The 4400 Explores Prejudice, Ethics and Destiny

USA’s popular sci-fi drama, The 4400, is now in its third season. Since the pilot, the show explores recurring themes of prejudice, ethics, alienation, destiny, and free-will. The premise is that of 4400 people who have been snatched from their respective timelines and altered in the future, given special abilities by those in the future in order to prevent a major catastrophe that takes place in the future. While the science fiction current of this show is what draws its high ratings, it is also the way the characters are written with shades of gray and the just-below-the-surface play on powerful themes.

The 4400 are returned in a ball of light to the year 2003, making headlines in a major way. The returnees are no secret from the world and are viewed with fear and hostility even before their abilities start to emerge. They are treated as a threat by their own government, being turned over to quarantine at NTAC (National Threat Assessment Center). When they are finally released from quarantine, they not only have to deal with a life interrupted (many realizing their families have aged and died by the time they returned), they also have to deal with the fear and hatred of them. They are humans, certainly, but many view them as a threat to all humanity.

The idea is that these people were pulled out of their timelines and altered in order to play a part in the cosmic scheme of things, each contributing towards fixing whatever diaster awaits in the future. Are they really meant to be the world’s saviors, or are they the catastrophe themselves? No one (including those who altered the 4400) can predict all of the variables that can influence and change the future. It could all be a guessing game, this manipulating of lives and genetics.

The People From the Future say there is a faction in their time who opposes The 4400 Experiment and will do anything to eliminate the 4400. So, who is right here? The answer is that no one knows for sure. Both factions may have the best intentions, but that does not mean they, or their methods, are right. As they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Who has the right to decide the future of others and tell them its “their destiny” to do one thing or another? How much evil can be done in the name of the greater good?

The opposing faction believes that the being they sent back in time, Isabelle, will do what they expect of her. In the present, Isabelle is looked upon as either a messiah or the end of the world. She has a multitude of powers and cannot be killed. Is she who the 4400 must stop in order to preserve the future or is she salvation? The 4400 explores this character as a 20-something girl who grew up from an infant overnight and has the mentality of a child. For example, while she was a baby, Isabelle ruptured her half-sisters spleen because she was jealous that her mother loved her other daughter too. When disagreed with, Isabelle can suffocate a person just by thinking it. Is she good or bad? Well, it’s not as cut and dried as all that. Like anyone else, no one is simply “good” or “evil”. All humans have good as well as evil in them, but learn how they will deal with the world through their experiences and their reactions to those experiences. We know “good” from “bad” based on our immediate environment, i.e. our parents.

Isabelle, however, grew up overnight into an adult. She does not have the benefit of experiences and growing from them. Her reactions are child-like in nature and destructive when she does not get what she wants. Does this make her bad? No. She just lacks many of the life lessons that most people accomplish that sets her mentality further down the scale than ours. It is possible for her to become evil, as it is possible for any human, given the right circumstances.

The show also focuses on the issues of morality. For example, Isabelle has killed three people and injured one. The question is whether this makes her evil. Her intentions were to save her love-interest, Shawn, and she did whatever was necessary and utilized the abilities within her to accomplish this. The people she killed (or is it murdered?) were terrorists, but does that make it right? Taking a human life for the right reasons and naming yourself judge and executioner is what they call ‘vigilante justice’.

The 4400 shows us a world that is divided. People fear the 4400 and their abilities because they are different. The 4400 in turn, don’t trust the government and some have become actively opposed to humans who do not accept them. Violence from all sides ensue, due to the prejudice of the unknown. Even the government fears the 4400 and what they are capable of. Not everyone believes that the 4400 are harmless. Honestly, if you lived next to a 4400 who could make your organs liquify just by thinking it, you’d be a little fearful, yourself. That doesn’t excuse the actions of society or the 4400. No one comes from a cookie-cutter mold. While one 4400 may be part of a terrorist organization, another might be a school teacher adjusting to life with new and frightening abilities. Every individual is just that – an individual – and the writers illustrate this point softly, as an undercurrent theme, that people are not cut from the same cloth. Just because someone is different does not make them evil and being part of a certain demographic does not mean that everyone in that demographic (the 4400) is exactly the same. Shades of racism, alienation and prejudice play a big part in this show, portraying it from multiple viewpoints and scenarios.

Free-will is a major concept, too. Are the 4400 like cogs in a machine or can they decide the future just by the choices they make? The most powerful thing a person has is choice. No matter what, and no matter how bleak, humans always have a choice and the choices we make influence our lives and our future decisions. Whether Isabelle and the 4400 play their “desired roles” is yet to be seen.

The 4400 really isn’t about “good vs. evil”, but rather about the human condition and how it manifests to affect the world.

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