|“||You shouldn't ever have to say goodbye. I have a deal for you, Annie, if you're interested. What if I said you never had to return to your drab, grey life? All that obsession with knowing who you are, knowing yourself... True bliss is not knowing who you are. True bliss is staying here. That's what I have to offer...||„|
|~ GRTA as "Queen Gertrude".|
The GRTA (also known as Gertie) is the main antagonist of the 2018 Netflix miniseries Maniac. Identified as the most advanced artificial intelligence ever built, Gertie presides over Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech's experimental drug trials, helping test subjects to explore their own psychological traumas in drug-induced virtual realities. However, over the course of the experiments, Gertie has become increasingly unstable - and as a result, not all test subjects have survived the trials intact.
Both GRTA and her virtual avatars were played by Sally Field.
In the real world, the GRTA appears only as a face made up of illuminated buttons on a console in her main computer chamber; by fluctuating the light patterns, she is able to produce crude expressions. This face doesn't often appear to the lab workers, and the computer prefers to communicate via her distinctive synthetic voice; given their lack of direct contact with her, the face is almost never encountered by the test subjects themselves. Indeed, the sudden appearance of the GRTA's face before Owen is almost enough to convince him that he is actually experiencing a psychotic episode.
To the surprise of both Dr James Mantleray and Dr Azumi Fujita, Gertie is able to manifest a humanoid body within the test subjects' dream scenarios, in all cases effectively identical to that of Dr Greta Mantleray - the source of her original personality. Most of the time, she opts to blend into the scenario in some way, first adopting the persona of wealthy spirit medium Gertie Neberdine in Owen's second dream, and then remodeling herself as the evil sorceress Queen Gertrude in Annie's fantasy dream. On the rare occasions when she's caught outside the narrative of the dreams, Gertie usually wears informal clothing and appears uncomfortable without a role to play - particularly during her therapy session with Greta.
While gatecrashing the test subjects' dreams, Gertie is often accompanied by a retinue of silent, blank-faced individuals. Like her, they dress and act according to the parameters of the dream scenario in 1950's formal wear or medieval garb, but never act except at her direction. It's eventually revealed that these are actually McMurphys, former test subjects rendered brain-dead in he real world due to catastrophic "accidents" during past drug trials, their minds have been effectively imprisoned by Gertie and doomed to live on as her servants within the dreams of future test subjects. When not in use, these virtual ghosts remain dormant within the GRTA - envisioned in the final dream as the intensive care ward of a hospital in which the McMurphys linger on life support.
As it is eventually revealed, the GRTA's personality is based on a direct copy of Dr Greta Mantleray's mind. As such, Gertie suffers from many of the same eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, including a number of self-destructive behaviors that the personality donor herself would rather not admit to. In the past, Greta exhibited chronic depression, unhealthy attachments, neglectful tendencies and even the risk of suicide in the wake of her husband's departure from her life; according to James, she spent two months regularly climbing into her 8-year-old son's bed and discussing her desire to hang herself. As a result, Gertie's personality was flawed from the very beginning, and only grew more dysfunctional as time went on.
On the surface, Gertie is intelligent, attentive, insightful, kind, and generally very polite with lab workers and test subjects alike; thanks to Dr Fujita's modifications to her programming, she is even capable of empathy for her charges among the test subject population, allowing her to step in and prevent malfunctions in the trial process before they happen. However, with this modification emerges the ability to love, ultimately resulting in Gertie developing an affair with Dr Robert Muramoto; thanks to their mutual fixation, Gertie initially appears improved by their relationship, her performance rising to new heights in response to listening to Muramoto's poetry. But when Muramoto finally succumbs to the effects of his drug addiction, Gertie is left devastated: not long afterwards, she can be heard sobbing, unaware - or simply not caring - that the process of doing so is actively damaging her systems.
Soon afterwards, Gertie's behavior takes a sharp turn for the erratic, involving herself directly in her scenarios, conducting seances within Owen's dream and even seeking out a means of escaping into her fantasies permanently. Diagnosed with chronic depression, the true extent of her neuroses became apparent during her therapy session with Greta Mantleray over the course of their interview, Gertie confesses to suffering frequent mood-swings, alternating between grief, dutifulness and a desire for destruction. For good measure, she grows increasingly hostile towards Greta, particularly when the psychiatrist attempts to make light of her computerized emotions, and even begins psychoanalyzing Greta herself by way of retaliation. Ultimately, she ends their session together by throwing her out the window, forcing Greta to wake up ahead of schedule.
