Maniac Season 1 Episode 6: Larger Structural Issues


We take a break from Annie and Owen’s brains in episode 6, in order to help Gertie with her depression and get to know James and Azumi better. This gives us a chance to meet James’ famous mother, pop psychologist Dr Greta Mantleray, who served as the inspiration for Gertie’s underlying code when Azumi created her.

I could watch an entire series devoted to Greta, James and Azumi alone in a room together. Their relationship dynamics and power plays are a hilarious joy to watch, with Queen Sally/Greta/Gertie stealing the show.

After the “B” pill experience, Annie pursues a closer relationship with Owen, but he’s too wrung out to cope with her. After being lied to by James, and betrayed within the reflections, he’s too discouraged to put himself through any more. Gertie proves that she’s a world-class therapist by using some reverse psychology on Owen. Or does she??? As a result, he decides to stay to protect Annie.

We begin episode 6 with the Odds, other than Annie, returning from their “B” pill experience. Owen’s proximity test is edited together with the rest of the odds. #5 doesn’t feel there was any meaning at all to his experience of hammering people to death while searching for his dead father’s bowling balls. I’m sure he’s right. #11 feels that people place too much blame on their parents for their problems. #7 wants to know if Dr Greta is James’ mother, and if she’s the one who messed him up. He’s definitely right. And #3 admits that she gets more of a rush from telling people she cuts than from actually cutting.

I think the most usable data is likely to come from Annie and Owen.

Owen tells James that it felt like Annie was really in the reflections with him. James lies and says that she wasn’t there. He says it was Owen’s brain lying to his mind and his mind believing it. Then James asks Owen why he thinks he had so many experiences with Annie. Owen says that he gets fixated on people and he starts seeing them everywhere. It only spiraled out of control once (the BLIP), but it’s happened a lot.

So James has unethically convinced Owen that he saw Annie because he’s unhealthily obsessed, rather than because they’re drawn together or there was a glitch in the system, both of which are true. They’ve shown us the physical issues in Gertie’s system that initially put Annie and Owen together. But it also seemed like Annie/Arlie was choosing to go back into Owen/Ollie’s reflection in order to escape the rawness of her own (her childhood reenacted in the lab).

Convincing Owen that Annie was essentially another type of hallucination might seem like it hides the flaws in the data in the short-term, but it also hides the progress Owen’s made. The emotional state it puts him in would probably render his data useless. And it’s cruel.

James asks what he feels is the most important question: “What do you think is wrong with you?”

Owen: “You know that movie It’s a Wonderful Life? If that happened to me, there would be no difference in the world. What’s wrong isn’t that I’m sick. It’s that I don’t matter.”

Okay. Core wound found. The forgotten child speaks. The paranoia and the self-sacrificing come from the same place. He thinks he isn’t wanted or loved because his parents never showed him that he was, so he doesn’t stop people from hurting him. And if someone has to volunteer to lose or die, he thinks it should be him, because he won’t be missed.

Owen’s proximity test score reaches 9.2, the number needed to move forward to the next step of the treatment. James looks at the scoreboard and says, “Great!” He hands Owen his diagnostic. It’s says he has signs of paranoid schizophrenia, a delusional identity known as “Grimsson” and perpetual cowardice.

Somebody programmed some extremely heteronormative stereotypes into Gertie. Not wanting to fight isn’t necessarily cowardice. The world is more complex than that. And it needs more peacemakers.

Owen takes the diagnostic like the blow to his soul that it is, stoically and with dignity. He’s had a lot of practice.

When he returns to the commons, Annie rushes over to compare notes about their shared reflections. Owen refuses to admit that they were together in the reflections, even after Annie lists some of the especially unique parts of the dreams. He insists that the drug made her hallucinate all of it and gets into his pod.


James insists that Azumi tell him the whole story of Gertie’s emotional state, now that the subjects are conscious again.

Azumi tells him that after he left the project, the problems with the “C” phase got worse. It got especially bad during iterations 48 and 49. James asks if there were any McMurphys. Azumi says there were 4. James is shocked. He asks why they didn’t call him.

