child actors so differently than Nathan for You, in which there was often a heavily implied critique of parents who bring their kids into show business (like in “Hotel” or “The Claw of Shame”). In this episode, there’s a lot of continued emphasis on the parents’ informed consent, and no one is really framed as craven or greedy for allowing their kids to participate. Maybe Fielder doesn’t want us to be distracted by the question of whether any of this is bad for the kids. Or maybe it’s just about applying the same level of meticulous detail to this process as he does to, say, building a bar.
• Did you catch the little hint at a tragic backstory when Angela explains why she wants to name the kid Adam? The woman is an enigma. Also, her dancing is perfect, and I wish I could hear the music she is grooving to. Christian rock?
• “Do you want me to drive? Because you, uh … took a little bit of weed?”
• I hope you didn’t think I’d get through this whole recap without ever mentioning the “night owl” Fielder hires to stay up all night to activate the robot-baby’s cries. I’m obsessed with this man and with the concept of governmental “Sasquatch liaisons,” which I will be thinking about probably for the rest of my life.
• Fielder changing a diaper with the WikiHow article for “How to Change a Diaper” on a laptop balanced on the changing table was a nice touch, though it doesn’t seem like a situation in which you’d want to have to scroll.