Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The 4400: Weight of the World

Weight of the World (Episode 2.4)
Directed by Oz Scott
Written by series co-creator Scott Peters
Co-starring Robert Picardo, Rhonda Dent and Michael Rogers
First aired 19 June 2005
Rating: 6/10

The preceding episode: "Voices Carry"
The following episode: "Suffer the Children"

"I am the product."

This episode's subplot is, as implied by its title, quite weighty. Salesman Trent Appelbaum (Robert Picardo, best known as the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager) isn't performing well as a telemarketer. This is problematic because before his abduction he borrowed money from some tough guys. Being tough guys, they want their money back, and are applying pressure on Appelbaum. Chief thug Dmitri Kazar downs Appelbaum's beer (this, I suppose, is a threatening tactic), and before you know it he's lost a tonne of weight. Knowing something of the returnees, tough guy proves to be smart guy and through deductive reasoning figures he picked up some calorie-burning magic from Appelbaum's saliva. ("I lost lots of weight, before which I had some of your beer. Hey! You must have magical saliva! Ahhh, TV logic.) Moreover, being a guy, he wants Appelbaum to work the magic on his wife (but rather than having him smooch her they bring along a bottle of water). It's a neat little touch that this dieting comes about when we are introduced to Appelbaum while his face is in a plate of food (see top screen shot). If only they named him something more fatty, like Porcbaum or Butterbaum or Cookiebaum.

A variety of companies vie for the magic saliva, and the once deadbeat salesman sells his juices for a comfortable forty million bucks. Stupid company doesn't even bother doing tests first. ("Magic spit! It must be true; let's offer 40 big ones!") Unfortunately, television life is not so easy, and it turns out that the protein in Appelbaum's saliva hyper-accelerates one's metabolism, destroying fat, yada yada yada. In other words, the saliva consumers are essentially starving to death, and tough guy Kazar is now dead skinny corpse. Additional complications are thrown in, as the purchasing company has already fed the product on a hundred test subjects, and because this is television, those hundred people's lives aren't worth as much as one, since the race for a cure is elevated when it turns out Appelbaum's daughter Elise also tasted some of the toxic spit.

The subplot, though innovative, well cast and generally interesting, finishes a little too easily. Moreover, the ripple effect we're discussing is that perhaps we can harness this toxin, ameliorate it and eventually use it for the good of humanity's future. A truly lame tie-in. I'd be impressed if the spit comes back later on in the series, but highly doubt it.

Picardo does well as morally burdened Appelbaum. Weight-loss victim Dmitri Kazar is played by actor Michael Rogers, who has a bit part as shot-in-the-back deputy Darryl Riggens in the Harper's Island episode "Snap," as well as some bit parts in The X-Files and other shows filmed in Canada.

Elsewhere in the episode...

Pop star Chloe Granger (Noa Tishby), unsubtly modelled after Madonna, gives lot of money to earn a key to the 4400 Centre (meanwhile boffing its founder JC); JC and Sean are at odds; Richard and Lily are in Montana visiting/hiding out with another returnee; Maia is becoming friends with her aunt April and making premonitions along the way; and Kyle is losing time.

So far this season I'm bored to tears with the Richard/Lily/Isabelle storyline. The demon baby isn't working for me, and while I really like Richard, there is something about Lily, some indifference or ambivalence. Perhaps actress Laura Allen is as bored as I am, and like me can't decide whether to laugh at killer baby Isabelle. Also, the writers can't seem to develop interesting situations for them. I like the idea of having them face challenges that involve the prospect of new home, settling down and no longer running, but this episode's tensions with that bickering couple is just too contrived and bland. In fact, while I have taken a couple of screen shots of their scenarios, they always end up on the Casual Debris cutting room floor. Kyle, on the other hand, is the most interesting thing going for the series.

I've admitted already to liking the Diana and Maia drama. The actors have great chemistry, fine facial acting, and their circumstances, despite premonitions, are realistic and hence inherently taught. I like a little girl learning about people and the broken world we live in, realizing that her gift is best kept from them. I also like the addition of April to the mix. Moreover, the way the premonitions are playing out, infrequently and quite simply, like warning someone to wear a helmet while on his motorcycle, are nice additions, and well done because they're not being overplayed. The creepiness and suspense factors, meanwhile, have been usurped by Kyle, and Victoria native Chad Faust is doing a fine job with the character. At the start of the season I wondered at the purpose of the character, but with these time loss sequences he's certainly going to play an important role in the game. Or at least I hope.

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