After a whirlwind previous episode, it’s time to find out how our favorite drug trial subjects — and their leaders — fare. In the test room, which somehow still has colored lights though James yanked out all Gertie’s wires, the sweaty participants return to reality. Annie’s had an experience, and she waves Owen off when he asks if she’s OK. James, Greta and Dr. Fujita cheerily send them home with false enthusiasm among the remnants of chaos.
James and Dr. Fujita are due for a reckoning with the talking computer screen on the 77th floor, where the computer voice says they’re idiots. Greta, off to the side, jumps in to defend herself — she’s not an idiot, she’s going to sue and her son should no longer be allowed to practice in the industry for his own good. That’s fine. As she makes her way out of the room, James invites Greta to lunch. She’s going on a long book tour and won’t see him again — for a while.
James and Dr. Fujita ride the elevator down on their permanent way out. They speak of fantasies, and James envisions being at sea on a journey to find Atlantis with her as his true life partner. Dr. Fujita doesn’t like boats, but that’s just a technicality because they inhale each other, aggressively making out. Once they separate, Dr. Fujita asks if she can give James a lift. She learned how to drive thanks to her therapist’s advice. In the parking garage, we pass the blue station wagon from Owen and Annie’s lemur fantasy and arrive at Dr. Fujita’s car, a black hot rod with flames.
Annie and Owen part ways under a concrete tunnel in the rain. Owen promises he won’t follow her, even though sometimes he gets weird and does that. Annie wasn’t worried. Her hard exterior is back in place. Owen hops in a cab and Annie walks through the rain, smoking. Annie enters her apartment, Owen his. He gets a paper out of a drawer and writes to Olivia.
Then Owen’s on the witness stand in court to defend Jed. He complies with his father and lies until the defense lawyer plays video security footage of the incident in question. It’s Jed engaging in a non-consensual sex act. The defender asks if Owen can determine what’s real when the evidence is right in front of him. It’s a double bind for Owen because either the defense is going to accuse him of being psychotic or his family will. He makes the best worst choice, the one that affirms his compos mentis for himself. He tells the truth. Above the uproar in court, Jed threatens to kill Owen as he’s whisked out of the courtroom.
Annie, meanwhile, visits her father’s house. She assumes he’s still in his “Avoid” pod in the backyard. She pushes a button on the pod to tell her father she can’t do this alone. Though his wife left because she was sick and couldn’t handle a family and his daughter died, Annie needs her dad. A window opens behind her and her dad pops his head out the window. Her dad isn’t the only one Annie wants in her life. After an unsuccessful attempt at using a FriendProxy version of Owen, Annie finds a newspaper headline featuring real Owen after his brother’s trial, and a lightbulb goes off.
Owen, meanwhile, has been committed to a psychiatric hospital. It’s not a normal psychiatric institution because patients mingle near the front doors and the space is light and airy with plenty of outdoor space. I guess this gets a pass because “Maniac” is an alternate reality. Soon, Annie shows up and cons her way into the facility. Owen isn’t thrilled to see her, but as usual, she wins him over.
Annie wants to break him out of the hospital. Owen feels he needs to stay. He’s sick, and if he goes with her, he’s doomed to repeat history over again. Every time he gets close to someone he messes it up. One day he’ll get frustrated about something small and yell and before you know it, she’ll change her number and disappear. Annie assures him that’s not going to happen. She’s got a plan. In 30 seconds, Owen should follow her into the bathroom.
It doesn’t seem he’ll come, but he does. Annie goes over their cover story and throws men’s street clothes at him, which she borrowed from her dad. Before he puts them on, he wants to know why Annie is really there. She pauses. “Because I’m your friend, and that’s what friends do.” It’s enough. The newly minted “couple” walk toward the hospital exit. A security guard calls to them, suspicious. Owen and Annie dash outside.
The hospital staff pour out of the building by the time they’ve reached Annie’s truck. After a few hiccups, Annie starts the car and Owen urges her to drive. She backs out and they’re off, escaping while the hospital staff fades into the distance. Owen laughs and smiles along with Annie, throwing his head back. It’s so good it hurts.
Overall, including this episode, “Maniac” earns three stars. It’s engaging, intriguing and imaginative, but I’m not sure it was 100 percent successful. I do like how they treated Owen and Annie, keeping mental illness as a major part of the story, but not necessarily the point, or the only point, of the show. Owen and Annie are relatable characters and we root for them from front to back. Apparently, this was top of mind when series writer Patrick Somerville penned the script. He told Variety:
There’s this thing that happens where when somebody becomes ‘other’ — the rest of the people in the family can’t love him [or] her properly anymore. It’s like a slow letting go of love and support, and it’s somewhat not intentional, but every person who’s involved in it has a different relationship with it. All of that was really fascinating to me in telling Owen’s story and in trying to tell a story that people with mental illness would respond to.
We want Annie and Owen to master their traumas, the promise of the drug trial in the beginning. In the end, Annie does this when she lets go of her sister, confronts her dad and seeks out Owen. Owen does this when he tells the truth at Jed’s trial, refusing to yield to anything other than reality. It costs Owen dearly, and Annie’s rescue, by choosing to go with her, finally serves as the freedom he deserves. Yet the series ends with a bit of confusion.
As Owen and Annie make their break, it’s exactly Owen’s fantasy come true. Throughout the series, Annie and Owen are thrust into fantasies where we catch snatches of reality at every turn — minor characters or objects tethered to the real world, like Dr. Fujita’s car, which Post Malone Owen drove in his fantasy — that make it hard to differentiate what’s real. Add the campy elements, like James’ entire persona, and it’s unclear what we’re supposed to believe.
Does “Maniac” want to comment on the elasticity between the perception of fantasy and reality? Did they just use mental health as the glue to tell a story that would otherwise be absolutely implausible? Were we supposed to learn something profound about life or connection or the brain? Maybe, but it’s hard to tell, exactly. Perhaps that’s part of the point.
- How do you feel about the show’s ending? Do you think Annie and Owen really escaped and drove off into the sunset for real?
- How did you feel “Maniac” did on the portrayal of mental illness? What do you wish the show had addressed better? What did you really like?
- What did you think of the series as a whole? Would you watch another season?