In episode 2, Windmills, we get to know Annie Landsberg, whose world is both the opposite from and the same as Owen’s. While Owen’s life has been filled with ongoing trauma dealt out by his large, abusive family, Annie has very little family, but has been shaped by a few key traumatic events and the loss of loved ones. Owen lives in poverty by choice, in order to maintain his integrity and mental health, while Annie has no choice but to eek out a living, in what’s clearly a difficult economy, on her own.
Owen has learned to retreat inside himself as a defense against the family he’s outnumbered by, while Annie has learned to posture and be aggressive when threatened. In episode 1, we saw her use her trench coat to appear larger, and her voice and facial expressions to drive away potential threats before they became serious. Since she’s on her own, she tries to scare away anyone who might hurt her before they can get too close.
Having grown up in a family full of aggressive posturers, Owen is immune to the tactic, until the aggressor gets serious about inflicting harm. He most likely can instinctively tell when that switch has flipped. At the end of episode 1 he walks right through Annie’s defenses as if they aren’t there, shocking her into taking a different approach with him.
But, as we find out in Windmills, Annie’s issues are as intense as she is. She’s originally denied entrance into the drug trial for a good reason. That trench coat might as well be an exoskeleton, because she’s cloaked in a hard shell of grief and guilt that she’s been building since childhood. The car accident involving her sister turned her shell into armored plates that might be impenetrable by any normal means.
Annie lives in a cluttered apartment in Brooklyn with several roommates (at least 5) and is several months behind on her rent because she hasn’t had a regular job in months. She spends her days snorting “A” pills illegally acquired from the Neberdine drug trials.
She doesn’t seem to have any close friends, but knows her way around and how to get what she wants and needs without jeopardizing herself. She makes frequent use of Ad Buddies, but isn’t above stealing, lying, dumpster diving or mooching off of acquaintances if that’s what it takes. She’s a survivor in a city full of people who are barely surviving.
As episode 2 begins, Annie is snorting the last pill from her bottle of stolen “A” pills. When she’s done, she passes out on the couch immediately. Life in her apartment goes on around her for several hours. She wakes up that night to the sound of Flash Gordon on the TV.
Annie tries to continue with a normal life, making lost dog flyers for her sister’s missing dog, Groucho, and posting them around the neighborhood. She takes a break for lunch at the noodle shop below her apartment, with Ad Buddy-Audrey sharing ads during the meal. When Annie makes a bit of a negative remark, Audrey informs her that her choice of ads is limitless, which is what makes Ad Buddies a better choice than Pally Ads.
This sparks an idea in Annie. She asks Audrey if she could pay for an entire trip to Salt Lake City using Ad Buddies, including bus ticket, hotels and meals. Audrey says that no one has ever asked her something like that before. It would require viewing thousands of ads, but should be doable. In fact, it sounds like fun to her.
Ad Buddy-Audrey asks what’s in Salt Lake City. Annie says that she owes her little sister a visit.
Back at home, Annie packs a suitcase. She grabs Don Quixote, telling the book that she’s going to read it this time, because she’s mentally healthy now, and will do the things mentally healthy people do, like reading, exercising, and travel.
Then she goes to grab some money from her stash in a can, but it’s empty. The lease-holding roommate, Jackie, took it to pay off some of Annie’s back rent. Annie finds Jackie and confronts her. Jackie says that Annie hasn’t paid rent in 3 months, and Annie replies that it’s been longer than that since she’s worked. Jackie tells her she needs to be more goal-oriented. Annie responds by asking for $20, which Jackie lets her have.
I think Annie’s pretty goal-oriented. She’s just not job or rent-oriented. It’s all long-term vs short-term goals.
Annie goes back to her hobby of hanging up lost dog flyers. She runs into a sanitation bot that’s stuck on a tree root and rescues it, taping a flyer to its roof and wishing it luck on its journey, as she sends it on its way. The sanitation bot barks like a dog as it wheels away.
Now we know that she’s actually a good person underneath her armor plating.
