Limited Series Tackles Trauma
By: Brooke Spencer Vigil
When browsing through my Netflix feed, I came across a show called “Maniac,” an original Netflix limited series with a star studded and critically acclaimed cast.
I thought to myself “This seems odd, the last time I saw Emma Stone and Jonah Hill in something together was in Superbad.”
This series, however, was an extremely different experience, focused on growth. I had seen both these actors make a transformative effort towards change, a change that left me awestruck in front of my television, feeling completely satisfied with what I had just seen.
The following includes spoilers, yes, spoilers
If you have yet to see this series, the first thought that comes to mind when trying to describe it is breathtaking.
It looks as if the series is set in a near-future-type reality that showcases both political and social downfalls that are currently happening within our world.
The show centers around the two main-characters, Owen, played by Hill, and Annie, played by Stone, and their differences with how they cope with the world around them.
Owen battles with schizophrenia and his family instability, pressured by his father to lie in order to provide his brother with an alibi in an upcoming trial.
Annie’s grip on the traumatic loss of her sister and addiction to pill “A” is also a huge plot within the story.
The pair both enter a futuristic and unsettling drug trial that replaces common-day therapeutic studies, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, in which the subjects go through three pills titled A, B, and C.
If you pay enough attention you begin to understand that all of these scenarios, however weird and out of sort, are all linked together in order to bring these two friends together.
They leave the study like nothing had ever happened, though they both know that they are changed.
The final episode is what truly struck me, this idea of friendship and mental illness associated with one another, stories we don’t often see, until now.
It turns out Owen’s brother is on trial for a sexual assault, which he committed, and Owen’s testimony could make or break the outcome. When he chooses to out his brother in order to do the right thing his family sends him to a facility by gaslighting him about his “sickness”, and Owen learns to believe it.
Annie sees this in the paper and recalls her time with Owen and goes to break him out, but Owen is reluctant.
“Maybe you’re diagnosed, maybe you need to be medicated. But this, this does not work for me, Owen. I don’t think it works for you either. So you saw some things that weren’t there, so what? People see aliens, people hear voices, people see ghosts.”
“It’s different, my mind, it doesn’t work right.”
“No one’s does.”
A part of me resonated with this conversation, because if I am being transparent; with all the personal struggles I have endured throughout my life, I cannot tell you how refreshing it was for me to see this conversation happening on television, in someone else’s life and not just my own.
It’s clear that this series covers a lot more than just mental illness and trauma.
What you’re left with after the show’s credits start to roll is a sentimental sense of wonder.
One that makes you sigh a bit thinking, “I hope they make it.”
Here is where I must applaud the work of both main actors in this show. Hill and Stone are dynamic together. Their chemistry and the way Hill’s character, Owen, relentlessly pursues her friendship is something I find endearing and admirable.
Annie, despite her own struggles, is wonderful in the way she speaks and treats Owen despite his mental illness. Their relationship starts off slowly but becomes one of the main highlights of the show.
When the two meet for the first time, his delusion appears to tell him that Annie is the one who is supposed to help him on his mission to becoming a hero, a delusion he has had for quite some time.
Owen and Annie become friends based on a premise that Annie believes in his delusion, that actually isn’t a delusion at all, and they begin helping one another through their trauma’s.
In their subconscious, odd and at times jarring semi-realities brought them together bringing weird and unique outcomes of peculiar situations that involve a lemur, political jabs at the current administration, a 1920’s mob front, and finally the one where Owen saves the world.
All these scenarios are thoughtfully and tastefully done to get this one message across; Owen is more than his mental illness and Annie does not have to hate herself for what occurred to her sister.
The show ends with Annie realizing how much she cared for Owen and the need for them to be together in a sweet platonic way. She breaks him out after the pep-talk of the century and they leave together.
Where to? Who knows.
This show really touched me, it stirred within me as I thought about my own experiences in the depths of my mental illness.
I thought about my relationships that faltered and failed because I wasn’t given the proper support. Realization that I didn’t have the strength, at the time, to listen to the people that really cared for me.
It took me until I saw this show to understand that mental illness was not an end-all-be-all, that there was no magical pill that would make any of it go away at a moment’s notice.
Maybe it is not about that, maybe it’s about the journey it takes to get there. It’s realizing that the world is just as screwed up as we feel sometimes.
Showing this intricate story about mental illness and how we treat those functioning and living life with us.
“Maniac” teaches us about the important things, about the real things, the content we may have been too afraid to talk about before now.
That maybe sharing our traumas, though presented as daunting, may serve as to bridge the gap between functioning and thriving with the community around us.
Pills can’t fully function as our idea of recovery, but relationships, real-people trying to communicate may be a start to better living with a mental illness.
Realizing that I can bring just as much to the table through intentionality is something I am excited to tackle while also continuing my commitment towards my recovery, and learning to find a balance between the two.
Themes I think the show hits hard on. Owen’s character arch is beautiful and real, and mine will be too.
Who’s the real maniac in “Maniac”?
Well, I guess it’s up to you.