HBO’s ‘The Rehearsal’ Recap, Episode 5: Culture Clash

Throughout Nathan For You and The Rehearsal, there’s an implicit assumption that the viewer understands Nathan is putting on a persona.

That persona seems like an exaggerated version of Nathan’s awkwardness, but still a mask. In episode 5, “Apocalypto,” that mask seems to slip; we appear to catch a glimpse of who Nathan really is, if only for a moment.

The episode begins with a sketch that Nathan and little “Adam” have come up with, which sees Nathan eating chocolate and pretending it’s poop. Obviously, this is the height of humor for a six year-old, but when the two show Angela the sketch, she can’t conceal her disgust – in fact, she repeatedly brings it up throughout the episode, seemingly infuriated. Angela has never really pretended to like Nathan, but now, her disdain is on full display.

The fantasy get surprisingly real when Nathan invites his parents to come and visit, and his mother observes that the dynamic between him and Angela is mirroring that of his previous relationships; in order to avoid conflict, Nathan goes with the flow, often ignoring his own discomfort.

His mom suggests that Nathan “raise” Adam as both a Jew and a Christian, as Nathan himself was raised Jewish. It’s amusing that Nathan’s mom even cares about how he raises his fake son, but perhaps she views it as good practice before the real thing.

Adam’s “faith” seems to be a genuine concern for Nathan, but it’s also the perfect way to push Angela’s buttons – Angela is clearly not sympathetic to other belief systems.

Hence, Nathan prepares for the difficult conversation with Angela by rehearsing with one of his students from the acting class in the previous episode (and to her credit, the actress absolutely nails Angela’s passive-aggressive whisper – maybe there’s something to be said for Nathan’s method).

While the two rehearse a wide variety of responses, when the real conversation comes, real Angela dismisses the idea straight away – she simply doesn’t seem to view Judaism as a valid belief system, due to her devotion to Jesus Christ.

Hence, Nathan decides to expose Adam to Judaism in secret, under the guise of swimming lessons that are really sessions with a Rabbi named Miriam. The tension is building, and the absurdity is spiking; the house is surrounded by fake snow, an imitation of winter that Nathan ordered, to make the house feel more festive, and help spark the conversation around faith.

Angela’s dismissal of Judaism comes right before she casually tells Nathan that her favorite movie is Apocalypto (great movie), and that her favorite director is Mel Gibson (yikes), notorious for his blatantly anti-Semitic rants. The timing is almost too perfect, and we know that when Angela learns about Adam’s secret education, her reaction is going to be … interesting.

Eventually, Nathan brings Miriam to the house so she can make the case for him, and the conversation is incredibly tense; while Miriam makes a strong case for tolerance, Angela just won’t budge, insisting that worshiping Jesus is the only way to live.

Frustrated, Miriam soon gives up, and even labels Angela an anti-Semite. And frankly, she’s probably right – Angela’s insane obsession with Satanic rituals mark her as Qanon-adjacent, and when it comes to conspiracy theories, all roads lead to anti-Semitism.

Nathan then withdraws to the replica bar he built for the first episode of the series, and watches footage of Angela, taken by the cameras littered around the house, to see how seriously she takes the rehearsal when he’s not there. Of course, Angela doesn’t care to stay in character during Nathan’s absence – she’s taken this as an opportunity to goof off, and who can blame her?

So, Nathan engages in a series of rehearsals to confront Angela about her true motives, while the tension between him and the real Angela continues to rise. Angela just can’t get over the poop sketch, and even declares it a Satanic ritual – Nathan’s exasperated, sarcastic response feels like another glimpse behind his mask.

During rehearsal with fake Angela, there’s another uncomfortable moment of truth, as fake Angela goes on an outburst in which she essentially accuses Nathan of laughing at her, understanding that she is the butt of the joke. And it’s true – Nathan’s experiments aren’t overly mean-spirited, but it’s undeniable that a big part of the appeal is laughing at the freak show.

Fake Angela even accuses Nathan of being emotionally damaged, that the entire series is just an attempt to feel something – Nathan’s response seems genuinely wounded, and again, the line is being blurred between Nathan’s persona and his personality. Of course, we don’t know how much of this was scripted, how much was improvised, or if Nathan wrote this script himself.

Finally, the time comes for Nathan to have a real conversation with Angela about what, exactly, they’re doing here. While the conversation seems short and is heavily edited, Angela makes an interesting point, stating that she never felt like a real collaborator. This might be her dream house and fantasy life, but Nathan is the puppetmaster pulling the strings – after all, this is his show, and no amount of acting can change that reality.

Nathan’s subjects are rarely as outspoken as Angela – they tend to go along with everything to ease discomfort, like Nathan does. But Angela seems very aware of the fact that Nathan is winding her up, and has put up with the scenario for so long because it was a kind of vacation.

But enough is enough, and Angela decides to leave; her stilted farewell to Nathan highlights the fact she never felt comfortable around him. Nathan, however, decides to continue the experiment with just him and Adam.

Miriam returns to the house, and outright celebrates the fact that Angela is gone. Miriam’s frankness is refreshing, until the final scene, in which she starts to aggressively push Zionism on a clearly uncomfortable Nathan. Amusingly, Miriam and Angela are more similar than they’d like to believe, both governed by an ideology which they believe to be the only truth.

In some way, the show has been a character study of all these random oddballs Nathan manages to find, and even Nathan himself – to some degree.

I’m curious to see how the next episode, the finale, binds all these weird, wonderful plotlines together into a cohesive whole, or if Nathan will turn the tables on us again, with something completely unexpected.

I’m guessing it will be the latter.

If you enjoyed reading, check out my recap of the previous episode here

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