There hasn’t been a single episode of any Louis Theroux production that I haven’t loved.
The dude just has an amazing way with people. But so much has been written about his disarming interview style and the gangly, geek-no-chic way in which he carries himself that I’ll avoid that and just talk about the actual content of the debut episode of his latest BBC series, Dark States.
Heroin Town lays bare the horrifying impact of opiate (both the legal and illegal kinds) abuse on the rust-belt city of Huntington, West Virginia where, incredibly, one in four adults is addicted.
Whether it’s prescription pain drugs or good old-fashioned smack, a quarter of this town’s population is hooked. And many of those on heroin started with a prescription for pain pills. And once the scripts dried up, they had nowhere else to turn for their fix but to heroin dealers.
How doctors were duped by big pharmaceutical firms into prescribing opiates such as Oxycontin with such carefree abandon is worth a series all of its own. But in Heroin Town, Theroux is interested in the people on the ground.
They include junkies – some of them formerly successful businessmen – living in tents; a young former stripper and prostitute; and a couple who were prescribed a heroin substitute when the woman fell pregnant. Baby Archer’s extended stay in hospital as he battles his dependance on the pills his mum took while carrying him is a particularly harrowing aspect of this episode.
So too is the relationship between the aforementioned former stripper Katillia and her boyfriend/dealer Alvin. After she reveals Alvin has been physically abusing her, but that she stays with him for the access to heroin, Theroux confronts him on camera while she stands just a few feet away.
That scene is especially uncomfortable as Alvin scowls at his partner before Theroux watches them walk off up the street, no doubt to be followed by a more savage beating than Katillia has previously endured. I can’t think of any real justification for Theroux doing what he did here and I wonder if he looks back at that with some sense of shame.
In saying that, overall this is yet another superb bit of television by one of our greatest TV journalists.
Theroux’s aim is surely to get us all thinking, and I can’t be the only one who watched in horror as parents are torn apart by their children’s addictions and imagined myself having to deal with such issues with my future kids. There can be fewer things scarier than that.
This is shaping up to be among Theroux’s best output yet – even if watching it will likely remain very hard work.