Netflix's Maniac is at once very manic and very, painfully slow. The show, created by True Detective visionary Cary Fukunaga and adapted from the Norwegian series of the same name, tells the story of two people in a pharmaceutical trial who are seemingly connected. Something about their atoms and blah blahs keep them smashing into one another throughout the duration of the trial. This is confusing because, you see, the trial is meant to take place within their own minds. How is it that Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) keep meeting up in their minds, even though they have distinct brains?
All of this plays out on a backdrop of a couple of important life events, although the show deliberately keeps the timeline vague. ("It's like being in a fucking casino," one character remarks, lending us all a great metaphor for how this show make us feel.) Owen is on the precipice of a Big Deal Trial — not a pharma one — where he'll testify on behalf of his brother. Annie has a contentious relationship with her father, who looks like a robot car. (This show!) Meanwhile, the doctors operating the drug trial are dealing with their own trauma. By the time the drug trial ends, though, most of the chips have fallen. Just to keep everything in order, here is a timeline of every messy thing that happens in Maniac, the show determined to keep us on our toes.
1947: Lady Neberdine!
Arlie Kane and Ollie — dream versions of Annie and Owen — embark on a séance with Lady Neberdine (Sally Field), an heiress to the Neberdine Pharmaceutical fortune. This all takes place in the "pill B" dream reality, so it's not certain that much of it is real. But Maniac suggests that these characters are inserting themselves into real stories — histories that will eventually factor into their own trauma. (This kind of therapy is reminiscent of early findings of epigenetic inheritance.) This memory is one of the more bonkers illusions, so it's hard to dwell on it as fact. But let's assume that most of it is, in fact, events that actually occurred.
The Mid 1980s: The Bruce-Linda dreamscape.
Greta Mantleray publishes See Her See You See We and Marion gets pregnant with Greg F.U.N. Nazlund, the man who will eventually ram his truck into Annie's. This also takes place in a pill simulation, but likely actually occurred.
Ten Years Before The Trial: Owen is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
This is according to trial testimony, during which the prosecutor claims that Owen received his diagnosis ten years ago. This would be the same time Owen had his BLIP — an incident that shattered his relationship with Olivia (Grace van Patten).
Seven Years Before The Trial Begins: Groucho is lost.
At the beginning of the series, Annie puts up "lost dog" posters for a pup named Groucho. The poster claims that the photo of Groucho is from seven years ago — two years before Annie's sister Ellie (Julia Garner) died in a car accident. For the purposes of the show, I am assuming the main action takes place around 2010, which means that Groucho disappeared around 2003.
Five Years Before The Trial Begins: The car accident with Ellie.
This is an important moment. It's what marks Annie's disintegration into the mussed-up being she is when the show starts. Somewhere near Salt Lake City, Annie and Ellie get into a massive car accident, one that leaves Ellie dead and Annie injured. The driver of the car was Greg F.U.N. Nazlund (Jonathan Rentler), a character who will recur in Annie's pill-induced dreams.
What's worse about the accident is that Ellie and Annie were in the middle of a fight before then, one largely about pictures. Ellie wanted to commemorate the trip with Annie. Annie wanted to be an idiot and take photos of her own armpit. Thus, a fight.
Seven Months Before The Trial Begins: Jed's engagement party.
Okay, now to Owen's timeline: He's in the middle of a pickle because of his brother, Jed (Billy Magnussen).
The Trial Begins!
Oh, how I wish Maniac had given us the actual year. The series occurs in some reimagined present, a place either 10 minutes in the real future (getting paid to be a Friend Proxy isn't that insane) or 10 minutes into the mind of Cary Fukunaga.
Day One Of The Trial: Dr. Muramoto (Rome Kanda) dies.
Who knew that Maniac would involve a ruthless death so quickly? Muramoto, the chief operator of the study, dies in front of Owen, leaving Owen and Annie to figure out a way forward. Muramoto effectively dies for two reasons:
1) So that Annie and Owen can stay in the trial despite their crimes. Annie snuck in via Patricia (Selenis Levya) and Owen got in, but didn't take pill A thanks to his misgivings.
2) So that GRTA, the computer, can begin to have her meltdown. She and Dr. Muramoto ("Robert") were having an affair.
Day Two Of The Trial: Dr. Mantleray gets re-involved.
Where do you turn when your lead doctor on a case dies? Well, Justin Theroux in a weird wig and glasses will do. Mantleray used to be a part of the trial, but was removed following his relationship with Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno). Following the death of Dr. Muramoto, Mantleray is recruited once more to help with the trial. Conveniently, Dr. Fujita still has the key to Mantleray's apartment, which is how she manages to interrupt some simulated sex.
Dr. Mantleray supervises the drop of pill B, which induces the "married life" with Bruce and Linda daydream. Pill B also induces the 1947 daydream mentioned above.
After day two, Owen decides that he must leave the trial. He has to get back to the other trial, the one involving his brother Jed. He only decides to stay so that he can rescue Annie from the confines of an increasingly unhinged machine (GRTA).
Day Three Of The Trial: The other Dr. Mantleray enters.
Remember Sally Field? How she was supposed to be on this show? She actually voices GRTA, the computer (AKA Greta), so she's been present this whole time. For day three, though, she herself comes to the lab. Dr. Greta Mantleray is a Dr. Phil-like character who has published books like See Her See You See We (about marriage), Past Lives, Present Pain (about...epigenetics?), and I'm ok, you're a bitch (about...me). She comes to supervise the fixing of GRTA, a depressed machine. GRTA is threatening to keep Annie for good — she's going to hold onto the patients for as long as she can.
During this day — the pill C adventure — Owen rescues Annie. He (bear with me) transforms into a hawk and frees Annie from GRTA's clutches. Later, in a different dream, he shuts down Gerta using the power of a Rubix Cube.
Post-Trial: The Real trial begins!
Remember how Jed is on trial? Yeah, the show has to reckon with that. The trial itself is somewhat anti-climatic. Oh, Owen decides to do the right thing? Docile, little Owen? Duh!
Post-Post-Trial: Owen goes to Horton Psychiatric Hospital.
There, he explains that he couldn't have looked for Annie even if he tried. What if she weren't real? What if Neberdine weren't real, either?
Post-Post-Post Trial: Annie rescues Owen.
The final rescue! Annie, upon seeing that Own's brother has been locked up for his crime (which involved workplace sexual harassment), she arrives at Horton, where she convinces Owen to come to Salt Lake City. Ah, the place where it all began — a beautiful city in Utah.
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