Netflix Painkiller recap guide: All 6 episodes explained

Painkiller. (L to R) John Rothman as Mortimer Sackler, Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler, Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler in episode 103 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023
Painkiller. (L to R) John Rothman as Mortimer Sackler, Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler, Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler in episode 103 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023 /
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Painkiller episode 1 on Netflix
Painkiller. (L to R) Taylor Kitsch as Glen Kryger, Carolina Bartczak as Lily Kryger in episode 101 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023 /

From creators Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster comes a new Netflix limited series tackling a real-life, devastating crisis in the United States. Painkiller tells the story of the rise of OxyContin, a highly addictive drug manufactured and sold by Purdue Pharma in the 1990s and 2000s.

The six-episode show takes focus on a fictional character, a lawyer named Edie Flowers who works for the US attorney’s office in Roanoke, Virginia. After conducting an investigation, Edie has a first-hand account of how the drug first started spreading across the country, and she recounts the story while assisting in a lawsuit against the corrupt pharmaceutical company.

As we’re told at the start of the series, the true story of Purdue Pharma has been fictionalized in Painkiller, but the opioid crisis causing so many deaths and long-lasting trauma at the hands of the Sackler family is all too real.

Painkiller is based on the 2017 New Yorker article “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe, along with Barry Meier’s 2018 book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic. All six episodes are directed by Peter Berg, best known for directing movies like Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, and Patriots Day.

Painkiller on Netflix episode guide: Complete recaps for episodes 1-6

We’re breaking down every episode of Painkiller and explaining the most important moments. Missed a scene or two and need a recap? Look no further than Netflix Life.

Netflix Painkiller episode 1 recap: The One to Start With, The One to Stay With

Each episode of Painkiller begins with a real-life account of a person affected by the OxyContin crisis, including parents who have lost their children to addiction. This gets the viewer ready for what they’re about to see; while the show is dramatized, the effects of the opioid crisis are so real and so devastating. This reminds us of that.

The fictionalized story opens up with Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick), the nephew of Purdue Pharma founder Arthur Sackler (Clark Gregg) and the emerging leader of the company. We see him awaken in his lavish mansion to multiple smoke alarms going off, and he walks around his huge home trying to turn them off. It’s not until a worker comes by to help him that he’s able to stop the noise.

We then meet Edie Flowers (Uzo Aduba), a lawyer who travels to Washington, D.C. to meet with a law group about the Sacklers. Though she isn’t thrilled to be there, feeling like there’s no use to keep going after the billionaire family, she’s surprised to hear that they have a deposition from Richard Sackler himself. Knowing a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma might actually get somewhere this time, she agrees to tell her story.

A majority of the events in Painkiller are flashbacks, so we’ll be sure to let you know what scenes are in the present day.

Working for the US attorney’s office in Roanoke, Edie started to hear about OxyContin through various doctors. In one instance, which she recalls in a flashback, she attempts to bust a doctor named Dr. Coyle for fraud and finds out way more than she bargains for. While this is going on, we also learn about a man in North Carolina who is negatively affected by the drug.

Glen Kryger (Taylor Kitsch) and his wife Lily Kryger (Carolina Bartczak) run a tire shop and one day, unfortunately, Glen gets into a bad accident when trying to get his stepson Tyler (Jack Mulhern) off an excavator. He hurts his back very badly after suffering a fall, and he has to undergo surgery. While the surgery is successful, Glen is subscribed to pain pills that don’t work as well as he hoped.

In present-day, Edie explains that Arthur Sackler started his pharmaceutical business wanting customers for life, incorporating drug marketing to get people on board. The family targets people like Glen — honest, manual workers who get injured and, eventually, become addicted to their drugs.

When Arthur died, however, he left his family in debt. Feeling pressure from his family and wanting to fill the shoes of his uncle, Richard comes up with an idea that’ll make their money back. But of course, it’s highly unethical. He decides to take the Purdue Pharma drug MS Contin and tweak it a little bit to become OxyContin. Sure, the drug can seriously help with pain, but it’s also very easy to abuse. As the Sacklers prove, however, when money is one’s only priority, the well-being of others just doesn’t matter. Richard puts a sales force of good-looking young people together to go out and sell it.

A college student named Shannon Schaeffer (West Duchovny) gets recruited to join the OxyContin sales team and begins staying with another woman named Britt (Dina Shihabi) who’s already seen a lot of success working for Purdue. She’s clearly made a lot of money and leads a life of glamour because of OxyContin, and she’s happy to bring Shannon into the fold. The two start partying together and Shannon thinks her new job is great, not truly knowing what she’s selling.

Back in North Carolina, Glen is still in severe pain and has trouble adapting to his new life of recovery. He and his wife go back to the doctor and explain the medicine isn’t working, to which the doctor prescribes OxyContin. We start to see the effects the drug has on Glen in the first episode, which will only increase from here.

As Edie continues to pursue Dr. Coyle for fraud, she’s shocked to learn that he’s prescribed OxyContin over 1,000 times in the past six months. This is when the Purdue Pharma drug is officially on Edie’s radar.

Written by Natalie Zamora