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Which of ‘Maniac’s’ pill hallucination stories was the best?

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A lot went down on Maniac. What appeared to be a story about two people in a clinical trial that is meant to cure humanity of its mental ills turned out to be a wild ride through the human psyche, complete with seemingly unrelated vignettes that took place across timelines and realities. 

These jaunts into Owen and Annie’s minds were some of the highlights of the show, but which of then was the best standalone story?

See the rankings below, in descending order.

5. The Mob Prince Blues

Maniac

The story of Owen the mob prince is more muted than the other vignettes with one big exception: it’s violent as hell. Obviously the over-the-top blood spewing and that one gross shot of Owen’s “long-lost” brother shot in half in a bathtub was meant to reference and satrizie violent mob movies, but it fell short of feeling earned. The weirdness of the Maniac sub-stories is rooted in the overall style of the show; going full Tarantino was a step outside of that box. 

Owen’s styling in this story is hilarious — the braids, grill, and tattoos form a Post Malone-ish nightmare that do enough to make his deep sensitivity feel surprising and off-kilter. The story itself, however, is less fantastical and doesn’t do enough to further Owen’s C pill revelations. The best part was him turning into a hawk and yelling “Annie, I’m a hawk,” which feels like more of a Maniac-y twist. 

4. The Ernie Tribunal

Maniac

The Ernie Tribunal is the setting for the climax of Maniac — Owen finally lets go of Grissom by acknowledging that he is a stand-in for the sense of love and importance he never felt from his family, and Annie transitions from someone who needs to literally shoot down her inner demons into someone who confronts her emotions about her sister. It’s also pretty…pretty darn weird. 

The best thing this vignette does is refuse to show the audience exactly what Ernie, the blue alien who may or may not have been attempting to farm humans for meat, looks like. The barest glimpse of a puppet hand and an explosion of disgusting blue goo is the closest Maniac gets to revealing the subject of an apocalyptic tribunal, which leaves room for Owen’s weird accent as “Snorri” and Annie’s textbook assassin being a badass.

This vignette is ranked towards the bottom despite the strength of the party flashback, where the actors clearly had a great time dancing with the camera to a jazzy rendition of “When The Saints Come Marching In.” As noted before, making a funky dance scene work in a show like Maniac is like threading the world’s tiniest needle. The surreal nature of the dance combined with the threat of apocalypse is almost there, but it still feels jarring.

3. The Lemur Heist

Maniac

The story of Wendy the lemur had the tough job of introducing the audience to the full concept of Maniac: GRTA screwed up and Owen and Annie have to complete their pill regimens/hallucinations together. It also had to set up the rules for this new normal, like how people in Owen and Annie’s lives can appear as different characters and each story reveals more about their personal journeys and demons. 

The strongest part of the lemur heist is when Annie’s consciousness breaks through and she tells Owen about what happened the day her mom walked out on her. The slow realization that she is talking about her real self and not her Long Island character is a landmark moment in the show and is a clever way to introduce the aforementioned rule-setting. 

While there were some bizarre elements in this story, like the entire premise of stealing a revenge lemur from a gun-toting fur magnate, it was softer on some of the more supernatural and extra-weird bits that some of the other vignettes had. Maniac is best when it keeps the audience off guard and there wasn’t a lot in the story that completely stretched the limits of disbelief. 

2. The Elven Princess

Maniac

Fantasy has had a lengthy and well deserved moment on screens both big and small, so it’s fitting that Maniac would include a funky takedown of the genre for one of its enlightening scenarios. This story of the diamond-pissing elven princess and her drunk, half-elf ranger is by far the funniest and eventually darkest of the vignettes, and as such deserves second place in this ranking. 

Generally, Annie’s GRTA-induced hallucinations were more coherent than Owens, which owes more to the concrete nature of her suffering in reality. Her mother left, her sister died, and while she is unable to function well in the real world she doesn’t have the same fundamental distrust of reality that Owen has. It’s interesting to see her character bleed over into the half-elf ranger who fully accepts the magical reality of her circumstances but is still the same pragmatic (and kind of shitty) realist Annie is at her core.

High points of the elven story include the princess admitting she pees out diamonds, the forest queen identifying the useless man she’s been ordering around as “my husband” as if it were the most normal relationship in the world, and the helpful dragonfly voiced by Annie’s Ad Buddy in the real world.

The line between Annie’s conscious and subconscious is finally crossed in this vignette, and it’s brilliant to see the roller coaster of emotions she feels when she realizes the fantasy world isn’t real but makes a choice to stay there for the sake of being with her sister again…only to be taken from her once again. It’s good stuff and it sets up the final episodes of Maniac perfectly. 

1. The Neberdine Seance 

Maniac

As hard as it is to pick a best vignette on Maniac, the Neberdine seance had everything that made these revelatory sub-stories great and then some. Also, who could argue with Emma Stone in a 1940s party gown? 

What makes the Neberdine seance great is how well it brings the story of the “real” Owen and Annie along while still being a compellingly odd narrative unto itself. Two divorced grifters reunite for a triple-crossing con job at a spooky manor owned by the digitally tangible representation of the computer who wants to steal their brains? Brilliant, beautiful, put it in the Louvre.

This vignette also had so many delightful beats that are among the best moments in the show, like the undead Dr. Robert appearing as a walking corpse who can still pull together a charming softshoe number, the first look at Arlie in a fur coat standing in the middle of the dark road, and Ollie noting “people were much smaller back then” when they finally find the last chapter of Don Quixote. Maniac thrives in its bizarro, satirical moments and the Neberdine story was packed to the brim with them.

Honorable Mention: Whatever The Hell Was Going On In That Atlantean Sex Scene 

Yeah. This one was hard to rank, not only because it wasn’t one of the GRTA experiences but also because “a sex scene where Justin Theroux is an octopus merman with anime hair screws a purple fish-woman designated as the high priestess of the lost continent of Atlantis” is just on an entirely different level to lemur heists and a dancing zombie. An entirely different level. 

An honorable mention is awarded for sheer what-the-fuckery. 

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