Season Report: The 4400 (season 3)

I’ve gotta say that I cheated slightly:  I watched episodes of the season 2 DVD set periodically over the course of this summer, too, so certain motifs stand out to me now that the new season is over and I’ve just finished my 2nd run (1st on DVD) of the second season.

The one idea that stands out the most about season 3 is the same one that stands out the most about season two:  namely, that the fate of the world in each season is dependent on a single hypodermic needle.  In season 2, the needle was the syringe of Promycin, the artificial (MacGuffin) substance that gives the 4400 their powers, that when administered to Shawn, the 4400’s Christ-like healer and reluctant leader, restores his powers so that he can immediately start healing everyone afflicted by a government-sponsored (and deadly) Promycin inhibitor.  In season 3, the needle is a syringe of a white substance, likely, the same Promycin inhibitor, given Tom Baldwin, NTAC field agent (and defacto diplomat for the goverment to the 4400) by someone from the Future who says she’s part of the faction that sent the 4400 back to stop the MacGuffin worldwide disaster.  Tom is directed to kill the uberpowerful 4400, Isabelle, by injectinge her with this needle, but poetically, Richard, her sympathetic father, chooses to reveal his telekinetic powers to her for the first time by using them to inject the syringe.  It strips her of her powers and NTAC and the 4400 are ostensible returned to their detente, but not before 4400 leader Jordan Collier has stolen and distributed thousands of vials of the power-granting Promycin (itself “milked” from Isabelle by a Halliburton-type agency run by Baldwin’s ex-boss and then stolen by Collier’s Nova Group of terrorist 4400’s).  And again, we’re left with the final image of a hypodermic needle.

All that summary says nothing about the fine acting of, especially, Jacqueline McKenzie as Mulder’s Baldwin’s red-headed partner Dana Scully Diana Skouris, who almost singlehandedly makes an ongoing romance subplot with a chemistry-less science geek work and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Richard, the 4400 Korean War veteran who’s lost his wife (the much-missed Lily) and witnessed his infant daughter turn into a twenty-something-looking sexpot (Megalyn Eichunwoke) overnight.  The show took a tremendous hit from the fans this season who were greatly offended that the warm heart of the show (Lily, played by the sublime Laura Allen) was unceremoniously dismissed from the show (reportedly as a directive from the network) — and the fans reacted to the acting challenged Eichunwoke and her character. Lily’s grown-up but immature daughter, Isabelle, as an unwelcome interloper.  I’m going to stay out of that argument except to say that I miss Lily greatly and would hope that the neutralization of Isabelle’s powers and their origin in a symbiotic relationship with Lily that caused Lily to age rapidly and die could somehow result in the reverse, Lily coming back, either by having her claw her way out of whatever grave she’s in (I forget if Richard cremated her) or (if Richard cremated her), that she grow rapidly out of Isabelle, thus causing the daughter to go the way of the mother.  It’d be a nice symmetry, but again, I can’t hold it against the show for (so far) not bringing one of its best characters, one of its strongest audience-identification characters back.  I hope the suits change their mind, but until then, gotta review the show for what it is rather than what I’d want it to be.

In which case, it’s actually hard for me to fault the much-panned stilted acting of Eichunwoke as the amoral, manipulative and manipulatable sexpot, Isabelle.  As a two-year-old rapidly aged to the physical age of a 20-year old, the character was lacking in social development at all levels, so Eichunwoke’s nearly-affectless delivery seems to me to be either a brilliant choice made by the actress or brilliant exploitation of the actress’s weaknesses by the writers/producers.   Either way, Isabelle works as the season’s primary villain.

My problem with the show can be summed up somewhat by the fact that there are two former Star Trek writers on the production/writing staff, series co-creator Rene Echevarria and writer/producer Ira Steven Behr.  Now, I know that neither of them has the last name of Brannon or Braga, but many times, the series feels like it’s their take on two later Trek series’ Temporal Cold War storyline, from the time paradox of which came first, the chicken or the disaster, to the meddler(s) from the future (Garret Dillahunt, playing the single character type he’s ever been capable of playing, the snidely Matthew and Alice Krige, who briefly impersonates 4400 Maia’s non-abducted sister), this Temporal Cold War aspect runs the risk of turning the entire series into an incomprehensible mess, as such time-travel storylines always do.  We still don’t know which side of the Future People is right — the ones who abducted The 4400 and sent them back en masse with superpowers or the agents who oppose them, who secretly genetically engineered Isabelle into a doomsday weapon in utero before Lily was sent back with the rest of the abductees.  I suppose I shouldn’t expect them to answer the question of which faction of the Future people are Good Guys until the show is good and ready, but if the show waits too much longer, it runs the danger of becoming frustratingly coy, trying the patience of the viewer far too much.  But again, this ambiguity was one of the primary flaws that doomed Voyager and Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War storyline, which was doomed by its own convolution.  I think that the show needs to go through a careful overhaul over its seasonal hiatus to figure out how to avoid Enterprise’s fate.

