Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Co-starring Helen Shaver and Mark Valley
First aired 1 August 2004
"Someone's coming who'll make everything better." Maia to Diane Skouris.
(A few spoilers also coming.)
There are some great story elements in "Trial By Fire" but the plot progression is slowed up due to a badly handled sub-plot. This week's sub-plot does not feature a new member of the returnees, but instead with a series of terror bombings against them. Television mogul Barbara Yates (Helen Shaver) has leaked the names of addresses of the 4400, making them easy targets. Fairly interesting and quite threatening, illustrating the division between returnees and those who have never left. Unfortunately there is little suspense as the tormentors' identities are revealed early, and the entire thing escalates in a lengthy chase sequence that is lacking in excitement and suspense, since we know they will be stopped without causing any damage. There is also an element of silliness as the two 4400 investigating agents are involved in every aspect of this crime, from investigating bombings to riding choppers in pursuit of the threat when normally experts would be handling the grime and they'd simply read the reports and watch whatever footage is available. Even something so fantastic as The 4400 deserves some realism.
As I mentioned there are strong elements in the episode. Collier is still a mystery, Kyle's return is freaky, a new guy coming in to potentially take over the Homeland Security office looking after the 4400 in a bid to take over Ryland's job.
Getting rid of Barbara Yates was all too simply handled. While it annoyed me a little that she was eliminated so quickly and so conveniently, the scene does portray Dennis Ryland as a less than sympathetic power weaver. While his intentions are better than Yates's, he is shown in a light not too different from hers. I appreciate this since the show lacks mystery in its division between heroes and villains. To elevate this shadow we are introduced to Warren Lytell (Mark Valley), an investigator sent by DC to "clean up Ryland's mess." We might wonder if Ryland has perhaps made a mess of things, especially since he's revealed a dirty card when dealing with Yates. Unfortunately this opportunity is squandered as Lytell is portrayed off the bat as an untrustworthy person, while the devotion of agents Baldwin and Skouris never waver. Compared to The X-Files, where we are unsure of nearly everyone at the beginning, from Alex Krycek to Walter Skinner, in The 4400 uncertainty exists in very few characters, at this point limited to Jordan Collier. But even his intentions are soon revealed.
While there are a number of flaws in the episode, it's strengths are enough to keep one interested, and we are hooked primarily thanks to Kyle's plight. Having just woken from a three-year coma he is acting a little oddly. "This is not my house," he tells his parents. "These are not my memories," he says when looking at old photographs. We learn that Tom and girlfriend Nikki are aware of Shawn's power, a power that was supposed to have been Kyle's. Furthermore, one scene makes it clear that Diane suspects that Shawn has a hidden ability, and that Tom knows it. All of these complications and intrigue are nicely built up, and give rise to potential for later plot and character development. A great performance by Chad Faust as Kyle, some nice creepiness and that great last existential line: