Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review and Recap: The 4400 Season One

Though I very much enjoyed season one of Resurrection, many of the discussions online kept bringing up The 4400 as a referential.  The curiosity finally  got to me and I decided to give it a go myself.  The 4400 is about a group of humans who are abducted and suddenly returned all at once.  We aren't originally told who took them but by the end of this season, we learn that they were taken by humans from the future to avert a catastrophe which would lead to the near extinction of all humankind.  Many of the 4400 who returned were also given special powers.  NTAC (The National Threat Assessment Command), which is a division of Homeland Security, is the unit assigned to keep watch over the 4400, for both the protection of the 4400 themselves and the general population.

Much of the first season deals with the 4400 trying to adjust to the new timeline.  Some are able to continue on as though nothing went wrong and others, like Richard Tyler, an air force pilot who disappeared in 1951
discover that most of their family is gone, along with any trace of the society they once knew.  This is what makes the season compelling to me. Because of the large number of returnees, The 4400 does occasionally engage in a returnee of the week story; however, due to the fact that the 4400 quickly become organized and the same NTAC agents work each case, the story never lost its cohesion and it managed to keep the meta plot moving quite nicely. As much as there is strong sci-fi element to The 4400, it's the human relationships that keep this showing moving.

The 4400 is very much a White centric show despite being located in Seattle and the 4400 consisting of people across the globe.  Unsurprisingly, The 4400 is also overwhelmingly U.S. centric.  I am not surprised by the Whiteness of the show because sci-fi has a long history of excluding people of colour.  Richard Tyler seems to be very central to the show itself but his position as the only man of colour very much tokenizes his character. The 4400 does a great job of depicting the racism he faced as a Black man in the military in 1951; however, in the  present time, race disappears as an issue for Richard.  He is told about Blacks in high level government position and racism is depicted as something which is an archaic idea.  It is further problematic  that when Richard has problems gaining and maintaining employment, he then compares the oppression he faces as a member of the 4400 to Jim Crow.  To be clear, these words were placed in this character's mouth by the writers.  Not only is it a false equivalency, it's absolutely racist.

Richard quickly enters into a romance with Lily Moore, the granddaughter of the woman Richard fell in love with in 1951. Upon her return, Lily discovers that she is pregnant.  It seems that the future humans mixed her DNA with Richard's and that she is carrying a child.   For much of the first season, Richard and Lilly spend their time on the run from NTAC and the 4400 organized by Jordan Collier. It is further hampered by the facat that unlike many of the active abilities the 4400 manifest, Lilly's ability is empathy.  Lilly's character is nothing more than a roving womb in need of protection.  Had it not been for  other strong female characters like Diana Skouris I would have suggested that the 4400 had strong gender issues.

We first meet Diana Skouris in episode one when she is partnered with Tom to help police the 4400.  Diana, at first is cold and aloof but the one thing which cannot be doubted is her competence.  Diana and Tom have an absolutely equal partnership.  Diana becomes the guardian of Maia, an eight year old who was abducted in the thirties. Watching their relationship grow is touching.  It is quite normal for people to change when becoming a parent but Diana loses her coldness and becomes warm, giving and nurturing almost immediately after meeting Maia.  She talks about never thinking that she would get married, let alone have children. She reads like a single by choice woman and it doesn't makes sense that she immediately changed the direction of her life to care for Maia, given that Maia's power is to see the future, not influence minds.  I do like that Maia continues her position with NTAC as an agent and doesn't shy away from making tough decisions but I don't like the idea that motherhood puts women in a separate class, or the very idea that women who choose not to reproduce just need to be exposed to the right child because women have an innate ability and desire to mother.

Like far too many sci-fi shows, The 4400 is completely straight.  Why?  There is no reason we couldn't have a GLBT returnee, or even a member of NTAC. The erasure isn't even addressed  heterosexuality is simply the status quo. The only upside to the erasure is that we weren't subjected to a trope masquerading as inclusion the way that The 4400 did with Richard.

There is no doubt that The 4400 is a compelling show to watch, the problem is that it very much adheres to tropes in order to tell its story.  Diana the strong female character is made soft by taking on motherhood and she is of course estranged from her family.  Lilly is a passive walking womb in need of constant protection. Then we have Richard, the sole person of colour who reads as an insert to avoid charges of racism, who then of course lives in a magical post racial world we all could have done without.

I wonder if in the second season, The 4400 will be able to write its way out of the problems it has created? I see so much potential in this show and find it compelling viewing.