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TV Review: Painkiller Jane – Relief For Friday Nights

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Painkiller Jane may get canceled after one season. That doesn't mean it should.

The pilot episode, which aired Friday, April 13, paced itself well. The great secret of the show and the main character's name – Painkiller Jane – came only toward the end of the episode. If first impressions are correct, Jane Vasco (aka Painkiller Jane) has superhero characteristics, though why has not been revealed yet. The pilot episode crossed four days in the life of DEA agent Jane Vasco as she transfers to an elite unit tracking "genetically altered humans with neurological powers."

It appears it's very much set in the moment, in 2007. Yet the first clue viewers get that there's some otherworldliness is when she traps two suspected drug dealers and a federal agent in a nightclub. The three of them all take on the same appearance. By watching their shadows she's able to tell which ones are fake and she shoots them both dead. They go all "dream hazy" and turn into the actual ugly faces they are. With bullet holes in 'em. Vasco's partner Maureen Bowers handles herself well in another part of the club.

Andre McBride is the federal agent and he's impressed with her ability to figure the situation out quickly and not kill him. After it's all over, McBride and another agent talk about "neurons" and that arouses her curiosity. What raises it more is that her minor league investigation is terminated and her bosses tell her that her entire service record has been red-flagged by the Pentagon. Let's just say her interest is piqued.

McBride and Vasco have a heart-to-heart about why she would be a good member of his team. "You think outside the box and if you hadn't, I wouldn't be alive" he tells her. Jane Vasco was suspended 23 times in school, "Yeah, my bad." Throughout the episode there's a brief allusion to a troubled past and graveyard scenes where, it seems, her parents died.

Vasco turns him down because he won't tell her the nature of the new assignment. She does deny his request, but follows him after planting a bug on his shirt. Once she finds their HQ, McBride says there's no turning back. The next day he threatens to get her fired from her Drug Enforcement Agency job by filing drug possession charges filed against her, unless she joins team Neuro. The entrance to HQ is the P. Copus used bookstore as a front and it leads to an abandoned subway station at Deckard Street.

With that arm-behind-the-back approach and the barest of information, Vasco is sent out on her first mission, to the pharmaceutical company Vonotek, with people she's just met. Like The X-Files and Doom, and others, the way to kill the bad guys here, the Neuros (plural), is by sticking a long spike in the back of their necks.

Those with the neurological aberration have a "unique ability to influence others" and to push past natural instinct survival skills and the natural ability to detect right from wrong. Proximity has to be close, within a couple hundred feet. No one knows why they are like that, but if the Neuro hunters can insert a chip, it neutralizes the aberrant neurology, without killing them.

Vonotek, where as a child Vasco once wanted to work, is thought to be illegally selling bad pharmaceuticals, perhaps using drugs rejected from other companies. A Neuro is thought to be leading the operation.

One of the Neuro hunting team's agents, Shannon Veiry (phonetic), was killed earlier in the investigation. That both she and Vasco are women is counted against them in the eyes of the rest of the team. Randall Hyde is the director of Vonotek and he's suspected of leading the illegal operation.

Vasco and Steve Ford get fake employee IDs to enter the facility and are extremely unsubtle about following Hyde. Hyde disappears somewhere as he rides down the elevator, which leads to the discovery of a hidden floor at the Vonotek building.

Excessive high-tech monitoring allows Hyde to be found via his heat imprint, and it also allows Vasco and the agents to be seen following and acting suspiciously, but viewers don't know by who at this point. Team member Ford suddenly starts beating on Vasco, without reason – and tangled together they both fall out of the building 46 floors up.

Painkiller Jane lands face down on the concrete, and would be in a much messier frame of brain matter than is shown. Viewers clearly know Jane Vasco isn't dead; this is a pilot episode and she can't be. Otherwise, you know, no show. A Neuro has controlled agent Ford, and he is very dead, like the dead agent before him.

There are allusions again to Vasco being a woman, and therefore, weak. "Knew she wouldn't make it," says one of her new team members, Connor King. By the way, this Neuro-hunting team needs a name. How about Strikeforce Vicodin?

