Getting sober has been anything but a walk in the park for Maddie (Jessica Sula) on Recovery Road, but in the Freeform drama's first two episodes she's mostly had to do battle with only her own demons. That's not too far of a stretch from the typical 17-year old's existential crisis, but Monday's episode gave Maddie an up-close look at what could happen if she doesn't change the course she's taken.
Wes (Sebastian De Souza) and Craig (David Witts) take Maddie on a 12-step visit to try and save Wes' ex Harper (Aubrey Peeples), who claims she's finally ready to get sober too. When the trio arrives at Harper's drug den Maddie realizes that battling addiction isn't just sharing feelings in group therapy or adhering to a chore chart.
"When we first meet Maddie, she definitely seems more in denial. She doesn't think she's an addict," Peeples tells TVGuide.com "When she sees someone like Harper who never got help, or escaped help, that's the kind of wakeup call she needs to get as much help as possible to move on from this or otherwise she'll end up a disaster."
That wakeup call comes in the form of Recovery Road's darkest scene yet when Maddie, overcome by the first sight of Harper, tries to catch her breath in the bathroom. Instead of getting a chance to breathe, Maddie finds a grungy room covered in blood with heroin needles littering the floor.
"[Freeform] really pushed us. They said, 'We don't want to go light with this. Let's give this the gravity it deserves.'" executive producer Karen DiConcetto explains. "There were a lot of times that we thought we were going too far and they said. 'Go further. If we're going to do this, let's do it.' Everyone kind of knew going into the show that we were going to have to tackle some pretty heavy stuff. We don't want to sugar coat it."
The focus of the episode was less about making the content appropriate for a tween audience, but instead making sure it was truly representative of real life. "We just wanted to make sure that it's as authentic as we can be. When you're talking about really serious subjects you want to be really delicate with those things and portraying everything correctly," Peeple says. "It was really refreshing to be on a set where there were no inhibitions and they just wanted to make sure it was accurate."
When the two girls, who simultaneously represent Wes' past and present, come face to face the encounter takes a turn for the ugly. Harper holds up a mirror to Maddie's denial and Maddie isn't prepared for what she sees.
"[Harper] sees Maddie as a threat because Wes finds Maddie attractive and vice versa. Harper sees Wes as some sort of salvation, emotionally at least, or a way to keep using and feel good," Peeples says. "She sees that Maddie, being a girl, and representing the sober living home is a conflict."
Harper inevitably manipulates Maddie into letting her go and disappears with her dealers instead of going to the home with Craig and Wes. As Harper slid further into addiction, Maddie made a big step further in coming to terms with hers. She asked Wes and Craig to take her to an AA meeting so she could begin to grapple with having no memory of losing her virginity. The grit of the episode was necessary to propel Maddie into the next part of her recovery.
According to the producers, the episode, and the show in general, are attempting to remove the shame associated with asking for help. "If there are problems then seeking help is a good thing. It can be a very big, life changing thing in your life," says Bert V. Royal. "Not everyone who gets drunk at a party is an alcoholic. We want people to know that there are times where seeking help is a good solution. We don't want to glorify drug use. We also don't want to glorify the rehab process. That's equally kind of scary."
Recovery Road continues Mondays at 6/9c on Freeform.