Junkies: Five Television Addicts We Root For

Addiction to any substance, is of course, a terrible thing. But the internal struggle and conflict it creates usually results in deeply developed characters and enjoyable television. Recent television has brought these tortured people to the limelight, and highlights their struggle with addiction. Sometimes they are main characters and the addiction takes the forefront, while other times the characters are peripheral and their addiction makes the background of the series much more layered.

With two shows returning this month featuring troubled addicts in the main cast, it’s time to take a look back at the best characters from recent television who have been addicts, and whose journey we have followed along with, whether it led to their redemption or demise. Because without these characters, quite a few characters on television wouldn’t contain the same level of realism that we have come to expect.

Next: A nurse with a penchant for deception>>

#5 – Jackie Peyton, Nurse Jackie

Jackie Peyton is a nurse with a big lie. In her job as a nurse, she has completely separated her home life (in which she is a loving wife and mother) from her work life (in which she is an adulterous nurse who steals from the hospital to support her drug addiction). She teeters on the brink of destruction for most of Nurse Jackie‘s first season, and then eventually steps off the edge in the season finale, in which her tightly constructed web of lies slowly begins to come unraveled.

Jackie’s addiction to various painkillers isn’t her main conflict throughout the series, but it certainly plays a role in her multiple conflicts. Her affair with Eddie, the pharmacist, is at least partially a manipulative ploy to get Eddie to continue supplying her with various narcotics. And finally, when Eddie is fired and replaced by a machine, she begins stealing from the machine, though with much greater effort and much more personal risk.

One of the most interesting parts of the show’s new season, which started tonight with the episode “Comfort Food,” is the introduction of the new nurse Sam, who made an appearance in the season one finale as a completely strung out temp. However, in the second season, he has successfully completed rehab and is a fully competent (and full-time) nurse, even being kind enough to reach out a helping hand to Jackie, who he recognized as a fellow addict during his time as a temp. However, Jackie rebuffs his attempts at a friendship and continues to scorn him. Is the source of this scorn the fact that she knows he’s right? Of course it is. That’s what makes Jackie a compelling character. Hopefully, she’ll remain such an interestingly torn character as the new season goes on.

Next: A painter who uses his addiction to predict destruction>>

#4 – Isaac Mendez, Heroes

Back when Heroes was still the prodigy show it was in its first season, the show hinged on the predictions of one man. If you don’t remember much about Heroes‘ first season (it’s almost sad to see how good the show was then compared to now), you might not remember Isaac Mendez, the painter who first owned that loft that the series just refused to leave. He was the first main character of the show to be killed by Sylar, who inherited his abilities.

But before all that happened, he was painting burning trains from the future with the help of heroin, which triggered his power and helped him to see the future. This use of heroin was almost the epitome of the superhero dilemma of the double-edged sword. It slowly destroyed his relationship with his girlfriend, Simone. As if to throw salt in the open wound, along came Noah Bennett from Primatech, and proved to him that the heroin wasn’t necessary to activate his power.

While he recovered from his addiction, it was still a major turning point for the character. Not only was he able to continue to paint the tragically destructive landscapes of a mushroom cloud over New York, but he was able to face his imminent death at the hands of Sylar heroically. Isaac, through his triumph over his drug addiction, finally turned from a pathetic character to a hero toward the end of his character arc, and I was sad to see him go — because it seems, with his death, so went the quality of the series.

Next: A dosing doctor >>

#3 – Gregory House, House

House, like Heroes, is a show that has declined in quality as time has gone on. It’s the natural order of things on television, I guess, but its sad to see a once-great medical drama waste itself on meaningless twists and other such silliness. And part of this great decline that has overcome House can be blamed on the main character’s drug addiction.

In the first two seasons of the show House’s addiction was a sidenote. It was necessary due to the infarction in his leg, but it wasn’t a huge plot point. Then, in mid-season three, he managed to offend police officer Michael Tritter, who promptly began an investigation into House’s addiction and tirelessly worked to have House’s medical license removed, which he almost managed to do. House even went to rehab to dodge Tritter. If you had inserted the season six premiere, “Broken,” here, it would have continued to be a great television show, and we could have moved on.

