Thursday, June 12, 2014

Recap and Review: The 4400 Season Three

This season definitely made up for the filler feeling of season two.  So much happened that it's hard to know where to begin. The 4400 center has been seized by the government after a power struggle involving a resurrected Collier and Richard Hyland.  Richard is willing to risk anything to keep the U.S. safe from the threat of the 4400 and this is juxtaposed to Collier's prediction of a terrible dystopian future. Isabelle, who I have nicknamed scary baby, turns out to be extremely powerful and uncontrollable.

One of the things that seemed subversive about The 4400 is that Isabelle Scary Baby was initially cast as a savior.  She was even referred to as the Rosetta Stone of the future.This would have been subversive because the chosen was is almost uniformly White and male.  As it turns out, The 4400 is not interested in breaking the mold. Isabelle Scary Baby was created to destroy the 4400 and though she claims to struggle against it, she is quick to join forces with Hyland in a supposed attempt to create a balance of power. Isabelle Scary Baby suddenly becomes an adult but the process kills Lilly (and honestly, Lilly is no loss). Isabelle Scary Baby becomes willful like a three year old she really is and starts to make demands of the people around her like Shawn and Richard (her father).

Interesting story lines develop around Isabelle Scary Baby.  Isabelle Scary Baby is very curious about the world and having missed the process of growing up, she has missed many common experiences like learning how to drive a car, swim and even ride a bike.  Shawn decides to help her with the process of acclimation and in the process, Isabelle Scary Baby develops romantic feelings.  At first, Shawn rejects Isabelle Scary Baby, claiming that a sexual relationship would upset Richard and that Richard has some say on Isabelle's body.  The issue should not have been that Richard is concerned about what his daughter does with her vagina but that Isabelle Scary Baby has the mentality of a three year old hyped up on sugar and therefore cannot consent. She is a child inhabiting a woman's body.  This makes Shawn a problematic character because not only does he engage in a sexual relationship with  Isabelle Scar Baby, he continues to engage in a relationship until it becomes clear that Isabelle Scary Baby is a threat.

Much of this season is about choosing sides. Hyland who led the attack on the 4400 was censured and most certainly did't receive any real punishment. Because 27 people died  and many were at risk, it's hard not to understand the desire for revenge and to protect themselves that the 4400 felt.  On the other side of the equation, the 4400 have manifested the ability for telekinesis, shockwave emission, telepathy, mind control, electrokinesis, producing hallucinations, memory erasure, claircognizance etc. These powers in the wrong hands are dangerous and constitute a real threat to society. They have shown on multiple occasions that they have the ability to kill at will, frame people for murder and even shut down NTAC. Even the 4400 that profess to only be interested in saving the future, still possess a power that makes them dangerous. It's absolutely reasonable to be afraid of these people.  The question is what is an acceptable outcome of this fear.

Part of the issue is that thus far with The 4400, there is a vagueness in the storyline involving the future humans. Now we know that there is a power struggle between two groups: one seeking to change the future and the other to maintain the status quo. This adds more to the story but there is still a sense of vagueness about it. It doesn't help that Collier is walking around making predictions of a dystopian future. Collier sets himself up as a messiah figure making his position hard to trust.  We know from the abduction of Maia that at least one faction is dissatisfied with result the 4400 has had and are still working to redirect the past. This is supposedly the good side and yet they callously removed children from their present lives and families to insert the children in a past timeline.  The future humans only return the children after it becomes clear that Diana and Tom have not forgotten Maia and want her back. Again, this gives a sense of conflict because there is no clear bifurcation between supposed good and supposed evil, making The 4400 incredibly complex.

The 4400 continues to have a racial problem. Relative to the White people on the show, people of colour are grossly underrepresented.  We still have Richard, who spends his time dealing with Isabelle Scary Baby and mourning the loss of Lilly.  Race continues not to be an issue in his life and oppression only takes the form of bias against the 4400.  The problem of course is that the 4400 do represent a threat and this entire world is fictional. Then we have Gary Navarro, a young man who only wanted to play baseball. The NSA used his talent to target foreign 4400 and when he realised this, he briefly joined NOVA to fight back.  For his trouble, Navarro was water boarded before being set free by Tom to leave the country. Then we have T.J Kim who was callously murdered to protect NOVA secrets.  There is also the matter of Isabelle Scary Baby, who is dangerous, and capricious.  People of colour have abilities but they have no power. Even Isabelle Scary Baby, who is the most powerful of the affected humans, is stripped of her abilities because of the danger she represents.  In the world of The 4400, no matter what side you look at, the people who have any real power are White.  People of colour are side characters to advance the plot at best.

Diana continues to be the central female figure on The 4400 and she remains in a true partnership with Tom. This season we see more of Diana's personal life, consisting largely of a conflict between her and April, over Ben. Maia predicts that Ben is going to marry Diana and not April. Two sisters fighting over a man is as cliche as it gets. While it was nice to see Diana develop a relationship with Ben, the circumstances under which it occurred were absolutely reductive. Given that Diana is the largest investment The 4400 makes in women, much of what happened this season is a problem.

Nina is supposedly the leader of NTAC, Seattle division. She spent most of last season being a check to Tom but in season three, is literally promoted to obscurity having a tiny role, with little in the way of tangible power.  Her position makes her a background character rather than elevating the role of women on The 4400.

Alana, who is Tom's human pacifier, did manage to show some backbone by refusing to aid NTAC in it's battle against the 4400. Alana even goes as far as betraying Tom by revealing to Navarro that NTAC is about to arest him.  Alana does stay true to her principals which was good but the end result is her being fridged.  It reads as punishment because Alana dared to have her own ideas about how the 4400 should be dealt with.

The only woman with a larger presence is scary baby Isabelle. As aforementioned, Isabelle Scary Baby presents as an adult woman but she is literally a child, with a mentality not far beyond a three year old. While I understand the plot necessity of this, it still amounts to an infantalized woman, which highlights yet another problem for The 4400 when it comes to gender.  Women who are passive live and those who are active like T.J Kim or independent like Alana, pay a price.

The 4400 doesn't fare any better when it comes to disability.  As we know, Dr. Burkhoff regained his sanity last season and used it to uncover a plot by the government to control the 4400.  When we first met Kevin, he had paranoid personality disorder and had not spoken in six years.  Tess built a machine which restored his sanity, which amounts to a disability cured by woo woo.  This season, this is compounded upon when it becomes clear that Tess has also regained her sanity though no reason is given for such a change. Then we have Shawn, who spends his time curing the sick.  Disability only exists in the world of The 4400 as something which must be cured. The disabled are not presented as having a value, a unique culture, or the ability to contribute anything to society. The fact that Burkhoff had to be cured to be valuable is rather telling.

With all the chaos of season three, The 4400 is still straight and cis.  Where did all the GLBT people go and since when is Seattle an enclave of straight cisgender people? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and though erasure is common in sci fi, it's still extremely problematic and bigoted to completely erase an entire group of people.

No television is show perfect because they are all created by flawed people and The 4400 very much represents this with its ongoing issues in the treatment of marginalized people.  From the treatment of disability, to the ongoing erasure of GLBT, it feels very much like the secondary message of The 4400 is the glorification of the straight cis White male.  As aforementioned, no matter what side one falls on in the debate, the only thing that is for certain, is that a straight cis white male will be the face of it.  I know it's tempting to look at the fact that the future humans are represented by a woman but the fact that she, like Nina, is promoted to obscurity is telling. None of the problematic elements of The 4400 are necessary and in the end, The 4400 is yet another example of the ways in which sci fi ultimately fails marginalized people.