Netflix's 'Insatiable' Season 1, Episode 1 Recap: 'Pilot'
Since its controversial trailer dropped, “Insatiable,” a Netflix series that addresses mental health topics, has made headlines for accusations of fat-shaming and the promotion of eating disorders. Lexie Manion, a writer in recovery from mental illness, reviews the first episode of “Insatiable” with the mental health community in mind.
The following is a review of the first episode of “Insatiable” and contains spoilers.
Content warning: This episode contains references to suicidal ideation, homophobia, eating disorders and sexual assault.
Appropriately described as a “coming of rage” series, Netflix’s “Insatiable” follows a teenager’s never-ending quest for revenge after losing the weight she was bullied for carrying. The opening scene of “Insatiable” depicts Patty, played by Debby Ryan, narrating what led her to become an overweight teenager. Patty sets the stage in a sarcastic, yet brutally honest manner: “I’ve heard stories of girls who grew up happy, well-adjusted, with a healthy relationship to food and their bodies — screw those bitches!”
Saturated in dark humor, Patty’s narration continues:
I went on my first diet at just 8 years old. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been hungry — insatiable, really. I spent my entire adolescence hating my body, a target of bullying and cruel jokes, so while my classmates were out losing their virginity, I was at home stuffing another hole, bingeing my brains out and watching every Drew Barrymore movie ever made with Nonnie, my only friend…
As an adult, I dislike dark humor and extreme sarcasm when delving into such serious topics. However, my teenage self deeply relates to Patty’s outlook on life. Like Patty, humor helped me cope. And, like Patty, I also fought my body to lose weight. When I was a pre-teen, I developed disordered eating behaviors. Then, at the age of 15, a year after my parents sent me to a weight loss camp, I developed bulimia nervosa. It felt like I was constantly eating to fill a hole — to soothe the emotional pain I felt I couldn’t speak about. While weight loss can “fix” one’s outward appearance, going through the recovery process has taught me weight loss can’t heal mental and emotional wounds.
Following this initial glimpse into Patty’s early childhood and teenage years, we are introduced to Bob Armstrong. Bob is a lawyer, husband and father who crosses paths with Patty after she gets sued for punching a homeless man in the face. Bob is also a “disgraced” beauty pageant coach, his reputation tarnished by a sexual assault allegation.
We get to see Bob in action on the pageant circuit. Bob’s client, Dixie Sinclair, is up against Bob’s nemesis, Bob Barnard’s seemingly perfect daughter Magnolia. Dixie loses the pageant — she confuses ISIS with Italian ices — and her mother, Regina, retaliates by jumping onstage and declaring that Bob molested her daughter. Bob tries to defend himself, as he didn’t molest Dixie. Neither Regina nor Dixie press charges, but the damage is done. This scene was particularly upsetting. Despite the #MeToo movement empowering some, many victims of assault don’t come forward out of fear they won’t be believed or that they will be blamed. It’s sad that the show focuses on a false allegation, a rare occurrence in reality, instead of highlighting a truthful account.
Following that train wreck of a pageant, Patty and Nonnie visit the local convenience store in hopes of finding Brick Armstrong, Bob’s son. In an earlier scene, Patty passes out during gym class — the result of not eating while on a “cleanse.” Brick, a popular jock, helps Patty up in front of the girls who were bullying her. Because of Brick’s kindness, and all-American good looks, Patty’s got a crush. Unfortunately for Patty, Brick rejects her advances. Dejected, Patty leaves the convenience store and sits in the parking lot.
Patty is approached by a homeless man, who asks her for money and then the chocolate bar she’s eating. When she declines, he calls her “fatty.” As he reaches for her chocolate, a switch goes off in Patty. She punches him in the face and he punches her in return, breaking her jaw. This scene was a bit difficult to watch because of the contrast between the prior scene’s false assault claim and the current scene’s legitimate one. We don’t get to see if or how these events affect Dixie and Patty mentally, but perhaps that is the point.
We learn that because of the punch, Patty had to have her jaw wired shut the whole summer, and because of that, she somehow lost a lot of weight and is now skinny. I wonder if “Insatiable” is poking fun at how the diet industry promises consumers that if they buy “this one magical product,” they will lose weight and be happy. Patty’s classmates and bullies don’t recognize her at school because of her transformation. Everyone treats her better when she is skinny — as if she had no worth as a human being until she was deemed socially acceptable.
Patty’s troubles are far from over though. As I mentioned earlier, Patty’s being sued for punching the homeless guy in the face. Bob takes her case on pro bono (for free) since he doesn’t have any clients due to the damage to his reputation. Patty and Bob are kindred spirits — bonding over the bad hand of cards they were dealt in life. As a former fatty himself, Bob relates to Patty.
