Dopesick's Finale Manages An Optimistic (Yet Realistic) Ending

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Dopesick, streaming now on Hulu

Dopesick gives such comprehensive look at its subject matter that it's almost impossible to imagine a satisfying ending would be possible. The series breaks down the problems surrounding the opioid crisis in the United States to such exhausting detail it finds its way from the board rooms of Purdue Pharma, to the streets of Appalachia, where desperate addicts turn to heroin needles to find relief from the addiction that haunts them. With so many moving pieces, and so many of them so incredibly sad, it's hard to think there could be a finale that is at once satisfying, realistic, and still ultimately optimistic.

And yet Dopesick manages just that, finding spots of light without ever losing focus of the seemingly insurmountable problem the opioid crisis represents. By sending off its characters to their own fitting ends and bleeding those stories into the real world, Dopesick leads its viewer feeling at once that there is a problem to be solved and that they can do something to help.

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Through much of Dopesick the leviathan of Purdue Pharma and the problems they inflict on the unwitting populace, to their own benefit seem so insurmountable that there are few means of resistance. With the push for the new drug OxyContin spearheaded by executive Richard Sackler, portrayed with chilling sociopathy by Michael Stuhlberg, the company creates a highly addictive drug, manipulates the statistics and graphs representing its safety to their benefit, and then aggressively pushes the drug through unwitting salespeople and doctors into the hands of victims with few other options available. As government and civilian organizations pursue justice, Purdue's endless depth of resources provide them constant respite from justice throughout the series.

And, realistically enough, the finale pulls no punches when it comes to showing how Purdue and the Sacklers get away with their crimes against the American public. Rick Mountcastle and Randy Ramseyer, portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard and John Hoogenakke, respectively, ultimately have a bittersweet ending in their attempts to prosecute Purdue and the Sacklers. A plea deal for $600 million ultimately avoids major legal ramifications for the executives responsible, and by the end Sackler sends out a message to doctors that pushes the horribly addictive drug more aggressively than ever. At the same time, there are still personal victories that provide hope.

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Dopesick's major strength was always balancing the macro with the micro as it took a top to bottom approach to understanding the problem at hand. Though the previous episode ended with addict Betsy Mallum's death, following actress Kaitlyn Dever's entrancing performance, her mourning family and guilt-ridden doctor press on forward with greater fervor than ever. Dr. Samuel Finnix, played by Michael Keaton, finds a new lease on life helping other addicts by bussing them to methadone clinics where they can seek treatment. Betsy's parents participate in major worldwide protests that ultimately lead to shaming museums around the globe into removing the Sackler name from the sites of their donations.

Ultimately the Sackler family meets some measure of justice, shamed out of their home in New York City and suffering multiple class-action lawsuits that force them to payout $4.5 billion in settlements. They ultimately declare bankruptcy, another bittersweet victory that allows them to escape the full legal ramifications of their actions, and yet stains their name and their place in history. As Dopesick ends it is hard to avoid cursing the Sackler family as real-world villains and symbols of avarice representing the worst of what an unbridled business can do, and with its viewer so well informed it is Dopesick itself that brings about a certain kind of justice by shedding light on their illicit activities.

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This is exactly what the finale to such a startlingly sobering series should be, balancing its cynicism and optimism to such a degree that a cocktail of emotions sits in the viewer's stomach by the finale scene. As investigators Rick and Randy ultimately press on to pursue other pharmacy companies conducting other sins, the viewer is reminded of the importance of pressing on no matter how disheartening, in order to fight for whatever limited justice can be earned in the world.

It would be all too easy for the series to oversimplify the problem to either side. If the ending focused on Dr. Finnix alone it could have been broadly uplifting and if it ended with Sackler in the boardroom ordering another round of pushing his narcotic on doctors and expanding into new territories it could have been soul-crushing. Instead, Dopesick knows that reality is a blend of extremes that manages to balance itself to just the right dosage.

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Brenton Stewart (1029 Articles Published)

Brenton somehow earned a college degree in the middle of a multi-decade pop culture binge he continues to this day. His interests range across philosophy, literature, and the arts to comics, cartoons, television, and Dungeons & Dragons. Follow him on Twitter @BrentonStewart6 or reach out by e-mail at [email protected] if you have nice things to say!

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