Intervention Recap, Episode 16: This is Robert

Intervention Recap, Episode 16: This is Robert

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intervention robertA&E struck gold back in 2005 when they launched the Emmy-winning Intervention, a docu-style series following alcoholics, drug addicts and those struggling with other disorders from the depths of their addictions through a staged intervention and, if all goes well, off to treatment. Though briefly canceled in 2013, the show was revived just a year later and is now continuing its 15th season. This week’s episode aired as the 16th episode of Season 15 on Sunday, July 31.

This is Robert

Robert is alone in his shed. The millionaire’s head is shaven, his thin skin stretched tight along his emaciated face as he cooks crack in a test tube over a burner. Inside a house nestled on a green expanse of lush Carolina land, Robert’s wife Miranda talks anxiously about how soon her husband’s going to die, and what she’ll tell their young children. “I don’t want to explain to them why they weren’t enough,” she says.

Meanwhile, Robert dumps the rock out and lets it cool for 30 seconds. He smokes “and then your head starts spinnin’…”

He’s 31 years old and looks a sick 50. “I bet I spent $100,000 on crack last year,” Robert estimates.

“Rob’s family owned most of this town,” Miranda says. “Half the streets, properties everywhere.” But now? She holds up a thick sheath of unpaid tax bills.

“Being married to a drug addict is a lot different from being married to someone normal,” notes Miranda, pushing lank hair out of her red-rimmed eyes. “You spend a lot of time not knowing what to do.”

In the shed, Robert exhales a crack plume of decay and says he used to weigh 205—now he weighs 130.

A year ago, Robert inherited that million dollars worth of property from his father. Now Rob and Miranda divvy up rental income: Some rentals are Robert’s for his drug money. Others are Miranda’s, to get cash for living, medical care, the children and the household. But Robert endlessly plagues his wife for more cash as their small children watch.

What It Was Like

Rob was born to Dorothy and a hard-working farmer who is only referred to as “Rob’s Dad,” so we’re gonna call him R.D. Rob loved living on the farm with his dad. However, R.D. was vehemently anti-drugs so once Dorothy got hooked on crack she left, taking Rob with her. He was 11.

Rob says Dorothy taught him how to cook crack when he was 12, and that she started smoking it with him when he was 13. Dorothy, who looks like an angry mop, swears, “That’s a bunch of fuckin’ bullshit!” Later she graciously concedes, “If I did I was so fucked up I didn’t know about it.”

So Rob began a cycle of living in crack houses and smoking rock while his brain was still being formed. He started dealing drugs and was arrested. Finally, R.D. sent his son to military academy, and the kid loved it. “I didn’t want to leave,” Rob says. After years of following his mom around from crack house to crack house, the structure (and the regular meals) of a military academy must have seemed a blessing. The famous redemptive powers of artillery practice and mashed potatoes.

Rob became a mechanic and bought his first home, but the first setback sent him into a backward spiral. When he lost his job, in a dramatic gesture of defiant self-sabotage, Rob used his final paycheck to buy weed and cocaine.

R.D. wiped his hands of it all, and soon Rob went up to Virginia to sober up. What do you know? The geographic worked! Rob got off crack and met Miranda. Together they started a tree pruning business, it became a quick success and they began earning 200k a year. Rob and Miranda married and had two kids—Emily, then Robert Jr.

R.D. visited, and Rob describes their fishing trip as the “best weekend of my life.” Rob had pulled it all together.

What Happened

Just last year, R.D. was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he had six months to live. Rob says, “I didn’t ask any questions. I shut the door on my business and came here to stay with him.” Robert was with R.D. when he died.

Miranda and the kids had also moved back to South Carolina. Nonetheless, after R.D.’s funeral Rob “couldn’t get to the crack man fast enough. And I started using right off.”

Then Rob learned he’d inherited R.D.’s property. He and Miranda were earning $7,500 a month on rentals—but now, one year later, they could lose everything.

What It’s Like Now

Rob shuttles through the house, looking for money. His kids are movable objects he avoids on the way to the shed or the crack dealer. How convenient that Miranda gives him $60 every day!

Meanwhile, she drives around town getting rent money because people can’t send rent to their house—Rob’ll smoke it. When she deposits money to her bank account, she throws out the receipts so Rob doesn’t know how much she has.

Nonetheless, Robert spends any rock-free moments harassing Miranda. “It’s relentless, the begging and begging and begging,” she explains.

Family friends Wendy and Gordon are on hand but do nothing more than lecture. Rob’s not around when this happens (and he makes sure not to be) so Wendy catches Miranda back in the kitchen and righteously informs her she’s enabling. Meanwhile, Rob’s honing his skills back in the shed.

“I been cooking since I was real young, and I’m good at what I do,” he explains. “I’m very picky.” He prods a freshly cooked rock with an expert finger. “It’s just this feeling of fulfillment…you see you’re killin’ yourself but you just can’t stop it.”

