Painkiller ‘Netflix’ Miniseries: Recap & Ending Explained – What happened to Purdue Pharma?

‘Painkiller’ is a new limited series streaming on Netflix. After the Kaitlyn Dever starrer Dopesick, we witness yet another dramatization of the infamous opioid epidemic that took several lives over the years. While Stuhlbarg played the cold-blooded businessman Richard Sackler, Michael Keaton took home several awards for his gut-wrenching portrayal of a guilt-struck doctor. Now the Netflix series Painkiller examines the Sackler family’s evil acts and an overall lack of remorse toward advertising heavily addictive and flawed medical solutions. This series takes an investigative approach to examine the horrifying events and irredeemable, greedy, and egotistical behaviour of the Sacklers. It is a fictionalised version of this crisis based on Barry Meier’s eponymous book.

*Spoilers ahead*

Painkiller ‘Netflix’ Miniseries Recap:

Episode 1: The One To Start With, The One To Stay With

The first episode of Painkiller gives an introduction to Edie Flowers (Uzo Aduba), who fought a long-winding battle against Purdue Pharma. Now she gets called upon to speak about her work to seek justice. Edie points out how there may never be justice, but a settlement. It comes from her own bitter experience. While she struggled to get Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick) to speak on the record about his crimes, the new firm managed to do that. Even years after her case, Edie is scared by Richard’s presence. She even gets the chair he sat on, removed from the room. Then, she starts speaking about the details of her attempts to seek truth from doctors prescribing OxyContin in harmful proportions. 

Meanwhile, we get a dramatized look into personal narratives that were impacted by the epidemic. Purdue Pharma started heavily marketing its drugs in North Carolina. Living in a town was Glen Kryger (Taylor Kitsch), who worked in a garage with his wife Lily (Carolina Bartczak) and his son Tyler (Jack Mulhern). One day, he got heavily injured in an accident. To relieve his pain and to bring a semblance of normalcy to his life, the doctors prescribed him OxyContin. The reason the drug started being prescribed as a pain-relieving medicine was the practice started by Arthur Sackler Sr (Clark Gregg).

Arthur Sr. used to be a psychiatrist who specialised in lobotomy. However, it gave him just one-time patients, which did not satisfy his greed. So, he got out to start a pharmaceutical revolution to have patients as customers for life. He understood the importance of marketing to sway people’s minds and became exceptionally rich. After his death, Richard decided to pay off Arthur Sr’s sizeable debts by selling MS Contin. He figured out how they can market it as a way away from pain and toward pleasure through Purdue Pharma.

Richard used the lack of awareness about OxyContin for his benefit. He brought in attractive saleswomen to lure predominantly male and horny doctors to profusely prescribe OxyContin to their patients. They were made to speak like medical experts to make their case seem valid. One of these saleswomen was Britt Hufford (Dina Shihabi), who motivated impressionable Shannon Schaeffer (West Duchovny) to be more involved in their marketing process. 

Episode 2: Jesus Gave Me Water

While Britt, Shannon, and other sales reps kept persuading the medical practitioners, Edie investigated the drug’s sale through pharmacies. One day, she even encountered a junkie trying to steal the drug. It gave her a sense of its high level of addictiveness. Meanwhile, Purdue Pharma started using cuddly toys to get an image revamp – perhaps to make their drug seem friendly or approachable. Edie looked for proof when the pharmacists were introduced to OxyContin. On the other hand, Shannon tried to get Dr Fitzgibbons (John Ales) to purchase the drug with her memorised medical jargon. Since he was smart enough to understand its faults, he made her leave without agreeing to prescribe them. 

Britt told Shannon to cater to these men’s egos to make them do what they want. While Shannon persuaded another doctor’s mind, Edie noticed her. But both Shannon and Britt refused to answer any of Edie’s queries. Meanwhile, Glen started seeing the positive effects of OxyContin’s use but he did not recognise his early signs of addiction. So, he even agreed to be a face for Purdue Pharma’s advertising. Back home, he got furious for not being able to find the drugs. He became restless almost like a psychopath. So, Tyler shared the pills he had stolen before. 