Annie’s next stop is a visit to her dad, who’s currently spending time in the driveway in his A-VOID pod, which is barely bigger than a casket and has no windows, but does have 2 hoses going in/out. He declines her invitation to come out of the pod and visit, but does acknowledge that he’s not dead.
She tells him that she’s going to go to Salt lake City, but he doesn’t want to go with her. Annie asks about the combination to his living room safe, and he tells her that he’s changed it to her birthday, so that he doesn’t have to think about her mother every time he opens it.
When Annie opens the safe, she finds an envelope stuffed with cash, a large diamond ring (her mother’s ring?), and a gun. She considers each in turn. Three different escape routes, each with its own pros and cons. She takes the cash and leaves the rest. Or does she? She takes a long, hard look at that gun.
At the Brooklyn Public Library Bus Terminal, Annie stops to examine the fare board. Within moments, the board recalibrates itself so that it says “A” in giant letters three times over. No matter how far you run, you can’t run away from yourself.
Annie finds the friend who sold her the pills, Calvin, playing chess in the park with a large, stuffed, lavender Koala. The Koala is very rude and kicking Calvin’s butt. She begs him to help her get more pills, any way she possibly can. He tells her that the full bottle was a one time deal, since he stole it from his dad and his dad had a ministroke over it. The only way to get more is to sign up for a drug trial at his dad’s company, Neberdine Pharmaceuticals, and hope she gets sorted into the right trial. He wonders why she wants more anyway, since the high from them is so dark.
Annie wants the name of the intake person for the trials, but Calvin won’t say, since the company has become “more secretive since the suicides.” She pulls out some cash, and he gives her the name Patricia Lugo.
Annie heads straight to Dox Stop to set up a blackmail scheme involving Patricia, hoping to ensure that she gets into the right trial. The Dox Stop guy asks for $300, then tells Annie that Patricia paid Zip Dox to scrub her public arrest records, but it’s easy to unscrub them. Annie just has to pay Dox Stop more than Patricia paid Zip Dox. Sounds like a great racket between the two Dox businesses.
Annie does get a free calendar out of the deal. Dox Stop guy lists Patricia’s details: gambling addict, disorderly arrest in Atlantic City, lost custody of her daughter named Usnavy who now goes to Hunter College, has had a good job for 18 months. He assumes that Patricia had her records scrubbed to get the job.
He offers Annie Patricia’s entire file, and asks if she wants him to threaten to kidnap the daughter. Annie doesn’t want to physically harm anyone. He gives her a knowing look, probably because most people end up resorting to threats. Then he looks into other options, including Patricia’s volunteer work, how much she pays for luggage, and her use of Friend Proxy. Annie decides to interfere with Patricia’s next Friend Proxy appointment in order to make contact.
Patricia waits for her “friend” in a zen garden filled with bonzai trees. Annie pretends to be Patricia’s friend, Juanita, for a few minutes, but messes it up before long. She tells Patricia why she’s really there, but then chickens out and leaves. Patricia follows her to a bench by a pond and asks what’s really going on.
She questions Annie, and pushes until she gets the truth. Annie is in a lot of emotional pain. She feels like she has an ice cold boulder sitting in her stomach every day. She can’t talk to her sister to solve the problem and the “A” pill is the only thing that helps. They both agree that there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be available to her, if it isn’t hurting anyone. Patricia gets Annie into the screening for the trial.
During the screening, Annie is fake happy, and all of the emotions she gives as answers are pleasant. She gets some Rhorsach test-type ink blots, which draw the most honesty from her, but she doesn’t answer in the form of a
question emotion, so those answers are discounted. She sits silently during the nonquestion final question, and gets a red light at the end. She’s denied a spot in the trial.
The examiner doesn’t tell her she didn’t get in, but Annie guesses. She becomes belligerent, insisting that she told the truth when she gave her answers. The examiner replies that the test isn’t about the truth, it’s about defense mechanisms. Annie complains that she doesn’t have defense mechanisms and she was guaranteed a spot in this trial.
Annie goes straight to Patricia at the reception desk and demands that Patricia get her a spot in the trial. Patricia wants nothing to do with Annie, saying that getting her into the screening was enough. She’s worried about her bosses finding out. Annie resorts to threatening Patricia’s daughter, Usnavy. Patricia whispers that Annie’s crazy. Annie says that she’s not crazy. “I’m just goal-oriented.”
