Netflix's New Show Maniac: 31 Things You Probably Missed
By Dan Auty on
The new Netflix Original Series Maniac is one of the most complex, challenging shows of 2018. It's a sci-fi comedy drama, loosely based on a Norwegian show of the same name, with The Leftovers' Patrick Somerville acting as showrunner and True Detective Season 1's Cary Fukunaga directing every episode. Maniac is set in alternative retro-futuristic New York, where advanced technology is realised using designs from the '70s and '80. It stars Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as Owen and Annie, two damaged people who submit themselves to a mysterious pharmaceutical trial for different reasons--Owen needs money, has delusions of grandeur about saving the world, and is looking for anything that will help with his schizophrenia, while Annie is addicted to one of the pills being tested in the trial.
The trials involve the subjects entering hallucinatory states--known as reflections and simulations--and almost immediately Annie and Owen's start to overlap, suggesting some unique bond between these two strangers. As the series continues we see them in a variety of imagined situations--from a 1940s heists caper to a Tolkien-esque land of elves and fairies. But the boundaries between reality and fantasy frequently break down, with dialogues, faces, music, and events occurring in different contexts and Annie and Owen attempt to traverse the inner worlds of their damaged psyches.
As a result, Maniac is one of those shows that demands a second viewing. The compelling nature of the drama means that it's easy to miss many of the references and callbacks that Fukunaga and Somerville have scattered across its ten episodes. There are many moments that seem strange at first, and only make sense when viewed within the context of later events. But there are also breadcrumbs dropped by the show's creators that can help viewers on their journey through this fascinating show. And there are small jokes that have little to do the with the plot but are highly amusing when spotted--in particular the references that Fukanaga has placed to his other movies and TV shows.
So here is our guide to the key callbacks, Easter Eggs, references, and hidden clues in Maniac. This list is by no means comprehensive, and we haven't listed every single actor that appeared in multiple roles throughout the series. And, of course, there are many spoilers ahead. But these will provide a helpful guide if you are going back for a second view of the show. So sit back, take Pills A, B, C--and don't forget to let us know any hidden clues and callbacks that you've spotted. Utangatta!
1. Mantleray's Monologue (Episode 1)
The first episode opens with a monologue from Dr Mantleray: "Two billion years ago, an amoeba..." We hear him begin this exact same monologue at the very end of the final episode.
2. One and nines (Episodes 1-10)
The numbers one and nine are the numbers that Owen and Annie are assigned in the experiment, and they recur throughout the show. References include Owen and Annie's names being anagrams (OwEN and aNNIE), Bruce's car registration plate (O19-A91), the one on Bruce's football shirt, the nine of Hearts that Owen pulls out during Episode 5's magic trick, Bruce and Linda's street number (901), and that of the mobster mortuary in Episode 7 (1101).
3. Bladdergate (Episode 1)
Annie steals quarters from a New York Post box, and we see the front page. It's the Milgrim family, with headline: 'Bladdergate Milgrim Poopbot Empire In Peril', hinting at Jed's court case and revealing that the Milgrim fortune is down to the manufacture of Poopbots, the show’s robotic dog poop collectors.
4. Not All Hugs Are Created Equal (Episode 1)
Annie walks past a poster advertising Greta Mantleray's latest book at the same moment we hear her son, in the monologue, say: "It's quite terrible to be alone."
5. Milgram (Episode 1)
Owen's surname is Milgrim, a reference to Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist who performed controversial behavioral experiments in the 1960s.
6. Solving The Cube (Episode 1/Episode 9)
Annie stops outside the Milgrim Industries building to look through a pile of discarded junk. She picks up a Rubik's cube and throws it on the ground. Owen stops to pick it up before headings into the building. He fiddles with the cube throughout multiple subsequent episodes. Finally, in Episode 9, Owen (as Snorri) rescues the test subjects from GRTA by solving a Rubik’s Cube-like puzzle.
