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Old 07-25-2007, 10:12 PM   #46
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Originally posted by Muldfeld

Alias is the biggest load of superficial garbage I've ever seen. The most formulaic stories, lame action filler, and cheesy drama. Awful casting of Jennifer Garner, who's probably the worst highly paid actress in TV history. No wonder you don't appreciate the good aspects of this show. You actually LIKED Alias at some point.

Well I never wrote an 11 paragraph review about one of its episodes if that is what you are talking about.

:stopsgivingachancetoapoorlyactedweaklywrittenshow:

:awaitsanotherpseudointellectualpostbytheguywhodesperatelywantstoproveheistoosmartformainstreamtelevision:
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Old 07-26-2007, 02:40 AM   #47
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Originally posted by Dalton



Well I never wrote an 11 paragraph review about one of its episodes if that is what you are talking about.

:stopsgivingachancetoapoorlyactedweaklywrittenshow:

:awaitsanotherpseudointellectualpostbytheguywhodesperatelywantstoproveheistoosmartformainstreamtelevision:
Actually, my review criticized lots in the episode and I posted it on the official site as a way to communicate with the writers. I care a lot about the things I enjoy. That's all.

:willnotcareaboutfuturemean-spiritedpostsbyabiasedhypocriticalmisanthropewhoproveshisworthbybeingprovocativelyharshandundulynegative:
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Old 07-27-2007, 12:55 AM   #48
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For anyone interested USA Network will air a marathon of Season 4 so far on Saturday August 4th. I think the best episodes are yet to come, but they've been slowly improving, despite some awkward standalone elements in especially the first 3 episodes. Still, lots of political insight into the human condition.

http://www.usanetwork.com/schedules/.../2007&switch=2
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Old 07-27-2007, 11:03 PM   #49
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I'm a couple of weeks behind. Just watched the one where April (she's getting worse as an actress...) can read minds and helps gets the corporate guy in jail. I like the show, but some of the acting and dialogue can be painful. It sometimes seems very forced.
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Old 07-28-2007, 02:46 PM   #50
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I'm a couple of weeks behind. Just watched the one where April (she's getting worse as an actress...) can read minds and helps gets the corporate guy in jail. I like the show, but some of the acting and dialogue can be painful. It sometimes seems very forced.
Yeah, it's no BSG, but I think it's no more forced than Lost or especially Heroes. It's had a lot of trouble getting the best actors because of budgetary constraints. I'm pretty sure the network is asking them to do more standalones to bring in new viewers, but that's meant slowing the continuing story. The main cast is great, though. Also, the 6th episode had its problems, but it had some nice stuff, too and a hilarious first 10 or 15 minutes. Reminded me of Darin Morgan's work on The X-Files and Millennium.

Have you seen the last 3 episodes of Season 3? Those were amazing!
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Old 08-01-2007, 10:45 PM   #51
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What I've been wating for...

My review of "'Til We Have Built Jerusalem"

As the New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote upon the release of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" (although The Motion Picture has always been my favorite Trek film), "Now this is more like it." (I've been waiting to write that!) Since the season premiere I've been awaiting the kind of quality of the final three episodes of Season 3 and the continuing arc of that season. I'd begun to lose hope, but my faith in the show has been restored as not only the plot, but the overall pacing and dialogue are up to those previously-set standards. This was a marked difference in writing quality from previous episodes because (other than avoiding the X-Filesian elements that detracted originality points for "The Marked") it focused solely on main characters, whose moments were only heightened by supporting characters like Meghan Doyle and Senator Lenhoff. Doyle's moments with Tom were much improved from previous episodes, especially the earlier standalones, in which their moments were occasionally awkward or rushed. I mistook glee for sleaziness in Kevin Tighe's Senator Lenhoff's last appearance; his acting is actually quite good. This season, Shawn has had the most consistently interesting elements of the continuing story. I enjoyed how he was portrayed as vulnerable enough to sleep with a patient's daughter, named Kara; surely, he violated some doctor/patient boundary, but he was human enough to not be perfectly disciplined, just as he had been in sleeping with Isabelle. It should be noted that Kara was played by not only a gorgeous woman but a refreshingly good standalone actor with decently-written dialogue. Shawn's confrontation with Kara over her manipulation and betrayal rang true with both her motivations and his hurt feelings being believable and sympathetic. The theme of prejudice toward Shawn was highlighted as the excuse, but this was discrimination based on jealousy of his and other 4400's power. As established in Danny's argument to Shawn in "Fear Itself" for wanting to take promicin, this jealousy hints at the growing frustration among the regular public at the increase in P-positives, and their fear of becoming second-class citizens.

