Maniac Netflix Ending Explained, Spoilers: Are They Still Dreaming?
Most of Maniac takes place in dreams, but as the 10-episode mini-series comes to an end the two main characters, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, return to the real world — or so we’re led to believe. For a show that borrows a lot from Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the ending isn’t quite as open-ended, but there’s still plenty of room for interpretation.
As Stone and Hill drive into the sunset in a final scene that should look familiar to anyone who’s ever seen The Graduate (or the Simpsons episode that parodied it), I couldn’t help but think that maybe they were actually still in that lab, living out yet another drug-induced fantasy. And a bit of online sleuthing revealed that I’m not alone. Here’s what might actually be happening at in the ending to Maniac on Netflix, explained.
Warning: Mind-bending spoilers for Maniac ending ahead.
Maniac Netflix Ending Explained: What the heck did I just watch?
First a quick recap, in case you don’t remember how Maniac ends or just burned out halfway through Netflix’s new show. Hill and Stone meet as patients in a dangerous drug trial for a new type of treatment meant to replace therapy with psychoactive pills.
Hill’s character is a schizophrenic who needs the money. Stone, still dealing with the guilt of killing her sister in a car crash, numbs the pain by illegally taking the first of three pills in the treatment and then blackmails her way into the trial when her stash runs out. So clearly, neither of these characters are particularly reliable when it comes to differentiating the real world from fantasy.
Once the trial begins, those fantasies take over. Both characters are forced to confront their past before jumping into a series of increasingly absurd capers allegedly meant to help map out the inner workings of their brains (a 1980s suburban heist, followed by a caper set in a magical castle). Finally, in the third part of the trial, Hill and Stone both successfully face their inner demons in fantastical versions of their actual lives (a Lord of the Rings-style adventure for Stone, and a gang family drama for Hill) before reuniting in a nonsensical alien spy thriller.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the experiment has gone completely awry thanks to an overly emotional supercomputer. Somehow, Hill solving a Rubix cube in his fantasy manages to override the computer IRL, giving the scientists in charge (played by Justin Theroux and Sonoya Mizuno) a chance to shut it down and rescue their patients.
With the experiment over, Hill’s character ends up committed to a mental asylum and Stone decides to bust him out. Even though they’ve barely interacted in the real world, they’ve clearly bonded through their shared drug-induced fantasies. However, as they speed down the highway the two characters glance at each other nervously, clearly unsure if they’re making the right decision.
But what if they never left the trial at all? Considering that Maniac is unlikely to get a second season, we may never know for sure, but there’s reason to believe that the final scene could be just another drug-induced fantasy.
Maniac Netflix Ending Explained: It was all a dream?
Maniac may end on a hopeful note, but there are plenty of clues to suggest that Stone and Hill are actually still comatose in the lab, their brains permanently fried by a failed experiment.
One Reddit user, Xoxa3000, lays out a strong argument to support this theory. It basically boils down to the fact that the last moments of the show are filled with references to things that happened in earlier fantasies, from the cars parked in the garage, to the code used to shut down the computer, to the exact way Hill’s character escapes the asylum. However, you can explain that all away by arguing that the supercomputer was simply pulling real memories from its patients to create these fantasy worlds.
But the biggest clue is probably the appearance of Stone’s long-missing dog Groucho alongside Hill’s childhood pet hawk (who we know was murdered by his brother) in the very last shot. There’s no way those two animals could have just shown up right at the end. So it’s got to be a dream, right?
On the other hand, the fact that we see Hill or Stone drive past another car containing Theroux and Mizuno’s characters muddies things a little more. Either our heroes really did make it into the real world, or the supercomputer managed to pull everyone (including the scientists in charge) deep into its clutches. Even for a show about depression and the dangers of technology, that’s dark.
Maniac is streaming now on Netflix.