But Rob’s got a court date in the morning. Hanging with crack dealers doesn’t come without repercussions: Toni, a local judge and friend of the family, says Rob could get 10-20 in prison. Since Miranda refuses Rob crack money before his court appearance, he swings by his Mom’s.

Not a stellar move.

“Mom and I, we don’t get along too great,” he says. “She does dirt and I do dirt—our relationship is drug bound.” And Dorothy’s got no coin. With an almighty pull on her cigarette, the Mop rasps, “My light bill is right there—tomorrow mornin’ no lights.” Then Dorothy informs Robert he’s a pussy to let Miranda control the purse strings. “Your daddy left you that money, not her,” she admonishes. Robert gives his mother a kiss on the cheek and heads to court, where he obtains a two-month extension before trial.

Meanwhile, Miranda’s back in the kitchen arguing with the persistent and sanctimonious Wendy.

“If he doesn’t take the drugs, he will take pills, and the pills make him violent!” Miranda says, “I like to think he’s in there somewhere and can be brought back out. Sometimes you can still see him in there.”

Wendy makes a face like she’s just licked Satan’s armpit.

Pre-Intervention

Yes! Donna Chavous is back and she says right off that crack, like heroin, has expanded its customer base. “There’s a misconception that it’s an inner city drug.” Not true. “Crack is still whack and it’s whack now in the suburban areas.”

This is a small intervention group. Just Miranda, Gordon and Wendy, and Judge Toni. Dorothy’s home in the dark, I assume. Toni tells Donna right off that Rob’s looking at major prison time.

Donna nods and turns to Miranda, who I’m surprised to hear has hired a divorce attorney. Donna, however, is not impressed. She asks what Miranda’s going to do when—not if but when—Rob calls from rehab in a bad way.

“Well, I’m going to answer the phone and…”

Nope! Donna cuts Miranda off. “You pick up that phone, he’s going to be as intense as he is when he’s looking for drugs,” she explains. “You let him leave a message, and you decide when you call back.”

It’s like Donna’s just spoken in Urdu. Miranda sputters, “I don’t want him to feel abandoned.”

“What about consequences for this fella?” asks Donna.

Miranda looks overwhelmed. Someone take her to a Seth Rogan movie and buy her a few soothing kilos of Raisinets. Woman needs a damn break.

The Intervention

Rob approaches! Miranda says, “He didn’t have any money this morning, so he’s gonna be a little edgy.” Toni shrugs. “I’ve got law enforcement standing by.”

Rob throws the door open like he’s got a grudge against it, but Donna brings the charm. “Sit there, kick back, and listen to what they have to say, okay?” she says. “I appreciate it.”

Wendy goes right into reading her letter, which could be a smug laundry list for all the reaction Rob gives. Then Gordon launches the big guns. “Your dad always told me how well you were doing in Virginia,” he says. “He was very proud. You get yourself on track, we can go fishing. If you don’t, I will bury you like your father.” Rob hangs his head.

Miranda’s hands tremble. “You can’t go on destroying everything we have, and poisoning yourself,” she says. “If you turn this down I have no choice but to go through with a divorce.” Robert touches his wife’s arm tenderly.

Donna tells him he’s being offered rehab, where he’ll stay until the staff decides he can leave. After caressing Miranda’s hair, Rob puts his hands over his eyes. Judge Toni isn’t made of stone, and she wipes away a tear. Music swells, with an ominous slicing sound. Will Rob say yes? Or will Toni get the cops in?

“Let’s go,” says Robert.

A nurse appears out of freakin’ nowhere (was she squatting behind Donna’s chair?) to lead Rob towards a van. Miranda exhales. “I am so relieved. I am no longer going to have to hide my wallet, keys, money.”

That night, Robert staggers into Balboa Horizons in Costa Mesa, California. He’s clutching an airplane pillow.

51 Days Later

Robert ‘s been off crack for over six weeks and his face has filled out, so now he only looks dauntingly skinny. His eyes are sad. A therapist says Robert’s been “honest and candid about the guilt and shame he carries.”

Right now, however, Robert’s carrying a surfboard into the ocean. He says he sucks at surfing, but it’s therapeutic. Dude’s riding the waves in more ways than one: “I’m up and down,” he says. “I’m away from my kids, so it sucks.”

But Miranda’s arrived—and it looks like she’s had those Raisinets! She’s slept, her hair is cut, and her nails are polished! Robert solemnly, nervously, offers her flowers. When Miranda hugs him, he realizes that “she’s not giving up and I’m not giving up, either.”

I’m hoping the family decides to move to Cali and get their surf on, but the closing credits say that Robert wants to move back home and rebuild his real estate portfolio. I say stay away from Dorothy, and her little light bill, too.

Robert’s been sober since May 1, 2016.

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About Author

Dana Burnell has written for The London Times Sunday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Inside New York and Time Out New York. A former Editorial Assistant at Harvard Review, she’s the received Mellon Foundation Grant and two Fiction Fellowship Grants from Columbia University. She’s written two novels, Mistaken Nonentity and The Tame Man.