Sunday, May 13, 2012

The 4400: Trial by Fire

Trial by Fire (Episode 1.4)
Directed by Nick Gomez
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Co-starring Helen Shaver and Mark Valley
First aired 1 August 2004
Rating: 6/10

"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.
The ripple effect theory comes into play as we learn early and all too simply that the bombers are brothers of one of the Friday Harbor Killer's victims. They are avenging her death through terror acts, and end up killing a returnee: Mary Deneville (1 August 1999), so that we're now left with 4398. All this makes us wonder about the ripple effect, and that perhaps there is none, or that the creators have taken on something a little too complex. The thing is, there is so much rippling and consequences will continue even outside the story-line that not all questions will be answered. For instance, why was Deneville killed? Why was she abducted in the first place, given the power to brighten flowers, and killed off? Perhaps the abductors cannot foresee the future all too clearly? And so forth.

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.

JC continues to care for Lily and Richard, and the other returnees. He's invested so much in them by having built a gated commune with its own security team. A pretty place, but certainly creepy as all gated communities appear. Lily is now clearly suspecting that his has ulterior motives. Those deep creases and dark looks she is now giving him are enough to convince the viewer as well, removing whatever shades of doubt we might have had.

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:
"I'm not Kyle Baldwin."

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