The premise of Nathan For You has always been that Nathan Fielder helps struggling businesses with his crazy ideas that almost never take off, yet this season we’ve seen Nathan branch out beyond just assisting stores in need of his unique take. Nathan For You’s third season has been far more about social justice and the way Nathan is perceived by others than past seasons, which very well might be the perfect direction for this show to go in the future.
As great as every episode of Nathan For You is, due to Nathan’s ideas and the incredible reactions he gets, there’s only so many different ways Nathan can revitalize businesses. When it comes to Nathan’s third season, the most memorable moments have been where Nathan breaks out of the format that he’s been successful in so far. This season, he tried to raise awareness of Nazi atrocities through winter wear, found mild acclaim in the theatre world and proved himself to be scientifically fun to be around. When it comes to Nathan For You’s third season, it’s the people Nathan’s met along the way that make an impression, not necessarily the businesses.
Which is why Nathan For You’s season finale “The Hero” is such a brilliant evolution of Nathan’s general idea. “The Hero” cuts right to what makes Nathan For You great: the people. Nathan’s goal in “The Hero” is to change a man’s life in only two weeks, turning them from a totally unremarkable man into a national hero. Nathan’s new idea is that there’s a hero inside each and every one of us and that anyone can become a hero. Even Nathan.
Nathan picks Corey Calderwood, a part-time arcade attendant that lives with his grandparents, as his test subject. Unlike last week’s “Nail Salon/Fun” episode, Nathan lets the person know from the beginning exactly what he’s getting himself ready for. Corey signs up for an experiment to give himself a better life, which is exactly what Nathan wants to do with Corey to prove his larger point. Nathan studies Corey’s mannerisms, then under the guise of a physical, Nathan takes a 3D scan of Corey’s face. Nathan takes Corey on a helicopter into the middle of a desert, dropping him off at a camper for two weeks, in order for Nathan to assume Corey’s life and make it better.
With a face mask that looks eerily like Corey and pretty much nailing Corey’s way of speaking, Nathan begins the process. Nathan’s idea is that Corey will do a wire walk 80 feet above the ground in order to bring awareness of breast cancer. In Nathan’s mind, this will make Corey a national hero, and while he’s completely delusional in this belief, what Nathan does do is boost his own confidence, as well as Corey’s.
Nathan often tries to be someone else in order to make people happy, whether it’s a Hot Topic employee or a theatrical coach that wants one of his actors to continuously tell him that they love him. “The Hero” allows Nathan to actually walk in someone else’s shoes, letting Nathan hide who he really is and become someone else. Nathan is surprisingly comfortable when pretending to be Corey, to the point that when we see him finally take off the makeup at the end of the episode, it’s sad to see the confidence in Nathan fade away.
Nathan is so comfortable as Corey, he even sets up a date as Corey, so that when he returns from the desert, he’ll have a girlfriend waiting for him. Nathan-as-Corey meets Jasmine, a girl who like Corey also spends her time playing videogames and even enjoys Nathan-as-Corey’s use of the term “cool beans.” Jasmine seems legitimately interested in Corey and allows Nathan-as-Corey’s wish to kiss her once he’s walked the high-wire.
Thankfully, Nathan has been practicing his wire-walk for months, so that’s not the predominant fear when the big day comes. Instead, it’s how Corey will react to taking the credit for the wire-walk, his new girlfriend and the “national hero” status he will clearly have to get used to once the walk is concluded. Yet Corey goes right along with it, aware that there’s no turning back now.
After the event, Corey seems to have newfound happiness and excitement in himself. While his grandparents stated that Corey just glides through life, it’s almost as if Nathan has pushed Corey in a new, more responsible direction. It’s not as if Corey is going to become some tightrope walker or anything, but Nathan does give Corey the confidence whose absence seemed to be keeping Corey stagnant in his present state. As Nathan walks away from Corey getting all the acclaim for Nathan’s months of hard work, there’s not the usual happiness that Nathan gets when he helps a business. There’s a sense that Nathan has now given Corey the confidence to figure out his life now, yet Nathan remains trying to find his happiness in others, or at least another way to hide who he truly is to be comfortable.
This has been an incredible season of Nathan For You, largely because of Nathan’s humanitarianism side and by allowing us to see more of the Nathan character. Nathan Fielder’s ability to give us slight hints into Nathan’s character and what makes him tick has been a fascinating little extra to this season, among all the craziness. “The Hero” shows that Nathan can’t necessarily find happiness in himself by becoming other people, no matter how effective he is at doing this. Nathan For You’s third season has found the show at its most fascinating when it relies on watching Nathan helping individuals rather than businesses, and it’ll be interesting to see how both the show and Nathan himself evolves in the upcoming fourth season.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.