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Maniac puts everything in place for its endgame in the best episode of the season

Illustration for article titled iManiac/i puts everything in place for its endgame in the best episode of the season
Image: Michele K. Short (Netflix)
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It wouldn’t surprise me if “Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill” and “The Lake Of The Clouds” really were written as a two-parter; these episodes feel like a bit of a throwback to an older era of genre series doing longer stories. (Mostly, I’m thinking of the first few seasons of the 2000s Doctor Who, but there are a lot of other examples.) Owen and Annie have each been put in a new life, and have to find their way back to each other. Meanwhile, the two Gretas have their confrontation. But there aren’t many Doctor Who episodes that have been as genuinely bizarre as certain moments of “The Lake Of The Clouds.”

Jonah Hill’s performance as this version of Owen isn’t his best—the character is too muted, and Hill’s deliveries of most of the lines feel identical—but the conclusion of his mob story is one of my favorite things the show has done. The Departed twists come fast and furious here, with Owen’s dad deciding one of Owen’s brothers is the rat, then sending Grimsson (secretly a deep-cover mob agent) to murder all of the other cops, including Jemima Kirke’s Adelaide. Then Frank, the consigliere, turns out to have been a deep-cover cop the entire time, and helps Owen grab Olivia and flee into witness protection. The mob material here is all fine (and funnier than in the last episode), but then it really gets cooking.


We fast forward to Owen, looking mostly like normal Jonah Hill but with his tattoos, living in an apartment with Olivia and their seven children, named for the seven continents. (This is the scenario Owen was scared of during his first episode.) Their “family with no conditions” sounds pretty sweet—except that Owen then abandons the family by jumping out of the window to go find Annie, with little explanation beyond “realizing he’s somewhere in the C pill simulation.” I don’t love the character work here (or lack thereof), especially because Olivia is being literally used as a prop. (Although it is pretty funny when she gives Owen the finger as he leaves.) But I do love that the way it resolves is Owen turning into a hawk, flying into the fantasy landscape of Annie’s reflection, and shouting “Annie I’m a hawk!”

The goofiness of Owen turning into a hawk works really well in conjunction with the contemplative fantasy scenes in Annie’s plot, as Ellie—or Annie’s projection of Ellie—starts to remember their real life. In particular, Ellie tells Annie one of the show’s few new pieces of backstory: the story of what happened to her when Annie ran away. Their mother is, and remains, an unseen character, but Julia Garner’s performance says everything the show needs to say when she describes their mother as calling her “utterly and predictably normal.” There’s still not that much difference between the B pill and C pill experiences, but it does seem like Annie has realized just how much she misses Ellie—to the point where she’s unwilling to let go of their bond.

GRTA, here taking the form of the evil Queen Gertrude, shows up in a truck to try to make a deal with Annie. After killing hawk-Owen to send him back to the cluster, she offers Annie the tantalizing prospect of never having to say goodbye to Ellie. Annie accepts, and gets taken away, only to realize that she’s also being taken away from Ellie. The closing shots here show the truck moving over shifting landscapes, like something out of Google Earth, before once more becoming the squiggly lines of Dr. Fujita’s monitor. There’s a real feeling of terror here, especially after Dr. Greta’s brief, elliptical, argument with GRTA—a really fantastic, tense scene of Sally Field acting against herself.

In a sense, Greta is having the same experience as Annie and Owen by encountering a simulation of herself. She comes face to face with her own problems—her therapeutic methods, and the realization that GRTA’s mood swings and emotional issues are, in part, the result of her own pathology. But with GRTA acting the way she’s acting, the resolution of the Mantleray study will almost certainly end in tragedy. It’s unclear whether Annie and Owen are really being helped, but for the Mantlerays, there’s not even any plausible therapeutic outcome.


Stray observations:

  • Owen’s dad says the title of the last episode (literally, “this is not a drill,” referring to the drill bit, the expression, and the painting of the pipe) while explaining out of nowhere that Owen is in a simulation.
  • There have been a couple of scenes with toy cars over the course of the season so far, but the perspective trick of having Owen land among the toy cars after jumping out of the window is one of my favorite visual moments of the season.
  • Jonah Hill’s delivery of “Jigsaw pieces are not square” is a lot of fun.

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