Maniac season 1, episode 1 recap: ‘The Chosen One!’


Netflix’s limited series Maniac arrives on a wave of hype and expectation.

Maniac stars Oscar-winner Emma Stone and Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill is directed by True Detective auteur Cary Joji Fukunaga and written by The Leftover‘s Patrick Somerville.

The first episode, “The Chosen One!,” begins with nothing less than the birth of the universe and the first living organism which leads to the creation of everything else on the planet.

This cosmic tutorial ends with Emma Stone’s character, Annie Landsberg, buying cigarettes and getting a cup of coffee. As Annie walks around what appears to be New York City it seems to be a world like our own but somehow different.

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At the same time, the voiceover continues to hypothesize about people’s fundamental desire to connect. The voice observes that there are worlds that almost were whose loss cause us great pain. The voice says he’s researching how to eradicate any unnecessary forms of human pain.

The scene switches to a courtroom where Jonah Hill’s character, Owen Milgram, is being questioned on the witness stand. He balks when he’s asked to describe the psychotic break he had 10 years ago.

At this point we become aware that Owen isn’t in a trial, he’s simply prepping for one. And his team is attempting to prepare for all possibilities.

As he’s prompted again to explain his hospitalization and psychosis, he gives minimal answers or none at all. Instead, he watches as his water glass shakes on the table in front of him. Finally, he’s asked simply if he knows what’s real. He claims he does.

Later, Owen watches from a bench in the city as a woman shows a tour group the Statue of Extra Liberty across the water.

Owen speaks to a man off-screen about his trial prep. It’s his brother. He wants to know if Owen told them about him, even though he notes that he’s technically invisible.

Owen’s brother sits down next to him. He says he has new information to share. A woman will be approaching Owen with a mission that will make him a hero. As Owen mumbles that he doesn’t want this, his brother leaves.

The whole world around Owen shakes as if there’s an earthquake. He watches as the corn at his feet that he’s been throwing to the pigeons starts popping into popcorn.

Later, Owen rides the subway with an Ad Buddy, a man who reads ads to him. One of the ads has a picture of Annie on it.

At his office, where he sits in front of ancient green-screened computers, Owen calls about one of the ads but is interrupted by a colleague.

The colleague tells him he’s being put on permanent furlough from his job. The desk around Owen shakes and he runs to the bathroom to throw up. In the stall, the toilet paper is printed with an ad for Neberdine Pharmaceuticals and Biotech.

As Owen walks around the city afterward, we hear him answering questions about his mental condition in voiceover. It’s a recording of a session he had when he was hospitalized for his illness.

In the recording, his therapist outlines the nature of his delusion. Owen believes a facsimile of his brother, Jed, is giving him missions that will enable him to see the deeper truth. All he needs to accomplish the missions is a partner. He sees danger everywhere but he stays disciplined because knows there’s a fight coming.

The therapist then makes Owen repeat that none of what he’s experiencing is real. He’s just a guy with a vivid imagination.

In the city, Owen passes another ad featuring an image of Annie. When he finally reaches his small apartment, he lines up his many pills and flicks them into a nearby cactus.

Owen’s doorbell rings. A package is dropped off from Neberdine Pharmaceuticals. As soon as he picks it up, his phone rings. It’s the person who sent the package. She informs him he qualifies as a hero candidate for one of their trials. Were he to participate, he would help them treat all kinds of medical maladies.

Later, Owen joins his sprawling family for dinner, where we also meet the real Jed (Billy Magnussen). Jed’s handsome and gregarious and not at all concerned with secret missions and saving the world.

After the meal, Owen looks at a family painting with Jed’s fiancee (Jemima Kirke). The painting contains the whole family except for Owen. Jed’s fiancee claims she told Jed she won’t marry him until Owen is painted into the family portrait. Owen says it’s going to happen, the artist’s just on sabbatical.

He confesses to her that he lost his job. Then, he proposes that the two of them leave together that night and find someplace to start again. She thinks he’s joking.

As they go back to the family for dessert, she confesses that she’s very nervous about Jed’s trial the following week. Owen reassures her Jed is innocent of whatever he’s been accused of.

The family starts a game of Balderdash but Owen doesn’t want to stay. Various members of his family try to cajole him to play with them. Finally, he cracks from all the pressure and yells that he hates the game.

The family is floored by his behavior. His father (Gabriel Byrne) decides to walk him to the subway station.

On the walk, on which the family dog accompanies them, his wealthy father offers to buy Owen an apartment and to give him a job at the family business where all his brothers already work.

Owen protests that his father doesn’t need to buy him off. His father doesn’t know what Owen’s talking about. Owen replies that he’ll lie for Jed in court, he understands the expectation. But his father corrects him. By being an alibi for Jed, Owen is giving his brother a gift.

After his father’s pep talk, Owen tells him he got a new job. He’ll be gone several days next week because of it but will be back for the trial. The family shouldn’t worry if they can’t reach him.

His father awkwardly hugs him good-bye as a tiny robot removes the dog’s poop from the sidewalk.

On Monday, Owen goes to Neberdine Pharmaceuticals and enrolls in a drug trial. As he completes his forms, he sees Annie across the room. He watches as she insists to someone that she’s supposed to be part of a trial but is turned away. She appears to threaten a woman at the front desk, gets a lanyard, and angrily takes a seat.

Owen is then called to another room for a test screening. He’s shown a series of pictures and asked to describe the emotion he has when viewing them. As the test ends, the tester tells him his defense mechanisms are fungible. He’s been accepted for the trial. The news almost makes him smile.

Owen returns to the waiting room where he sits across from Annie. He asks her weird questions based on the ads he’s seen her in. She aggressively demands he leave her alone.

An announcement over the loudspeaker tells participants in a trial to go to a specific area. Annie glances at her lanyard and leaves. Alone again, Owen’s hallucination of Jed gets his attention. Hallucination Jed tells Owen that Annie’s his handler now. He needs to make contact with her.

Jed disappears and Owen lines up with Annie. He pokes her in the back, but when she reacts negatively, he apologizes and moves away.

In the lab, the testers are preparing for their new batch of participants. They agree to complete the new trial with none of the old problems.

Meanwhile, the participants are ushered into a common room with a series of hexagonal pods. Each participant is assigned a pod, given a uniform and shoes and told to change.

During their intake, Owen approaches Annie again. He tells her he knows she’s not supposed to be there. Then he begs her for his instructions. She looks confused at first, and Owen starts to panic. So Annie tells him his instructions are to go back to his pod and await her signal.

Owen immediately calms and informs her he’s going to save the world. She agrees but cautions it won’t happen if he blows their cover. Owen expresses his understanding and returns to his pod.

The testers are then introduced to the participants: Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) and Dr. Muramoto (Rome Kanda). As the episode ends, Dr. Muramoto welcomes them as Dr. Fujita stands by smoking.

Maniac‘s premiere episode sets the table for the series. Its atmosphere is hypnotic, successfully keeping the audience off-kilter. Is what we’re witnessing real or are we seeing things through Owen’s not especially reliable eyes?

The world Owen and Annie occupy is stuck in the past technologically. Yet, there are futuristic touches, including advertising on every available surface and the machine that keeps the streets free of dog poop (why don’t we have that? Get on it, science!).

Next. Maniac season 1, episode 2 recap. dark

Both Hill and Stone fully embody their complex and broken characters and the show looks beautiful. The performances and the world the show creates in this first episode casts a spell that draws viewers in and leaves them curious about what will happen next.

We’ll bring you the details on exactly that in our second episode recap, posting soon. In the meantime, the entire 10-episodes of Maniac are available on Netflix.