In further exploring Kyle's fanaticism, this episode continues this season's theme about fundamentalism that can be found among segments of any faith or ideology who fail to account for the unpredictable complexity of humanity. The writers made a brilliant decision to infuse Jordan Collier's missionary zeal with an important degree of private doubt. Viewers first saw indication of his reservations in the season premiere through his discussion with Dr. Burkhoff of his dream of a promicin injectee-filled world turning into nightmare. We are reminded of it here again in his talk with Kyle about his apprehension over the irreversible step they were about to take in their revolution. Moments like this humanize him and are surely what happens among leaders of any ambitious movement, even if they never publicly give them voice. Yet, perhaps like the anarchist, a century ago, who shot US President McKinley, Marxist-Leninists who'd excuse any brutal means to secure Soviet Communism, and -- more recently -- neoconservatives of the Bush administration who projected simplistic plans for the Middle East with a prescience that defied understanding of the region's history and human nature, Kyle's conviction dissuades any uncertainty. His confidence in his prophetic book and Cassie is perhaps even better illustrated when its basis in logic is challenged in well-written exchanges with Isabelle and especially his father. A refreshingly realistic bit of texture was Tom's shift in approach in trying to reach his son. The troubled and frantic manner he usually adopts with Kyle would have only shut him down. So, Tom opts for the more practical approach of repressing his emotional tendencies, and speaks with a cautious yet calm tone. Despite the real world parallels in the portrayal of Kyle's growing faith this season, the unique aspect about it is that his devotion is not purely based upon faith in some imagined higher power. Established religions -- like Christianity, Judaism and Islam – may reference a miracle-ridden mythology and depend on cultural traditions, but they offer no actual evidence of God or a higher purpose. In contrast, Kyle's commitment has been earned by some healthy degree of evidence supplied by Cassie. Despite his trust in Cassie's intentions and the purportedly prophetic nature of the book, his faith is not completely blind. He is acting with the knowledge that the 4400 have fantastical abilities and are from the future to save mankind, and that his power, Cassie, has proven her ability to predict the future. Jordan Collier actually was resurrected. Even Diana intelligently hints at this distinction between Kyle's beliefs and those of other religions by mentioning that Maia can see the future and that perhaps Kyle's faith is not misplaced.

Seeing Maia's character mature was a welcome change. Her ominous visions (and perhaps age) caused her to not only relay her visions to Diana to act upon them, but to actually take the initiative to enter Collier's compound alone. It was a shock seeing her share a personal, though slightly quick, moment with Isabelle. I enjoyed how Maia responded to Isabelle's apology with a reiteration of the lesson she learned from her mother's treatment of April in Season 2 that "saying 'sorry' sometimes isn't enough." It might seem a strangely adult response coming from her otherwise, but the audience's knowledge that this attitude was learned from her mother made it quite believable. I appreciated the twist of her lying about a vision because why wouldn't someone who people believe all the time be tempted to exploit that?

