“Pain’s a Bitch”

Based on the comic book created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada few people had heard of, Painkiller Jane is now a SciFi channel original series. Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) plays Jane Vasco, a DEA agent who discovers that she has an amazing ability to heal rapidly from any injury. She is then recruited by a secret government agency to help hunt Neuros, people who can do things with their minds.

“Perhaps we’re not meant to have all the answers to our questions.” –Jane

Here’s the thing, after watching a few episodes of the television series, I am ready to dig through my attic and re-read the original Painkiller Jane comics, because I don’t remember them being this uninteresting. Loken gives it a heroic effort, but the show surrounds her with a cast of cut out characters. Worse, the show is mired in clichéd and stiff dialogue, the just-this-side-of-hammy acting, an uninspired mission and an unclear mythology.

There is an over-the-top aspect to the show which is hinted at but not exploited. The show should go with its impulse to let loose and be campy fun, but it shows a restraint which only exposes all of its flaws all the more. There is little real drive–to use the technical language, no oomph–to the series. There is a rawness, a vulnerability to a woman who suffers intense pain that is ignored (or the writers have yet to figure out how to deal with).

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” –Colossians 1:24

Painkiller Jane heals but she still feels pain. That was one of the fascinating aspects to her character. Despite being a “super hero,” she felt pain, she had to deal with the very real reality of pain. We see Batman slug it out with bad guys all the time, stabbed, shot, or otherwise taking a pounding. Spider-Man, even in the latest movie, regularly gets dropped or rammed into buildings. They might give a nod to the fact that they got hurt, but they keep going as if they have just stubbed their toe. What set Painkiller Jane apart was her constant hurting, which we don’t get to see on the show.

Suffering can be meaningful, if you let it. Granted, you can’t tell someone experiencing pain that it’s worthwhile. Pain is real, especially and particularly to the person experiencing it. Pain is individual, experienced alone. Pain is theirs to deal with.

However, suffering can also be a continual prayer, the flipside to thanksgiving. The idea that suffering can be redemptive seems contrary to how we experience and live life, but you can let it teach you, to make you more humble. As we go through pain and are transformed by it, so we can be there for others. Just as pain can be used for good if you allow it to be used for good, it can also make you bitter.

“I’m not convinced we’re brought up to deal with our problems. Mostly we just distract ourselves when something tough comes up.” –Jane

Drugs, sex, games, work. As Jane says, “Avoid [your problems] long enough, and you never lead a real life.” Suffering is a part of life, one which causes us to question “why?” in the face of it, one we are quick to want to dismiss as random, meaningless, and unfair. However, there are a couple points to consider: If suffering is meaningless, is joy and pleasure? Are you truly serving if it’s not some sort of sacrifice?

We see voiceovers done successfully quite a bit in television (Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, My Name is Earl), providing if not a moral then a unifying theme to the show. The voiceover helps sink Painkiller Jane: it promises a layer of depth but only further points out it’s strained writing and the fact that the show has nothing to say. The SciFi channel has no one to blame but itself for any disappointment with Painkiller Jane. It raised the bar with Battlestar Galactica and Stargate, so we now know to expect better from them. Painkiller Jane reminds me of the Witchblade adaptation on TNT, except with not enough Jane being Jane. But you keep watching because you see the potential in the series and each week you keep coming back hoping to see it find itself. I guess the show wants its fans to feel pain, too.

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