Sackler had done tests on rats and also humans. The human tests showcased devastating withdrawal symptoms. The drug was effective but incredibly flawed. It got these patients hooked to it and ask in amounts in huge proportions. Dr Curtis Wright (Noah Harpster) from FDA understood MS Contin’s danger and tried to build a case against it. So, the Purdue Pharma officials did everything to sway his mind and to get the FDA approval. They did not care about the lives of people being destroyed. Glen, whom we see as a fictionalised version of a case study, was so under the drug’s influence that he did not even realise he bit his own fingers. 

Episode 3: Blizzard of the Century

Richard played with Curtis Wright’s ego to make OxyContin accessible to American patients. Purdue Pharma catered to his needs and interests to a degree that he ended up approving the drug for the market. The terms he used in the documents were strange, including the drug ‘is believed’ to be safe. Still, after succumbing to his vices, Curtis also became a part of Purdue Pharma’s troupe. Soon after, OxyContin started getting considered a boon for seriously ill patients. In reality, the patients suffered from its side effects and so did their families. But it did not matter for the conglomerate to vigorously market the drug. 

Shannon realised that doctors prescribing more doses could lead to a bigger paycheck for her. So, that greed motivated her to push harder and get horny male medical practitioners to agree to her advice. Meanwhile, John Brownlee (Tyler Ritter) became Edie’s team leader. Edie researched the drug’s excessive marketing and its harmful impact on its users. Shannon witnessed the harmful addictiveness first-hand when teenagers faked their way into getting the pills. She preached its harm to Britt, who couldn’t care less. So, Shannon also felt like she should defend the drug’s use. Back at Glen’s place, he kept suffering from severe PTSD-like symptoms of the trauma that OxyContin subjected him to. With more pain, his doctor also suggested consuming OxyContin in larger quantities. Meanwhile, Edie realised how the OxyContin epidemic is similar to crack, cocaine one that uprooted several lives. 

Episode 4: Is Believed

The Purdue Pharma sales reps kept enjoying the perks of their work, which made them ignore the drug’s effects. The feds also witnessed the drug being distributed in heavy proportions among junkies. Edie fought hard with Brownlee to consider the greedy reps and medical professionals as drug dealers. Since they did not have anything specific to contend, Brownlee advised her to ‘find a crime’ that they can hold against Purdue Pharma. When Sacklers started feeling the heat of the matter, Purdue Pharma decided to attack the abusers & people with drug addiction and divert any blame to the suppliers. 

Meanwhile, Glen couldn’t control his urge to inject the drug into his body. He even sneaked out of the house to his car to secretively take those pills. It created an adverse effect where he lost his consciousness in the middle of his work. It also resulted in their family getting separated and destroyed. On the other hand, Shannon started seeing the results of their excessive marketing and pushed her juniors to sell more. Around that time, Edie discovered Dr Fitzgibbons who prescribed the drug only twice. After discussing with him, Edie realised how Purdue Pharma’s claims about a ‘landmark study’ were false. It was not even a report but a letter to the editor, and it did not consider the long-term effects of its use. 

The term ‘is believed’ irked Edie because the Purdue Pharma pamphlets did not specify the people it was believed by. Still, the FDA approved it because of Mr Wright. With increasing doubts about OxyContin’s safety, the conglomerate was required to make a case for itself. However, instead of speaking for himself, Richard sent Michael Friedman, Howard Udell, and Paul Goldenheim as representatives for Purdue Pharma during their 2001 Oath to Congress. They argued against the cases of deaths where OxyContin was being snorted in places around the US. These folks suggested the deaths were more due to other harmful drugs. While watching this trial, Edie realised these white men lied since a doctor had been writing to them to inform them about the drug abusers. 

Episode 5: Hot! Hot! Hot!

