Edie Flowers In ‘Painkiller,’ Explained: How Did Shawn Motivate Edie To Go After Purdue Pharma?


There were a handful of characters in the Netflix series Painkiller who never compromised with their integrity, and the prosecutor from the US attorney’s office in Roanoke topped that list. Edie Flowers was one of those people who believed that no matter how powerful or influential a person might be, if he was wrong, he would be punished sooner or later. But obviously, she was being way too idealistic, and with time, she realized that this is not how things work in the real world. The character of Edie Flowers is not based on a real life character, and it can be said that she represents the experiences that the different prosecutors on the case might have gone through. There has been a lot of creative liberty taken by the makers and Edie Flowers acts as the moral compass who time and again reminds us that what the Sackler family was doing was not right. 

With Edie, apart from her values and ethics, a personal tragedy also fueled her intentions and made sure that she did not surrender in battle. Edie just couldn’t see Purdue Pharma getting away after whatever they had done and she told her superior, John Brownlee, that she was not going to stop before the court gave a judgment in their favor. But the biggest problem, at the initial stage, that Edie encountered was that, though they knew that oxycontin was the sole reason behind the deaths of hundreds of individuals, they couldn’t find a single law that Purdue Pharma had violated.

The thing that worked for Richard Sackler was that he had gotten the FDA approval, and there was no direct link that could be established between his drug and the deaths of people. The United States Attorney for the District of Maine, Jay McCloskey, did raise some concerns about oxycontin during his speech in Congress, and Edie got hopeful that probably now they would find some corroborating evidence if the court ordered the authorities to conduct an investigation. But she underestimated Richard Scakler, who struck a deal with McCloskey and brought him onboard as a consultant, thereby crushing all the hopes that Edie had.

Brownlee told Edie time and again that if she wasn’t able to prove that Purdue had violated some law, he wouldn’t be able to help her cause. The first question that anybody asked Edie Flowers was why she was worried about the legitimacy of a drug when the FDA had given it the green light. But she knew what had happened at the back end and how Dr. Curtis Wright’s allegiance had been bought. It was not possible for Edie not to compare what Richard’s company was doing to what had happened to her brother, Shawn, back in the day. When he was young, Shawn got into some bad company, and he started peddling drugs as he realized the immense amount of money that could be made through it.

Shawn had been serving his sentence for the longest time, whereas Richard Sackler was considered a pioneer in his field, having created a painkiller that was literally taking the lives of people. For Edie, if his brother was a drug dealer, then so were Richard Sackler and his entire battalion of sales representatives with the only difference being that the latter were being celebrated for destroying people’s lives. When Brownlee once told Edie that they should give up this chase, she got agitated and said that she was incapable of doing that. Soon after Shawn was sent to prison, Edie’s mother also passed away, and Edie was not left with much to look forward to in her life. She used to visit Shawn in prison, and she asked him every time why he had to do something like that when he knew what the consequences could be. But now here was a man who was also doing a similar thing but on a much larger scale, yet the legal framework was inept in holding him accountable, and that’s when Edie realized how hypocritical the entire system was. Terms like justice, fairness, and equality didn’t have any meaning when the entire game was rigged.

Even when Edie knew that the odds were not in her favor, she kept on going, and finally, she found a breakthrough when Shannon Shaeffer decided to testify against the pharmaceutical giants. Edie knew that, finally, she would be able to condemn Richard Sackler to the fate that he deserved and make him accountable for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people who put their faith in him and believed that oxycontin would make their lives better. Though Edie’s journey had almost transformed her into a realist, there was still an ounce of idealism left inside her, which made her believe that she had Richard Sackler collared. Her illusion of the world being a fair and just place was already cracked, but after she saw what happened at the court, she completely lost hope and accepted her defeat. Brownlee got a call directly from the White House, and he agreed to reach a settlement with Richard Sackler. Edie stood there in the court, and she saw a mockery being made out of the entire legal system, and the worst part was that she realized that she would not be able to do anything.

With time, Edie swallowed the bitter pill and came to the realization that there were only two kinds of people in the world: the powerful and the weak. She realized that the world was governed by the powerful ones, and no matter how much the weak ones whined and whimpered, nothing could be changed unless and until they climbed the ladder and became a part of the system. She realized that the entire game was unfair, so there was no point in stating the obvious and cribbing about it. She decided to move on in life because she knew that at least, she had done her bit. She knew she could look herself in the mirror and proudly say that she fought till the very end and put every ounce of energy she had into it. After giving her testimony to the commission, Edie felt a strange sense of relief, as she had gotten everything out of her system. Edie made peace with her situation, but she had lost faith in humanity, and she knew that justice was nothing but a myth that looks good only in legal literature.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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