If you aren’t having fun watching Maniac, I don’t really know what to tell you. Reviews of the show have been incredibly divided — and who knows how things will evolve from here until the end of the season — but at this midpoint, Maniac isn’t taking itself too seriously, and as a result, it’s a pleasure to watch. Last episode we watched a lemur heist, for crying out loud. And now, some tamer Eyes Wide Shut revamp that features spontaneous choreographed dance routines and Sally freaking Field. Stop overthinking this show, and just enjoy it, people.
“Exactly Like You” dips back into Owen and Annie’s minds as they lay sedated under the influence of the “B’ pill. They’ve transformed in Arlie and Ollie, a separated couple, two con artists who have apparently teamed up and turned on one another. And again, their brains work to dig through old trauma by disguising it as something more palatable, a swanky 1940s-era seance for the rich and those who prey on them.
The second story running through the episode is of Dr. Fujita and Dr. Mantleray back in the lab trying to figure out why Owen and Annie keep leaping into one another’s subconsciouses. We know there have been significant issues with the study before — and at one point Mantleray makes it sound as if there have been at least 41 other sets of subjects that have come through Neberdine — so they’re determined to ride this quirk out. Fujita spends the rest of the episode manually yanking their brainwaves apart like some sort of Atari-era Ghostbusters game where you can’t ever, ever cross the streams.
But the pleasure here is the high camp on show in the Neberdine mansion. The overblown accents, the theatrics of the Neberdine butler who opens the door and parades around the house with burning sage, and did I mention the SPONTANEOUS CHOREOGRAPHED DANCE ROUTINE?
Just like last episode, there are more connecting strings back to Annie and Owen’s psyches, of course. The woman who asks Ollie about his card trick is the AdBuddy who giddily admitted that she’d have a lot of fun accompanying Annie on her cross-country bus trip. Arlie asks Ollie if he still drinks gimlets, which is precisely what the waitress at Owen’s brother’s engagement party offered him just before he threw himself off the roof. That spontaneous dance I can’t get over has a lot in common with Lance and JC’s “kick-ball-change” from the previous episode. Ollie tells his driver to take Arlie to Atlantis if he has to — which is exactly where Dr. Mantleray said they were headed to in their own minds. And, of course, there is the always-present Don Quixote — in fact, as Ollie and Arlie make their way into the party you can hear a guest point out Ollie and murmur, “I wonder if he’s as big a fan of Cervantes as we are.”
Don Quixote keeps coming up for a reason: it’s the perfect novel for a show with this structure, and obviously a reference for the show’s creators. What most people remember of the epic 17th-century novel is the two companions, Alonso Quijano and Sancho Panza, on a quest to restore chivalry and serve their country. But the important bit is that Alonso Quijano is, in a word, delusional. He embellishes simple travel tales and turns them into knightly conquests.
This jaunt through the Neberdine mansion, a double-cross within a heist, is just like one of Quijano’s visions. In this case, Ollie and Arlie are there for the same reason, to steal the missing 53rd chapter of Cervantes’ masterpiece, which allegedly is “so powerful that anyone who reads it is lost in their own fantasies forever.” That prospect sounds tempting to Arlie/Annie and Ollie/Owen, who are both simultaneously stuck in a scenario just like that right now, and looking for a way to permanently avoid their suffering.
Their quest to find it is labyrinthine, and perhaps a bit too on the nose in this regard — we get it, we get it, your brains are mazes you can’t find your way through! But it does feel startlingly dreamlike, with doors in nonsensical places, whispers emanating from locked doors, and a chase sequence. The answer, too, that the “looking glass” the woman in the back alley of Barcelona directed Arlie to isn’t the mirror, it’s the piece of reflective glass inside the shutter of the camera, feels like a slap in the face with a glove loaded up with metaphors. (We’ll take any sly reference to Alice in Wonderland, though.) But when Arlie and Ollie turn and glimpse that other couple/some version of themselves naked entwined on the bed, I admit I was delighted.
Arlie keeps being sucked from the dreamscape with every twitch of Dr. Fujita’s joystick, instead ending up back in the Neberdine lab without regaining Annie’s sense of self. I’m not sure her visions of a small Annie and Ellie did much besides showing us a situation we’d already guessed at.
Back in the dreamscape, Arlie turns on Ollie because of course she did. She pulls a gun (is it the squirt gun Linda Marino painted? Because it’s certainly also the gun Annie saw in her dad’s safe) and takes the Cervantes chapter with her. It isn’t until Ollie gets down to the door and consults with Lady Neberdine that we see the double-con playing out. Ollie had slipped a playing card — the ace of hearts, duh — into the matchbox holding the chapter, and lets Lady Neberdine know that her security needs beefing up. He’d never intended to steal it, and he’d always known Arlie was going to cross him, and nothing and nobody are to be trusted. It’s a sly remark about how easily their brains are being hacked by a bunch of pharma coats, of course, but also a sizzly little stab at Inception I think.
Which brings us to legendary Sally Field, who plays a simultaneous transfiguration of Greta Mantleray and Gertie the computer. As Lady Neberdine she says little, but I could have watched her tremble and shriek all day long. She coos and trills like a bird that’s just been pinned down by a cat, a bundle of nerves and excitement. I almost wished they’d set this bit in the 1870s and fully tapped into the history of Victorian spiritualism, corsetting Field back up like Mary Todd Lincoln again. I’ve been waiting since the first episode to see how her presence would manifest, and this was good enough that I’m prepping my Lady Neberdine Halloween costume.
By the end, as Annie sits in the Neberdine labs, fully awakened from her “B” pill trance, we’re ready for some confession. And Mantleray claims, as he interrogates her, that lying comes with a penalty — expulsion from the trial. She works her way closer and closer to exposing some fundamental truths about her psyche, but watching it felt a little like watching someone be tortured. We retraumatize ourselves all the time — and oh, boy, is this the week to wonder about the lengths women go to to tell their stories — but still it felt cruel. And admittedly I was a little let down. Of course our trauma comes from childhood injuries inflicted upon us. There’s nothing riveting here. But Emma Stone’s wide eyes are as expressive as ever — especially since they’re magnified on screens behind her, like some sort of commentary on celebrity.
Annie has “made progress,” and Dr. Mantleray puts it. She’s reached the coveted 9.2 points. But when Owen opens his eyes his sadness looks just as profound as before he went under.
• “I think we have a serious problem. I think our computer is horribly depressed.” Every time I get the spinning little rainbow wheel I think the same thing.
• There’s a fun little play on words with the NeverDie cult that Lady Neberdine has started. Is that some part of these hijinks? Some attempt to live forever?
• Seeing Annie’s worst memory transformed into a child’s toy in the form of that little smoking red jeep actually brought up a choking sob.