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. Dina Shihabi as Britt Hufford in episode 104 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023
Painkiller. Dina Shihabi as Britt Hufford in episode 104 of Painkiller. Cr. Keri Anderson/Netflix © 2023 /

Netflix Painkiller episode 4 recap: Is Believed

Shannon arrives in Connecticut at Purdue’s headquarters after receiving her summons. She’s one of several people asked to meet with Howard Udell. Shannon has made it into the company’s “Topper’s Club,” meaning receiving a substantial bonus and a new title as a member of their elite sales team.

Afterward, Howard pulls Shannon aside and clarifies that the next time she sees something amiss, she should call them, the implication being not to put it in writing, though Howard is careful with his wording. Given the swiftness of this decision, Shannon is suspicious of Purdue’s motives in promoting her.

She asks Britt if this is because she put her observation of Jess Brewster and her friend snorting Oxy in her notes. Britt says it’s because Shannon’s numbers are high. She earned it. As for the overdose, she adheres to Purdue’s blanket statement that it’s the addict’s fault, not the product.

Places like Blacksburg, Virginia, were overrun with this “dope economy” in 2000. The police were overwhelmed. Drug dealers were using homeless people as OxyContin mules, picking them up, taking them to pain clinics, and then bringing them to pharmacies to get their scripts filled to then flip and sell on the streets.

Edie and John Brownlee came to town to speak with the police force and find out exactly how wrong everything was on the ground level. Prosecuting a company as massive and wealthy as Purdue won’t be easy. Brownlee reiterates to Edie that she needs to find the crime.

Purdue is resilient, but they aren’t out of the woods yet. Across the country is growing unrest from concerned citizens, law enforcement, doctors who aren’t in the company’s pocket, and people like Edie who can see the writing on the wall: Oxy is a serious problem.

Maine’s US attorney Jay P. McCloskey holds a televised press conference, condemning OxyContin and labeling it as the most significant criminal and social threat to his state in addition to sending a warning letter detailing the increasing dangers of OxyContin to over 5,000 practicing physicians and members of Congress.

How will Purdue respond to this? Richard wants to blame the addicts. He thinks by admitting any fault, they’ll open themselves up to endless litigation. The best way to circumvent these claims is to pass the blame onto someone else. Target the users who are misusing Oxy. “Give them nothing, and they will go away.”

Checking in on Glen and the Kyrger family, things appear to be getting better—except they’re not. Despite Glen’s promises to kick his Oxy habit, he’s now taking the pills secretly. Sneaking out to his car during work hours to pop a pill or in the middle of the night to take one in his car. Tyler happens to catch Glen taking Oxy at night.

It doesn’t take long for Glen’s secretive drug use to catch up to him. The following day at the tire shop, Glen doesn’t latch the lift properly while working on a car, and the entire thing crashes to the ground. Glen narrowly avoids getting crushed to death beneath it. Lily rushes to help Glen. Tyler tells Lily to open her eyes because he’s obviously high out of his mind.

A nasty fight ensues between them, with Lily berating Tyler, kicking him out, and blaming him for this entire situation. Yikes. But as Edie says, the thing about opioids is they don’t just destroy the lives of those who abuse them. They destroy the lives of everyone in their orbit.

Not everyone is on a downward spiral. Thanks to Shannon’s recent promotion, she’s flying higher than ever. She gets an expensive car and a penthouse apartment. Shannon is officially stepping into Britt’s shoes, hosting seminars and recruiting girls like Molly, a bold young woman prepared to become the latest Oxy sales rep.

Shannon is startled to find angry protestors outside Dr. Cooper’s office the next time she visits. It seems Jess Brewster’s death has caused quite an outcry within the community. People are pissed. Shannon takes Cooper to a bar for a drink and to fluff his ego amid the ongoing protests. She helps nominate him as a guest speaker at a big Purdue event.

In response to the overdose and mounting pressure, Howard Udell goes on television as part of a press conference. He says Jess died with multiple other drugs in her body, so there is no way of knowing that OxyContin, specifically, caused her death.

Dr. Gregory Fitzgibbons, the guy who found Jess’s body and the man from an earlier episode who Shannon tried to recruit, is at the conference and disgusted by Purdue’s lack of response. Dr. Fitzgibbons is close to Jess’s mother, Carol Brewster, and even delivered Jess as a baby. Edie meets him there and is surprised to find he’s one of the only doctors around who hasn’t been upping their Oxy prescriptions and, in fact, has only prescribed it twice in cases of near-death for cancer patients.

Since the start, Dr. Fitzgibbons has been a vocal dissident against Purdue and Oxy. He keeps an entire box of letters he sent to the company in 1998 and shows Edie an old tape he recorded showing someone from Purdue saying the rate of addiction amid pain patients is less than 1%. Gregory says that’s a lie.

Isn’t Purdue’s claim a direct quote pulled from a 1980 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine? Not quite. The so-called “study” is a letter to the editor written by Dr. Hershel Jick.

Edie visits Dr. Jick, who tells her the letter referred to a survey conducted from a short-term study on opioid use in a controlled hospital setting. It’s not even remotely related to long-term, unsupervised opioid use. Dr. Jick is stunned by the FDA allowing them to use that language. It’s all over Purdue’s training manuals and everything. So, Edie goes straight to the source: the FDA.

The woman she speaks with shares similar concerns. She points out that Purdue uses language like “is believed to reduce the abuse liability of the drug” on the packaging. Believed by who? Exactly. But she wasn’t the medical officer who approved the language. That honor belonged to Curtis Wright. Remember him?

Purdue is called to testify in front of Congress. Richard elects Howard and the heads of his marketing and medical teams to testify because god forbid he does it. Richard wants to avoid attaching the Sackler name to this mess as much as possible, so he’s using those three as a firewall between his name and the product.

After giving his speech at the Purdue event, Cooper is riding high on his reception and all the flattery. He chooses that moment to make a move on Shannon, gifting her an expensive Tiffany bracelet and then assaulting her on a couch as countless other people roam around. He tells her he wants to take her back to his hotel room and all kinds of horribly degrading things. Shannon resists his advances and is clearly shocked and traumatized by Cooper’s actions.

In Mt. Airy, Glen drives to pick up Tyler from Jack’s (Tyler’s biological father, I’m assuming) house. Jack immediately sees Glen is as high as a kite and refuses to let Tyler go with him. Glen drives off and pulls into a parking lot to do more Oxy. This time, he recalls what his doctor said about people crushing it up and snorting it to get high faster, so that’s exactly what he does.

We pivot to Washington, D.C., 2001, where Udell testified before Congress that no one at Purdue was aware of the drug abuse issues until February 2000. Edie knows that’s a lie because Dr. Fitzgibbons wrote letters to Purdue in 1998. She takes the evidence straight to John Brownlee and tells him that’s the crime. Udell lied under oath, and they can prove it.

Written by Maddy Lennon