Judge Victor Valdivia is a proud member of the 440. That's the total number of Americans who have never cared one whit about American Idol.
Our reviews of The 4400: The Complete Third Season (published May 16th, 2007), The 4400: The Complete First Season (published May 25th, 2005), and The 4400: The Complete Second Season (published May 23rd, 2006) are also available.
Tom: I can't help but wonder, when we walk back into the city, who's going to
be in charge? My side or yours?
Sadly, because The 4400 was recently canceled, viewers will not get to really see the full implications of Jordan's statement. But with The 4400: The Fourth Season, they will at least get to watch how Jordan, Tom, and the rest of the show's characters got to that point, and fans will find it an engaging journey.
Facts of the Case
By the fourth season, the 4400 are at war with themselves and with the outside world. Jordan Collier (Billy Baldwin, Once and Again) plans to distribute promicin, the substance that gives the 4400 their special powers. His plan has split him from the 4400 center he founded and that is now led by his former surrogate son, Shawn (Patrick Flueger, The World's Fastest Indian). Isabelle (Megalyn Echikunwoke, That '70s Show) is imprisoned and sedated, her powers rendered useless. Diana (Jacqueline McKenzie, Romper Stomper) has left Seattle with Maia (Conchita Campbell, Scary Movie 4), contemplating a job in Europe. Tom (Joel Gretsch, Taken) has not recovered from the loss of his wife or from his son Kyle (Chad Faust, Descent)'s growing distance from him after Kyle took the promicin shot.
Here are the 13 episodes collected on four discs:
Though The 4400 has earned a devoted cult following and has been nominated for some awards, it has never had the white-hot cachet enjoyed by other sci-fi shows like The X-Files or Heroes. Part of that is because the show hasn't always been so consistent, particularly in its writing. For every moment that makes a trenchant insight into government, politics, or human nature, there's sometimes another one that comes off as hackneyed and derivative. It's a shame that the show isn't more reliable, because at its best, The 4400 is as creative and original as any of its more lauded competition.
One of its strengths is that The 4400 is fearless in approaching topics that could be considered controversial. In Season Two, for instance, the creation of the 4400 Center was both a necessary storyline and a sly satire of the Church of Scientology, complete with gullible celebrities and e-meters. This season, the series addresses government repression with the rise of Jordan Collier's Movement. There's no shortage of parallels to both the War on Drugs and War on Terror, and one character even explicitly quotes Benjamin Franklin's famous admonition that those who trade freedom for security deserve neither. The show is also unafraid to be daring in how it depicts the various reactions to the 4400 and the new breed of "p-positives" (people who have taken promicin in order to emulate them). Politicians are shown to couch unabashedly bigoted statements in the kind of bland language that sounds harmless and rational. Similarly, the tensions between the different factions of the 4400, from Jordan's radical Movement to Shawn's more moderate attempts at assimilation, are explored thoughtfully, and no easy answers are given.
In fact, the show also shines in the complexity of its characterizations. While there are some characters that are defined as unabashedly dangerous, most of them are hard to pin down in simple good/bad terms. Is Jordan evil? He has some genuinely good ideas. He turns Promise City from a polluted dump into a beautiful garden, he invites all who want to visit, and when given the chance to wreak vengeance decides instead to disarm his opponents and simply let them go. But he is an uncompromising absolutist and like all zealots is capable of statements and actions that show a staggering inhumanity. At the other end of the spectrum, while Tom and Diana are the characters who the audience is most invested in, even they wonder frequently if they are not simply serving a failed strategy. In several episodes this season, they wonder aloud if the time has come to reconsider their convictions, and even whether or not the promicin shot is as dangerous as they believe it is.
This season also introduces some whole new story arcs, such as Promise City and the Marked. Described as a cabal of ten refugees from the future who oppose the 4400 and who are placed in high-ranking strategic positions to influence politics, economics and culture, the Marked can supposedly be identified by a tiny mark behind their ears. This is the season's best arc, a story that not only ties in to previous seasons by explaining some elements (such as the true nature and purpose for Isabelle's character), but also allows for some of the most tense and gripping moments this season. It also gives Gretsch the chance to do some of his best acting, and his story pays off satisfyingly at the end. The arc involving Jordan and Promise City is, by contrast, somewhat unsteady at the beginning but gradually grows in intensity as the season progresses until it reaches its peak at the end.