I applaud the writer's nod to the theme of environmental problems without dwelling on it in a cheesy way. The environmentalist streak in Jordan's Promise City (awkward name?) makes his vision seem benevolent because it connects with the viewers by making us appreciate the indispensability of what his group brings to humanity. I wondered if the way the P-positive woman purified polluted water seemed a bit silly. Then again, there's no reason she should look so dramatically energized and have a clichéd self-serious pose and facial expression. However, and I'm probably nit-picking, the line "Come on in; the water's fine" served as evidence, yet again, that standalone characters often upset the flow of storytelling, as they did in "Try the Pie."

In any case, Jordan's political movement demonstrates a sensitivity toward the social and environmental threats facing humanity in a way the government does not. His actions in the interest of the greater good stand in stark contrast to the government's small-minded, excuse for intervening with Promise City by claiming violation of property rights; this would symbolize a historical kind of overzealous capitalist-driven prioritization of individual interests over those of the community. Yet the real reason behind the government's behavior, as stated by Ira Behr and Craig Sweeny in the season premiere's commentary, is to preserve the order and control which Jordan Collier's movement and the 4400 threaten. It also understandably seeks to protect itself and its voting public from the uncertain threat they may pose to humanity -- with promicin's high lethality and the dangerous powers wielded by survivors. In this way, government is treated fairly and realistically, and not as an evil caricature; the soldier had enough honor to honestly refuse Jordan's offer of membership without pretending to go along only to try to escape. Yet there is an undeniably dangerous quality which the state possesses, and I'm glad this program hints at this with a healthy skepticism sometimes not found in The X-Files.

In witnessing the government's attempts to harness promicin for its own uses through Defense Department contractor Haskel Corp. in Season 3 (perhaps inspired by Haliburton), and now on its own, we see the hypocrisy of outlawing the use of 4400 abilities earlier this season. (Here's where I get on my soapbox for the next few paragraphs to discuss how issues related to terrorism in the show help us understand history and present day policies.) In a similar way, governments are wary of allowing non-state actors to employ the same means they use to achieve their objectives. One example is the use of force. When states use force, it can be organized and planned to have overwhelming impact through war. States can more easily afford high casualties on their side, and conveniently label innocent victims from the other side as accidental "collateral damage." When smaller, weaker groups use force, they must adopt asymmetrical means to win -- often disparagingly referred to as terrorism. It is without doubt that because terrorism doesn't require democratic consent, it can also be waged with very few members who may not have good reason or democratic interests and consent at heart. It also means they are more likely to target civilians if they are the root of state power in a democratic society. Still, history is full of terrorist cases, in which resistance of this sort was understandable if not completely ethical. During the Cold War, many Latin American movements fighting for disfranchised Indios were mislabeled agents of Soviet Communism by America's allied ruling class, who obtained US aid and used the military to clamp down on popular will. The French Resistance employed terrorism to fight Vichy France. The American Revolutionary Army employed terrorist tactics in the South under General Nathaniel Greene. Contemporary etiquette of warfare meant troops had to arrive in full formation and announce their presence (band playing and all) before agreeing to fight in ordered fashion. British Generals were appalled at the weaker Americans' guerrilla style fighting intended to take the Britons by surprise by engaging in hit-and-run attacks, disguising themselves among civilians, and shooting from hiding places such as tree tops. American soldiers even spread deceitful propaganda to undecided towns about British-allied natives raping white women. American Revolutionaries violated civilized conduct because they felt it was the only way to win.

