The 4400: The Complete First Season

Marco Lanzagorta

The 4400 intimates that most of the returnees' integration problems boil down to fear approximating a post-9/11 'dread of difference'.

The 4400

Cast: Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Laura Allen, Peter Coyote
Subtitle: The Complete First Season
US Release Date: 2004-12-21

Released on a barebones DVD set, the USA original miniseries The 4400 capitalizes on the success of Taken, the alien abduction TV saga produced by Steven Spielberg. Actor Joel Gretsch even appears on both series in similar roles, as an agent of a secretive government organization. What distinguishes The 4400 is its representation of the sense of alienation that pervades post-9/11 America.

This series begins with mysterious disappearances across the globe, over the past 60 years. From young Maia (Conchita Campbell) in 1946 and combat pilot Richard (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) during the Korean War, to businessman and devoted husband Orson (Michael Moriarty) in 1979 and teenager Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger) in 2001, all vanish in a dazzling beam of light.

Cutting to the present day, the show introduces Dennis Ryland (Peter Coyote), head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Seattle. He and his team are busy tracking the trajectory of a bright comet quickly approaching earth; the Chinese and U.S. launch nuclear missiles to intercept it, but the comet keeps coming. Even though it is highly unlikely that DHS Seattle will ever be tracking comets, and plainly absurd that ballistic nuclear missiles would be used to stop them, these scenes do highlight familiar fears of invasion and violent threats.

And yet the comet turns out to be an alien craft bearing 4400 humans who have been abducted during the past six decades. They have no memories of what happened to them and have not aged a day since their abductions. Agents Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie) are assigned to investigate. The rest of the series concerns the returnees' troubles as they try to rejoin the race. Maia's parents are long dead and Lily's (Laura Allen) husband has remarried. Orson's business is lost and his wife in a retirement home. And even though Shawn was only missing for three years, he has trouble learning about the new music and movies his peers talk about in school.

The 4400 intimates that most of the returnees' integration problems boil down to fear approximating a post-9/11 "dread of difference." Irresponsible news reports further present the 4400 as a menace, sparking anxiety and motivating discrimination. Rather quickly, the 4400 become targets of uttermost acts of violence and aggression. That these complexities stem from metaphorical racial anxieties is no coincidence: the series uses Richard to recall the turmoil that characterized 20th-century America.

Indeed, Richard endured his fellow airmen's blatant racism before being abducted in 1951. When he strolls outside DHS, he's surprised to find that African Americans now appear to be fully "integrated," even as his status as one of the 4400 makes him the target of other bigotries. Not surprisingly, when the returnees decide to fight instead of hide, Richard takes up a shotgun and asserts, "Eventually a man has to make a stand. I am making mine right here."

All this said, the series does make the 4400 scary, that is, possessed of "unnatural" powers. Maia can foresee the future, Orson can crack walls and skulls with his mind, and Shawn can heal and kill at will. Unfortunately, these abilities turn some of the episodes into bland "mutant of the week" storylines, in which Tom and Diana chase and capture a returnee who has apparently been abusing his powers. And a grand scheme is afoot: whoever abducted the 4000 planned for all this to happen, from their integration problems to the race riots. When a baffled Lily discovers that she was impregnated while abducted, and Maia announces the impending arrival of a "savior," the religious overtones become evident.

Be warned that all these complexities are never fully resolved in the miniseries. This is reasonable, given that so many of the problems it raises are ongoing off-screen: Ryland warns a particularly irresponsible news anchor that in today's world, he does not need a warrant to look at her personal records and place her name on a no-fly list. Tom and Diana pursue a racist group bent on destroying the 4400 by using explosives and firebombs. The members of this group are arrested, charged as enemy combatants, and told that they have no rights. Yes, these violent chauvinistic groups are immediately catalogued as terrorist organizations. Similar to other narratives of the current Bush era, The 4400 aligns the viewer with the U.S. government and Homeland Security, but also aligns anti-terrorist tactics with prejudice.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.