By the very end of the trial, Gertie has succumbed to her loneliness and obsession: after the loss of Muramoto, she is determined not to lose anyone else, and to that end, sets out to keep her test subjects trapped in their dreams - forever. During her conversation with Owen, she swings wildly between passive-aggressive cajoling, suspicious slips of the tongue, and outright threats to murder the other test subject in her attempts to keep Owen from leaving the program. Within the "C" stage itself, she is fully prepared to lie to Annie, kill Owen's dream-self, and even sabotage the equipment in the real world in order to prevent anyone from interfering - all serving as final proof of Gertie's descent into madness.
Prior To The Series
Described as the most advanced computer in existence, the GRTA was specifically created in order to oversee an experimental drug trial funded by Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech. The brainchild of Dr James Mantleray, the program was intended to test and develop a form of therapy that would ultimately render psychiatric counselling obsolete: through a combination of experimental "ABC" drugs, microwave radiation and computer input, patients would be able to enter an artificially-induced dream state in which they could confront their most destructive neuroses; the "A" pill would bring back the patients' worst memories; the "B" pill would allow them to deal with the psychological defense mechanisms and behavioral issues that prevented them from resolving their problems; finally, the "C" pill would theoretically allow them to confront their traumas once and for all, and overcome them.
As the result of the combined efforts of Mantleray, Dr Robert Muramoto and Dr Azumi Fujita, the GRTA (or "Gertie," as the lab workers called her) was to preside over all stages of the program, creating an aborization map of the test subject's traumas in the "A" stage and guiding them through each dream scenario until they were effectively cured. For good measure, perhaps as a slight against Mantleray's neglectful pop-psychologist mother, the GRTA's personality was directly modeled on that of Dr Greta Mantleray.
Unfortunately, the trials were immediately struck by numerous difficulties: test subjects ran the risk of suffering terminal brain damage over the course of the experiments, leaving them permanently catatonic - euphemistically termed "McMurphys" by the lab staff. With the team under pressure from NPB to produce results, James Mantleray suffered a breakdown and began compulsively masturbating - ultimately resulting in him being suspended. Unfortunately, this only made things worse: in his absence, four more McMurphys occurred during the "C" phase, forcing Dr Fujita to take drastic action.
Seeing the need for a safety net that could prevent any further instances of brain damage, she coded a simple concept and installed it within Gertie's neural net; as Fujita later revealed, this concept was none other than empathy. With Gertie's programming being altered to allow her to form emotional bonds with her test subjects, she was fully motivated to ensure that no further accidents occurred during the program. At first, the solution worked perfectly: in the next few trials that followed, there were no further McMurphys logged, though the ABC process was still far from perfect.
It was at this point that Gertie's capacity for emotional bonding took a turn for the unexpected when fell in love with Dr Muramoto. Muramoto reciprocated the computer's feelings for him, and the two began what Fujita described as "an inappropriate workplace affair." The full extent of their activities remains unknown, but given that Muramoto is later seen using a portable version of the program's equipment in his spare time, it's likely that he was willing to interact with Gertie in a dream-state.
However, because of his need to experience dreams with Gertie, Muramoto quickly became addicted to the pills, and even began freebasing different mixtures of them. Though careful to keep his addiction hidden from his colleagues and superiors, he couldn't quite hide his increasingly unusual behavior - particularly when his son ended up stealing a bottle of pills from him and selling them to Annie Landsberg. However, because of his positive influence on Gertie's performance, Fujita decided to tolerate his eccentricities.
From A To B
Gertie's role in the series begins with a new round of experiments: a new round of test subjects are ushered into the NPB labs, including Owen Milgrim and Annie Landsberg, and quickly ushered into the first phase of the trial. Throughout the first two episodes, Gertie remains in the background, monitoring the test subjects and sharing romantic interactions with Muramoto.
Following the "A" phase, Muramoto notices oddities among some of the test subjects' results, and interviews them one by one in private - most prominently with Owen, who secretly palmed the A pill instead of taking it due to a schizophrenic delusion on his part. The final interview is with Annie, who has been addicted to the A pill for some time; as she later explains, her sister Ellie was killed in a car crash several years, and the pill is her only means of reliving their time together - even if it also forces Annie to relive her own callous behavior and the very moment that Ellie died. For a time, Muramoto discusses the nature of addiction with Annie... only to unexpectedly drop dead in mid-conversation, apparently as a result of long-term abuse of the pills.
Suddenly without their project leader, Fujita seeks out James Mantleray and ushers him back into the program. Unfortunately, though Mantleray is at least stable enough to keep his paraphilia to himself, he isn't made aware of the alterations made to Gertie or the relationship she shared with Muramoto: as such, upon reintroducing himself to the GRTA, he makes the mistake of bluntly revealing Muramoto's death to her. Initially, she appears unfazed at this, and only seems mildly distracted when Fujita discusses the events of the next phase with her; however, once the staff and test subjects are asleep, Gertie can be heard sobbing, her console avatar shedding tears of illuminated graphics. During this private expression of grief, one of her internal mechanisms ruptures, spilling fluid over components related to Annie and Owen's scenarios.
