For Nathan Fielder—the actual person—every episode of Nathan For You attempts to both create a crazy idea for a business and also have that idea build into brilliant insanity. However, for Nathan Fielder the character the core goal of Nathan For You is a desperate need to be liked and accepted. Underneath all of his plans, there’s an underlying sadness and a desire for a friend or, what seems to be his holy grail, for a girlfriend. “Nail Salon/Fun,” more than any other episode prior, focuses on Nathan himself, as he attempts to gain acceptance from women and from new friends.
With “Nail Salon,” Nathan’s primary goal is acceptance from the very beginning. When he goes “undercover” at the Corner Beauty Nail Salon, he barely dresses up, putting a bandana in his hair and wearing a tiny purse. When he mentions his lack of a disguise, he responds that a “modern woman can present herself however she likes.” After getting his nails done, he realizes that going for his keys can ruin his new manicure and decides a valet stand would alleviate this common problem. After getting the women who work at the salon to become the valets, he believes that people act weird towards the valets because of prejudices that Asian women cannot drive. In order to fix this, he hires stunt driver Verena Mei to squash that stereotype.
As we’ve seen this season, Nathan is more than capable of navigating the people he interacts with in a way to get fantastic reactions. But there’s something so great about Nathan For You when he is also surprised by the reality of the situation. Nathan doesn’t have to create a situation in which people are wary to allow Asian women to drive their cars, it’s sadly just what happens. Maybe they’re just weirded out by a nail salon having a valet, but the reactions don’t seem to point in that direction.
But “Nail Salon” and the entire episode succeeds because of Nathan’s thorough attempts to be liked by everyone. When he asks Mei to do an Asian accent so customers won’t think she’s a plant, he goes through about a minute of assuring her that his impression isn’t accurate, before giving an incredibly offensive and terrible Asian voice. Nathan also sees a social injustice with the prejudice against the salon employees and by showing them an Asian woman who can drive, he is trying to make the world a better place for everyone. Yet the true prize for Nathan is in the end of the segment, when Nathan asks the owner Kim Han what she thinks of the idea and gets her to admit to him that he knows what women want.
It’s in this moment that all of Nathan’s hard work, all of his sucking up and all of his attempts to make everyone happy pays off. He gets what he needs: despite every woman in the show so far denying his advances, he’s been told by a woman that he knows what they want. There’s a sad victory in Nathan hearing this, almost as if every segment up until this point has happened so that one day, maybe, someone would say that to him.
While “Nail Salon” at least attempts to help a business, “Fun” is simply a way to indulge Nathan and prove that he’s not a guy that never smiles and doesn’t know how to have fun. He of course does this by going on the most painstakingly, meticulously planned hangout with a complete stranger. In order to prove that he’s fun, Nathan decides he needs to test a person’s dopamine levels before and after hanging out with him, for scientific evidence that he can be fun, relaxed and easy going.
Nathan finds his new friend/test subject Brendan off Craigslist and takes him out for a fun day full of trying on silly hats, go-karts and blood tests. Nathan creates an intricate setup to get Brendan’s pee from a urinal at his office, then tries to make Brendan as excited throughout the day, until he flat out just says that they should get blood tests together to be random.
In the end, Nathan’s test ends up being fruitful, as he sees that Brendan’s dopamine levels are 2.5 times higher than they usually are, proving scientifically that Nathan is a fun guy. However to continue his friendship with Brendan, Nathan must come clean to him about his actions, saying that he used the pee and blood for his own tests. In the end though, Brendan doesn’t seem all that worried about a bit of stolen piss, and the two engage in a day at the amusement park, scored brilliantly by Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.”
Unlike most episodes of Nathan For You, where the participants are for the most part told what they’re in for, “Nail Salon/Fun” does feel slightly more mean-spirited than the show is used to. Brendan has resorted to finding friendship on Craigslist, so he clearly is desperate for a friend and goes along with everything due to his want for such a friend. I mean, the guy willingly gives his blood AND buys a silly hat! Even as it’s explained that Brendan is going to be taped for a documentary about friends that met on Craigslist, Brendan is fine with doing whatever it takes for this friend. Once he’s told that his blood and urine has been taken for a scientific experiment, it’s clear that he’s disturbed by the idea, but soon shrugs it off in order to keep Nathan as his friend.
Usually when Nathan hides his true intention, it’s rarely with a person that seems as nice as Brendan does. Even when he puts together a date for the guise of getting information about Best Buy or many of his other misdirections, it never feels like the other person has the pure intentions that Brendan has in “Nail Salon/Fun.”
“Nail Salon/Fun” gives us the terrifyingly selfish side of Nathan, who seems only to do the things he does with the hope of being loved or at the very least liked. Nathan attempts to quell racial stereotypes in order to be told that he knows what women want and steals bodily fluids from a nice guy simply to prove that he’s fun. It’s always fun to see the lengths that Nathan will go to for these compliments, even when he’s slightly more cruel than he usually is.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.