Azumi tells him that he wasn’t stable and couldn’t control himself. They were left to complete his life’s work while he was “copulating with software.” James insists that he’s stable and has a diagnosed disorder.

A disorder which involves compulsive copulation with software, which he was engaged in when we met him.

So Azumi fixed Gertie herself, by coding a safety net and installing it deep within Gertie’s neural core. She gave Gertie a bit of empathy, hoping that it would encourage Gertie to help the subjects if they got into trouble. James doesn’t like the idea of his computer having feelings, but Azumi says that she just gave Gertie a tiny little bit, to help her anticipate what the subject might be feeling.

The idea was that Gertie could pull the subjects out if they ever got stuck. And it worked. Gertie has been protecting them. There haven’t been any more McMurphys.

Azumi added the safety net to Gertie’s programing 5 months ago. Two months ago she and Robert began having an affair. This is where the problem stems from. Since losing him, she’s fallen into a deep depression. She sent a message to Azumi saying that she doesn’t feel that she can continue with her work. She feels that she needs to know herself, really know herself.

Even though they haven’t spoken in 7 years, Azumi wants to bring James mother, Greta, in as a grief counselor to help Gertie deal with her pain. James doesn’t think a computer should need counseling, and he hates his mother. He says that she’s an egotistical charlatan who dupes people out of their money. He’s convinced that if he brought Greta there she’d destroy everything that he ever built.

Azumi asks if what happened at the Gala was his mother’s fault, too.

That must be when he had his breakdown and was replaced by Robert.

James says that the GRTA will be fine. She should prepare the evens for their “B” pill experience.

The TV monitors and Carl order the Odds to converse with a partner. The Odds aren’t happy and think the lab and the treatment are messed up. And #7 has pica, an eating disorder that he refers to as a tic. It eventually drives away his romantic partners. Annie asks, “What’s normal, anyway?”

James visits the GRTA. He takes the completely wrong approach to trying to coax her back to work:

James: “I know you and I have had our differences, but I would like for you to try and cooperate. I fixed you up, good as new.”

James looks around to make sure no one’s watching, then moves close to Gertie. He presses himself up against her in a hug.

James: “The most important thing in my life was taken away from me. Now I have a chance to get it back. To guide us to the finish line. Azumi told me about your, uh,  heart. I just need you to try to power through, until the end. I’ll take care of you once the ULP is approved. Please.”

Gertie sends him a printout. She’s so depressed that she can no longer speak. he reads it, then says that she doesn’t understand what she’s asking for. The next printout reads, “I want to meet my true self.” James tears up the pages and walks out.


Remember when Robert read Gertie the romantic poem about the work she was helping the subjects do? Robert treated Gertie with respect, admiration and affection, and got her best work from her. James walked in and assumed that Gertie was trying to hurt him personally, didn’t address her issues at all, made it all about him, and acted like he was doing her a favor by making simple repairs. I’d still be missing Robert and wanting to work with a handler other than James, too.

And now it’s finally time to meet the inimitable Dr Greta Mantleray in the flesh. She’s been teased since the opening of the pilot, but like any great diva, she’s made us wait.

Dr Greta: “But what if I told you there was one hug, one divine hug, one panacea hug, that could do more than the simple everyday hug, and that people who learn this hug are obligated to use it whenever they see pain in the world? You’d likely say, Dr Mantleray, that’s outrageous, and you’d be right. But so would I. I almost always am.”

Then she yells an expletive and complains about her typist’s mistakes. She’s reading a draft of her next book. Next, she yells at Julio, her boy toy, to answer the phone.

When he doesn’t, she drags herself over to pick it up, while shrieking at Julio to turn down his music. James is on the other end of the line (in this universe, phones still have lines), but it takes a moment for Azumi to convince him to speak. Greta is thrilled to hear from her son, but her voice is cool on the phone. Seven years is a long time and there’s a lot of bitterness between them.