As Vasco is being taken away from the scene of the accident in a meatwagon, she opens her eyes. She's then seen in a pained struggle, stumbling back to HQ. Painkiller Jane is alive and pretty soon, well. Apparently she never knew she had this ability to heal herself – like those in the Doom movie with the 24th chromosome. With Agent Ford dead, her DEA partner Maureen Bowers is brought into the picture after she's investigated McBride behind the scenes. Bowers is at a home I think they share, crying over her friend when Vasco walks back in.

They find out, in this particular case at least, that the over-the-ear com-sets shaped like the brain-eating larvae from Stark Trek II: The Wrath of Khan are what allows "Hyde's assistant" to control Maureen and others. That and video cameras all over the building. Bowers is following Hyde closely, like an amateur, and she's seen.

The SF Vicodin squad can communicate to Maureen themselves, and Vasco – a friendly voice – gets through just in time. The cart Bowers is pushing goes through the window and she stays standing on the edge.

Somehow Hyde's assistant – who remains unnamed – knows she's been discovered and walks into a nearby police station. There, she can control a lot of people with guns. She goes ahead and does this without the com-sets. Vasco, figuring out that she can survive anything, gets up and withstands a barrage of bullets penetrating her at all angles that's painful to watch.

Vasco is able to stand up long enough to shoot Hyde's assistant with a microchip-shooting guns. I don't think the assistant is dead. Vasco ends up back in the emergency room of HQ, and she wants answers as to how she became who she is now.

The final scene is Hyde re-entering the hidden floor — 113th — of the Vonotek building, also known by child Jane Vasco as Emerald City. The 11th floor is bright white and sanitized. Hyde walks among rows upon rows of men in white undershirts and underpants, strung up by electrical wires, like sides of beef.

Pilot Episode Notes

They over-explain the clever bits – how the tracking bug got there, how Painkiller Jane in the opening minutes saw the shadows to know who to shoot in. There is narration a la Dark Angel and Magnum PI, but its not overdone. Painkiller Jane it seems is being set up as a strong woman in a man's world, more than able to hold her own. Her vulnerabilities will no doubt be made apparent in future episodes.

I happened to catch it on the Sci-Fi Channel as I was flipping through channels waiting for Real Time With Bill Maher. I clicked on the on-screen show info, saw it was the pilot episode and decided to go for it. It's on every Friday at 10 / 9 central, and repeated Tuesdays and probably other days.

The next episode, "Toy Soldier," involves Neuros being able to raise people from the dead, and an attempted hit on the President of the United States.

Back Story to the Series

The Sci-Fi Channel had a successful movie in 2005, called Painkiller Jane. Its premise was a marine exposed to a biochemical that gives her self-healing powers. Very much in the Super Hero tradition. There was and is a comic book by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada who are also involved in the show. Gil Grant, who helped write four episodes of 24 in 2003 (Day 2), wrote this episode. His writing credits go back 30 years, including Eight is Enough and The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries.

Cast:

  • Jane Vasco – Kristanna Loken
  • Maureen Bowers – Alaina Huffman
  • Andre McBride – Rob Stewart
  • Connor King – Noah Danby
  • Dr. Seth Carpenter – Stephen Lobo
  • Amanda Worth – Melanie Papalia
  • Riley Jensen – Sean Owen Roberts
  • Joe Waterman – Nathaniel Deveaux

Kristanna Loken is a cross between Alicia Silverstone, Rose McGowan, and Melissa Hart in character and looks, with a dash of GI Jane.

Sean Owen Roberts plays the geek with a gun.

Alaina Huffman is Jane's close friend, who doesn't yet know her secret.

Amanda Worth has not been introduced in the series, yet.

Rob Stewart (Rob not Rod) plays Strikeforce Vicodin leader.

The others are members of Strikeforce Vicodin.

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About temple

Always been a writer, always maintained an interest in politics, how people communicate and fantasy worlds within photography and books. Previously wrote for Blogcritics back in 2005 and interested in exploring the issues and topics I'm interested - the changing landscape of entertainment. all from the POV of a creator first, consumer, second.
  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Hmm, Painkiller Jane is being repeated tonight on the USA Network at 9 p.m. (Pacific time). IOW, in 25 minutes …