She just needed the right goal to motivate her ambition.
Patricia decides to give in to the crazy lady instead of risking her job and daughter any further. She sends Annie to sit down. Owen is called into the testing room and stares at Annie as he goes. Patricia swaps a test subject into another study and gives Annie her spot, #9. She tells the other woman that the new study is much safer, anyway. Annie tells Patricia that Usnavy is safe, for now. Patricia is disgusted with her.
Once the subjects are settled in the common room, we get to watch another introductory video, starring Dr Mantleray and Dr Muramoto:
Dr Mantleray: The human brain is as vast as the cosmos, and equally unexplored. We here at Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech are pioneering a revolutionary procedure that will unlock the secret mysteries of the mind, and replace old-fashioned talk therapy, forever. Sorry, Sigmund. Hello, I’m Dr James K Mantleray.
Dr Muramoto: And I’m Dr Robert Muramoto.
Dr Mantleray: Welcome to Phase 3 of the ULP testing. You are not only participants in a pharmaceutical drug trial, you are pioneers at the forefront of a new world. You may notice you’re here with 11 other subjects. But don’t worry, your experiences here, likely very powerful, will be private and discreet. And entirely your own.
Dr Muramoto: No one sees into your heads…
Dr Mantleray: And the multiple fantasy selves inside there. [This part is dubbed over a previous section of video that’s reused here. This is an added disclaimer.]
Dr Muramoto:…But us.
Dr Mantleray: Now you’re probably wondering, “How does it work?” It’s simple. Three pills, taken in three steps, analyzed by the most sophisticated mega-computer ever developed: the GRTA.
GRTA: Hello, friends, I’m a smart computer.
Dr Mantleray: After ingesting the pills, the GRTA’s cutting-edge artificial intelligence will identify, map and confront the learned programming of your brain. At the end of this trial, don’t be surprised if you experience pure, unaffected joy.
GRTA: You’ll be born again, but not as a baby.
Dr Mantleray: Now, let’s take a closer look. Pill A- the diagnostic stage. Pill A seeks out your core traumas and pulls them to the surface. We call it “Agonia”.
Dr Muramoto: Through your memories, we’ll see the worst moments of your life. But don’t worry. It’s safe.
Dr Mantleray: We observe, using powerful microwave technology, the known and unknown anchors of pain in your personal history, in order to create an arborization map that the GRTA will use as a guide for pills B and C. Pill B- behavioral. Time to show your…
Dr Muramoto: BLINDSPOTS!
Dr Mantleray: Unfortunately, the brain is remarkably skilled at protecting itself. With the second pill, you can identify self-defense mechanisms, blind spots, and the mazes and walls that your mind creates to hide yourself from you.
Dr Muramoto: Finally, it’s time for… Confrontation!
Dr Mantleray: Pill C- Confrexia. This is what has eluded psychoanalysts since the discovery of the unconscious. The end of the rainbow. Confrontation and acceptance. Once we’ve identified your core traumas and mapped your bio-psycho-social symptoms, the GRTA remaps a more efficient system, custom-tailored to you, forging healthier pathways, with powerful, non-surgical microwave technologies.
Dr Muramoto: Welcome to the start of your new life.
Dr Mantleray: Welcome to the start of your new life. You will never be the same again.
Dr Mantleray waves his arm and creates a rainbow when he mentions the end of the rainbow. At the end of the video, he attempts to put the pen he’s been using as a pointer into his shirt pocket, and misses.
As the lights come up in the common room, Dr Muramoto enters and asks the study participants if they have any questions. Two people raise their hands. Dr Muramoto says, “Good,” and pretends there weren’t any questions.
It’s time for the odds to begin the trial, while the evens eat a tasty preweighed meal. As the odds get in line, they’re told to stand in numerical order. For a moment Owen, #1 and Annie, #9, stand next to each other in the first and second positions in line. Owen whispers to Annie that everyone thought he was crazy. She tells him they’ll talk later, then has to go to her spot near the end of the line.
