The USA Network’s original series summer kicked off on June 11 with season three of science fiction show The 4400 (Caution: spoilers follow for the season three premiere, The New World). The 4400 is about 4400 people who have been kidnapped by future humans over the past sixty years and returned to a lake near Seattle, Washington on June 11, 2004. Initially put in government quarantine by Dennis Ryland (Peter Coyote) and his new organization NTAC, the 4400 were eventually released, but not before they discovered that they each had some unique power.
The U.S. government, needless to say, did not respond well to this crisis. At the end of season two, Ryland and some colleagues were caught experimenting on the 4400, trying to suppress and control them with drugs. Twenty-three 4400 died.
Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger), a young healer and pacifist running a center dedicated to helping the 4400 adjust and contribute to society, worried what the government might do next. He gave money to an older 4400, Daniel Armand (Ian Tracey), to create a defensive wing of the group-NOVA. But Daniel went further and used the new group to strike back at the U.S. government, nearly killing Ryland and assassinating several of Ryland’s colleagues in revenge for the 4400 deaths in season two.
So, is Daniel Armand a terrorist?
The writers could not have predicted that this episode would appear so soon after the assassination of a bona fide terrorist, Abu Musab Zarqawi, in Iraq. But it’s doubtful they mind. Science Fiction and Fantasy give writers the chance to write about current events and issues in such a way that readers and viewers accept the story more easily than writing it “straight”. The writers of The 4400 could have simplified their story by making Daniel Armand and NOVA evil, unjustified or at least unrestrained in their violence. Instead, NOVA, and particularly Daniel, are ambiguous. They kill, but they are also being killed, as well as imprisoned and tortured without trial, by their own government. This injects an element of self-defense and even justice, however twisted, into their actions. The threat that the 4400 face is very real; the question is how they should respond.
Ian Tracey, a celebrated Canadian actor who is no stranger to playing ambiguous and downright evil speculative fiction characters, plays NOVA leader Daniel Armand as cold, manipulative and paranoid, with a creepy sense of ironic humor. But Daniel’s actions contradict his demeanor. He scares the government into a frenzy, convincing them that his group will do something apocalyptic on October 19 in a demonstration of 4400 power. Instead, NOVA turns 1000 acres of desert in northeast Africa into wheat fields. The government, predictably, sees this benign demonstration as “an act of aggression” because it shows that the 4400 “can change the world”. As if normal humans couldn’t. Or maybe they just won’t?
Also, Daniel takes care of his people-the 4400. He tells Shawn Farrell that he keeps him in the dark about NOVA’s activities to protect him from government persecution, acting in a paternal manner toward the much younger Shawn. Scenes showing the government imprisoning and torturing 4400s with impunity support Daniel’s claim, though his secrecy also gives him free rein to do whatever he wants with Shawn’s money. Also, while he sends one of his own people, T.J. Kim (Leanne Adachi) into a trap Shawn lays for him, he had previously persuaded Shawn to heal her of a mortal wound. When another NOVA member is captured, Daniel risks himself to oversee personally a successful rescue operation, despite having the government hot on his trail.
So, what is Daniel Armand? Though he uses violent methods, we can’t classify him as a terrorist. Terrorism is the use of terror to achieve political goals. To this end, terrorists often target civilians indiscriminately because it creates an atmosphere where there are no rules of war and no one is safe. Attacks on civilians also create a lot of publicity for the cause (9/11), though attacks on military personnel are also terrorism if they are indiscriminate and have no specific military objective beyond spreading terror (Northern Ireland).
Daniel Armand and NOVA in The 4400 do not fit these criteria. They target only people they have identified as direct military threats to their group-“surgical targets” as Daniel calls them. Further, their intent is to eliminate enemy threats who have already attacked the 4400, not civilians or military personnel who get in the way. In fact, late in the two-hour season premiere when a human soldier is accidentally killed in a NOVA action, Daniel looks upset. In other NOVA attacks, targets are singled out and isolated from others so that only that target it killed.
Ironically, despite accusations that he sees normal humans as inferior, Daniel has not yet demonstrated a 4400 talent of his own. He could be superintelligent, but nothing he has done so far would be beyond a normal human with great charisma and intelligence and a genius for leadership. All of these traits Daniel clearly shows. None of them fall outside the range of human ability. In his war with humanity, Daniel is fighting, and winning, without cheating.
It’s not clear yet whether Daniel and NOVA are freedom fighters, or whether they will escalate into terrorism. A lot depends on what the government does next. Right now, NOVA can best be classified as a vigilante group. Vigilantes take the law into their own hands, usually out of frustration with perceived injustice or lawlessness. NOVA certainly falls into this category. The question is whether they will help bring justice or escalate the situation into a full-out war. Since Daniel Armand already feels he is at war, it could well be the latter.