In 'The Girl From Plainville' Michelle Carter's Eating Disorder Becomes Part of the Defense — Did She Have One?
Content warning: This article discusses eating disorders and suicide.
Hulu's The Girl From Plainville takes another look at the Michelle Carter texting case. On July 12, 2014, 18 year-old Conrad Roy parked his truck in the parking lot of a Kmart in Fairhaven, Mass. where he committed suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning. At the time he was dating Michelle Carter (17), whose text messages encouraging Conrad to kill himself would later be found in his phone.
A year later, in 2015, Michelle would be arrested and charged with manslaughter. The Girl From Plainville shows us a Michelle Carter that many people didn't know, including the fact that she potentially had an eating disorder. But did she? Here's what we know.
Did Michelle Carter have an eating disorder?
In an earlier episode of The Girl From Plainville, we see Michelle (played by Elle Fanning) rush up to her bedroom after a particularly bad day, where she grabs what appears to be chocolate from her nightstand. Based on the way she's feverishly eating, with little-to-no enjoyment, it's clear she is looking to gain something else from this experience.
There are several times throughout the series that Michelle appears to be self-soothing using food, but it wasn't until Episode 5, titled "Mirrorball," that we finally hear the words eating disorder applied to what she's doing. The episode begins with Michelle and Conrad (Colton Ryan) texting, but the innocent banter smoothly shifts into something more X-rated. Conrad is asking Michelle to send him a few racy photos and while she gets as far as taking the pics, she never actually sends them.
As the episode progresses, we learn of Michelle's own body image issues, and her damaging connection to food. This also ties into the many times Michelle is furiously running on her family's treadmill. During this episode, she finally eats until she gets sick and immediately vomits into a trash can in her room. This aspect of the real Michelle Carter is actually accurate, as she did have an eating disorder.
Michelle was friends with a girl named Samantha Boardman, who is most likely being represented by the fictional Val (Rachael Thompson). Michelle would regularly confide in Samantha about her mental health, which included her eating disorder. According to Oxygen, Michelle, "texted the teen [Samantha] about her struggles with eating, challenges in making friends, and later made an apparent confession about the role she played in encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself."
Her eating disorder would come up again during the trial.
Michelle Carter's eating disorder ends up being part of her defense.
The final moments of Episode 5 take place in the office of Michelle Carter's lawyer, Joseph Cataldo (Michael Mosley). He's sitting across from a psychiatrist who is introducing an interesting line of defense. In reality, Dr. Peter Breggin was brought in by Michelle's attorney to suggest that the anti-depressant she was taking at the time (Celexa) contributed to the text messages she sent to Conrad Roy.
On the show, a combination of Michelle's eating disorder, along with her medication, was said to produce an "intoxicating effect." As Time recently reported, the real Dr. Peter Breggin used the legal concept of "involuntary intoxication," which he applied to Michelle's case. The legal definition of involuntary intoxication is "someone being tricked or forced into consuming drugs or alcohol."
In Michelle's case, Dr. Breggin theorized that because Michelle's natural state was helpful, the Celexa she was forced to take contorted this feeling. "He claimed that Carter, under the influence of Celexa, had convinced herself that abetting Roy’s suicide was a form of help," per Time.
Ultimately the judge did not agree with Dr. Breggin's analysis, and because of the complicated message it sends, the producers of The Girl From Plainville made sure to include a note in an upcoming episode wherein they advise people struggling with depression to seek help from a physician. They went on to say that taking medication "is not only appropriate but can be critically lifesaving."
New episodes of The Girl From Plainville are available to stream on Hulu every Tuesday.