Wednesday, October 13, 2021

REVIEW: 'Dopesick' - A New Drug Is Pitched to a Doctor in an Appalachian Mining Community in 'First Bottle'

Hulu's Dopesick - Episode 1.01 "First Bottle"

Richard Sackler begins to launch a powerful new painkiller, a rural doctor is introduced to the drug, a coal miner plans her future, a DEA Agent learns of blackmarket pills, and federal prosecutors decide to open a case into OxyContin.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Hulu's Dopesick.

"First Bottle" was written by Danny Strong and directed by Barry Levinson

Wow, this premiere is all over the place. It features five distinct time periods. That's a lot to keep track of. It's exhausting frankly. It's all with the direct purpose of providing an expansive look into every element of the rise of OxyContin and how it wrecked havoc on so many communities. With this execution though, it never truly feels like the show can spend too much time with any particular set of characters. They are all important. But their stories are separated from one another. They have all felt the impact of this drug. They have some clarity. In pursuit of telling every single detail though, the show loses sight of what actually matters. It's not all that necessary to spend time with Bridget as she first discovers the black market for OxyContin. The pills are also present during a major drug bust. That piques her interest. Of course, that sequence happens after the audience has already been introduced to her as someone disillusioned by the idea that Purdue Pharma can ever be held accountable for what they have done. It's an odd way to tell this story. It sets the stage for Bridget's story to be just as important as all the other major characters of interest. However, she already serves a purpose in being skeptical of the case Rick and Randy are hoping to bring. She doesn't believe the justice department can do anything. She has already run into roadblocks in previously pursuing this path. All of that is understood. It doesn't then have to be depicted onscreen with her also feeling hopeful about a new relationship when it's destined to end in divorce. All of these details add up to the show not being confident in how the audience will respond to these various developments. It wants to showcase how these characters fundamentally change as a result of this one investigation. However, it's not a surprise to see Bridget in two timelines. It mostly just reveals that many individuals understood the problem. They have a willingness to attack it in the hopes of aiding the community. And yet, it's daunting to actually make any change. Any reveals that come from Bridget's original investigation are already understood when Rick and Randy take the helm. Similarly, Dr. Finnix appears in two different times. One of which is only a tease of where he eventually ends up. And so, it's expected that he survives this ordeal. He comes out on the other side knowing how this drug has devastated his community. That makes it painful to witness as he gives the medication to Betsy to treat her back pain. The show details just how easily these kinds of injuries can occur. Betsy wasn't hurt because of a mine collapse. She simply stumbled into a piece of equipment. That's absolutely devastating to her personally. She already fears how others will react if they knew the true scope of her being. She is terrified of being outed. She loves working in the mines. She doesn't believe she can delay work for too long. She has to get out in order to embrace a future with Grace. She has to be prepared knowing her family won't react well upon learning of her sexual orientation. She needs a quick fix. That too highlights the desperation everyone feels at every stage of this story. Richard Sackler is desperate for this miracle drug to propel his family company into a new level of financial success. He's building on the legacy that his family has already secured in this space. He is investing so much money believing it will pay off. So much of it though is a manufactured story. The company is so big and influential that it can seemingly get away with whatever they want despite the science not lining up. People want to trust in this being a miracle cure. They are desperate to ease their pain. They want an immediate solution. Doctors are happy to give them that hope. It backfires immensely. People should be held accountable for that deceit. But again, the prosecutors see all the layers that protect the Sackler family that brought about this destruction. It continues to wreck havoc to this day. This story offers the sense that it will paint a more complex portrait into how all of this occurred. It's built out of discrimination and a lack of proper regulation. Those issues have improved in some ways. The disparities between the rich and influential who developed this product and those who abuse it hoping for relief have only gotten more vast and profound though. This show feels too tangled in the weeds to remember that searing outlook and share it in a clear, concise way. That's unfortunate despite the many talented people involved in the story. It's just too messy without adding up to something greater. People are rightfully skeptical of the claims made by this pharmaceutical company. People want to do the right thing to help others in pain. These emotional impulses are easily understood. But again, the show is simply trying to do too much without doing any of the individual parts well in the process.