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The 4400, a bit ragey

So I went through the entire series on DVD over the past few weeks. I'm a big fan of fiction about people with superpowers - not just comic books, but specifically stories that try to cover the ramifications of people having these powers, so The 4400 seemed to be a good fit.

And to a large extent, it was. Until the fourth season episode, Fear Itself.

In this episode, people start coming down with massive phobias with hallucinatory components - the first guy gets a massive fear of clowns (coulrophobia!) and imagines everyone he sees are clowns. This happens to other people as well, as the main characters (NTAC - heh - agents) try to track down the person with the power causing all this trouble. As it turns out, the person was a young autistic boy. His father hoped that injecting him with promicin* (the fictional neurotransmitter that causes powers in The 4400) would turn him neurotypical. In an emotional scene, he confesses that all he wanted was for his son to hug him and call him dad. This was a really bad moment, I think, because he's presented as sympathetic and his desire understandable, even with the potentially lethal outcome of a promicin injection.

But it gets worse - one of the NTAC's agents' nephews is one of the original 4400, and has a healing power. They bring him in to heal Brandon (the autistic boy), and it works. Not only does it work, but once he's done, Brandon immediately hugs his dad and tells him that he loves him. As if the autism were really a prison locking the real Brandon away from the world. As if autism is something that can or should be "healed."

Anyway, this was really disturbing (and I'll admit it, enraging) to me, because of this idea that autism steals children away, leaving this autistic doppelganger, or that there really is a neurotypical child waiting inside. And showing a parent who would rather see his child die than live on as autistic, and presenting him as sympathetic and understandable, while the victim - the boy who was nearly killed and given a nigh-uncontrollable power - is not really discussed as such.

At least they sent Brandon's father to prison, but it looked like for using promicin (which is illegal) and not, say, attempted murder.

* Promicin has a 50% chance to kill and a 50% chance to give a power. This guy was gambling with his son's life because it'd be better for him to be dead than autistic... ugh.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
butterface
Jan. 10th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
omg yess, i remember that episode. it was such crap.
lisaquestions
Jan. 10th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
I tried to google it and found nothing in the blogosphere.

But it was just so much Faily McFailerson. If I ever rewatch the series (not that I'll buy it at this point), I'll have to make a point to skip that episode.

It's scary when I see people thinking of undamaged brains as something to be fixed, and I think "So, what happens if Sean uses his powers on a trans person?" But that was later, after I was already angry at them for even thinking of writing that episode. Way to contribute to a culture where parents are already seen as victims of their children's autism.
butterface
Jan. 10th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
y, it is such a theme in that show, the future people showing up to "fix" the human race. i'm really surprised that they didn't fix some queers.
lisaquestions
Jan. 10th, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure no actual queers appeared on the show.

I know that some of the creative people went on to work on V, which explains a lot of what I saw there, too.

Another scene that bothered me involved Richard, the black pilot who was taken from Korea in the early 50s. A big deal was made about interracial relationships being more acceptable now, and the way his fellow (white) pilots beat him up when they found out he was seeing a white woman. When he's still getting oriented in the 21st century, they show him seeing other interracial couples, and they're all white women and men of color. I think the only interracial relationship that was a white man with a woman of color was Sean and Isabelle, but they positioned her as emotionally manipulative and abusive to maintain that relationship.

And the whole thing where if she has powers, she's destined to be evil, and could only be redeemed if she were a normal human or dead.

Or the bit where her father (Richard) de-aged her to her true age, three years old, without telling her what he was doing, and only giving her a choice after she was physically about 7 or 8.
lisaquestions
Jan. 10th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
I mean, I liked that they tried to address racism, and I liked Richard's story overall (at least until his one fourth season appearance), but it just struck me how in their representation of interracial relationships, women of color were largely invisible or in the one case, born bad.
homo_impetus
Jan. 10th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
That whole series was something like a great concept made nearly DOA with bad writing and in some cases bad acting.

I remember watching the episode you are talking about. I 100% agree with your assessment.
lisaquestions
Jan. 11th, 2010 01:13 am (UTC)
Agreed. So much of the time they failed to follow through on the big picture they were trying to draw.

I think it had several good moments, but I think it had a tendency to fall apart a bit too often.
dashingdeviant
Jan. 10th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
Ugh, that's just horrible fail. Makes me glad I never got to check out that series.
lisaquestions
Jan. 11th, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
The worst part is that while it didn't have good writing all the way through, it had some pretty good episodes, and was overall not a bad show. There was a strong tendency toward ableism around Sean (the healer), and this one episode was really the nadir for the series, I think.
cmcmck
Jan. 11th, 2010 08:13 am (UTC)
I worked with young autistic folks for a time in the early nineties and all I can say is headdesk! :o(
erithianopius
Feb. 21st, 2011 05:20 am (UTC)
The real Brandon is gone by the end of the episode. He doesn't exist anymore so as far as I am concerned (and he would be concerned), they DID kill him.
lisaquestions
Feb. 21st, 2011 05:42 am (UTC)
It felt like an extended Autism Speaks commercial. I really hated it and I'm still annoyed that I watched it all the way through.

Never mind that the plot made no logical sense. How do you heal an uninjured brain?
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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