Listen up, (Netflix and) children. Cary Fukunaga is having a moment.
If you’ve already binged Cary Fukunaga’s Netflix dream-drama Maniac, you’ll know it’s a bit of a mindfuck. One minute, Emma Stone’s stuck in a quaint fantasy world spouting Tolkien-isms and the next she’s planning an elaborate heist with Jonah Hill in order to steal a lemur from a fur shop. Of course, none of it’s real and they’re actually testing dodgy mental health medication for a sex-obsessed mad scientist. But that’s not the point — it’s really, really good and will keep you busy long after the first watch.
Hidden inside the twist and turns of Maniac’s surrealist narrative are loads of very clever Easter eggs. You’ll have to be at the top of your game to spot them all. But luckily for you, we’ve put the best in a big, long list right here. How many did you notice?
Ones and nines
Here’s an easy one to start. At the very beginning of Maniac, Owen (Hill) and Annie (Stone) are given a number to identify them with during the experiment (one and nine). These continue to crop up throughout the 10 episodes in sneaky ways: Bruce’s car registration plate, his and Linda’s street number and the nine of hearts that Owen draws during episode five’s magic trick. In addition, one and nine are also anagrams of the two characters’ names — OwEN and aNNIE. Smart, huh?
Dancing lemur on the wall
Remember Wendy the stolen lemur from episode four? Of course you do, it’s one of the best story-lines. Well, jump back to episode two and you’ll spot a giant painting of a dancing lemur on the wall of Annie’s flat. It’s a cool nugget that foreshadows the hunt for Wendy later on.
The Milgrims’ dirty money
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! When Annie steals change from the newspaper vendor in episode one, we learn a little about Owen’s family fortune. ‘Bladdergate Milgrim Poopbot Empire In Peril’ reads the front page, confirming that the Milgrims’ millions come from the manufacture of Poopbots — the friendly-looking robots that clean up dog shit throughout the series.
Solving the Cube
Everyone owns a Rubik’s Cube at some point in their life and Owen Milgrim is no different. Did you notice how he obtained his, though? Annie originally pulls the toy out of a pile of rubbish before tossing it away, then Owen picks it up off the pavement outside Milgrim Industries. They haven’t even met by this point, but Fukunaga is already hinting at Owen and Annie’s connection. Later, during the tense final reflection, Owen (as over-the-top Scandi fellow Norri) has to solve the cube in order to rescue the other test subjects from supercomputer Gertie.
Dr. Mantleray’s sordid floppy disks
When we first meet Dr. Mantleray, played by Justin Theroux, in episode two, he’s engaging in weird, pixellated cyber-sex with a purple alien called the High Priestess of Atlantis. Dr. Fujita sadly (for him) interrupts, and we discover he’s actually hooked up to a VR porn game in his futuristic-looking flat. Scattered about the place are several floppy disks labelled with some, ahem, suspect titles: ‘True Erection’, ‘Beasts of Urination’ and ‘Jane Derrière’ to name a few…
Hank and Annie
Hank, aka Annie’s agoraphobic dad, rarely appears outside of his confinement chamber. But when Annie briefly listens to Greta Mantleray’s radio show, we hear a man named Hank describe a problem he has with his two daughters. That role was played by The Simpsons legend Hank Azaria, meaning we also hear his voice whenever Annie speaks to her father. At the end of the series, ‘Hank’ scrolls across the machine’s LED screen — another nod to Azaria’s work on the show.
Dr. Greta’s books about wellness
Dr. Greta Mantleray doesn’t show up until later in the series, but she’s definitely one of the best characters. Played by Sally Field, she’s a manipulative mother to Dr. James and her influence is presaged before we even meet her. In episode one, for example, Annie wanders past a billboard advertising one of Greta’s self-help books: ‘Not All Hugs Are Created Equal’. Erm, okay?
The Treachery of Images
Right, now we’re really cooking. During the latter episodes, art buffs among you might have clocked the repeated references to 20th Century painter Rene Magritte’s surrealist masterpiece ‘The Treachery Of Images’. Best known for its slogan “ceci n’est pas une pipe”, the 1929 piece has its rallying cry reworked in episode eight. Adapted to “ceci n’est pas une drill”, we then see Annie smoking a pipe similar to that of the painting. The preceding episode is also named after the phrase. Neat, huh?