James tells her that Robert died. She notes that Robert was James’ professional rival, who he always feared was more intelligent than himself. James denies feeling that way, but Greta ploughs ahead, reminding James of his unspoken need to destroy the man.

She’s right. James was totally competitive with Robert. He’s still competing.

Of course, Greta found Robert to be sweet and sensitive. He always asked how she was. James agrees that Robert was very fond of her.

He fell in love with her in computer form, in fact.

James: “Listen, Mom, I know we’ve had our problems in the past, and I’ve never said I’m sorry for my part in them.”

Greta’s eyes light up, but she sits silently. Azumi frantically urges James on.

James: “Hello? Mom? Are you there?”

Greta: “I’m waiting for you to say ‘I’m sorry.”

James: “I just said it.”

Greta: “Oh no. You said you never said you were sorry.”

James: “I’m sorry. Ok?”

Greta: “What do you need, Jamie?”

James: “I need you to do what you do best.”

He explains that one of their coworkers is having difficulty dealing with Robert’s death, and has specifically asked for Greta to be her grief counselor. She believes that Dr Greta is one of the greatest healers of our time.

Greta says that her day is very busy, but she’ll shuffle things around and be there in a few hours. Then she tells Julio to gas up the Miata.



Annie finds Owen fidgeting with his Rubik’s cube in his pod and tells him to stop avoiding her. She assumes that he’s mad at her for how she treated him during their marriages. I don’t know why I find that adorable, but I do. Owen still won’t admit that they shared reflections.

Annie: “Stop it. Don’t make me feel crazy. That is not a nice thing to do to a person. You know I have a good brain.”

Annie establishes that she’s a better, more trustworthy person than James.

Annie scooches the rest of the way into Owen’s pod and closes the curtains. Owen tells her she’s not supposed to be in there, but he caves and admits he remembers the reflections. Annie tries to make sense of their shared reflections and wonders if he was onto something when he talked about the pattern and cosmic brain magic when they first met. Owen asks if she’s making fun of him. She’s not, but he’s decided to leave the trial anyway. He can’t handle all of the old trauma it’s dredging up on top of the new trauma being created by his family expecting him to perjure himself.

He continues, saying that he likes order and normalcy, not chaos with fur stores and uzis and magical tiny chapters. Annie apologizes for Don Quixote. Ellie read it when she was 12 and their father held that up as proof of how gifted she was. Owen wonders if that’s why she shot his driver over it.

So, he has some resentment over the marriages, after all.

Annie asks what he wanted the chapter for, anyway? What fantasy would he have wished for? Owen says it’s stupid, but Annie convinces him to tell her. He says that in the fantasy, he had a car, and they were going to go somewhere together. Someone was chasing them and they were driving really fast, as if they were escaping. He was laughing, with a smile so big it hurt. They were just two people looking out for each other. Owen says again that it’s stupid, but Annie disagrees.

Carl makes Annie get out of Owen’s pod. “Cohabitation is strictly prohibited.”

Dr Greta arrives and gives her son a kiss full on the mouth, leaving him marked with her lipstick. They undermine and insult each other with practically every backhanded sentence they utter. James makes Julio wait in the car.

James explains the GRTA and the ULP to his mother. He talks about Azumi in glowing terms, but as if she’s a possession that he personally created, like the computer. Greta becomes competitive with Azumi, while Azumi looks up to Greta and wants her approval.

Then James explains to Greta that two of the subjects have been sticking together in the reflections. Azumi adds that the issue is caused by superficial mechanical problems. Greta suggests that the two subjects might be soulmates, whose energies are seeking each other out despite the restrictions. “Maybe these two have a cosmic connection.”

James laughs at her. He tells his mother that his computer is better than a woo-woo dreamcatcher.

Let’s all remember that he was having compulsive sex with software designed to simulate his purple, winged, cartoon, reincarnated, alien soulmate when we met him.