Maia's statement that Jordan was one of the good guys again shows how terrorism doesn't make someone automatically evil. This is contrary to the simplistic and hypocritical position adopted by many Western leaders like Tony Blair who arbitrarily call their opponents' actions deplorable but find no objection in similar tactics waged by themselves or their allies. Just this week, the US government has agreed to supply billions of dollars' worth of arms to Israel, and repressive regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These states' policies only helped create or inspire the Al Qaeda-type groups threatening civilization, and they continue to inflame the situation with actions that increase their membership. Democrats have rightly opposed this aid by pointing to the origins of Al Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. With decades-long American financial and military support, such Arab states have only led to this violently disturbing reaction, which rightly seeks to overthrow despotic systems that have failed their people, but wrongly seeks a solution through an ugly, colonial form of Muslim nationalism that is even more despotic. Where Democrats have historically been wrong is their unwavering support for Israel, based on domestic politics and familiar cultural ground. They have turned a blind eye to Israel's use of terrorism and ethnic cleansing to free its territory of Palestinians, beginning in the 1940s. Democrats and increasing numbers of Republicans have permitted Israel's continued occupation through US-funded and -supplied state violence and intimidation to do what they will without consulting Palestinians before unilaterally deciding how they live. For decades, Israel's actions have flown in the face of UN resolutions denouncing its continuing settlements beyond sanctioned borders. I recently watched a French documentary by an Arab Jew called "The Wall." It showed how Israel unilaterally decided to build a wall to protect its citizens by crossing the green line up to 6 km into Palestinian territory. This has caused many Palestinian farmers to lose their land, and forced many to take overly circuitous routes to get to their jobs in Israel. Indeed, much of the wall is being built cheaply on Palestinian labor, perhaps as the proposed US-Mexican wall will be built with Mexican labor. I saw a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) report last year about a wealthy Jewish couple who sold their home in Toronto, Canada to move to a settlement newly established on the Palestinian land newly confiscated by the wall's construction. They gave no thought to compensating the Palestinians who've lost their land, so the Israeli state can back their colonialist behavior. Actions like these have occurred for decades, as Palestinians live in squalor.

While terrorist groups like Hamas don't threaten the world the way Islamic fundamentalist groups do, Muslims sympathetic to the Palestinian plight misdirect their outrage by either tolerating or joining Al Qaeda-type groups. This aid package would only strengthen Israel's hand in making it less likely to make peace or even negotiate on terms fair to the Palestinians, including acceptance of Hamas' democratic mandate. It would also strengthen so-called moderate Arab states' hold on power, even though they fund Islamic fundamentalist teachings as a compromise with their restless populace. The Saudi embassy gives out a Qur'an containing exegesis (interpretations of the text) with atypical racist remarks about Jews. It's important to challenge Iran's Ahmadinjad's childish hate-mongering, but the US should keep a better check on its allies' more effective and widespread racism. In this way, America's aid to the Israeli occupation, its military presence in the Middle East, and its support for despotic (so-called "moderate") Arab regimes all fuel the growing Islamic fundamentalist terrorist movement.

As this program shows, terrorism often results from discrimination or oppression (often real, occasionally imagined), and, while it can take on irrational and violent traits, it can also be used for good. Jordan Collier's offer of sanctuary to the persecuted 4400 is quite stirring because its heroically protective quality resonates with the audience's sympathy for the plight of discriminated groups throughout history who would have welcomed such an opportunity to freely be themselves. His movement also appeals to a desire for social justice with its elements of brotherly love and his standing up for the down-trodden (seen in how he respected the homeless at the end of last season).

I only recently realized the brilliance of the writers' move last season in allowing anyone to become a 4400. In doing this, both they and Jordan Collier turned a mission to be carried out by a select few – vulnerable to discrimination from the fearful majority – into a popular and more democratic revolution by allowing anyone to become a 4400. This had the added effect of making the 4400s' mission to save humanity increasingly resistant to grassroots and state opposition as membership grows, and, therefore, more stable and likely to succeed. The parallel in religious terms is spreading the faith by accepting new members among a previously-confined chosen people.