Of course, fans know that the series was cancelled not long after the season finale aired. On the commentary for the episode, the series' creator Scott Peters admits that the show's staff suspected that the season finale might also serve as the series finale, so it was written to maximize its impact. Previous seasons of this show have suffered from finales that were sometimes underwhelming or unsatisfying, but this one definitely ends with a bang. Several key characters (including some who have been around since the first season) are killed off, but others finally get the rewards they've been seeking and the finale ties in all the season's storylines in a clever resolution. The closing moments don't actually conclude the series definitively (by now, the story has become far too complex for that), but instead make clear that the part of the story that remains to tell may be far too epic and complicated to fit into a simple 13-part TV series. Still, a new season would have been welcome, because apart from a few clinkers, this season is one of the most consistent and entertaining.
The episodes are presented in flawless widescreen transfers. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is impressive, not just during action scenes but also during moments when ambient noises in the background (like computer keyboards and raindrops) help set the mood.
The set has a solid collection of extras. The director's cut of "The Great Leap Forward" (45:53) is included, and although the differences are not major, it's still definitely worth watching. The new additions, mostly new lines and shots interspersed throughout the show, fill in some gaps and add more detail and depth. The ending, in particular, develops more resonance because of the new additions. There are also many deleted scenes for several other episodes, spread out over the four discs. None are essential, but are at least interesting. Two episodes have audio commentaries: "Till We Have Built Jerusalem" and the director's cut of "Great Leap Forward." Despite what the liner notes promise, none of the cast members appear on the commentaries. Instead, show creator and executive producer Scott Peters handles these alone, and he gives many interesting thoughts and insights on these two crucial episodes. "Season IV: Factions at War" (27:04) is an in-depth look at the making of the fourth season. It's more informative than the usual EPK fluff, explaining the process of making an episode and identifying the inspirations for the major themes and stories for this season. "Jordan Collier: The Grey Man" (7:48) is a brief featurette that explores the character of Jordan, and even the cast members disagree if he should be considered a hero or villain, with Billy Campbell himself asserting that he frankly has given up trying to figure out if Jordan is evil or not. Finally, the set is rounded out with the "Season IV: Blooper Reel" (3:31), which is good for a few laughs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Ironically enough, considering that The 4400 is a science fiction show, sci-fi is one of the weakest points of the series. The effects are always convincing, but too often they serve as a magic wand to solve some contrived crisis. In "Fear Itself," the plot is resolved using Shawn's healing powers in a scene that's so abrupt and farfetched that it appears to have been pulled from a bad Hallmark Channel movie. Actually, one of the show's weaknesses has always been the "freak of the week" storylines. The episodes in which a new 4400 is introduced and then dealt with are always too rushed and fake to really work well (and always come off as pale X-Files rewrites). The show works much better when it shows the different characters dealing with each other and the continuing stories and complications that have emerged as a result of the 4400.
Also, this season, some characters get short shrift. In previous seasons, Maia was a far more rounded character. Her scenes showed the struggle of a little girl trying to grow up as both a 4400 with precognitive abilities and a person who is still struggling to come to terms with a time and place unfamiliar to her. This season, unfortunately, her character has been shunted aside. Now her scenes primarily consist of her delivering a prophecy to Diana, and then getting out of the way. Until the last few episodes, she barely, if ever, discusses her emotions or is defined as anything other than an oracle machine. It's a notable flaw because in previous seasons, her interactions with Diana and other characters have led to interesting storylines.
Most fans consider The 4400's second season to be the best up to now. The third season suffered from some convoluted storylines and neglected several crucial characters. Though this season isn't quite as consistent as the second, it definitely improves on the third, with some unusual character developments and well-crafted storylines. It's a shame the show won't be around for a fifth season, because judging by the last few episodes of this one, the show had definitely hit its stride.
The 4400: The Fourth Season is acquitted and released to be rediscovered by fans who may have been disappointed by the third season. USA, on the other hand, is found guilty of canceling a show that was finally living up to its promise.
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