Greta’s seen this defense mechanism before. She asks if James and Azumi are involved. Azumi says it would be inappropriate, while James says they used to be. Azumi gives him a look that could kill. Once again, no empathy from James, no awareness of how he affects other people.

Greta was being reasonably nice about being called in to talk with a computer, until her son laughed at her work in front of his gorgeous, young, brilliant colleague/ex-girlfriend. Now, she pulls out the big guns, and brings up his paraphilia (sexual disorder), reminiscing about the days after his father left when it was triggered, and how difficult his addiction has made it for him to maintain long-term relationships.

James argues that he has his disorder firmly in hand and under control. It only flares up when things that are important to him are taken away. Like the ULP. Why is why he had an apartment full of sex software and baby oil.

Greta moves on, and wonders why they called her to talk to the computer. Azumi explains that the GRTA is based on Greta’s earlier, more serious academic work, particularly her PhD thesis, from before she switched to pop therapy. And, Azumi mumbles, she also scanned Greta’s brain.

Using her Ninja imaging skills? How do you secretly do that?

Greta’s feathers are ruffled at the slight to her more recent work, but there’s more to it than that. James is dismissive of her concerns, of course, saying they’ve just found an elegant way to fix people. Greta replies that lobotomies used to be considered elegant, too.

She asks how many of the subjects have ended up catatonic. He tells her that zero-ish have.

There have been at least 6, right? The two original McMurphys and the 4 later ones. There have been at least 50 iterations of the study, including the current one. If there were 12 subjects in each, that’s 600 total subjects. 6 McMurphys in 600 subjects would be 1%. That’s a lot, when you’re talking about catatonia.

Then she asks when he got the idea for this treatment. He tells her it was 7 years ago.


Greta: “Let me just see if I understand this. So, 7 years ago, and shortly after you and your therapist mother stopped speaking, you decided to develop a sequence of drugs that would eliminate therapy all together. But now your mother computer is sad, and so you had to calling in your real mother to talk to her about her feelings. Is that all correct? Well…Take me to the patient.”

Gertie and the GRTA should have fun comparing notes.

James senses a trick and tells Azumi that Greta agreed too easily. He thinks she’s trying to lead him to some kind of insight. He says it as if she’s trying to poison him. Azumi tells him to get hold of himself and stop self-sabotaging. He’s about to achieve his life’s goals, but they need Greta’s help, so let her help.

James says that just the idea of having his mommy in his lab, touching his things, is so disgusting. Azumi asks if he knows why she stayed on the project instead of leaving with him. He says yes, she chose her own self-interest over her feelings for him. Azumi says that she wanted to leave with him, but she knew that she had to manage Robert, who replaced James, if the project was going to succeed. Now they’re getting close. She believes that this project will improve billions of lives once they get it to market. He needs to swallow his pride and let Greta help. James gives in.

Azumi mixes an appropriate drug blend to bring Greta and Gertie’s minds together, then James shows Greta how to freebase it. Greta doesn’t need instructions. After he tells her suck up the smoke, he thanks her for helping him and helps her lie back in the drawer he normally sleeps in.

There are absolutely no confusing sexual issues between these two at all.

As James is closing her in the drawer, Greta tells him that she’s going to help him and she knows exactly what he needs.

Later, Azumi and James drink Saki in Gertie’s pink glow and wind down before bed. James tells Azumi that his father left home when he was 8 to start a whole new life with someone else. Greta laid in James’ bed for the next two months and talked about how she wanted to hang herself. He asks if that sounds like the world’s greatest healer. Azumi is sorry it happened, but James says that he isn’t, because it made him the person he is today.

Azumi gets into bed her drawer. James says he’ll sleep in one of the gorilla mating pods down the hall, since Greta’s in his drawer. Azumi likes that idea, because she prefers that he sleep nearby.

I’m thinking she’d like to try out a gorilla mating pod sometime, too.

Owen has his street clothes back on and his bag packed as he sneaks out to the lab door. Everyone else is asleep. The lab techs appear to sleep at their desks.


Gertie/Greta calls Owen over. He goes into her room.

