The Rehearsal, HBO's most recent series, has a lot to ask and say about empathy. It starts by exploring how deep you have to go to understand another person, culminating with the notion that no matter how hard you try to grasp them, the final stretch of understanding them is a guess. This is certainly true, but The Rehearsal is particularly good at guessing.
Nathan Fielder wants to expand the production process of The Rehearsal, and he, himself, wants to make sure that the other cast members don't get too bogged down in the performance. Even to the point of, as the class joked, stalking, the Fielder Method is a more effective acting strategy.
Fielder explains that his intention to develop The Fielder Method was to get a uniquely high degree of realism from the actors for his series rehearsals. However, over the course of his time teaching, he has realized that in order to achieve the level of realism he desires, he wants his actors to become the people they are playing, while leaving as little of a difference between the actor and the primary (aka the person they are trying to emulate) as possible.
Fielder admits that he often wonders what people think of him after seeing him. This is, of course, a universal feeling. Yet, this time, he decides to recreate the class that just happened, but this time, he'll play one of the students to see if he can accurately portray him. Even after he discovers Thomas' apartment, sleeping in his bed, he still comes to the conclusion that he is not Thomas.
The whole notion that empathy can only go so far is a unique one. What makes it even better is that Fielder attempts to experiment with how far it can go in a way that is almost scientific. Yet, regardless of what lengths the program is willing to go to, its entirely understandable why no attempt to recreate another person's thoughts, perspective, and lived experiences is sufficient.
Angela opens up about her strange past, and Fielder notices that while he thought he knew a lot about her, there were things he didn't know.
Despite the fact that this episode illustrates the futility of trying complete empathy, it makes you wonder what exactly that implies. Fielder states that this reenactment made him more at ease with the actors and that the atmosphere in the room felt so much better.
The Rehearsal's fourth episode is by far more emotional than the previous episodes. The actor who plays Adam as a teenage boy works hard to embody Adam while interpreting his events in a truthful light. While it's extremely clear that this isn't the case, it doesn't make it any less emotionally impacting for viewers.
What is interesting about this exercise is that Fielder takes what he learned and gives it a makeover: something that is readily available to anyone doing a rehearsal but not to the rest of us. In some ways, watching teenage Adam go back in time to become young Adam and seeing Fielder change how he interacted with him is profoundly poignant.