[This is a review of the Complications series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
You have to wonder if there really needs to be another medical drama out there right now. There’s no shortage of options with every network taking their own spin on the idea. Luckily, Complications, premiering on USA, stands outside of that genre distinction. Centered on a grieving ER doctor, Complications is more character study than it is a case-of-the week drama, exploring the journey of a man sworn to do no harm, but willingly compromising that oath for what he believes to be “the right thing.”
Dr. John Ellison (Jason O’Mara, Terra Nova) is having a really bad day, on top of a really bad year. Still grappling with the loss of his young daughter the year before, John and his wife Samantha (Beth Riesgraf, Leverage) are figuring out how to get back to a functioning day-to-day life. For John, that means working night shifts at Samaritan Hospital as an ER doctor. The grief he conceals from his wife mixed with the tension of rebuilding his life are a pressure cooker ready to burst. When Dr. John witnesses a drive-by shooting in a gang-riddled neighborhood, he understandably jumps in to save a young boy’s life. As the shooters prepare to run him down, something comes over the good doctor and he fires a discarded weapon to bring the gunmen down, becoming a reluctant hero by his colleagues. However, the boy is a target of a gang war and inside the walls of the hospital, John again finds himself fighting to save the boy’s life from dangerous gang members.
Complications manages to stand apart from USA’s other lighter dramas (creator Matt Nix’s spy drama Burn Notice comes to mind) by taking a darker, more concentrated look at man pushed to the edge. John’s intervention and subsequent reaction set off a chain of events that bring the doctor into a fight that is not his own, but one he’s not willing to give up just yet. Heroism may not be his main motivator, but he carves out a way to save lives using extreme measures. He rationalizes there is no other option than to get involved at his own peril and potentially to the peril of those he convinces to help him, which in the two-hour premiere is angry, sarcastic nurse Gretchen (Jessica Szohr, Gossip Girl) and the evaluating psychiatrist played by Constance Zimmer (House of Cards) in a guest appearance. He assumes the role of protector to the boy, taking guardian angel-style, albeit violent, leaps to keep him safe. The entire plot hinges on John’s belief that things have to go this way. For the 10-episode season to continue to work, that belief will have to have some plausibility to it.
Jason O’Mara is compelling to watch as a man at the end of his rope, holding the fraying strands. He handles Dr. John’s plight with a tightly reined intensity that will be good to see unleashed as the series develops. The first episode barely lays the groundwork for the double life he’ll keep hidden from his wife and son, but it’s hard to tell from just the first episode why he so willingly involves a reckless nurse in his endeavor and not the wife he is fighting to rebuild a marriage with. When thrust into a gang war, it’s obvious he doesn’t belong there but is drawn to saving whatever life he can in exchange for the daughter he already lost. Plus, he seems to really enjoy handling that gun.
Complications’ story is clearly drawn and provides in the first episode a snapshot of how compromised emotional judgment can drive a man to do the unthinkable. The trick will be how to turn that moment of time into a journey audiences will continue to empathetically follow. Once the adrenaline rush of surviving an immediate threat has passed, it is possible the thread that John must stay embroiled in a vigilante battle will weaken over time. What will keep it strong is breaking open the relationships around him to see if John’s drive to do right is supported or even needed by those he’s trying to save.
Complications continues next Thursday with ‘Onset’ at 9pm on USA.