Yet, there's an exclusionist streak in this movement which won't accept non-4400s, unless they risk the injections to join their ranks; the parallel in religious terms is conversion to the faith to be accepted. By shifting the power balance, as Danny Farrell mentioned in "Fear Itself," isn't the creation of a two-class world an injustice in almost forcing regular humans to take promicin and risk dying? Even if there was no risk, forfeiting their normalcy is quite a price. In addition, some of Collier's terrorist tactics are a bit unsettling, even if understandable and even-tempered. The fact that he has the ability to choose who among the Extra Crispies retains their powers recalls Shawn's mistrust of the potential for Jordan's own accumulation and abuse of power; this would have anti-democratic implications for his revolution. I was relieved he did not kill the government's strike team, since the setting reminded me of the kind in which Westerners are tragically beheaded in Iraq. Yet, he was prepared to mount a counter-attack, which could have killed many innocents. While such targets have the power to control their government's policies with their vote, and would bear some responsibility for the attack, it would still be sad. Even though Jordan's ultimate solution was more passive, there was something chilling about how Promise City unstoppably expanded its borders. History has shown that the line between a justified, protective defense and an aggressive offense that leads to injustice toward the other party is sometimes indistinguishable. In this fashion, the writers continue to refuse fictional absolutes, in demonstrating that "good" doesn't mean morally perfect (and "bad" doesn't mean inherently evil), by having Jordan prepared to react with violence and willing to expand his zone with force. As a result, they depict a more complex and realistic notion of human nature one doesn't find in most TV shows and I'm thrilled to find in this one. It wasn't just the main plot that was very good, but there were little touches and character moments that didn't feel too self-conscious, and were executed more skillfully than they have much of this season. For example, the dinner scene between Tom and Diana was very well done, especially the non-cliché observation by Tom as to the reasons women invite men over: attraction or pity. I also liked how Garrity pointed to Doyle's professional flaws, as he did in the premiere. Regarding the appearance of the show, the special effects for invisible soldier were very well done. The fight scene between Tom and the soldier looked great. It wasn't overly choreographed or tediously long (as on Angel or Buffy) but believably tough, too. I like that Tom knew where the cloaked soldier was hiding but that it didn't make a difference because he didn't react fast enough, and he still was beaten. The soldiers in this episode gave a much better military performance than was given in Season 2's "Lockdown." There was a regular, "uncool" look to many of the extras, especially the woman standing next to Jordan at the end, who cut NTAC's camera connection. Initially, their appearance was off-putting. Yet maybe it was a good choice, considering these might be the kinds of ordinary people who wouldn't look self-consciously dramatic, if this were to happen in the real world, and you were watching them on CNN.

However, not every detail was well-executed, as minor faults continue to detract from the show's look and sound in post-production. They have to get rid of the slow motion technique used in the teaser when Collier addresses his followers, and used throughout the series. Perhaps, it's how they use it to draw out a moment; it always looks cheap – as if there are too few frames per second and this was a last-minute decision made in post-production to give the scene some gravity the director felt lacking. Even when composed music is as forced and formulaic as that of "Lost," it definitely heightens mood. For the best effect, I'm a huge fan of Mark Snow's score for Seasons 3 through 6 of The X-Files and the melodic work by Bear McCreary in the new Battlestar Galactica. I appreciate this show's shift in respect toward letting dramatic moments stand on their own merits by not clubbing the audience over the head with the scene's meaning through cheesy Top 40 music and lyrics. However, there were still problems with the much-preferred score. The triumphant music for the teaser's rousing speech scene and Maia's alert of impending doom could have been better; it could have had a less artificial-sounding, clunky synthesizer; perhaps it needed more layering, more dynamism through loud and soft, or some well-synthesized strings. I'm still having a problem with the throbbing bass synth sound used to create suspense, when it just feels a bit boring to me. The sound of the synth toward the act break before the theme song sounded better. I have heard better music from John Van Tongeren and Claude Foisy and the music during the end montage (and the choice of that scene only having music and no other sound was a good one) was much better. Also, there was a cool sound effect when Shawn and Maia were watching Jordan on TV, which didn't sound like some rip-off (which many shows do) of Mark Snow's sting or that of any other show or movie.

