Like its 2004 predecessor, the CW’s 4400 reboot—from creator Ariana Jackson—is an ambitious, multi-genre series trying to tell a complicated story about humanity being confronted with the consequences of its actions, and being given a chance to put some things right. Obvious as that reality might be to viewers, it’s something few of 4,400 titular characters can wrap their minds around as they meet one another for the first time and find themselves in a strange and new, but still familiar world.
More X-Files than Heroes, both versions of the show follow as 4,400 disappeared abductees from different points across the 20th century suddenly reappear in the present day with no awareness of how much time has passed. They also gradually discover that they’ve all gained superhuman abilities. But where the original show led with the mystery of the abductees’ disappearances in order to ease viewers into its more nuanced narratives about societal transformation, the CW’s 4400 leads with the fact that it has something to say about these “extraordinary” times.
Out of the many updates the CW’s 4400 brings to the table, the show’s predominantly Black cast and the way its story has been shifted slightly to focus more on the experiences of Black and other historically marginalized groups are the most significant and noticeable—in a good way. Rather than being set in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, this series traces the different paths that led to people like Shanice (Brittany Adebumola), a lawyer who disappeared in 2005, Claudette (Jaye Ladymore), a ‘50s housewife, and Andre (TL Thompson), a doctor from the ‘20s, suddenly winding up in 2021 Detroit with thousands of others who were presumed missing or dead. While this aspect of 4400's plot is more or less the same as the original, the new series further switches things up by changing the exact mechanics of how the abductees arrive, and how the public responds to them.
Instead of landing together in a massive ball of light that countless people across the world can see approaching from space, the new 4400 arrive in the dead of night with barely any witnesses present who can confirm or deny the stories they begin to tell local law enforcement, like Keisha (Ireon Roach). Through flashbacks to their abductions, 4400 shows you how unprepared and utterly terrified the abductees all were when they were taken, and how many of them were snatched at pivotal moments that would have bent the arc of their histories in other directions. Rev Johnson (Derrick A. King), the scion of a powerful Black church family, would have left it all behind for the woman he loved if only he hadn’t been spirited away. But as Rev and the other 4400 come to grips with being transported to what’s—to them—the future, it’s clear whatever plans they may have had for themselves have been deprioritized by an unknown, unseen party.
As the 4400 are rounded up under suspicion of being activists engaged in disorderly conduct, Keisha emerges as one of the show’s earliest antagonists whose uncertainty about the alleged time-travelers pushes her to be hostile towards them. The 4400's quarantine is another way the new show echoes the original, but here, their internment is explicitly presented as an outsized show of force from the state, which instinctively assumes that groups of Black and brown people are immediate threats. Though the CW’s 4400 is very much a CW show—which is to say that tonally, it can sometimes feel a bit uneven and unsure of itself—it’s one working with a set of weighty, complex ideas deserving of more time in the spotlight.
Through Keisha’s confrontations with the 4400, and the uneasy partnership she forms with social worker Jharrel Mateo (Joseph David-Jones), the series asks you to really consider what “justice” actually looks like in a society whose justice system has regularly abused some of its most vulnerable people. Answers about what the hell is going on aside, what all of the 4400 want most is their freedom, and to feel like they’re in control of their destinies again.
It’s only when a handful of the 4400 begin to manifest their new abilities for the first time that they start to feel like gaining that same control is an actual possibility. Of course, it’s an uncertain one because of how people might respond upon learning what they can do. By veering away from flashier VFX, 4400 manages to keep itself feeling relatively grounded in a way that the original couldn’t, and it’s going to be very interesting to see whether that stays the case over the new show’s first season, or if things are going to become increasingly fantastical as things go on. As much time as the original 4400 spent playing with ideas about people being abducted by aliens and traveling through time, the CW’s playing things much more straightforward in order to get at the heart of what all socially-minded sci-fi tales want to talk about, but don’t always have the heart or ability to.
Created by Fricke (Being Human) and Jackson (Riverdale), the CW’s 4400 also stars Khailah Johnson, Amarr Wooten, Autumn Best, Kausar Mohammed, Wilder Yari, and Theo Germaine. The show premieres on the network on October 25.
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