That said, I loved how all of the seemingly disparate storylines came together in the season finale to end (for good?) the threat of Isabelle and thereby upend the status quo.  Collier’s return has enabled the release of his ostensible (but Isabelle-or TJ-Kim-controlled) killer, Kyle Baldwin (Tom’s son) from prison for his assassination, Tom has his wife and son back and Skouris is about to leave for a year with her precog daughter, Maia, and newfound photographer boyfriend. All seems well with the world, then Tom’s wife, Alanna, is stolen back to the future for reasons unknown.  The storylines are thus wrapped up in a bow that’s easily unwrappable a year from now.

I know that certain fans of the show, gunshy from Lily’s studio-imposed death at the beginning of this season, are afraid that Skouris’s fate at the end of the finale, to go around the world with her daughter and lover, are simply a convenient way to write Skouris out of the show permanently.  That makes about as much sense to me as the fans freaking out that Mark Harmon was going to be leaving NCIS just because the season finale case resulted in his character, Jethro, resigning and ostensibly retiring.  In both cases, the shows aren’t going to get rid of their lead characters permanently.  They know that McKenzie is just as important to The 4400 as Harmon is to NCIS, so it’s clear to me that the show isn’t writing her out any more than NCIS is writing Mark Harmon out — that would just be a patently absurd thing for the show to do.  I think that all that they’re doing is just planting the first thread of Skouris’s new storyline by having her go on this extended vacation.  As we have to take our extended vacation from her until the new season begins.

Season Grade:  B+

2 Responses to “Season Report: The 4400 (season 3)”

  1. Karen Says:

    Good summary of the season, Rob.

    I read that Lily was gone because Laura Allen wanted more money, and they really would have prefered her to stay. Either way, I didn’t miss Lily that much. She was too Virgin Mary for my taste, as if her only purpose was to create the important child. I enjoyed her in the courtship and early marriage days with Richard, but not as a mother. Richard, always a rather weak character, had little to do without Lily around other than worry about Isabelle.

    The whole time travel device with good and evil ones from the future when we don’t know which are which, got me rather confused and sometimes irritated, but I overall found it interesting as the more pieces of the puzzle were revealed, and there are still many mysteries left.

    I missed Kyle more than Lily, was happy to see him back at the end of the season, and hope he will be a regular next season.

    I hated the character of Isabelle, and the whole presence of Mehgan Eichenwoke, but perhaps you are right that this is a believeable way for someone who went from toddler to adult instantaneously to be. Because they left her alive without her powers, perhaps we will get a chance to see some character development next season.

    They surely won’t write out Diana unless MacKenzie is unavailable. I find that I care about Tom and Diana and Shawn and Kyle and Jordan Collier, and the rest are filler to me. MacKenzie consistently does the best acting on the show.

    Overall, a good season, slightly better than last season, I think.

  2. Richard Says:

    Excellent summary, Rob. Thanks!

    I’ve been looking for one on the web for a while until I finally ran into yours. The season hasn’t aired yet here in Norway (unless I just missed it) and since I just watched season 2 on dvd I was wondering what happened.

    Sad to hear that Lily is gone but frankly I won’t miss her much. I didn’t much like her character anyways and now maybe Richard will do more. (He’s more interesting anyway imo.)

    I think all can rest at ease now regarding MacKenzie’s character, Diana. She is confirmed to return (of course) as well as Kyle, Tom, and all who Karen list as her faves.

    Here’s a quote from the press release regarding season four:

    Bill Campbell [who plays Jordan Collier] joins other returning cast members including: Joel Gretsch (“Taken”) as Tom Baldwin, Jacqueline McKenzie (“Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”) as Diana Skouris, Patrick Flueger (“The Princess Diaries”) as Shawn Farrell, Conchita Campbell (“Scary Movie 4”) as Maia Rutledge, Megalyn Echikunwoke (“That ’70s Show”) as Isabelle and Chad Faust (“Saved”) as Kyle Baldwin.


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