Instead, we learned that while in rehab, House was still being smuggled his vicodin, and actually learned nothing from the entire experience. His addiction continued, and continued, for two-and-a-half years afterward, until it was becoming a plot point so often that it was growing very, very repetitive. Then “Broken,” the season six premiere, rolled around. And while it was perhaps one of the greatest episodes of the series, it simply came too late — the show was already gone.

This is a strange case, in which the addiction of a character actually means the downfall (creatively) of a show. House still gets plenty of viewers and fans, but this once great series lost itself when House failed to lose his addiction.

Next: A rock star who received a curse from the Virgin Mary >>

#2 – Charlie Pace, LOST

Charlie was one of my favorite characters on LOST throughout his run, despite the fact that he received mediocre storylines for most of the second season. Why? Because it was so compelling to watch him try, really try, to turn his life around on the Island and to become a better person, with the help of Claire. One of the big stumbling blocks for him as a character was his addiction to heroin, which was passed on to him by his brother Liam, who drove him to such lengths as the strains of their rock band’s tour were starting to take hold on them.

Charlie retained that habit for years, even keeping it as Flight 815 crashed on that mysterious, mysterious Island that we all have come to know. With the help of John Locke, Charlie kicked his habit in “The Moth,” one of LOST‘s greatest-ever episodes. All seemed well; Charlie had thrown his drugs in the fire, and he was a free and liberated man. That is, until the Beechcraft plane was found in the jungle, and Sayid revealed to Charlie that it was full of statues carrying – of course – heroin.

It was as if the Island was testing Charlie’s resolve (and perhaps it was). Unfortunately, he started to succumb. He took on of the statues, and even though he did not imbibe, he kept it with him at all times, until Mr. Eko revealed to Claire the true nature of the statues. Her resentment for his lying to her caused him to finally redeem for good, throwing the statues out into the ocean and out of his temptation. He was finally free.

But, as it meant for Isaac on Heroes, redemption often means death. For Charlie, it meant that the universe was trying to kill him. Despite the help of Desmond in avoiding multiple deaths, Charlie finally accepted his fate and died a hero’s death, deactivating the Looking Glass station and allowing the survivors contact with the outside world. His character arc and his struggle was complete.

Or was it?

In 1977, a time-travelling Juliet Burke detonated a hydrogen bomb, which may or may not have caused a reset. In the timeline caused by the reset, Charlie was found in the plane’s bathroom, nearly dead, a baggie of heroin shoved down his throat. Why did he attempt this suicide? Good question. Was it the Island, though submerged, trying to end the path that addiction would have taken him on in the outside world?

It’s unknown if we’ll see Charlie again, but if we do, it should be interesting to watch his addiction storyline play out without the influence of the Island. That’s when we’ll see how strong of a character he was.

Finally: A teacher’s pet >>

#1 – Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad

One of television’s best shows is AMC’s Breaking Bad, which is almost entirely focused on the drug trade. Namely, it’s set on the drug dealer Walter White, who decides to create an inheritance for his family by cooking and selling crystal meth, using his extensive chemistry skills to do so. However, he realizes that he can’t do it on his own, so he enlists one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, to help him out. The difference between Walt and Jesse is that Walt has no interest in actually partaking in any of the meth, while Jesse is quite the drug addict. Jesse’s relationship with most of his family has been strained by his use of drugs, though it did give him many new financial opportunities.

What makes Jesse’s addiction interesting is that he is stuck in a circle of destruction. The death of his friend Combo leads him into taking up heroin, which is introduced to him by his landlady, Jane, with whom he also begins a relationship. Then she is killed in an overdose of heroin, and Jesse, believing himself responsible for her death, spirals even further into addiction. He’s a tragic figure, really, but no less compelling. Will he ever recover from his addiction? You’ll have to continue tuning in to Breaking Bad to find out. Do you want him to recover? Of course you do. But it’s a journey, and, like Jesse, we have quite a long way to go.

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