As the subjects are prepped for the experiment, Dr Muramoto reads the poem, The Angel by William Blake to the GRTA. We catch the last few lines:
I dried my tears, and armed my fears
With ten-thousand shields and spears.
Soon my Angel came again;
I was armed, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head.
The GRTA loves the poetry. Robert is glad that it made her happy. He touches his hand to her circuits for a moment before he leaves her room.
The subjects are seated in a semicircle of examination chairs with lead aprons placed over their torsos AS A PRECAUTION. The subjects don’t seem to understand that microwaves are a form of radiation, so I guess you’re hearing it here first.
The testing room is separated from the observation room by a round glass window that makes it look like both sides are in a fish bowl. Their are at least ten scientists and technicians in the observation room manning monitors and control panels. Azumi tells Robert that Gertie/the GRTA is supple and responsive, thanks to his poetry.
The “A” pills are passed out and Azumi gives her team a pep talk in English, then Muramoto leads a couple of war cries/cheers in Japanese. Azumi instructs the subjects to ingest their pills. After they swallow, the subjects lean back and the microwave-producing headsets are put in place around their heads. Then Azumi tells her team to do their parts gently. “Hard entry is our enemy.”
Azumi tells the team that they can’t afford any more mistakes. That’s comforting.
Annie begins her trip at a gas station in Colorado, filling up her car and looking at a roadside windmill. Her sister Ellie brings some sodas and a disposable camera out of the store and they drive back onto the highway. Annie goes back to her favorite highway pastime, making up crazy stories about the passengers in other cars. When she’s done, she yells at the people in the car next to them for stuff they didn’t do.
On a sightseeing stop, Annie pretends that she’s taking a picture of Ellie in front of mountains, but snaps her own armpit instead, then won’t give Ellie the camera. Ellie looks like this isn’t this first time that her older sister has teased her mercilessly just because she could. Ellie bought the camera because she wanted to remember the trip, not her sister’s armpits.
In the hotel that night Ellie makes a phone call. When she’s done, Annie assumes that Ellie was talking to their mother, but it was Ellie’s fiancée, Ben. Annie takes out her claws, and starts talking about how Ellie and their absentee mother have reconnected, which Ellie disagrees with. She says she received one letter from their mother, asking for help.
Anyone with a relative like that knows that “asking for help” is code for trying to use Ellie. She doesn’t love Ellie more or want to take her away from Annie. She thinks Ellie is the one with the most money and/or is the one who’s the softest touch.
They bicker for a minute, then decide to watch a movie. Annie flips through channels until she lands on a Lord of the Rings-style elf movie and Ellie makes her stop there. Ellie pretends that she’s Annie’s cursed Elven sister Ellia, who needs Annie to rescue her from a normal life.
When Annie continues to be hostile, Ellie turns off the TV and tells another story, about a girl who’s moving to Salt Lake City with her fiancée, and who wants a normal life with kids and a home, but she’s afraid that she won’t be able to maintain those things. She’s afraid that she’ll screw it all up, but she doesn’t. The story has a happy ending.
Annie says that it sounds like the fantasy of someone who gave up.
Gave up what? Gave up on what? What is it Annie’s living for and Ellie’s leaving behind that’s so great? Their nonexistent dreams? Their broken family? Their lack of careers or goals? Ellie’s dream and goal is to live a stable, happy life with her own family. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s worth sacrificing for.
Annie baits Ellie until she’s shouting, then tells her that it’s hard to talk to her when she’s so emotional. Ellie has just called her out as the narcissist that she is, and that’s a favorite manipulation technique for narcissists. They bait other people into acting out the narcissist’s negative emotions, or just to punish them, or so that they’ll look bad in front of the group. Then they insist that they have no idea why you’re acting this way. It has nothing to do with them. In fact, they often think that you might need therapy.
