The Rehearsal S1E5: “Apocalypto” puts the frame in the picture

The following contains spoilers for Repetition S1E5, “Apocalyptus” (written by Nathan Fielder & Carrie Kemper & Eric Notarnicola and directed by Nathan Fielder)

If you approach Repetition trying to analyze what’s real and what’s not, you’re doomed to fail, because (as I’ve argued throughout these articles) the series systematically undermines the usefulness of the reality concept. Or, better, it shows how reality is always a construct – it’s not just a portrait of what exists but always depends on an often invisible frame.

This was evident in “The Fielder Method” as Nathan (impersonating Thomas) wondered about the cameras filming the acting class. What kind of show is it?

And we are surely asking ourselves the same question that viewers have been asking since the beginning. Which makes Repetition stand out is that it’s not really a kindly of spectacle – it’s unique – and therefore the conceptual framework that we want to bring to it never ceases to waver.

Fielder clearly knows what he’s doing here, and it would be quite interesting to just see this method play out, with the various iterations and levels of repetition that are increasingly in play as the season progresses, but what’s striking , this is how through all this semblance and artifice, there are moments in Repetition when the truth shines through. And they have a strange tendency to occur when our everyday concepts would label a scene as fake.

Courtesy of HBO

In S1E5, Fake Angela poses on Nathan as they rehearse for his conversation with Angela, and she gets to the heart of what’s going on in the relationship between the two, even though it’s not acknowledged, and even though it’s is staged. Nathan is in control as far as this is his show, and the framing of Angela’s rehearsal as part of a TV show he directs affects what happens during the rehearsal.

Nathan either feigns ignorance of this or is downright naive (one of those), as he expresses his lack of understanding of Angela’s behavior. But when he confronts her about how she gave up the pretense of her rehearsal when he went to Los Angeles, she mostly laments the lack of direction she received.

It resonates with the way Fake Angela berates Nathan for not really feeling anything, pressing whether he wants to, and digging into him declaiming that he never will. Nathan responds to this by saying that was a good take and moving things to another repeat of the conversation (suggesting they try something nicer this time), but it goes back precisely to how the real Angela has always wondered what he wants from her.

Nathan and Fake Angela sit on a sofa, in a photo through a door frame
Courtesy of HBO

I’m tempted to say that Nathan is constantly detached from reality, but again, I don’t think reality is a useful concept here. On the contrary, I would suggest that Nathan constantly lingers with the vanity of repeating – he takes it seriously and precisely does not treat it as mere pretense. But at the same time, it’s like his view of himself and his situation was always already external, like when, wanting to know if he had done a good job teaching his acting class in S1E4, he proceeded to piece it together for himself so he could see himself from the outside.

And we should think about how this affects all of us at this point. Social media are not fake, even if they are not “real” either, but it is about mediating self-perception through the prism of the gaze of the Other. Appearance has supplanted the notion of reality to which it was once opposed. It does not matter if an indiscretion has occurred; it matters if it appears to have happened and if people believe it did. Everyone knows it at this point, although some of us like to decry it. All is simulation and simulacrum.

Angela knows, and always has known, that she’s on Nathan’s show. And even though this is a reality TV show, everyone knows it involves some curation and reality framing. By denying her this, Nathan left her significantly clueless throughout. Repetition. It raises all sorts of retrospective questions about his behavior to think about.

Nathan stands in front of a wall with drawings of Adam, including one where a guy is hitting a volcano
Courtesy of HBO

For example, was Angela’s insistence on raising Adam only with Christianity (refusing Nathan’s request to incorporate some Judaism) a true expression of her depth of feeling, or a matter of leaning into the character she played for the show, who was also herself but still a certain version of herself framed by perceived expectations?

Repetition forces us to reflect on the reality of who we are, not just the situations in which we find ourselves. Nathan’s mom berates him for not standing up for himself with Angela, and it’s not because she thinks how they raise their fictional child is important, but because she’s seen him fall into this before. pattern in past relationships (failure). It’s about who he is, and there’s no sharp line that separates that from his performance as a version of himself. You could say that we are always playing versions of ourselves. Nathan’s mother knows this intuitively.

Nathan's parents are sitting cross-legged in the grass
Courtesy of HBO

With Angela out of the picture, Nathan decides to continue “raising” Adam anyway, and he goes all out in Judaism. But we have to remember that Adam doesn’t exist – this kid is an actor playing Adam. At the same time, however, Repetition should make us think about the whole idea of ​​acting and the difference between performance and pretending.

From some perspective, of course, the characters from our favorite TV shows and movies aren’t real, but again, that strikes me as the correct answer to a poorly posed question. The impact of a fictional character can be indelible. It can be passed down from generation to generation. It can even define the contours of a religion.

Nathan puts a Jewish hat on Adam's head
Courtesy of HBO

So, from another point of view, the fact that a person is not “real” is not important. All you mean is that they have no existence outside of the framework provided by the work of fiction.

But none of us either, really. We can shift from one frame to another in the way we perceive things and are perceived, but even when we are alone we are within the frame of our own conceptions of ourselves, tainted as they are by how we imagine others see us.

In the end, it may be fruitful to see Repetition as Nathan Fielder design a therapy session for himself. As S1E5 draws to a close, it seems the series has become centered solely around him. He put other rehearsals on hold to focus on raising Adam, and has now decided to continue with this project even though Angela has pulled out. Why does he do this if not for himself?

Miriam stands in a kitchen
Courtesy of HBO

Of course, the obvious answer is that he’s doing it for us, since it’s a TV show being produced for us to watch, but that seems like an easy fix. The truth is Repetition is everything we think it could be – both real and fake, or neither. It stages and exposes how we frame reality through our ontological engagements, blurring our ordinary conceptual distinctions.


The title of Repetition S1E5 obviously stems from Angela’s quote of apocalypto as his favorite movie (which of course leads to a delicate discussion about whether Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite). Choosing this word as the title of the penultimate episode of the season strikes me, however, for two other reasons.

If we look at the roots of the term, an apocalypse is a disclosure or revelation. The word took on the meaning of designating the end of the world by a kind of shift in its use to designate a supposed revelation about the eschaton, which would be the event that puts an end to the world. It’s not the kind of act that makes you popular at parties.

Anyway, “Apocalypto” plays in the space opened up by these two meanings. The world (which is not that which exists brutally but a construction dependent on a conceptual framework) comes to an end in a significant way, whereas the determining repetition of the season (that of Angela) collapses. But what is revealed is that Nathan wants to carry on anyway and the truth that he is doing all of this for himself.

Don’t get me wrong, this just shifts the ontological framework again. The eschaton is always tomorrow, which never comes, or if one world ends, another quickly arises to take its place.

There is one episode left in season 1 of Repetition. I don’t know if any of us know if this could be the series finale. I wonder how much of what we saw was pre-planned and how much resulted from happy accidents or went with the flow.

I wonder how much of what we see is Nathan Fielder and how much is a mask he puts on to play a version of himself. But the only one who could really answer those questions would be the man behind the mask, and the entirety of Repetition shows that there is no such thing. It’s masks all the way down.

About Debra D. Johnson

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