Lithium and bipolar disorder are the real stars of the Netflix series “Spinning Out.” We catch more than mere a glimpse of mental illness that plagues two of the key players. We are treated to the intense fear of being found out and the shame of having mental illness. While 20 percent of the U.S. population experiences some form of mental disorder, Olympic skaters are expected to be perfect in every way. The series depicts the spectrum of bipolar disorder and reveals the highs and lows that many persons with bipolar disorder must endure. We see the insecurity caused by depression and the gradual ramping up and symptoms of a manic episode.
This is no Hallmark Special about mental illness. We are treated to excellent ice skating and great acting from January Jones, who plays Carol the bipolar mother and sometimes momster. You will remember her as the model wife in Mad Men. Other key players are Kat Baker (Kaya Scodelario) as the eldest daughter and featured skater and her hunky partner Justin (Evan Roderick), rich, rebellious and somehow disciplined enough to arise at 4 a.m. for practice.
At one point, Kat deliberately goes off her meds in a desperate attempt to regain her skating edge, her energy, her sparkle. It works. She gets the gig with Justin, her new skating partner. They begin to skate spectacularly together and she is able to nail the illusive triple jump with her renewed energy and confidence. But going completely off her meds creates the inevitable fall—from grace, from emotional balance, from sanity.
I saw myself in the bipolar episodes and empathized with the desire to experience the bipolar high, that “in the zone” rapture. As one who has experienced BD for over 30 years, I anticipated the inevitable consequence of spinning out of control, followed by depression and shattered self-esteem. Kaya Scodelario portrays the sequences perfectly.
I found the part of younger sister Serena (Willow Shields) to be intriguing. She does not experience bipolar disorder, yet suffers because she is compelled to clean up and cover for mom and sis. This realistic portrayal of the role many family members find themselves playing shows the harsh reality of how the entire family suffers when someone has mental instability.
The next intriguing character is best friend and fellow skater Jenn (Amanda Zhou). She suffers an injury and choses to ignore it so she can continue competing. This denial and refusal to slow down are part of the world of competitive sports. Ultimately, there are dire consequences for Jenn (spoiler alert). Her denial and the desire to continue pushing towards the golden goal serves as a metaphor for mental illness. If you don't take care of mental instability, if you don't seek treatment, it will only get worse.
Many of my friends have told me that they better understand bipolar disorder because of watching this series. For that reason alone, I highly recommend that you take “Spinning Out” for a spin.