Intervention starts its final season tonight on A&E after eight years and almost 200 episodes, each one as frightening and heartbreaking as the last. The show’s subjects came from every possible social demographic, from supportive and stable families to dysfunctional, abusive ones. What Intervention did best, though, was show the person behind the addiction — a person with a sense of humor, a set of values, an identity that was getting subsumed in their addiction crisis. Some episodes of the show were overwhelmingly tragic, some incredibly frustrating, and some made us want to leap through the television, grab people by the shoulders, and shout “stop blaming your child for being the victim of sexual abuse.” And other episodes? Well, some we’ll never forget.
Allison, season five, episode nine
In easily the show’s best-known episode, Allison was addicted to inhalants, sometimes using ten cans of spray duster a day. The episode stands out for a few reasons: One, until this point, many of us were not even aware that people abused spray dusters as an inhalant. Two, even while obviously in the throes of a very serious crisis, Allison’s personality was really vibrant. And three, even while she was sucking down spray cans and passing out in Walgreens, she had her “sugar daddy” who was bankrolling her. Sorry, people on OK Cupid! (Her segment is not online.)
Ben, season four, episode six
Ben had a genius IQ and a crippling addiction to DXM — which is cough medicine. Ben carries around a backpack full of books, which get thrown to the ground when he gets in a fight with a pimp after he fails to pay a sex worker. Absolutely one of the weirder episodes. (Also not online.)
Leslie, season three, episode eleven
Let’s not be delicate here: Leslie’s the woman whose alcoholism led her to drink mouthwash. The episode is particularly wrenching because of Leslie’s children: They’re young enough to still really need a lot of parenting, but they’re old enough to know exactly what’s going on, too, and how horrible and frightening it is.
Sonia and Julia, season seven, episode three
Twins Sonia and Julia developed twin eating disorders and a really scary case of co-dependency. They took the same number of steps every day so as not to burn more calories than the other twin and told their older sister they would be fine if she cut them out of her life — as long as they still had each other. There’s a weird undercurrent to a lot of eating-disorder stories in pop media, like in, oh, magazines aimed at teen girls: The articles are supposed to be harrowing, but instead they often seem to perversely glamorize and almost valorize anorexia in particular. (She ate only this many calories! Here’s her exact diet! Just look at that self-control! Er, uh, just look at that mental illness.) Intervention avoids and completely subverts that.
Sylvia, season two, episode nineteen
Sylvia, a mother of four, drank minibar-sized bottles of vodka constantly. Constantly. The episode is memorable not just for its total sense of despair but also for dramatic recovery. She’s been sober since 2006, and her follow-up segments demonstrate what Intervention actually does.