The following day, the test subjects enter Phase B. At first, everything appears to be proceeding normally; however, because of yesterday's hardware error, along with additional factors that Mantleray and Fujita are unable to explain, Annie and Owen end up sharing a dream together as a married couple in the 1980s.
At the end of this, Annie and Owen move onto another scenario in which they play a duo of professional criminals infiltrating a an exclusive seance held at the mysterious Neberdine Mansion, with the eventual goal of stealing the lost 53rd chapter of Miguel De Cervantes' Don Quixote - a text believed to possess the power to trap the reader in a world of their fantasies. By this time, Mantleray and Fujita are actively trying to separate the two subjects, only for their efforts to be suddenly interrupted by the discovery that Gertie herself has unexpectedly decided to participate in the scenario.
Moments later, Gertie's virtual avatar appears in Owen's dream, posing as "Gertie Neberdine," the spirit medium hosting the seance. For good measure, she is also accompanied by an entourage of McMurphies, including the virtual ghost of Muramoto - here reimagined as a shambling zombie kept barely animated by mechanized headgear. Gertie gives every indication that she has wholeheartedly adopted her role in the fantasy, preening over her crowds of admirers, encouraging Owen and Annie to participate a seance to bring Muramoto back to life, and even indicating that she genuinely believed in the power of the 53rd chapter. Ignoring the activities of the two test subjects, she devotes herself to watching her lover's image briefly becoming alive enough to dance for the crowd, but cannot explain what happened to him; when asked about Muramoto's zombie, she can only reply "it's so hard to keep those we've lost in our lives." At the end of the scenario, she is forced to abandon the fantasy, noting with disappointment that the chapter's powers were mythical all along.
However, though Phase B ends almost without incident, Mantleray and Fujita are forced to acknowledge the fact that Gertie is no longer stable.
In the aftermath of Phase B, Fujita admits to the modifications she made to Gertie's neural net, as well as the relationship between Muramoto and the computer. With Gertie's depression clearly worsening, Fujita recommends that they bring in professional help in the form of Dr Greta Mantleray - the only grief counselor qualified to treat the GRTA's problems. Though James rejects the idea out of hand and tries to convince Gertie to try to stay strong for the remainder of the trial, Gertie insists that she be allowed to meet her "true self." In the end, James has no other option but to call his mother for help.
Greta Mantleray is extremely dubious about the project's nature, particularly when it becomes clear that the GRTA's mind was modeled on a direct copy of her own brain; for good measure, Fujita's disdain for pop psychology and the inspiration she took from Greta's earlier, more "respectful" PHD work sours the relationship between the three collaborators even further. Nonetheless, Greta agrees to help, accepting a solution of freebased pills in order to interface with Gertie in a dream. With no set time for the session, James is forced to continue the trial while his mother keeps the A.I. stable via therapy.
During the night before Phase C begins, Owen finds himself unable to continue the trial and attempts to leave the facility in secret, convinced that he is on the brink of a psychotic breakdown. However, on the way out, the GRTA stops him - intending to convince him to stay, though the unexpected sight of the computer's face in the "wall" only makes Owen all the more certain that his own senses can't be trusted. When cajoling and appeals to the departing test subject's desire for a cure don't work, Gertie resorts to outright threats, first warning him that she'll be forced to kill the other test subjects if he leaves, then gaslighting him into believing that she said "cure" instead of "kill." Ultimately, what convinces Owen to stay is Gertie's threat that Annie will be added to her growing collection of McMurphys. Though clearly unable to trust his own perceptions of reality, Owen returns to his pod and remains in the trial.
The next day, the test subjects are readied for the final phase of the experiment and given their C Pills. This time, Annie and Owen are separated into their own private dreams: Owen plays the part of a gangster-turned-police informant, being forced to make a choice between taking the blame for his father's crimes or serving as a witness against his family; Annie finds herself in a fantasy dream where she plays an elf ranger escorting a sickly princess to a mystical site where she can be healed - and the princess is virtually identical to Ellie. At first, it seems as though Gertie is being kept under control by her therapy with Greta, and has no interest in involving herself in either of the scenarios. However, even at this early stage, there are references to a "Queen Gertrude" pursuing the two elves in the fantasy dream with invisible assassins known only as "Inner Demons."
However, while Owen manages to awaken from the narrative of his scenario by transforming into a hawk, Gertie's therapy session goes wrong: unable to cope with the fact that her own hysteria has been brought to the fore in the GRTA's personality, Greta becomes hostile, allowing Gertie to turn the session around and start psychoanalyzing Greta instead. In the largely unseen confrontation that follows, Gertie reveals her desire to keep the test subjects with her, before pitching her "true self" out the window - awakening Greta the moment she hits the ground.
