These days, ‘Netflix and chill’ has taken on a whole new level. It’s more like quarantine and chill. With the lack of the theater experience, Netflix is the go-to place for new content during COVID-19. And there’s a new Netflix original documentary series, “How to Fix a Drug Scandal,” directed and produced by Erin Lee Carr (“Dirty Money”), you’ll want to add to the quarantine queue.
I love watching documentaries because I can learn about stories that might not have hit my orbit for whatever reason. That’s how I felt watching the first episode of this four-part series.
In 2013, Massachusetts State Police arrested 35-year-old crime drug lab chemist Sonja Farak for tampering with evidence. And, in true docuseries fashion, that was only the beginning. The episode opens with a playback of a taped conversation between Farak and a police officer when she is initially taken into custody and interrogated for the first time. The cracking in Farak’s voice is palpable and makes the viewer feel uneasy — like the way you feel riding up a rollercoaster, you know the drop is coming, so hold tight. It’s going to be exciting, but it’s also going to be a little unnerving by the time you get to the end.
The wild ride in this case is the look into the essential, but obscured, part of the criminal justice system and how the actions of one crime lab employee can impact tens of thousands of lives. That means defendants who were depending on the science to free them might instead have been wrongfully convicted due to Farak’s mishandling. This isn’t a horror docuseries, but at times it can feel like one.
One interview among many that the episode presents is with forensic chemist Heather Harris. Harris says that the general public isn’t aware of drug cases and what’s involved because it’s not in the crime shows. You won’t find drug cases tried on “CSI:Miami” or “Forensic Files” because, as Harris puts it, “It doesn’t make for compelling, interesting stories.” Yet, here we are. And what a compelling, interesting story “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” is.
We learn that Farak is not only tampering with evidence, but also used the drugs she was tasked with testing. How does that happen? She was employed at the state lab for 10 years before she was caught. Let that sink in. The first episode is going to pose a lot of questions through interviews with attorneys and experts. Did anyone know what had been going on? And when did they find out? And when they did find out, did they do the right thing? Not all the questions get answered in the first episode, but it gives you enough to hook you in.
“How to Fix a Drug Scandal” is not a slow burn, boring present-the-facts type of series. It’s fast-paced. You’ll feel a constant uneasiness with the underlying score that is present throughout the interviews and entire episode. It’s subtle, but effective. This story is uneasy, and Carr does a good job of reminding you that by the framing of the interviews. They are in-your-face, up-close shots. It feels almost a little uncomfortable, but that’s the point.
There was a lot going on in this first episode, from establishing the timeline and backstory of Farak to revealing another twist in this crazy story, but the episode does a good job at balancing it all for the viewer. Through recreations of Farak’s grand jury testimony and surprising interviews from her sister and mother, we’re presented with information in a way that’s both exciting and clear through the use of police footage, photos and a timeline that pops up throughout the episode.
“How to Fix a Drug Scandal” is a story that should rattle you. Our justice system is based upon the notion that you will get due process. But what happens when due process includes a lab that is testing evidence that can free you? The question is not the science itself, but the credibility of the person doing the science.
If you’re looking for a not-so-typical crime drama to binge, you’ll want to watch “How to Fix a Drug Scandal,” hitting Netflix on April 1.
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Featured image credit: Netflix
Catherine grew up watching action flicks at a very young age which led to her love of film. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in Radio-TV-Film in 2012. Always the adventurer, Catherine traveled and lived in Sydney, Australia for a year where she took a selfie with Brad Pitt. She runs Shuffle with passion, lots of caffeine and tacos. When she’s not editing or writing you can find her crafting and planning her next adventure.