TV Review: How to Fix a Drug Scandal: Ripples of a Sweeping Tragedy

Written by Ram Venkat Srikar

How to Fix a Drug Scandal is the dictionary definition of infotainment. It’s thrilling, suspenseful, entertaining, and profoundly informative. I might just use my new-found knowledge in dinner-table conversations with my family to sound intellectual. It’s such a meticulously researched tale that deeply explores the subject matter. Directed and produced by Erin Lee Carr (Thought Crimes: The Case of Cannibal Cop and Mommy Dead and Dearest), the limited series is on the same lines of Netflix’s earlier releases – The Devil Next Door, The Confession Killer, and The Trails of Gabriel Fernandez – which revolve around one particular incident subsequently studying the ripples of the incident across. The action and consequences are so tightly intact that it’s impossible to see one without the other. Akin to the aforementioned titles, this limited series is about the incident, as much as it is about the ripples.

The four-episode series follows the judicial outcomes encircling two similar incidents, which transpire at separate time periods at different places but head to collective consequences. First, Annie Dookhan, a chemist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Drug of Abuse lab, who falsified pieces of evidence that were used in 34,000 drug-related crimes. Second, Sonja Farak, also Chemist, at Amherst Drug Lab, who tampered with the drugs she was assigned to test, thereby creating judicial chaos.

The best part about the series is the way it is constructed, that allows viewing from two different perspectives. One, the defense attorney, Luke Ryan’s years of struggle to set his convicts free, as the sole metric to prove their crime is fragile. Second, a devastating story of a woman, Sonja Farak, succumbing to her drug addiction, simultaneously endangering the freedom of thousands. The first perspective is suffused with inspiration, patience, and will power. The second one is a sweeping tragedy. Interestingly, ignorance plays an adversary, and it is one sturdy antagonist. The symbol of this adversary is the flawed judicial system.

Like mentioned earlier, the focus on the incident and the consequences is equally intriguing. The better part, though, is the life of Sonja Farak. Although her actions are criminal, the intimate portrayal allows you to sympathize with her trauma while not white-washing her actions. Like Luke Ryan says in his interview: when someone commits a crime, only the crime scene is evaluated, what mounted up until the moment is always ignored. Likewise, excelling academically and athletically, Sonja’s mental health takes a toll on not just her life and career, but all the cases she tested drug samples for. When we are told ‘cases’, they are actual humans on the other end of the spectrum. Every time Sonja tampers with the evidence – meaning by consuming the drugs she is supposed to test and evaluate – humans are being convicted on the basis of her test’s credibility. Sadly, her deliberate and wrong decisions get people thrown into prison. First-hand accounts from the convicts and their families add emotional weightage to proceedings and allow us to discern the gravity and impact of the crime. Are all of them innocent? No, but others deserve a chance. This very opportunity was dragged away by the District Attorney’s office, which wants to covers the massive scale of the scandal.

What originates as an specific individual crime, soon metamorphosizes into an administration scandal that makes the initial individual crime appear like a fraction of the whole commotion. This aspect is where the series needs to be lauded for its intrepidity. Once the film starts digging, the disorder is so abstruse that it traverses years in the timeline and 3.5 hours of run-time to hit the ground. Throughout the courtroom sessions and explanation of judicial terms that occupy half of the narrative, the human factor is always retained. Contrary to Luke Ryan’s statement, the film tries to explore what led Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan to do what they did. It is devastating to learn what these women were going through. Their pain and anguish are evident, only because the filmmakers viewed them as humans first, and criminals, after that.

With abundant twists, turns, and shocking revelations around, the beautifully explored human vulnerabilities are what that’ll stay with you long after you finish watching this thrilling limited series.

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