Friday, February 29, 2008

The 4400 - Season 3 (2006)

(Image from Slice of Sci-Fi)

The 4400 - Season 3 (2006)

I reviewed the second season of 'The 4400' back in June last year, and all I can say about the third season is that nothing much has changed since then. Here's what I concluded last time:

While it doesn't hold up against the best sci-fi dramas on TV (Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and (so far) Heroes*), it fills a niche for more sedate and safe sci-fi; it is entertaining even if it isn't always that thought provoking. I'm anticipating watching the third season, which promises increased friction between the 4400, the government, and the general population, which could result in some of that edginess the subject matter is ripe for.

Production values, storytelling style, acting - none of that has changed this season, so basically what I said in my review of the last season still applies. Worth noting perhaps is that the '4400 of the week' aspect that I wrote about where single episodes focused solely on a particular 4400 is still there but is handled much better, with those stories being integrated into the big picture in a more satisfying and substantial way. As for the season's overall storyline, it develops in the way I had hoped it would. The 4400s and the government are clearly at war, with a terrorist group formed by 4400s carrying out assassinations and making threats to a fearful populace. People are divided about what to do, and the government prepares itself for a conflict by running secret projects to help combat the 4400 'threat'. The 4400 are also divided, with many being afraid of the government after inhumane and illegal treatment; some feel pushed enough to side with the terrorists.

It's great stuff that is clearly an allegory for contemporary terrorism, the prevailing culture of fear, abuse of governmental power, and curtailment of civil rights, but as before the show doesn't take it far enough. This should be heavy subject matter, but after watching shows like 'Battlestar Galactica' and 'Lost' where the situations are pushed to extremes and characters are forced to make hard choices, 'The 4400' doesn't compare favourably. It always seems to have a convenient out that prevents it from ever really challenging its audience; whenever things start to look interesting, the writers always retreat back to safer territory.

An unexpected and irritating element this season is the spontaneous growing up of the Isabelle (Megalyn Echikunwoke) character and the death of her mother (apparently because the actress who played Lilly Tyler (Laura Allen) quit). One problem is how trite this 'fish out of water character trying to understand humanity' storyline is. Another is how tame her story arc ends up being - seriously, a large part of it involves forcing one of the other characters to marry her! The fact that Megalyn Echikunwoke just isn't that good at portraying what is meant to be an awe inspiring, powerful being, doesn't help the show too much either. The majority of the cast are fairly decent in their roles but no one really shines, with the exception being Billy Campbell as the enigmatic Jordan Collier, whose return is dramatic and really adds some much needed oomph to the show in the season's last few episodes.

The third season of the '4400' ends, once again, at a very interesting place. The stories being told are great, but the storytelling lacks the kind of bite that the subject matter really needs. It's sci-fi comfort food that dips its toes in the deep end of the edginess pool but never takes the plunge. And yet I still find the show strangely compelling even though I don't feel that deeply invested in it or its characters. The show only lasted one more season before being cancelled and I think the storylines are left unresolved, but I'll be sure to check it out just to see what happens next. And because it is fairly entertaining.

*and how that show disappointed by taking an interesting concept and ruining it with illogical nonsense and terrible revelations that culminated in a horrendously bad last few episodes.

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