Monday, July 27, 2009

Welcome to Promise City

In the series finale, Great Leap Forward, Danny Farrell, was assured by Kevin Burkhoff that he was sure to survive the promicin injection, making fifty/fifty last season. Danny took the injection, acquired the power to continuously emit contagious promicin. The promicin killed his and Shawn's mother (and Tom Baldwin's sister,) and sparked a massive outbreak at the hospital, which escaped into Seattle at large, including NTAC headquarters. Meghan Doyle (replacement for Samantha Ferris and Karina Lombard!) Marco Pacella, his new Theory Room girl friend whose name I've already forgotten (!), and Garrity survive, acquiring 4400 abilities.

Tom Baldwin was safe from the contagion as he and Jordan Collier were being held prisoner by the Marked. Isabel Taylor turns on the Marked, sacrificing her life to save Tom and Jordan. Instead of arresting Jordan, Tom gives him the list of the Marked, realizing that the Marked were beyond his NTAC authority, leaving Jordan free to deal with the Marked.

It was unclear whether "Cassie's" real plan was for Isabel to actually terminate the 4400 movement by turning Jordan. It is not obvious that freeing Isabel was the only way to deal with the Marked, especially since it required knowing that Isabel would have a change of heart so powerful and sincere to demand self sacrifice of life itself. Diana Skouris is discovered to be immune to the promicin contagion. Investigating this, Kevin Burkhoff more or less instantly discovers that a homone, ubiquinone, prevents the acquisition of promicin. And it turns out this is already a commercially prepared medicine. Shawn takes revenge on Danny for killing his mother, albeit at Danny's request, by taking his life. Thus ends the epidemic.

The deaths number about nine thousand, implying that there were about nine thousand new 4400s surviving. Overwhelmed by the catastrophe, Seattle NTAC asks for Collier's help and Kyle implements the plans Jordan has made for taking over Seattle. The series ended with Kyle telling Tom it was time to take the shot; a montage of the NTAC 4400s discovering their new abilities, and Welcome to Promise City written upon a road sign on the outskirts to Seattle.

Instead of writing a huge, series changing climax, which the next several episodes spent time undoing, Behr wrote this season finale (which of course became the series finale) which maintained the status quo. The uncontrolled spread of promicin was instantly controlled. The end of fifty/fifty meant that promicin could spread safely, but the discovery of ubiquinone meant that promicin spread could be stopped. There were still zero indicators as to the nature of the catastrophe. Collier was still arbitrarily written as somehow equal in villainy to someone like Dennis Ryland. Collier was shown as pleading with Tom to kill him before the Marked could finish turning him, but everything Collier does is rejected as fanatical and/or revolutionary.

There are two follow up novels planned for the series. Greg Cox has written the first, officially released Tuesday but now available by preorder. The status quo remains unchanged. Tom does not take the shot. This fits the series, which exhibits a visceral fear and hate at the thought of the future being different. The notion of common people become powerful seems to the stumbling block. As THE HERO, therefore, Tom must reject the temptation to evil promicin offers. The name "promicin" of course alludes to the false promises of the future, revolution, power for the common man. The title of the series finale, "Great Leap Forward," was meant to inspire fear and revulsion by alluding to Communism.

On a personal level, with son and nephew, girl friend(s), boss and coworkers as 4400s, Tom's feeling of being left behind, should be a factor. Even more important, the feeling of helplessness should be even more a factor. And even more important than that, the feelings of guilt over being used by the Marked to murder two men should affect his feelings over promicin, which is what the Marked are supposed to be fighting.

The novel focuses on huggermugger over Danny Farrell's body being used for research to recreate the contagious promicin. Although the series has always showed Collier holding to his insistence that promicin must be voluntary, as noted above everything Collier does is suspect, especially for motive. This is not true of Dennis Ryland, who is back for the novel, which is also true to the series characterization. As in the novel, Ryland desires the use of promicin as long as it remains in elite hands. The possibility that the catastrophe is the monopoly of promicin powers by the elite is unexplored. Therefore Jordan's insistence that everyone take promicin is simply fanaticism, not democratic.

