Louis Theroux’s TV series are always worth watching. Worth, even, waiting for. Like Michael Moore or Jon Ronson, you always feel on the brink of learning something new and profound about human nature. Until now. The first show in his Dark States season, Heroin Town, left an empty feeling as sure as an overdue kick of the opiate in question.
For sure, it’s riveting entertainment. It’s bleak and tragic and somehow educational, but about what I’m not so sure. The basic premise is that, through bad luck and neglect, virtually an entire town in armpit, West Virginia, has become addicted to heroin. The bad luck is not that most of them are unemployed. Many of them in fact suffered injuries at work, for which they were prescribed legal medication so effective and potent that they simply couldn’t stop taking it. As the pills in the bathroom piled up, their friends, children and other relatives starting chugging them too, until they were addicted, and so on. It’s astonishing.
There is too little made of the responsibility of the doctors in all of this, who often prescribed way too much without proper consideration. One woman, when she told her doctor she had become addicted, had her pills immediately removed, causing cold turkey complications. There is too little made of the legal action being pursued by the city against the drug giants pushing this crap. How likely is it to get the help the victims need? For they certainly do appear to be genuine victims, caught up in some kind of appalling unofficial drug trial.
So Louis is obsessed with the victims, as always. We expected this. He has a way of disarming people, of making them tell him the truth even when they lie to everyone else they meet. Unlike in most of his other documentaries, though, none of these subjects seem to make any kind of journey as the program unfolds. Nobody gets better. A few get worse. You feel sympathy for the emergency services who are called out several times a night to people unconscious on paths, roads and in their homes. They always expect someone who is out cold has overdosed, and they never seem to be wrong.
So the whole effect is to turn the bleakness of these victims against the viewer. There is no silver lining, no hope, no respite. One feels as though the entire town will just disappear down the toilet, sooner or later. We assume the court cases will not find in their favour, and the help they so clearly need will not come. We can only hope the series perks up a little after this.