Gertie: Hello Owen. Why do you have your suitcase? Did you decide to leave?

Owen: I need to go to an emergency room.

Gertie shows Owen her face, which I don’t think she’s shown since she cried alone over Robert’s death. We know she only shows it to people she likes.

She didn’t have glasses before, did she?

Gertie: Why?

Owen: Because I don’t know if this is really happening.

Gertie: Why do you think that?

Owen: Because celebrity therapist Dr Greta Mantleray is here. Because I’m talking to a wall. Because I can’t tell what’s real. I need real medication. I need to be hospitalized. I need help.

Gertie: What about all your friends, the Odds? I’m going to kill them if you go.

Owen: What?

Gertie: I’m going to cure them all if you go, Owen, and you’ll be the only one who wasn’t helped.

Owen: You can’t cure me. There’s no cure for schizophrenia.

Gertie: But I thought you were misdiagnosed? I thought it was only a BLIP and you were 100% compos mentis.

Owen: You can’t cure me.

Gertie: Your friend Annie has suffered like me. I think I’m going to keep her with the other subjects I’ve collected.

Owen: What does that mean?

Gertie: The Queen will unlock the door for you.

Owen: What does that mean about Annie? Hello?

Gertie doesn’t answer, so he goes to the door to the outside world, which unlocks for him. But Gertie has just given him a mission, and he can’t turn down a mission, especially one given to him by a computer that simulates celebrity therapist Dr Greta Mantleray, whose books he reads.

I think Gertie totally played him there. Even if Owen does have schizophrenia, he has a lot more going on besides. She knew he wouldn’t leave if someone needed him, so she created a crisis for Owen to handle in order to convince him to stay until the end.

In the morning, it’s time for the “C” pill. Owen tries to talk Annie out of taking the pill. Annie’s feeling good about the experience right now and is ready to find out what the “C” pill brings.


When the bell announcing experiment time rings, Owen quickly tells Annie what happened to his hawk.

Owen: When I was a kid, I found this hawk in the park and I just had this feeling that I had to protect it because it was so strong. But it was like, hurt, also. And I brought it home and helped it get better. And then it ate my brother’s gerbil and he killed it with a hammer. And I’ve always regretted that.

Annie: Okay, what are you talking about, Owen?

Owen: I’m worried about going back in there.

Annie: Hey, don’t worry, because we’ll probably be together again. We can protect each other.

So now we know for sure just how horrible Jed is. His threats aren’t just threats and Owen isn’t just paranoid. But Annie’s ready to protect and be protected.

Azumi checks in on the various readings to make sure everything’s ready. The techs tell her everything looks perfect. She tells the subjects to ingest the pill and counts them down into their reflections.

Annie is taken to Middle Earth, where she and her sister are elves. Ellie’s directing this reflection.



Dr Greta is a hero. Sons who expect perfection and invisibility from their mothers need to get over themselves. Dr Greta is living the modern American Dream, whether you’re male or female. And she still sees right through her kid’s every thought. Man, boys hate that for some reason.

I’m not going to defend Greta’s actions after her husband left. That was too much depression to dump on a child. It’s too much for one person of any age to handle alone. It helps explain why James hates feelings, if he blames them for his father leaving them for someone else, and his mother traumatizing him.

But Greta was in a major depression, and she deserves some understanding and forgiveness. She eventually found a way out of it and built a very successful life for herself, helping other people deal with traumatic events. No matter what James thinks of her methods, they give people comfort, and that’s what’s important, in the end.

He doesn’t seem to have any feelings at all toward the father who completely abandoned him. Only toward the mother who stayed, and did her best, even when she couldn’t do anything but think about suicide. He has a mother who’s still doing her best for him. But all he sees is the negative, because then he can blame everything on her.

Let me reiterate that Owen’s feelings of paranoia and that he doesn’t matter are not delusions that come from nowhere. His family trained him from birth to believe this about himself, and they continue to reinforce it. His mind has been unable to cope with the magnitude of the rejection he experienced as a child and has developed some over the top, unhealthy ways to deal with it.