The basic premise of the story is that the effort to recreate the contagious promicin would be the trigger for a military attack on Promise City. Not only is Danny's body missing, showing there is a real plot, there is also an effort by Ryland to establish Collier as responsible as a justification for attack. Collier is shown as manipulating Richard Taylor into attacking the Marked in revenge for Isabel's murder, while maintaining deniability. This is supposed to leave it open for Collier to violate character and be equally responsible for the new plot.

There are a couple of problems. First, the notion that Ryland or the government needs any justification beyond loss of power is nonsense. Second, the notion that Collier would bother to manipulate Richard seems unlikely. Collier has no deniability because Baldwin knows exactly what he's doing, for the good reason Baldwin wanted him to do it. And Baldwin's superiors know who the Marked were supposed to be, because Tom tried to do it the legal way to start off with.

The narrative deals largely with the attacks. There is a little bit of unintentional wheel spinning when Richard is sprung from jail, then is recaptured, then is sprung again. The emotional story is the repudiation of immoral (subtext reads, "revolutionary") violence. Kyle is sickened by having to kill Marco's new girlfriend (who was converted to the cause when she became a 4400.) Richard is sickened by killing one of the Marked. Burkhoff and his girlfriend Tess are sickened to the point they abandon the 4400 cause completely, not just Collier, as previously shown.

These conversions to the forces of law and order are unconvincing. Kyle's grief over killing people in self defense situtations is particularly symptomatic. Kyle thinks Cassie is a manifestation of his own prophetic ability. Kyle released Isabel so she could kamikaze the Marked. Kyle loved Isabel. The inescapable conclusion is that Kyle sacrificed his lover. Ignoring this is false characterization. Making Kyle feel guilt over self defense instead is a way of imputing guilt to the 4400 movement in general, and Collier in particular for violence even in self defense.

Richard of course is converted to nonviolence even against the people who killed his own daughter, over whom he supposedly feels much guilt for his own errors and failures. Yeah, right. Assuming the absolutely unacceptable awfulness of violence by ordinary people is the only thing that makes this believable. Burkhoff's obsession with his research is one of his defining traits, which makes his withdrawal also unbelievable. But it makes it a more powerful statement against Collier.

Kyle's belief that Cassie is merely his feminine side does not keep him from having sex with her. The logical possibility that Kyle was, in the original plan, taken as a 4400 whose ability was to communicate with a person in the future, as a liaison with NTAC authority Tom, is not broached. Since the elites began interfering with the plan, starting with Isabel, then by subverting Kyle to assassinate Collier, it seems logical that Isabel and Kyle are still agents of the elites, knowingly or not. The peculiar differences between Kyle's release and Tom's release could be retcon. Or it could be that Kyle was abandoned because his cover was blown. Or something else? The further possibility that the elites took over the future end of the Kyle link, either by putting Cassie in place or by Marking her, is also not broached. The fact that Cassie seemed eager for the promicin plot to succeed therefore reads more a hint of what Collier's faction really stands for, which is still supposed to be the slaughter of half of humanity. Why there wouldn't be a promicin power to give people the ability to survive the shot escapes me. Cassie's eagerness for the plot to succeed would then read as eagerness for an attack on Seattle.

Shawn is basically written out of the story with the statement his political career is over, due to the catastrophe. I'm sure that every anti-Collier force would favor Shawn as a counterweight within the 4400 community. Following up on the father/son relationship between Jordan and Shawn would be too favorable to Collier? In any event, the 4400 movement has to be reduced to the personality of Jordan Collier. Because all revolutionary movements are fraudelent personality cults?The final volume is titled Promises Broken. This suggests that Collier will fall to Baldwin and promicin will be exposed as false promise and eternal human nature will not be violated and the future will be the same as today. And this novel is just marking time til the real end.

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