Jessica Szohr’s “Complications” character is a tough queer woman with heart


Gretchen Polk is a tattooed chain smoker who enjoys sarcasm and values her job as a nurse but reckless enough that she could lose it on any given day. Sound like a great TV character? She is. Jessica Szohr plays a lead alongside co-star Jason O’Mara in the new medical drama Complications, premiering tonight on USA. She also happens to be a lesbian.


But you won’t know that from the first few episodes, and that’s kind of the point. When we meet Gretchen, it’s not her personal life we’re introduced to, but her relationship with her co-worker, Doctor John Ellison (Jason O’Mara). In the pilot, we see they are friendly enough at the hospital, but the events of that day change things so that they are intertwined in a difficult situation that is life or death for everyone involved.

John’s had a rough year with the passing of his young daughter, so when he is driving by a park when shots start ringing out, he’s already feeling a big high-strung. He finds a bleeding 11-year-old on the ground and helps to keep him stable until an ambulance arrives. But back at the ER, a group of gang members are waiting to finish the job, and John needs Gretchen to help get the kid out of the hospital alive. Through a series of very illegal methods (forging paperwork, violent threats, etc.) that would most certainly get them fired, they work together to get it done, and thus begins their partnership in good-intentioned crime.


What’s refreshing about Complications is that their leading male/female duo is without the sexual tension and romantic promise we’ve come to expect from network television shows. And while John is a doctor, Nurse Polk is just as skilled and intelligent as her boss, with helpful ideas that get them out of, well, complicated situations.


It’s not until episode 102 that we get a glimpse of Gretchen’s home life. She’s standing in the kitchen with a beer and she’s embraced by another young woman—her girlfriend, Liz. (At a recent press dinner, Jessica told me she didn’t even find out her character was a lesbian until she read the script for that episode.) Gretchen’s being gay is not made a topic of discussion because it doesn’t need to be, just like John’s being straight and married doesn’t need to be. It’s a nice move for USA, who hasn’t had the best track record for queer female characters in the past. (Their only lesbian character in the recent past was White Collar‘s Diana Berrigan, who was recurring.)

Gretchen may come off cold, but her heart shows through in scenes with patients, like the woman and her abusive boyfriend who has come in for the 11th time in the past few months after another “accident.” We find out later in the season that she needs her job for a reason other than for herself, too, which allows us more access into who she is outside of her high-stress work environment. The fact that she’s even helping John out of his predicament in the first place shows that Gretchen is a hard shell but has a soft spot somewhere inside. Tough but thoughtful, she’s a character we can root for, even when we question her techniques.


Watch Complications Thursday nights on USA and check back Fridays for our recaps from Jenna Lykes.

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