Once Ellie’s called Annie out on a few of her traits and the baiting and teasing she’s been doing all day, Annie finally gives herself permission to lash out and be as vicious as she’s wanted to be all day. She’s angry that her sister is leaving her, and that her sister is more successful at life than her, and that their parents just might love Ellie more than her. She’s afraid Ellie doesn’t need her any more. Nothing Ellie says will ever even touch these fears, no matter how hard Ellie tries to make Annie feel better. Annie’s like a toddler who’s hurting and hits anyone who comes near her to try to help, because she’s angry and afraid and in pain and can’t think straight. Except she’s not a child. She has no excuse.
Annie: Every second, of every day, of your entire life, is broadcasting how normal you are. You’re so desperate for someone to tell you you’re okay.
Ellie: I don’t know how this started. I’m sorry. I was just trying to talk to you. You don’t have to shut down just because I’m saying something real.
Annie: I’m not shutting down. Can I say one last real thing? Every time I think of NY without you in it… This is seriously true, this isn’t a lie… I feel happy. Because now I won’t have to feel bad about not calling you, or doing anything with you. You’ll be far away. And we can grow apart, and we won’t have to pretend we didn’t.
Ellie: I’m gonna miss you, too.
Ellie looks completely wrung out. Annie looks cold and brittle as ice.
The next morning, Annie hugs Ellie in bed, then suggests they take a real picture in the car. She takes another armpit photo. Ellie is done with Annie’s behavior and tries to grab the camera, complaining loudly. Annie is laughing meanly while they fight over it.
Neither notices the giant semi truck that’s drifted over into their lane. The road they’re on is a two lane highway, with narrow shoulders, on the side of a rocky cliff. A collision is probably unavoidable. At the last second, Annie swerves to avoid the truck, but the corner of the car gets clipped, sending the car spinning. It crashes into the truck again and continues moving, driving over the edge of the cliff.
Annie’s door flies open just as the car goes over the edge of the cliff. She’s thrown from the car and lands at the top. The car, with Ellie in it, crashes onto the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. The truck driver, who looks like he’s been awake for days and using drugs to keep going, pulls over and stands on the edge of the cliff, looking at what’s left of the car.
Annie returns to consciousness in the experiment room as Azumi is welcoming the subjects back. She looks satisfied.
Wow, that was rough. Let’s all take a few deep breaths, get a cup of tea, do whatever settles you down. If you’ve ever been in a serious car accident, take a break. That accident could be a major trigger. (I could only watch it once. Barely.)
I’ve driven through almost all 50 states, and have had to get out of the way of trucks doing exactly what that truck did, drifting into the wrong lane without realizing it, probably dozens of times. I’ve been run off the road several times, with some close calls as to how much room I had to work with.
One of my biggest fears when we travel is to be in the situation Annie and Ellie were in- little or no shoulder, narrow road, a giant truck that’s out of control, and us with nowhere to go. That was a horrifically realistic situation.
How does the survivor ever recover from that? Especially when they were the driver and said terrible things the night before to the sister who died? And Annie’s taken an entire bottle full of “A” pills, reliving that sequence of events each time. She’s tough and strong, but she’s also fixated on the worst days of her life. She’s stuck in the past, searching for her sister’s dog as the symbol of her lost sister, trying to get back everything she’s lost rather than finding acceptance and a way to move forward.
Annie probably feels somewhat guilty because deep down inside there’s a tiny part of her that’s relieved that Ellie left her by death, while they were still close and hadn’t grown apart, rather than later on, by Ellie’s choice, after they’d grown apart. Annie’s already been left by choice by her mother, and it hurt so much that she can’t forgive her. A small part of Annie would rather have lost Ellie completely at the time of the accident, either because she ruined the relationship so it was her choice, or because Elle died. It’s ugly, but real. Most of her would do anything to have Ellie back, even relive the worst, most painful, embarrassing, humiliating moments of her life over again everyday for the rest of her life. That’s true love.
But Annie also meant her harsh words in the hotel. She was sure that the sisters would grow apart, and she was right. It would have happened no matter where they each lived. Ellie was a grown up and reasonably well-adjusted. She was willing to do what it took to get past her childhood and make her life a success despite the obstacles she had to overcome. Annie wanted to wallow in misery and blame, It was easy to tell herself that she was too cool to live with any sort of comfort or stability, so she was the better person because she couldn’t keep a job or relationship going.
