A&E struck gold back in 2005 when they launched Intervention, a docu-style series following alcoholics and drug addicts (and some struggling with other disorders) from what we hope is their bottom through a staged intervention and, if all goes well, off to treatment. Though briefly canceled in 2013, the show was (thankfully) revived just a year later and has now officially entered its 15th season. The second episode aired Sunday, March 13.
This is Sierra
Oh me, oh my! Episode two of Intervention (Season 15) is not fucking around. Just when you thought Kaeleen’s diary cam rape confession was as tumultuous as it could get, we meet Sierra—a 19-year-old crystal meth addict who, like Kaeleen, has a deep affinity for liquid eyeliner but who, unlike Kaeleen, takes the term “drug-induced psychosis” to a whole new level.
Sierra opens the show by admitting to her diary cam that she was “up all night tweaking” and it certainly shows. She has that textbook look of a meth addict: gaunt with blotchy skin that is covered in scabs. Her overdone eye make-up from the night before is smeared, giving her the appearance of a Tim Burton cartoon. God bless her but she also has what I like to call “hillbilly teeth” (one front tooth noticeably longer than the other), which is either a result of bad drugs or bad genetics. Either way, her jacked up grill fits nicely with the spun out horror story we are about to see.
“It’s really hard for me to believe that you guys are interested in anything I have to say,” Sierra confesses, “because I have been told for so long that nothing I have to say matters.”
Though this happens right at the top, it could be the most important thing that Sierra shows us about herself: it’s her “story,” one of the twisted ideas she has about the world that plays like a broken record in her head and drives her addiction. It’s clearly what she believes and uses to make choices about her life—the choices she still has the ability to make, at least.
Putting the Real in Reality TV
One of the noticeable differences between the old Canadian-produced series (2005-2013) and the new Hollywood-produced one (2015-2016) is the drama factor. The new format works with a lot of jump cuts and montages that paint a much clearer picture of the hot mess level of the subjects. But is this a good thing? On one hand, it makes for very compelling television. On the other, it does have some exploitive undertones. It makes it seem like the original production company viewed the show as an exploratory docu-series into the journey of addiction recovery while the current production company is packaging it much more like reality TV.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the goal of Intervention is to offer help to struggling addicts and be a weekly PSA, then making the show more “fun” to watch certainly has its benefits.
What It Was Like
So here’s what we learn about Sierra within the first five minutes: she loves to smoke crystal meth (“As often as possible, usually on Tuesdays”) but has graduated to shooting it. She ingests a gram-and-a-half a day. She has Hepatitis C, weighs 100 pounds, doesn’t bathe, doesn’t wear shoes and is pretty sure that her mom sold her “soul to the illuminati and Tom Hanks has something to do with it.”
According to her mother, Sierra has been good at hiding her usage but it’s really hard to imagine how that is possible. There is only one part of the episode where Sierra appears to not be high, during some interstitial confessionals, and even then it is clear that she doesn’t have a relationship with a toothbrush or soap. But this just goes to show how many of us are blind to the troublesome behavior of those who are closest to us.
And I do mean close. Not only does it appear that Sierra lives with her mother (there are several shots of her smoking meth on the living room couch) but her mom, Ronnie, is a recovering addict herself. While you would think this would put her at an advantage as to how to best handle the situation with her daughter, this actually seems to make it more confusing. I know that I’ve found myself to be more codependent with the people I love who are addicts because I feel like I can understand what they are going through. I try to treat and address them in a way that I think would have worked for me when I was in their shoes. But this can be an epic mistake. Not only is every addict different but we all respond differently to different people. The mere fact that her mother is sober may be one of the reasons Sierra rebels so much. And Ronnie is clearly harboring a lot of guilt and shame about Sierra’s issues.
What is amazingly fortuitous for the show but gravely misfortunate for her friends and family is that Sierra flies into a meth-induced psychosis during the shoot. This is not to be missed. It is incredible footage to experience and truly shows what meth can do to someone. Your heart breaks for her mom who clearly loves her daughter and is trying to do the best that she can. Her friends are also very kind and are there to support Ronnie as they drive all around Redding, California looking for a tweaked out Sierra in the middle of the day (spoiler alert: they do find her but you kind of wish they didn’t).
I have never needed/wanted/yearned for an Advil as badly as I did watching the 10-plus minutes of “chasing Sierra” footage on this episode. My goodness, that girl is chatty! And completely nonsensical. And I mean, like, impressively nonsensical. Her thoughts are so random and unconnected yet ever-flowing that she would probably slay short-form improv.
At the end of the day, Sierra gets thrown in jail. Twice. And her mom and friends become concerned that she won’t be lucid, or even physically show up, for her final interview—AKA intervention. But not to fear because Interventionalist and all around badass Donna Chavous has a plan. She suggests the crew perform an “intervention on the go,” which basically means they all show up to pick her up from jail and give her an ultimatum.
Though Sierra is in no shape to do anything (except maybe slip into a straight jacket) Donna is somehow able to calmly communicate her options to her and manages to get her to agree to go into to detox to get stabilized. After two days in the hospital, Sierra is given the choice of entering treatment or a mental health facility. She chooses treatment. Ronnie is overjoyed. If nothing else, she gets a break from playing bounty hunter.
What It’s Like Now
Sixty days later, we catch up with a clean and sober Sierra. She is viable healthier and get this—forming sentences. Real ones! She seems happy and grateful to be in treatment. While still sticking to her liquid cat eye look, this time her lines aren’t smeared and her skin is clear. She is laughing and sweet and, for the first time, we get to see why so many people love her and went out of their way to help her.
At the conclusion of the episode, a caption comes on the screen letting us know that, since her last follow up, Sierra did have a slip (a relapse) but she immediately re-committed herself to treatment and plans to move to a sober living facility in Florida to focus on her recovery.
In 15 seasons of Intervention, Sierra is one of the worse cases I have seen but because of that, and her awareness around the consequences of her using, along with the long and support and her family and friends, I think Sierra has a real shot at recovery. Another Intervention win!