THE 4400: The Ballad of Kevin and Tess (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, August 05, 2006
Opening with an arresting teaser in which the horribly mutated genius Dr. Kevin Burkoff (Jeffrey Combs) is kidnapped and murdered by government agents, "The Ballad of Kevin and Tess" begins in the middle of a high stakes gambit that only ups the ante with each act. Viewers familiar with the recent history of THE 4400 are doubtless aware that Burkoff has developed an erratic pseudo-4400 ability in the form of bodily regeneration so the thrill of the opening scene rests more with the revelation that his secret experimentation is known to the authorities rather than the obvious jeopardy of multiple gunshot wounds. Still, the concept of raising the stakes pervades the teleplay by showrunner Ira Steven Behr and frequent collaborator Craig Sweeney. While Burkoff flees the authorities with former psychiatric ward cohort Tess Doerner (FIREFLY's Summer Glau at her most captivating) in tow, it is revealed that his experimentation is not merely limited to his own person, but also extended to NTAC Agent Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie). This development, significantly altering Diana's relationship both to Burkoff specifically and the 4400 in general, will probably inform her characterization throughout the rest of the series much as Aeryn Sun's (Claudia Black) assimilation of Pilot's (voiced by Lani Tupu) DNA early in FARSCAPE altered that character's trajectory.
While the hunt for the titular fugitives ensues, two subsidiary plots focus on escalations of another kind. Richard Tyler (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), fearing his daughter, Isabelle's (Megalyn Echikunwoke) increasing power, invests time in harnessing his own telekinetic abilities with the guidance of 4440 muse Heather Tobey (Kathryn Gordon). Previously utilized as a 4440-of-the-week in "Suffer the Children" and later a red herring in "The Home Front," it's nice to see Tobey becoming a recurring face amongst the series' extended ensemble. Gordon's performance is understated, but sparkles with the same life with which her character imbues others. As always, Ali turns in a top-notch performance capturing, with precision, the feel of the 1950s flung into the modern world. His understandable difficulty in dealing with his special gift is marvelously undercut by Tobey's insistence that he was special even before he was abducted and augmented.
The episode's weakest link rests with Shawn Farrell's (Patrick Flueger) lackluster involvement with a junkie rock star (LOST's Neil Hopkins), who sees Farrell as a miracle in waiting ready to revive him from fatal binges. While the concept is sound, and Hopkins (who seems to be cornering the market on junkie rock star guest spots) plays the role with verve, the story seems more appropriate to an earlier phase of Farrell's development. It's easy to see him ministering to the self-destructive musician when Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell) headed the 4400 Foundation and he was trying to save the world one homeless girl (Lindy Booth) at a time. In the wake of his enforced engagement to Isabelle and his elevation to Collier's political role, the storyline seems woefully out of place and undermines the suspense built in the previous installment.
Mania Grade: B
Reviewed Format: TV Show
Original Airdate: 30 July 2006
Cast: Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Patrick Flueger, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Conchita Campbell, Samantha Ferris, and Karina Lombard
Creators: Scott Peters and René Echevarria
Writers: Ira Steven Behr & Craig Sweeney
Director: Scott Peters