7. Don Quioxte (Episode 1/Episode 4/Episode 5)
Annie also picks up Miguel de Cervantes' classic book Don Quixote from the junk. References to Don Quixote occur throughout the show. In a recent interview with Time, Fukanaga explains that "Don Quixote does relate to both of [Annie and Owen's] characters. His break from reality and the lessons learned within Cervantes' book mirrors a lot of what we're doing." In Episode 4, we see Annie/Linda reading the book to Nan, while in Episode 5, Annie tells Owen that it was her sister's favorite book and that it led her father to believe Ellie was smarter than her.
8. "Not much of a difference, authority-wise." (Episode 1/Episode 4)
When the Milgrim Industries security guards tries to move Annie along, she asks him if he's a cop. "Not much of a difference, authority-wise," he replies The same actor, Jojo Gonzalez, appears in Episode 4 as a Fish and Wildlife Officer searching for Wendy the lemur and delivers the same line--in two different scenes.
9. Popcorn problems (Episode 1/Episode 9)
Popcorn is a recurring theme. The term "popcorn problems" first occurs as a joke when Owen is on the phone to Neberdine--he asks the woman taking his details to repeat the phrase and she says "prostate problems." Later in the same episode, we see kernels popping as Owen feeds pigeons, shortly after Grimsson tells him "the pattern is the pattern." In Episode 9, the small metal "recall trigger" that Annie removes from Owen/Snori's nose pops into a kernel of corn.
10. Snorri Agnarsson’s Icelandic Fish (Episode 1/Episode 9)
We see a neon sign on a bridge advertising Snorri Agnarsson's Icelandic Fish. In Episode 9, Owen becomes Snorri Agnarsson during the Pill C trial.
11. "Exactly Like You" (Episode 1, Episode 4, Episode 5)
We hear this 1930s dance song at several points during the series. It is playing in Episode 1 in the background while Owen walks with his dad, at the end of Episode 4 when Bruce and Linda return to their house, and in Episode 5 it is described as Owen and Annie's song shortly before they dance to it at the seance. It is also the title of Episode 5.
12. Annia and Ellia (Episode 2/Episode 7)
During Annie's Pill A reflection, she remembers the events that led up to her sister Ellie's death. The pair of them are seen watching a fantasy movie, during which Ellie pretends to be an Elf and calls herself and her sister "Annia" and "Ellia". This entire fantasy scenario plays out in Episodes 7 and 8.
13. Dancing Lemurs (Episode 2/Episode 4)
There's a large picture of a dancing lemur on the wall of Annie's dad's house, foreshadowing the hunt for Wendy in Episode 4.
14. Windmills (Episode 2)
Episode 2 is titled "Windmills". This is another reference to Don Quixote, who fights Windmills in the book, believing them to be ferocious giants. In the scene where Annie refuels her car, we see a windmill in the background.
15. Every breathe You Take (Episode 3)
During Owen's possibly-faked Pill A reflection, we see Jed serenade Adelaide with the Police song "Every Breath You Take," which, lyrically, is a very creepy song about a stalker. Muramoto asks Owen "So Sting was at the party?" Owen's mom is played by Trudie Styler, who is Sting's wife in real life.
16. Floppy Discs (Episode 3)
The VR porn floppy discs that Azumi sees in Mantleray's apartment are named after Fukunaga's previous shows and movies, including Sin Number 3 (Sin Nombre), True Erection (True Detective), Beasts of Urination (Beasts of No Nation), and Jane Derriere (Jane Eyre).
17. JC and Lance (Episode 4)
Sebastian's two dancer sons are called JC and Lance--members of '90s boyband *NSYNC. They talk about rehearsals the next day with Joey, another member of that group.
18. Paula Nazlund (Episode 4)
Nan's estranged daughter is Paula Nazlund. She tells Annie/Linda that she is pregnant with a son she plans to call Greg "F*** U Nan" (F.U.N.) Nazlund--which is the name of the truck driver who killed Ellie. As Paula is telling Annie this, an 18-wheel truck thunders by in the street outside. Annie then turns to her and says: "Maybe you shouldn't have children."