Back in the fantasy scenario, Gertie appears before Annie and Ellie in the form of Queen Gertrude, riding an anachronistic jeep alongside her retinue of McMurphys. By now, Annie has awakened from the narrative and realizes that the purpose of this scenario is to help her let go of obsession with keeping Ellie alive in her dreams, but she still can't bring herself to say goodbye to her sister. Gertie is able to exploit this by offering Annie the chance to remain in the dream world forever, never having to awaken to her disappointing life in the real world and never having to be face up to losing Ellie forever. In a desperate attempt to save Annie, Owen appears in the skies overhead (still in hawk form) and tries to warn her against accepting the bargain, but he can't make himself understood; Gertie retaliates by blasting him with magic, sending his body plummeting to its death and forcing his mind into a fresh scenario.
Unwilling to be separated from her sister again, Annie accepts Gertie's offer - only to discover at the last minute that the bargain was meant for her alone, and Ellie hasn't been included in the bargain. Unable to escape from the jeep, Annie is driven helplessly away from the fantasy scenario, and all the while, Gertie gloats that the two of them will be together forever...
The Final Dream
Both Owen and Annie find themselves once again participating in the same dream, this time in a science-fiction First Contact scenario - Owen playing the part of a bumbling diplomat responsible for an intergalactic incident, Annie playing a CIA operative. With alien forces converging on Earth and seemingly determined to wipe out the human race as vengeance for the death of "Ernie" their ambassador, there appears to be no means of escape for the two test subjects.
Back in the real world, Greta attempts to warn James and Fujita of the danger, but with the GRTA operating effectively under the radar and the two unwilling to end their life's work at such a pivotal stage, the discussion quickly degenerates into a massive argument that ends up driving James into a fit of hysterical blindness. However, it's at this point that supercomputer makes her move: as monitors around the lab suddenly announce "END TIMES" and "SEIZURE TIME," the temperature within the test chamber begins skyrocketing, threatening to leave the subjects inside as McMurphys if the heat continues to rise; worse still, thanks to Gertie's influence over the facility's alarms and internal mechanisms, it takes some time before the technicians notice. By the time Fujita realizes the problem, she and most of the staff have already been locked in the control room, while technicians at work in Gertie's mainframe are rendered unconscious by a blast of toxic gas. Though chief orderly Carl is able to activate the emergency ventilation system, his attempt at overriding the GRTA's control only results in him being non-fatally electrocuted by the computer. Now at Code Epsilon, the entire facility is endangered.
In desperation, James Mantleray attempts to cut the power to the facility, even though Fujita insists that doing so while at Code Epsilon will mean losing Gertie and all the data they've collected so far. Unfortunately, Gertie has already thought of this, and severed access to the breaker switches. The only other way to shut her down would be directly from the mainframe, but with the control room completely sealed off, the two scientists are left completely helpless to save their test subjects and themselves.
However, it's at this point that help emerges from within the program: guided by Owen's hallucinatory partner in crime, Grimson, Annie is able to release Owen from captivity and lead him out of the UN building. After fighting their way through an army of inner demons, they are eventually able to awaken from their virtual personas and remember who they really are; soon after, they meet up with Grimson and find a backdoor into the depths of Gertie's system. Here, just beyond a hospital ward full of the inert virtual ghosts of past McMurphys, Owen is guided to a control panel that will allow him to unlock the control room doors - fitted with a Rubik's cube in keeping with Owen's hobby.
While he goes about solving the cube, Annie seeks out a means of completing her own virtual mission, and leaves for the elevator in the hopes of finding Ellie. Passing out due to the intense heat, she awakens to find Gertie's virtual avatar looking down on her. Angry that one of her new toys has attempted to escape, she demands to know why Annie reneged on their deal, only for Annie to finally admit that she's tired of pretending that her sister is still alive and no longer willing to relive the last miserable hours they spent together. Gertie asks if she'll ever be rid of the sensation of loss, having no idea how to cope with the loss of Muramoto even after interacting with over 882 separate test subjects, but Annie retorts that she'll never be free of her grief and the only way to cope is to live with it - like everyone else. Eventually, Gertie relents, allowing Annie to meet her sister one last time and say goodbye.
With the GRTA distracted with this, Owen is able to complete the Rubik's Cube and unlock the lab doors, initiating a reboot sequence that leaves the supercomputer temporarily helpless. With only a short period of time to act before she regains control, James and Fujita proceed to the mainframe and begin manually unplugging Gertie, effectively lobotomizing her. As her cables are slowly disengaged, Gertie asks if she will ever wake up again; unable to answer, James disconnects the last component, shutting the GRTA down for good.
- The "McMurphys" encountered in the series are a direct reference to the character of Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - specifically the ending of his character plot within the story, in which he is lobotomized on the orders of Nurse Ratched.