Editor’s note: This article contains minor spoilers for the Netflix series “Wednesday.”
The popular Netflix series “Wednesday” chronicles the adventures of the Addams family’s teen daughter. After her parents send her to Nevermore Academy, a school for “outcasts,” Wednesday Addams, played by Jenna Ortega, is pulled into a perplexing murder mystery. The show is infused with elements of the supernatural but also contains scenes that may leave viewers wondering, “Could that really happen in real life?”
I’m a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where we study the effects of drugs and poisons on the body. Some of the scenes in “Wednesday” raise intriguing questions about chemical and biological hazards that inspired me to investigate what science has to say about them.
Piranhas in the pool
One of the most memorable scenes 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. Gregory A. Lewbart, a professor of aquatic, wildlife and zoological medicine at North Carolina State University, once swam with piranhas in the Ecuadorian Amazon, as many people do every day without incident. “Fatal attacks are either extremely rare or have not occurred,” Lewbart told me. “It sounds like the only humans consumed by piranhas are people who already died from drowning.”
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. Lewbart explained that the 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. “I can almost guarantee a piranha or any fish dumped into a swimming pool would not be thinking about feeding,” Lewbart told me.
Snacking on 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…