Fortunately for Patty, Bob wins her case. The pair use Patty’s good looks to paint Patty as the victim. Not having many champions in her life, Patty develops a crush on Bob. I relate to Patty crushing on people you should not have crushes on. When I was a teenager and struggling with my eating disorder and depression, I wanted to be saved. I was in and out of so many treatment centers because I didn’t believe in myself; I thought I needed someone to fix me. Both Patty and Bob think they can use each other to redeem themselves.
Later in the episode, Patty crosses paths with the homeless man, this time at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with Patty’s mom, Angie. Patty is unrecognizable to the homeless man, whose name we learn is John, now that she has lost weight. Patty tells Nonnie that she wants revenge. She comes up with an outlandish plan to sleep with him so that he will fall in love with her and then she can reject him.
After drinking with John in a motel room, Patty realizes that her diabolical plan may not be worth it — that is until John makes a remark about how nobody likes a fatty. Enraged again, Patty vows to get revenge. Patty looks at herself in a full-length mirror and grabs the fat she still has on her body through anger and tears. That moment is spot on for many people struggling with disordered eating, eating disorders or body image. This common behavior of grabbing at one’s body is called “body-checking.” For Patty specifically, she remembers when she was fat, so perhaps when she looked in the mirror she saw her past self and still felt unlovable and unworthy. External changes, like weight loss, do not equate to internal changes.
In a moment of weakness, she pulls out a candy bar, turns on the television and is about to bite into her drug of choice. Patty’s eyes and mouth freeze as she watches what is on the screen — it’s the Drew Barrymore movie “Firestarter,” and Patty takes the fire onscreen as an omen. She ditches the candy and decides she’s going to light John on fire instead. She douses John in alcohol as he sleeps, pulls matches out, lights one and hovers the flame above his sleeping body.
Meanwhile, Bob Armstrong is in his car drinking. Following more dramatic events — including Magnolia attempting to seduce him so Regina could blackmail Bob and pit him against the Barnards — Bob decides killing himself is the only way out of this mess.
While Bob seems consistently stoic throughout the first episode, we see a much more vulnerable and dark side here. (Editor’s note: Media reporting guidelines state that journalists should not list the method someone uses to die by suicide. Though Bob lives, we are choosing not to document how the show portrays his suicidal ideation.) Before he can enact his plan, the phone rings. It’s Patty, who tells him, “You’re the only one who understands me.”
Their relationship is twisted and far from healthy or ideal, but Patty and Bob have effectively saved each other’s lives.
Stray Observations and Future Questions
- “Insatiable” shows how revenge and malice won’t ever satisfy us. The statements from Lauren Gussis, the show’s creator, confirm this theory: “The trailer is not representative of the show as a whole, but it is a representation of where the story starts. The story is not ‘somebody gets thin, becomes happy and gets everything she wants.’ It’s actually quite the opposite, but the story has to start somewhere.”
- “Insatiable” addresses dark topics like suicide, bullying, diet culture, crime, lust and revenge in potentially inappropriate ways, but that is what makes it stands out. Not everyone will resonate with the content, but perhaps “Insatiable” will help others see that they’re not alone or “crazy.”
- Will Patty learn to stand on her own and save herself? Will Bob? How will they trade out such maladaptive behaviors for positive coping skills?
The first episode of “Insatiable” felt dark, yet sincere. At first glance, the content does seem troubling but I do appreciate what the series is trying to tackle. The show illustrates society’s issues in a shocking and humorous yet constructive way. There could be important conversations that come from unpacking “Insatiable.”
While the trailer of “Insatiable” felt triggering, I remind myself that facing triggers is necessary. In therapy, I learned I had to face emotions I deemed scary. I had to face the triggers I convinced myself I could not handle. Doing this helped me see I can survive, as well as thrive.
I am on solid ground in recovery now, so it is difficult to completely relate to many of the issues in “Insatiable.” However, the show speaks to my teenage self who was desperately looking for someone to save me. Little did I know, I had to save myself.
On the note of the public worrying that this series will further harm people struggling with mental illness, the harm has already been done. This world is already hurting. People in the depths of their pain should not be censored. Dark comedy should not be censored. “Insatiable” is a work of fiction; the content does not have to be completely positive. That’s the beauty of “Insatiable.”
- Do you think a coping skill (like using dark humor) is valid if it helps some, but hurts others?
- Can building resources (i.e. the NEDA helpline, bullying resources and the suicide prevention lifeline) around potentially triggering content serve as a preventative buffer for those struggling?
- Do you think that creating petitions to ban content we haven’t seen yet helps or hurts the cause?
Episode 2 Review: ‘Insatiable’ Asks a Dangerous Question: Is Skinny Magic?
Header image via Netflix.