Every Breath You Take
Owen’s mum is played by Trudie Styler, who IRL is married to Shaggy’s best mate Sting, former frontman of The Police. Obviously, Fukunaga was not going to miss the chance to have Jed Milgrim belt out Police mega-hit ‘Every Breath You Take’ while stood mere metres away from Trudie. Just in case she forgot her unfortunate marital situation…
From movie fantasy to real-life reflection
During Annie’s ‘Pill A’ recollection of her sister’s death, she and Ellie watch a fantasy film in a motel room. At the same time, Ellie (Julia Garner) pretends to be an elf and nicknames her and Annie as “Annia and Ellia”. Obviously, this is Maniac so everything has to connect, which is why the entire fantasy plays out in a later reflection sequence.
Don Quixote’s lost chapter
Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th Century tome is weaved into the narrative of Fukunaga’s series almost inextricably, but one extra-subtle reference occurs in episode five. During that reflection, Owen (Ollie) and Annie (Arlie) are searching for the ‘lost final chapter’ of Don Quixote. Legendary in literary circles, the mysterious ‘final chapter’ is said to allow the reader to live in their fantasies forever. This, of course, is what Gertie tries to force the test subjects to do during their last encounter.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
McMurphys, the term used by Dr. Mantleray and Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) to describe those rendered brain-dead by their tests, are a perennial risk in Maniac. Of course, the name has its roots in another of pop culture’s most iconic stories — 1975 psycho-drama One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack Nicholson plays Randle McMurphy in that Oscar-winning flick — a patient incarcerated in a mental institution who (spoilers) gets lobotomised when he stands up to the evil matron Nurse Ratched.
Nice to meet you, Snorri
Mild-mannered Snorri is Owen’s Scandinavian alter-ego during the ‘Pill C’ reflection. However, his persona isn’t entirely fabricated by Owen’s mind. During the first episode, Owen glimpses the name ‘Snorri’ in an advert for Icelandic fish. The ad’s tagline reads: “If you could eat like the chosen one.” Owen, of course, ends up saving the day when he solves the jazzed-up Rubik’s Cube in episode nine.
Wendy the Lemur’s last hurrah
Annie’s fave pet primate makes one final appearance (sort of) during the final episode. While visiting Owen, Annie goes to sign her name in the guest log below “Wendy Lemuria”. A fitting farewell for our furry friend.
A hug in a mug
Cary Fukunaga is no novice when it comes to tgritty television. His first big success, HBO’s True Detective, saw him team-up with Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson. In the scene above, The Mac can be seen next to a ‘Big Hug Mug’. The same mug is carefully placed next to Jed during his pre-trial in Maniac‘s final episode. We see you, Cary.
Milgram to Milgrim
Owen’s surname is a clear reference to Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist whose work at Harvard during the 1960s helped establish the the Six Degrees of Separation concept. The same idea has gone on to shape our understanding of how people are connected to each other.
‘Annie, I’m a Hawk!’
Netflix might have effectively done away with opening or closing credits, but if you don’t skip long enough to reach the end of Maniac‘s post-episode business, then you’ll hear Jonah Hill’s soon-to-be-iconic cry once more — “Annie! I’m a hawk!”
A Kubrickian vision
Director Cary Fukunaga has spoken about his efforts to pay tribute to his favourite movies, but in Maniac he goes the whole hog. When Annie saves Owen from an inquiry at the United Nations, Stanley Kubrick fans would have noticed the room is a near-exact replica of the war room in 1964 comedy-noir Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Thankfully, Maniac has a slightly happier ending…
Seven continents of the world
At the end of one reflection, Owen is married and living with his High School crush Olivia. Together, they have seven children who Olivia can be heard addressing as “Asia”, “Africa” and “Australia”. Later, Greta Mantleray tells her son that she is soon to embark on a book tour which takes in “all seven continents”. Owen and Annie wouldn’t have known this prior to the reflection — does this mean the series’ ending is also a hallucination?
You’ve seen this bit before
Shocked by that jubilant ending? Well, you shouldn’t have been. Owen actually described his road trip with Annie as early as the sixth episode. “I had a plan,” he told Annie, before pitching her an idea he’d imagined to “go somewhere together” while “driving in a car really fast”. In Maniac‘s final moments, we watch as our odd couple do just that.
Maniac is streaming on Netflix now