This Maniac review contains spoilers.
Maniac Episode 4
Lemurs are so cool.
Here’s a fun look into what life was like before mass adoption of the Internet. When I was around 10 or 11 years old, my family had a desktop computer with internet access but the internet wasn’t all that fun or reliable yet. And it certainly wasn’t mobile. The would-be intoxicating universe of the World Wide Web was constrained to that old Dell desktop that lived inside our home’s “office.”
So on slow summer nights when there was nothing to do and no Wikipedia holes to fall into, I would sit on my parents bed in their room, smack in front of their small TV and watch Animal Planet. I would spend the night (or at least until my parents needed to sleep) watching Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin, or some other Animal Planet personality and hope that they would interact with my favorite animal: the lemur.
Why was the lemur my favorite animal? Who knows? The most popular and frequently occurring version of the lemur, the ring-tailed variety, is just kind of cool looking. They look as though they are a more interesting universe’s version of squirrels. Regardless of why, I would spend a whole summer watching Animal Planet and getting excited when a new subspecies of lemur was introduced. I even watched with a little notepad on the bed so I could jot down the names of newly discovered (for me at least) species: ring-tailed, red ruffed, brown, red-collared, mongoose, and so on.
Anyway, this is all to say that there’s a lemur in this episode of Maniac – a nice fluffy ring-tailed one named Wendy. And Wendy is the best part of “Furs by Sebastian.” I can’t fully tell if that’s because of my own pro-lemur bias or because this is a relatively boring episode of television. Either way, however, I think this show is starting to lose me a bit.
As far as drug-induced explorations into mentally ill minds go, the story at play in “Furs by Sebastian” is rather conventional. As teased by “Having a Day’s” conclusion, we are now firmly planted in Owen and Annie’s “B” pill world where they are a married couple in ’80s or ‘90s Long Island named Linda and Bruce. I initially assumed they were Houstonians because of “Bruce’s” Warren Moon jersey but the accents and strip malls make the setting unmistakable.
Linda is a tender, sweet-hearted, yet badass nurse who promises a recently-departed patient, Nan, that she will get her beloved lemur, Wendy, into the care of her daughter. Unfortunately, evil fur trader Sebastian (played by HBO’s awesome go-to creep portrayer Glenn Fleshler) steals Wendy out of Linda’s watchful eye at a bagel shop and has plans to turn her into a hat. Bruce and Linda engage in a rescue operation at Furs by Sebastian that naturally ends in a hale of gunfire from Sebastian’s clan and the Fish and Wildlife agency (“I thought you were cops!” “There’s not much of a difference authority-wise.”).
All things considered, that is a fun little action romp within the framework of the human mind. Still, I can’t help but feel as though something is missing on this show nearly halfway into its run. As best as I can articulate it, Maniac has either done too much or done too little to flesh out its non-lemur characters. That’s a frustratingly vague summation, I know. But lets’ see if I can work through it.
Let’s say that this episode, “Furs by Sebastian” was the very first episode of the season. Don’t change anything about the infrastructure of the show or move scenes around from episode to episode. Just take this exact episode and make it episode 1. Wouldn’t you be far more intrigued? Wouldn’t it be awesome to see the glimpses of Owen and Annie in their little brain machine contraptions back in the “real” world by episode’s end?
This in media res introduction would be a solid way for the show to get away with its lack of solid character building from the jump. It would be doing more with less. As things stand, the character moments in “Furs by Sebastian” ring false because they are at odds with what we’ve learned about the characters so far. Why is Bruce and Linda’s marriage seemingly unhappy other than the fact Owen and Annie are experiencing differing levels of mental illness in their own lives? Owen and Annie don’t have any real world history together other than Owen’s brief psychological obsession with Annie before she assured him that she’s not his secret agent handler.
Through the first three episodes, Maniac did a decent enough job of communicating the various damages and insecurities of its two lead characters. Owen is clinically mentally ill and comes from a demanding, high-class family. Annie underwent serious trauma within her own family and lost her sister – the most important person in the world to her. That’s pretty clear-cut stuff. It’s also at odds with what we’ve seen so far in their unconsciouses.
That’s why the other option for Maniac’s early episodes would have been to give us more – more trauma, more character study, more time spent in this world with these characters before we begin to plumb the depths of their sad, soggy brains.
Maniac is still a solid show with a real admirable sense of spectacle. I can’t lie that it was fun to watch one of Sebastian’s sons get absolutely lit up with shotgun fire from the Fish and Wildlife agency of all people. Plus there is our beloved Wendy the lemur. The show’s visual language is strong. The emotional language is lacking. It’s particularly frustrating because Maniac is clearly the work of creative, empathetic people who want to communicate something with real emotional depth.
Witness Linda’s conversation with Nan’s daughter in which we find out that Wendy isn’t an “I love you lemur” but rather a “fuck you lemur.” Nan granted the lemur to her daughter as a reminder that children will also disappoint you but lemurs never will (hell no, they won’t! Lemurz 4 Life!) Linda responds to this interaction not with horror but with understanding for Nan’s perspective. “Maybe you shouldn’t have kids,” she tells Nan’s daughter.
Why is Linda so cruel in this moment? I couldn’t tell you. Because I don’t know her. Maniac has six more episodes to tell me but I can’t help but be a little frustrated that it didn’t bother to do so in the first four. At least it gave us Wendy the Lemur.