Even if Ellie had lived and stayed in NY, their relationship would have become strained as they gradually had less and less in common and Annie become more and more bitter, while Ellie was optimistic. It’s inevitable that Annie would start stealing from Ellie and lying about it, and that would likely break the relationship for good at some point. We saw that even though Ellie understood Annie, she was already bothered by Annie’s lies and selfishness, and exhausted by her relentlessness.
As far as we’ve seen so far, Annie hasn’t matured since the accident. She’s stuck in that moment developmentally as well as being fixated on it. Everything that Ellie said about her in the hotel room is still true, and has probably gotten worse.
But remember, she saved the sanitation bot. There’s a heart of gold in there somewhere. And, like Owen, she’s longing for an idealized version of her sister that she’s created in her head. What we saw was a years old memory that’s been fine tuned to play up Ellie’s good qualities and to allow Annie to wallow in self-flagellation rather than finding a way to move forward.
Groucho has been missing for 7 years, so Ellie has probably been dead for nearly that long. Continuing to search for him is a way for Annie to prove that she can devote herself to something and not give up on it, even if it’s a lost cause (like Annie fears she is).
I absolutely adore the videos that we’re shown in the lab. So beautifully just-above-low-tech, like an 80s infomercial or a cheap music video. I can’t wait for James Mantleray to appear in the flesh. The voice of the computer, Gertie, is done by Sally Field, who also plays Mantleray’s mother. And Gertie appears to be close to his rival, Dr Muramoto. I sense a Greek tragedy in the making.
The poem that Robert reads to the GRTA, The Angel, is about growing up and moving from a state of innocence with a need for protection to a state of experience and corruption, with a hardened heart. The independent adult has no need of its childhood protectors, however beloved they may have been or however dependent the child may have been upon them. The ULP experience is about teaching the subjects to leave behind the protectors/defense mechanisms that they developed in childhood, in order to find healthier ways of being in the world.
I’m fascinated by the increased exploitation of human labor instead of dependence on print and electronic ads, as an example. This timeline might not have the global warming problem we do, since they don’t seem to have developed the same level of plastics and technology dependence.
The experiment room walls are covered with serious soundproofing. With such an absence of sound, the mind tends to turn inward and do crazy things anyway.
Dox Stop- Stop Here for All Your Doxing Needs
Doxing= the practice of gathering information and documents from the internet on a specific person for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or public exposure. Currently, in the US, whether it’s illegal or not depends on the situation. Reposting information that’s already publicly available is legal. Blackmail and breaking into private accounts are illegal. In the world of Maniac, it’s legal to dox, with a specific law, the Banner Act, having been passed to legalize the practice.
Metamaiden wants a sanitation bot as a pet. I definitely need an A-VOID pod. What kind of options do you suppose there are for the interior? Total sensory deprivation? Tricked out like a luxury limo? It’s basically a spaceship escape pod, yeah?
Calvin’s purple koala friend is a Marsupi-Pal, The Original Fabiotic Marsupial Companion. This truck drives by the noodle shop just before we see Annie having lunch:
We get a glimpse of Dr James Mantleray in the drug trial introduction video in the episode. He’s everything that he appears to be, and more. Dr Muramoto also gets to shine a little more in this episode. He only gets a few minutes in each of his appearances, but Rome Kanda’s comedic genius turns him into a vivid, unforgettable character. This show is too genre nonconformist to get many awards nominations outside of the technical fields, but the cast deserves to be nominated for everything. All of the major players are amazing.
Dr Mantleray’s Secret Study Parameters from the episode 1 opening video:
Hypothesis: All souls are on a quest to connect. Corollary: Our minds have no awareness of this quest. Hypothesis: All the worlds that Almost Were, matter just as much as the world we’re in. Corollary: These hidden worlds cause us great pain. Camaraderie, communion, family, friendship, love, what have you. We’re lost without connection. It’s quite terrible to be alone. Put simply, my goal is to eradicate all unnecessary and inefficient forms of human pain. Forever. We must evolve past our suffering. My research into this matter is, of course, ongoing.
Images courtesy of Netflix.