TV on DVD: The 4400 -- The Complete Series (Review Part 2; Seasons 3 & 4)

Own the Series


An Introduction

Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment and CBS DVD were kind enough to send me the gorgeously packaged, 15-disc epic box set of The 4400: The Complete Series. As I'm new to the show, I'll be bringing you coverage in installments as I view so following up my first review (which provided in depth background about the show), here is the second and final installment of my review, covering Seasons 3 and 4 of USA Network's 4 season, 45 episode science fiction drama, The 4400 which aired from July 11, 2004 to September 16, 2007.

Season 3

Following the surprise assassination of Billy Campbell's enigmatic Jordan Collier at the end of season two, Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger) moves from number two to number one, taking control of The 4400 Center in an unsurprising move that puts his character on equal footing with our other two leads, Agents Skouris and Baldwin (played by Jacqueline McKenzie and Joel Gretsch, respectively). And despite some rocky missteps in the previous season, structurally season three packs a wallop from the start as the terrifying child of Richard and Lily, the baby with murderous capabilities suddenly becomes a beautiful twenty year old in the blink of an eye.

With the rapid aging of Isabelle (Megalyn Echikunwoke), the show again moves into familiar science fiction territory that seems lifted from Joss Whedon's Angel and the X-Men series that seemed to influence the show's origin as well, yet along with questions about her strange evolution from infant to woman, we realize that her mother Lily will be sacrificed in the process. As Richard copes with the loss of his formerly young and then rapidly aged wife, he entrusts Shawn to look after his daughter, which leads to a predictable romance between the two as the all-powerful Isabelle grows increasingly dangerous when Shawn begins to realize that Isabelle cannot be stopped and it's quite possible she could lead to the demise of everything that the 4400s have worked for.

Despite a few great stand-alone episodes including the inventive "Being Tom Baldwin" which finds Tom committing cold blooded murder until we learn there's much more to the story as well as an interesting Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like creative diversion served up in "Blink" which finds our agents hallucinating about "ghosts" from their past, the season as a whole is fairly uneven, trying to be all things to all people and weaving in too many threads that don't ultimately add up.

One major change is the third season coincided with NBC's smash success of its now disastrous, fledgling series Heroes, which used an extremely similar X-Files meets X-Men meets Buffy blended together plot of people with extraordinary abilities, prophecies, conspiracies and more. However, while the epic level of storytelling made the first season of Heroes one of the most wholly satisfying fictitious offerings that particular year, The 4400 seemed to struggle and no favors were granted by its overtly religious sudden "resurrection" of Jordan Collier who arrives as the spitting image of Jesus, deciding to hand out shots of the human enhancement supplement "promicin" which the 4400s all possess.

Although he warns those about to inject themselves with the mysterious green liquid in the hopes of gaining a special super-human ability that they have a fifty/fifty chance at living or dying, Kyle, now cleared for the crime of murdering Collier becomes the new "Shawn," as Jordan's leading sycophant, hoping to create a new paradise on Earth of 4400s. Despite a killer concluding episode which ends with a shocking Maya revelation and Agent Skouris deciding to leave Seattle once and for all with her daughter and husband, the show seems to be bogged down by too much preaching and I couldn't help but squirm every time Campbell's Jordan Collier arrived onscreen.

Season 4

Leading into the fourth and final season of The 4400 which was canceled due to budgetary constraints and low ratings despite an overwhelming campaign by fans to keep it on the air, we catch up with the characters now living in a dangerous society where an alarming number of street users are injecting themselves with promicin at an escalating rate. While half of the users have ended up dead, the other half who've come by the shots illegally aren't exactly willing to come forward and register their new abilities leading to a whole new set of challenges for Baldwin and NTAC, which is headed up by a new director who is obsessed with Fellini's La Dolce Vita.

When Diana learns that her sister April (Natasha Gregson Wagner) has taken the shot, she returns from retirement to help out as the series marches its way to a full-blown war between the "p-positives" and those who haven't risked the fifty/fifty injection. When Kyle who has replaced Shawn as Jordan's sidekick, begins believing that Jordan is the second coming of God and will be creating Heaven on Earth, Shawn further distances himself from Collier's radical followers by running for political office.

While the fourth season is a vast improvement on the third as we have a little less talk and a little more action, despite a few too many canned speeches for my liking as characters launch into monologues about morality, Darwinism, and the evolution of man with little prompting, when it sticks to genuinely moving the story forward as opposed to stalling for time (as in an episode where Tess forces everyone to dance at a marathon sweet sixteen party), it is quite riveting.

With an unpredictable arc midway through that gives us a whole new look at Tom Baldwin as well as a terrific plot twist involving a group called "The Marked," the show builds towards great suspense but overall, the self-righteous nature of the show and Collier's and Kyle's new haven called Promise City seem to beat us over the head with a message. While admittedly it serves up an epic and intricately laced storyline that ends on a mini-cliffhanger set to The Pixies rockin' tune "Where is My Mind?" in its final episode "The Great Leap Forward," ultimately the show lacked the humor and joy of some of its contemporary science fiction works with far too much doom and gloom that it's no wonder USA began to grow equally uncertain of the program as more audiences began switching over to watch a Japanese hero named Hiro help to "save the cheerleader" on NBC's hit and watch a computer geek become a spy on the same network's smash series Chuck, before the WGA strike sealed the show's fate.

While The 4400 Complete Series DVDs are loaded with extra features, including the ones that were included in each individual season set which was released prior to the most recent one, avid fans will want to check out an entire new bonus disc of extra features to relish in the mythology of the show and wonder what might have been had The 4400 been granted-- if not one entire extra season-- than at least the opportunity for a two-hour special to try and wrap up some loose ends. Still, it's a great celebratory package made with the fans in mind and featuring a great transfer of the series to DVD (especially in the last two seasons as the quality is first-rate and subtitles were included directly on the DVDs instead of via closed-captioning equipped televisions). Moreover, it's sure to warrant a second look to try and spot clues earlier on in the series and appreciate above all, the extraordinary talents of the special effects team as well as its charismatic leads-- McKenzie, Gretsch, and Flueger.