Painkiller. Taylor Kitsch as Glen Kryger in episode 105 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023

Due to their lie, the office of the U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Virginia subpoenaed Purdue Pharma. With Purdue’s documents in hand, Edie and her team started looking for their past cover-ups and lies. The sales reps started to feel the brunt of it. When Shannon went to a doctor’s office with her junior, she encountered an angry crowd protesting outside the place. Among them was Dr Fitzgibbons, who caught her attention and made her rethink the morality of excessively selling a harmful drug. Meanwhile, Glen had to leave his house and he suffered without any supply of OxyContin to stay sane. 

When Brownlee’s team came to Purdue Pharma’s office, Richard sent Udell to speak with them. They made demands to change the labels to not sell OxyContin for anything besides end-of-life care and investment in the community. They also asked for a public apology and take full responsibility for their wrongdoings. Udell kept defending OxyContin not being the cause of most of the cases. However, Deborah Marlowe, who worked at Purdue Pharma decided to speak against Purdue’s evil practices. She pointed out a past scenario where Udell asked her to find any proof of OxyContin abuse and addiction. Marlowe came up with a 59-page memo, which Udell later asked him to shred. He probably wanted to know these details but did not want them to be on record. 

While Marlowe agreed to testify against Purdue Pharma, Richard still put on a show to make their sales reps feel special. Meanwhile, Glen met Tyler to apologise for his past mistakes – only to end his apology with a request for OxyContin. That’s how dangerous the drug’s effect was. Besides, Jay P McCloskey, who once called OxyContin to be the ‘biggest criminal and social threat’, started advocating for it. Like FDA’s Wright, Purdue Pharma also managed to get McCloskey on their side. It made Shannon gradually accept the harmful implications of Purdue’s drug. 

Episode 6: What’s in a Name

Because of her realisation about OxyContin’s danger, Shannon met Edie to share confidential chats and documents to make a case against Purdue Pharma. She started speaking against how the conglomerate made them push their drug sales. As a result, Purdue’s execs started getting questioned. Still, Richard said they should not agree to any wrongdoing since it would backfire on them. Instead, they got the most expensive lawyers to fight for their case which also reportedly included Rudy Giuliani. On the other hand, Glen started making amends with his family to rebuild their healthy relationship. But that could not entirely excuse his past, irresponsible behaviour. 

Painkiller ‘Netflix’ Miniseries Ending, Explained:

What happened to Purdue Pharma?

It seemed like Edie’s persistent efforts against Purdue Pharma were about to pay off. Friedman, Udell, and Goldenheim from Purdue Pharma were facing serious jail time. She thought that her idealistic stance against these greedy men and their immoral practices would suffice. Unfortunately, the verdict noted a settlement where Purdue agreed to plead guilty to one count for fraudulently misbranding OxyContin. Edie and the angry crowd realised that their cry for justice means hardly anything against the power of wealth. So, unfortunately, Edie’s efforts did not pay off. 

Glen also started suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Since he could not control himself from using the drug, he ended up losing his life. After talking about her years of work, Edie left the office and wished good luck to the new team that was fighting against the Sacklers. Finally, in 2019, as a direct result of multi-state lawsuits, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy. The Sacklers also forfeited the ownership of Purdue Pharma. Painkiller ends on a magical realist note where the imaginary ghost of Arthur Sr beats Richard to a pulp for not living up to his standards. The writing hints at how such behaviour is also a result of generational conditioning that values greed, power, and money over anything else. It also results in an absolute lack of remorse for any wrongdoing. 

Read More: Netflix in August 2023: New Shows and Movies to Watch

Painkiller ‘Netflix’ Miniseries Trailer

Painkiller (2023) ‘Netflix’ Miniseries Links: IMDb
Painkiller (2023) ‘Netflix’ Miniseries Cast: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Broderick, Taylor Kitsch, Dina Shihabi
Where to watch Painkiller
Akash Deshpande

Obsessed, fascinated, and always nerding out about cinema! You can find me in the corner of a room ruminating over the last TV series I watched.