Abusive families can develop a push me-pull you relationship with a child, where the child’s role is to protect and support the rest of the family. The child is made to understand that outside of that role, they’re worthless, so if they want any scraps of affection at all, they’d better be accommodating.

In a status and image conscious family like Owen’s, with 5 kids, it wouldn’t be unusual for everyone outside the family to miss the emotional abuse. The family would look perfect to outsiders, except for the invisible child who isn’t good enough and is kept in the shadows, and the scapegoated child who can’t stay out of trouble.

As I said in my episode 5 recap, I don’t believe that Owen has schizophrenia. I believe that he has psychotic depression, and his psychotic symptoms stem from his deep depression and the abuse he’s suffered. He is paranoid because he grew up under attack, and the threats continue. That’s not the same as the irrational paranoia of paranoid schizophrenia, which starts when the disease starts.

Gertie put a lot of emphasis on Owen’s BLIP, but she hasn’t recognized that Grimsson and Jed are connected, or addressed Owen’s family at all. Annie saw scenes from her childhood during the “B” experience, but the closest Owen came was Olivia playing someone else at the séance and a brief appearance by Grimsson, who mentioned Jed. Maybe Owen hasn’t needed his family brought up yet because he already understands what a problem they are for him.

His depression should be obvious to see for anyone who has feelings of their own, but there do seem to be people who don’t realize that a flat affect like his is a sign of depression. Long term, major depression leaves you too exhausted and apathetic to care about much of anything or do much of anything. You feel like a hopeless zombie. Jonah Hill is doing a fantastic job of portraying it. The depth of Owen’s sadness continues to break my heart.

This treatment protocol really needs some fine tuning. In what universe do you hand a patient a document full of diagnostic terms that sound terrible, but don’t explain them to the patient? Well, actually, that sort of thing happens in our universe, too, because the mental healthcare system is a wreck. In this drug trial, they’re depending too much on the computer to magically fix everything, and forgetting there are real people involved.

That clearly comes from James and Azumi’s social awkwardness. Azumi hasn’t said a word to the subjects yet that wasn’t a scripted message voiced from behind the fishbowl glass of the control room. She internalizes everything, to the point of putting herself away in a drawer at night, and keeping herself closed away in a basement lab. Her cigarettes are her only outlet, and she smokes so continuously that they don’t amount to any emotional variation.

James is a neuroscientist who hates his psychologist mother and emotions so much that he’s devoted his life to fixing emotional issues without ever having to expose or examine an emotion. James is rebelling against his mother, who smothered him as a child. Now he’s trying to maintain his own identity without fully maturing. That doesn’t leave him much brain space for anyone else. Annie, Owen and most of the patients are dealing with abuse, neglect, and abandonment, the opposite side of the dysfunctional coin.

James shows a distinct lack of empathy and understanding of his own treatment when he lies to Owen. Using a mentally ill person’s hallucinations against them in a drug trial meant to improve mental health will definitely skew the results. More importantly, throughout his questioning of the subjects we see that he has a clinical understanding of emotions and psychology, but no depth to his understanding. He either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care how these people are affected by their history and issues, and what dredging up their pasts and issues might do to them.

Gaslighting, like James did to Owen, is a manipulative form of bullying. We’ve watched James try to bully several people/computers into thinking and doing what he wants all episode long. He’s still a child, who never got past his childhood fears or coping mechanisms. He’s had to give up and call his rejected guardian angel back in to fix his problems for him.

I was actually given Greta’s “I Can Save You with a Hug” speech by a real life counselor once, except the technique wasn’t a hug. It was something equally oversimplified, stupid, and unnecessary, though. He talked for 45 minutes, building up this magical technique he’d created that was going to save something that was already fine, before he revealed it. I had a hard time not laughing in his face. He completely missed the real diagnosis in favor of giving me the infomercial pitch. He wasn’t even famous. Just sexist, egotistical and terrible at his job.


Images courtesy of Netflix.