Thursday, June 19, 2014

Recap and Review: The 4400 Season Four

The battle lines are clearly drawn.  There are a group of positives living in Promise City following the leadership of Jordan Collier, another group living in the 4400 center following the lead of Shawn Farrell, who is determined to take a moderate approach, the NTAC agents,and now we have the marked, people from the future who are determined to ensure that the 4400 fail in their mission. Season four is the last season of The 4400 and unfortunately, it ends on a cliffhanger. It left us with questions like does Tom take the shot and gain a power? Will Shawn and Collier reconcile and work together? Has the city of Seattle completely separated itself from the US and will the boundaries spread? Has the future truly been altered?  How will the marked in positions of power react and will they be able to counter Collier's movement?  It's terribly sad that this series ended on a cliffhanger.  I have however learned that there have since been books published to give the fans some closure.

Despite it's problems, I really enjoyed The 4400 and was sad when I had reached the end.  The acting, especially in this last season was truly amazing and despite all of the sci-fi elements, The 4400 remained primarily about relationships.  For me, that is the mark of something engaging.

The 4400 continued to have a problem with gender.  The largest problem by far was Isabelle Scary baby. Isabelle Scary Baby had her powers removed by her father Richard because of the threat she posed.  While this makes sense for stories reasons, it also amounts to disempowering a female character. The 4400 then doubled down on this by having Richard force Isabelle Scary Baby to return to the 3 year old child she chronically was.  This amounts to literally infantalizaation. Sure, authors can create a justification for these actions but that does not mean that there aren't serious gender implications that are concerning. And in a final act of the destruction, Isabelle Scary Baby, she sacrificed herself to save Tom and Collier.  On one hand, this amounted to the first independent decision Isabelle Scary Baby had made in four seasons but it also meant the surviving regular cast member who was a woman of colour, sacrificed herself to save a two White men.  The gender and racial dynamics at play with this are awful.  In the end, despite her power, these two men were worth more than Isabelle Scary Baby's life. Isabelle Scary Baby wasn't the chosen one because that role was reserved for White men and in the end, she was nothing more than the bringer of destruction.

This season, Tom got a new boss.  Meghan Doyle at first appears to be an active boss, keeping Tom under a tight reign not because she is his babysitter like Nina but because she is his boss. Unfortunately, Meghan Doyle becomes Tom's lover and no longer acts as his superior, though she is technically still his boss. This is yet another element of disempowering women that The 4400 seems to adore. This is further complicated by the disappearance of Alana.  The 4400 spent a lot of time convincing the audience that the relationship between Tom and Alana was solid because in the fantasy world Alana created, Tom and Alana lived as a married couple for eight years.  This should mean that her sudden disappearance would cause Tom to expend a great deal of time and energy looking for her. Unfortunately, this is not the case and Alana is quickly replaced by Meghan, thus making Alana disposable once again. When Tom and Meghan first sleep together she makes it clear that it is a one time occurrence but quickly ends back in his bed. It reads as though women aren't capable of one night stands or at least that "good girls" don't engage in that kind of behaviour.

Even one off episodes like Audrey Parker's Come and Gone (S4, Ep.3) presented a problem where gender is concerned. After taking a shot promicin, Audrey developed the ability of astral project from her body. Audrey placed a diary online detailing her experiences with her powers but it seemed so full of regret.  She wrote about living a life of no compromise, yet it was filled with regret for not marrying and having babies and this leds to Audrey's lament of being alone.  When we match this incident to the fact that Diana went from being a fiercely independent single by choice woman, to someone who leaped to adopt a child and that explained her singleness by consistently choosing the wrong man, it suggests that the single woman is destined for misery and isolation.  Women on The 4400, must be coupled and at the very least striving to achieve motherhood to be happy.

April, who has been Diana's flighty sister and someone who is fiercely independent, ends up taking promicin in a state of grief. This gave her the ability to force people around her to tell the truth. April used this ability for blackmail, finally attaining the financial security to grant her the independence she has always desired.  This of course could not be allowed and when April's boyfriend is killed, April is forced to resign her independence to work as a human lie detector for the government. Once again, we have the independent woman brought starkly under control.

Then there is Cassie, who it turns out is a manifestation of Kyle's power as a prophet.  Only Kyle can see her and she exists only  to guide him in his interactions with his fellow 4400 and the positives. Cassie is literally a servant to Kyle and has no identity beyond his power.

I could go on and on about the gender issues in The 4400 which were explained away by story reasons but there are other issues with marginalized people which need exploring.  Richard plays a tiny role this season.  He only appears long enough to change Isabelle Scary Baby into a child before being locked up by NTAC. Richard has been the only reoccurring male of colour in The 4400 and yet he was quickly disposed of, leaving the real power in the hands of White men. Isabelle Scary Baby, as aforementioned is disempowered and promptly sacrifices herself for Collier and Tom. Rebecca Parrish, was the director of National Intelligence and a member of the Marked. In her position she attempted to bring an end to Collier and his movement because of a concern that promicin was being made widely available. Parrish was of course and antagonist to our heroes (read: Tom and Collier) and in the end, paid the price with her life.  Parrish represented the only woman to have real power i.e in that she was not controlled like Isabelle Scary Baby, for instance, and she was killed.

The 4400 continued to be very disablist because disabled was solely situated as something that needed to be cured for an individual to function. In Fear Itself, (S4, Ep. 2) a promicin positive person is causing others to experience their worst fear.  It turns out that Brandon Powell is autistic and developed this shot after his father Ryan injected him with promicin hoping to cure him.  In the end, Brandon is given a shot of promicin inhibitor to block his ability and his autism is cured by Shawn. Brandon is given no choice and his disability is only explored in how it effects his parents (caregivers).  Then we have Tess Doerner, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was useful only as long as she was willing to act as a weapon for Collier.  In the end, Tess of course has to be cured by Shawn. Tess repeatedly rejects being cured but Tom and Kevin, who is himself a healed disabled person, push until she capitulates. This of course was necessary for story reason as Tess was forcing people to dance in a diner, as she created what she believed was her sweet 16 party. In every instance in which a disabled person appears in The 4400, they are cured so that they can be functional.  It suggests that disabled people have no role in society and have no value.

The 4400 lasted four seasons and did so without introducing a single GLBT character. This is typical of sci-fi but it sends the message that GLBT people have no place in what amounts to the mythology of our time.

Though Isabelle Scary Baby's storyline ended badly it was hard not to be creeped out by a baby smiling and laughing yet having the ability to kill people at will. I felt the burden Shawn had about curing people.  Someone would always need his help but he had a limit as to how many he could help.  There was Kyle desperately looking to find where he belonged and forever changed by circumstance he could not control and barely understood.  Even the idea that humanity was spoiling the earth and desperately needed to change very much reflects our current circumstances.  In a way, despite its sci-fi elements The 4400 was a warning about how terrible conditions could become and the danger of dividing ourselves into groups as though we don't all have common needs.

As you can see, despite its then innovative plot, The 4400 was mirrored in problems.  From gender to disability, to sexuality and race, wherever marginalized people were involved, The 4400 failed. That said, I still found it to be extremely compelling television.  The fact that often there was no clear bifurcation between good and evil and that much of The 4400 was about the moral gray made it fascinating. Other than the "Marked,"  it was never really clear who the viewer should root for and that ambiguity kept me wondering.  I could easily have continued along with The 4400 had it not come to an end.