The 4400: summer Sunday sci-fi

[Please note! This article, originally published on a web magazine in summer 2005, was written in the middle of The 4400's second season and contains spoilers.]

"Abducted. Returned. Changed."

USA has become the network cure for the summer television doldrums. The Dead Zone now has a companion lead-in show, The 4400. New episodes of both shows are airing right now at 9:00 and 10:00 Sunday night on USA.

The Premise

Okay, now pay attention because this can get confusing. In the far future, the earth has become a wasteland, and humanity is on the point of extinction. The future humans came up with a plan for saving humanity: they abducted 4,400 humans from various time periods between 1946 and 2004, took them to the future, did something to them, and returned them all at once. None of the returnees remember what happened to them, but they're all different than they were. Each of them now appears to have a special talent -- precognition, healing, and so on. And these special talents are intended to change the world and save humanity.

The emphasis is on human drama. The 4400s, as they are called, are experiencing serious alienation. From their point of view, they were returned immediately after they were abducted, and now everything for them has changed: families are dead, spouses have remarried, children have grown up. They are unwanted and reviled, and treated like freaks. It's a fascinating idea, with lots of plot potential.

Cast of Characters

Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie) are special agents responsible for investigating the inevitable problems that arise when you have over four thousand people with strange powers running around unleashed. Tom and Diana both have a personal connection to the 4400s: Tom's son Kyle went into a three-year coma when Tom's nephew Shawn was abducted, and Diana has adopted the "oldest" returnee, a little girl named Maia (Conchita Campbell) who was abducted in 1946. Tom and Diana work for Nina Jarvis (Samantha Ferris) at NTAC, which appears to be a version of Homeland Security specifically created for 4400 returnees.

Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), a millionaire abducted in 2002, has written a bestseller about the abductees and has started a 4400 "center." Jordan's motivations are still unclear; he does questionable things, like exploiting young abductee Shawn (Patrick Flueger) who has the power of healing, but he also claims that he's trying to help the other 4400s save the world by promoting their special talents.

The most interesting returnees, in my opinion, are the Mary and Joseph of the 4400, Richard and Lily Tyler (Mahershalhashbaz Ali and Laura Allen). Richard, abducted in 1951, was a soldier in the Korean War, a black man in love with a white woman in a time when such relationships were fraught with difficulty and prejudice. Lily, abducted in 1993, is the granddaughter of the woman Richard loved in the past. They met after they returned and fell in love, and then discovered that Lily was already pregnant with a child conceived in the future. Remember, none of the abductees know what happened in the future. So what is Isabelle? She is an infant who appears to be Richard's and Lily's child, but she is also the most powerful 4400 of them all. (Does that make it 4401?)

I'm also fascinated by what is happening to Tom's son Kyle (Chad Faust). Shawn and Kyle were together when Shawn was abducted in 2001. Kyle was found unconscious and remained in a coma for three years, until Shawn's healing power brought him out of it. At that point (this was last season, in the mini-series), Kyle appeared to be possessed, very much not himself. Tom later discovered that Kyle was supposed to be their conduit to the people of the future. Kyle is now "himself" again, but he is blacking out. Is he going to be possessed again by Future Guy? If so, what will happen to Kyle?

Summing Up

I like The 4400. There's never enough good sci-fi on the tube for me. But I don't think it's a cutting edge show... yet. We sort of know what all powerful baby Isabelle is going to do before she does it, and I've been disappointed with several episodes that have ended predictably, like a recent episode that basically just ripped off the Stephen King novel, Thinner.

With a unique premise like this one that has so many dramatic and sci-fi possibilities, they really need to take some risks, explore less beaten paths, and shake up the audience. I hope they do, because most of the time, I really like this show. Sometimes, though, I like it more for its potential than for what it really is. Let's hope The 4400 achieves its potential.
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

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