H1: Could the Science Behind Wednesday’s Adventures Really Happen in Real Life?
We’ve all been there: watching a movie or a TV show and wondering, “Could that really happen in real life?” The popular Netflix series Wednesday chronicles the adventures of the Addams family’s teen daughter and is infused with elements of the supernatural, leaving viewers wondering if the science behind the show’s scenes could be real. As a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, I’ve investigated what science has to say about the show’s most intriguing scenes. Read on to learn more about the real-life science behind piranhas in the pool, potpourri snacks, blast fishing, and deadly nightshade.
H2: Piranhas in the Pool
One of the most memorable scenes in Wednesday involves Wednesday exacting revenge on her brother’s bullies by dumping hungry piranhas in their swimming pool. Most of the swimmers escape except for one unlucky guy who gets a wee bit chewed up. What is the likelihood that piranhas would attack someone in a pool? Piranhas are freshwater fish indigenous to South American rivers and lakes. Their reputation as a ferocious carnivore that can reduce their prey to bones in seconds was popularized by Teddy Roosevelt following his trip to the Amazon. However, the fish he witnessed eating a cow were purposefully starved before the display. In reality, not all piranhas are carnivores, and the rare attack on humans is typically limited to a single bite. Even if Wednesday were able to procure a carnivorous species deprived of food, there’s still the problem of being dumped into a chlorinated pool. Chlorine would cause rapid damage to the fish’s gills and reduce the ability of their blood to carry oxygen, leading to death. These piranhas would be in shock and unlikely to swim across the length of a pool to mount an unprovoked attack.
H2: A Snack of Potpourri
During a family therapy session, Wednesday’s brother Pugsley, played by Isaac Ordonez, mistakes a bowl of potpourri for candy and begins to devour it. Potpourri is a mixture of dried flower petals, herbs and spices used to fragrance a room. What would happen if someone ate it? Potpourri is generally considered to be nontoxic. However, essential oils are commonly added to potpourri to enhance and extend its smell. These highly concentrated plant extracts can potentially cause a skin rash or irritation to the eyes, mouth and throat. While ingesting a small amount of potpourri is probably not too dangerous for humans, veterinarians have issued warnings for dogs and cats, as excessive amounts could lead to gastrointestinal problems or adverse liver effects. Beyond a sensitivity to the essential oils, the contents of potpourri can also pose a choking hazard to your pet.
H2: Pugsley’s Favorite Bait
In one scene, the Addams kids go fishing with Pugsley’s “favorite bait”: grenades. After they toss a grenade into the pond, the explosion produces a ready supply of dead fish for the taking. To learn more about “blast fishing,” I consulted with Rachel Lance, who studies explosives and blast trauma at Duke University. “The grenade method may technically work,” Lance told me. “Grenades almost certainly could cause swim bladder trauma as a result of the explosive shock wave, which would bring the unfortunate fish to the surface belly up.” However, even with large explosions, the technique carries far more risk than it’s worth. Given the danger of explosives, not to mention their inefficiency and collateral damage to the ecosystem, blast fishing is illegal in many parts of the world.
H2: Deadly Nightshade
Nightshade poisoning was deduced as the cause of death for one of the characters based on foaming saliva, dilated pupils, mental confusion and bluish skin. What is nightshade and can it be used as a poison? Nightshades include many different varieties of plants, some of which are diet staples for many, like tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Other varieties are to be avoided, such as the aptly named deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna). Deadly nightshade is a shrub with dark green leaves adorned with purple, bell-shaped flowers and dark purple berries. But don’t let the beauty of this belladonna fool you; ingest any part of this plant, especially the sweet-tasting berries, and it could be your last meal. People have been exploiting the poisonous properties of deadly nightshade since Roman times, but the plant has medicinal and cosmetic uses as well. The berries are rich in atropine, a chemical that enlarges the pupils by relaxing the muscles in the eye. Symptoms of deadly nightshade poisoning include rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, vomiting, hallucinations, seizures and coma. These symptoms take at least 15 minutes to appear; they are not as immediate as depicted in “Wednesday.”
Wednesday is the latest Hollywood hit that exaggerates what’s possible to advance a good story. Even if a show doesn’t quite get the science right, investigating what’s true can be educational. So, the next time you’re watching Wednesday and wondering if the science behind the show’s scenes could be real, turn to science for the answer.