19. Olivia (Episode 4/Episode 3)
While Owen/Bruce waits in the car outside the Nazlund house, he starts to read a Greta Mantleray book. We see Olivia, the girl Owen was once obsessed with, that he has told Annie about in Episode 3. Olivia is pictured in the book and described as his "emotional poltergeist.” The memory of Olivia will return to haunt him throughout the show.
20. Owen's cars (Episode 4/Episode 7/Episode 10)
Owen drives two cars in separate simulations--Bruce's Volvo in Episode 4 and his flaming gangster Mercedes in Episode 7. We see both of these cars next to each other in the garage towards the end of Episode 10.
21. Searching for Quixote (Episode 5)
Ollie and Arlie Hightower (ie. Owen and Annie) are both searching for the legendary lost final chapter of Don Quixote at the Nerberdine mansion seance. Legend has it, reading this chapter will allow you to live in your fantasies forever.
22. "I don't do partners." (Episode 5)
Olivia is attending the seance as a girl desperate to team up with Ollie/Owen on his missions of intrigue. Owen tells her he works alone and leaves her sadly on the mansion doorstep. "I keep my fantasies to myself," he tells her.
23. McMurphies (Episode 6)
We hear Azumi mention the need to avoid creating McMurphies--ie. test subjects left in a permanently catatonic state. The reference derives from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which Jack Nicholson's character Randle McMurphy is lobotomised near the movie's end.
24. Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill (Episode 7)
The title of Episode 7 translate as This Is Not A Drill. It comes from a painting by Belgian surrealist painter Magritte titled The Treachery of Images. The painting depicts a pipe, under which a caption reads: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe"--translated to mean This is not a pipe. We see a version of the painting on the wall of the basement, with a drill replacing the pipe--the drill being the favoured tool of torture and murder used by Owen's father (in this simulation, depicted as a psychotic mob boss). But of course there's a double meaning here too--the phrase "this is not a drill" can also be seen to refer to the fact the fact that Owen is now onto the Pill C stage of the trial and there's no going back from where it will ultimately lead him.
25. Heatwaves (Episode 7)
In Owen's Pill C simulation, Olivia appears as a waitress who is attracted to his character, a sensitive gangster-turned-FBI-informant. She tells him that she has chronic hyperthermia, with a skin temperature of 106 degrees--the same temperature that the subjects trapped in the testing room by GRTA are currently suffering under. As she stands there, shimmering heat waves are visible all around her body.
26. "Annie, I'm a hawk!" (Episode 8)
If you've stayed to the end of every episode, you'll have heard Owen yell "Annie, I'm a hawk!" over the Paramount logo. In Episode 8 we finally see Owen deliver that line as a hawk, as he races into her fantasy world to rescue her.
27. 5-6-7-8 (Episode 9/Episode 4)
The mainframe code is 5-6-7-8, which is the same number as the updated door code in the fur shop in Episode 4, as well as the count that leads into the brothers' dance in the same episode.
28. Big Hug Mug (Episode 10)
In the pre-trial conference, Jed sits with a Big Hug Mug in front of him. In Fukunaga's True Detective, Matthew McConaughey's character Cohle drinks from the same mug.
29. Signing In (Episode 10)
When Annie signs into the hospital in which Owen has been committed, she enters a pair of fake names--Bruce Marino (Owen's character from Episode 4) and Wendy Lemuria (ie. Wendy the Lemur).
30. "This is it." (Episode 10/Episode 5)
Owen and Annie escape from the hospital, laughing together, which is exactly the fantasy that he describes to her in Episode 5. Owen seems to realise this and joyfully delivers his final line in the show to her as they speed away: "This is it."
31. Movie References
There many movie references throughout the entire series. These include Alien (the clinic dining area, plus the extremely similar ULP/Nostromo patches), The Graduate (Annie's and Owen's final escape), Dr Strangelove (the United Nations scenes), Lord of the Rings (the fantasy sequences), and Raising Arizona (Bruce and Linda's lemur adventures).