Is Netflix's Maniac Post-Credits Scene "Real?"

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Maniac finale, “Option C.”
For a Netflix series about the intricacies, traumas, and fantasies of the human brain, the Maniac finale, “Option C,” is shockingly sensible. The limited series’ closer wakes its main characters, Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill), from the feverish psychological nightmare inflicted upon them by “Gerite” the supercomputer (she cranked the lab’s heat up to 140 degrees). Then, the duo walks out of the imposing Neberdine Pharmaceutical And Biotech building, and back into the sorta-sunny real world. What follows are plot beats deeply steeped in real world seriousness: Annie reconnects with her dad (Hank Azaria) after multiple family tragedies, Owen refuses to lie for his sexual assaulter of a brother Jed (Billy Magnussen), and Annie springs Owen from a mental hospital after said demon of a brother frames Owen for multiple treason-adjacent crimes.
Everything is wrapped up with a fairly neat bow, and fade to credits. Then, like with Sharp Objects before it, the Maniac's post-credits scene bubbles up from the darkness. While Sharp’s last word this past August added clarity to its topsy-turvy finale, Maniac’s post-credits scene reminds you to question if you, like Owen, know what’s real.
Because, it’s more than likely, Maniac’s parting scene doesn’t exactly qualify as “real” — at least not all of it.
When the sequence begins it plays like a delightful coincidence rather than a total fantasy. Annie and Owen, who recently escaped the latter’s mental facility, are driving to Salt Lake City, where Annie was headed at the start of the story. Now, Annie has a friend to go with her. “Do we actually know each other?” Owen asks; “We’re off to a good start,” Annie replies.
At the same time as this conversation, doctors James Mantleray (Justin Theroux, having the time of his life) and reconnected love interest Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno of Crazy Rich Asians) pass by in the opposite direction, headed on their own adventure. Mantleray and Fujita, deemed enemies No. 1 and 2 by the Neberdine corporation for ruining their pharmaceutical trial by saving their subjects’ lives, are on their way to Newfoundland, Canada. The story Mantleray is about to tell, about how the universe began, is a reference to his narration at the very start of Maniac.
These two crisscrossing narratives between the Annie-Owen journey and the Fujita-Mantleray journey are likely a real, if slightly dreamy, prologue. You should believe them. Especially since the “coupling” of these the Annie-Owen and Fujita-Mantleray stories are a fitting reflection for the way Annie and Owen’s fantasies were constantly intersected throughout Maniac. Maniac loves coupled narratives!
Then, we take a turn towards the completely fantastic.
As both the Annie-Owen truck and the Fujita-Mantleray flame-decaled car disappear from their shared highway, two animals sneak their way into the frame: a hawk on a sanitation robot and a teeny chihuahua. We can all probably agree these feathered or furry friends are not in fact real. Rather, they are nods to who Annie and Owen are at their core and metaphors for their future.
Annie infamously lost Groucho, her late sister Ellie’s (Ozark’s Julia Garner) dog, seven years ago. This is a fact that haunts her to this day. We know as much since, nearly a decade after Groucho’s disappearance and Ellie’s death, Annie is still handing out Lost Dog fliers with the pup’s face on them. When Annie “finds” Ellie at the end of her Neberdine trial, the second thing she apologizes for is losing the dog (first she says sorry for showing up drunk to her sister’s funeral). The dog who hobbles into the scene looks exactly like Groucho.
The dog’s fantastical appearance is a reminder he, like a post-Neberdine Annie, is now “found” and trotting toward the the great, optimistic unknown.
The same goes for the hawk cautiously following the energetic Groucho. Owen’s affinity for hawks is well documented throughout Maniac. Not only does Jed literally become a hawk in episode 8, “The Lake Of Clouds,” but his connection to the bird goes back much further. We learn in premiere “The Chosen One!” that Owen found an injured hawk as a child and nursed it back to health over about three months. Then, that bird got strong and ate his awful brother Jed’s gerbil. Not so coincidentally, Owen was dealing with a (mental) illness of his own, went to the drug trial for three days, improved his internal life, and then torpedoed his brother’s sexual assault trial. Owen essentially devoured any chance Jed had of leaving court an innocent man.
Owen is that hawk, slow, finally steady, and forever in need of assistance. Annie is that dog scurrying along ahead of him. They're heading in the same direction, at different emotional paces. None of it is real, but, damn, is it hopeful.
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