While Robert Hewitt Wolfe has been serving as Creative Consultant since "Try the Pie," this episode features his return as a writer. He wrote the Season 1 episode "Trial by Fire," but is much more impressive to me for his excellent work alongside – and, often, co-writing with – head writer Ira Steven Behr on the unique and equally political Star Trek Deep Space Nine, which Mr. Behr headed in the last 5 of its seven year run. Based on his lovingly-expressed thoughts on the DS9 DVD sets, Mr. Wolfe shows a keen interest in history and politics. After working on non-political shows, it's nice to see his passion and adeptness for political insight into the human condition working so well to bring out what this show does best. I hope he stays on.

8.4 out of 10

(I should emphasize the only the rarest of shows get 10 -- only the absolute best episodes of The X-Files ("Talitha Cumi", "Paper Hearts", "Redux II", etc.), Battlestar Galactica ("Pegasus","Lay Down Your Burdens", "Occupation"/"Precipice") and Deep Space Nine ("In the Pale Moonlight"). I would give the best story of The 4400 to date, "Terrible Swift Sword"/"Fifty Fifty," around 9.0, and I really loved that.)
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Old 08-02-2007, 04:31 AM   #52
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Here's a link to the 7th and up to now best episode of the season, "Til We Have Built Jerusalem" in streaming video; it might not be up for too long:

http://stage6.divx.com/user/roni_smi...355/4400-04x07
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Old 08-03-2007, 03:39 PM   #53
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I thought I'd repost my review with subject headings so it's not so frightening-looking and people won't just think I'm summarizing the story, but realize I'm talking about the show's exploration of human nature and politics in a challenging way.

My review of "'Til We Have Built Jerusalem"

Rough summary about why it was so good, including the supporting performances.

As the New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote upon the release of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" (although The Motion Picture has always been my favorite Trek film), "Now this is more like it." (I've been waiting to write that!) Since the season premiere I've been awaiting the kind of quality of the final three episodes of Season 3 and the continuing arc of that season. I'd begun to lose hope, but my faith in the show has been restored as not only the plot, but the overall pacing and dialogue are up to those previously-set standards. This was a marked difference in writing quality from previous episodes because (other than avoiding the X-Filesian elements that detracted originality points for "The Marked") it focused solely on main characters, whose moments were only heightened by supporting characters like Meghan Doyle and Senator Lenhoff. Doyle's moments with Tom were much improved from previous episodes, especially the earlier standalones, in which their moments were occasionally awkward or rushed. I mistook glee for sleaziness in Kevin Tighe's Senator Lenhoff's last appearance; his acting is actually quite good.

Shawn's subplot and what I loved about it.

This season, Shawn has had the most consistently interesting elements of the continuing story. I enjoyed how he was portrayed as vulnerable enough to sleep with a patient's daughter, named Kara; surely, he violated some doctor/patient boundary, but he was human enough to not be perfectly disciplined, just as he had been in sleeping with Isabelle. It should be noted that Kara was played by not only a gorgeous woman but a refreshingly good standalone actor with decently-written dialogue. Shawn's confrontation with Kara over her manipulation and betrayal rang true with both her motivations and his hurt feelings being believable and sympathetic. The theme of prejudice toward Shawn was highlighted as the excuse, but this was discrimination based on jealousy of his and other 4400's power. As established in Danny's argument to Shawn in "Fear Itself" for wanting to take promicin, this jealousy hints at the growing frustration among the regular public at the increase in P-positives, and their fear of becoming second-class citizens.

Kyle's fanatical role, partly in relation to Jordan.

In further exploring Kyle's fanaticism, this episode continues this season's theme about fundamentalism that can be found among segments of any faith or ideology who fail to account for the unpredictable complexity of humanity. The writers made a brilliant decision to infuse Jordan Collier's missionary zeal with an important degree of private doubt. Viewers first saw indication of his reservations in the season premiere through his discussion with Dr. Burkhoff of his dream of a promicin injectee-filled world turning into nightmare. We are reminded of it here again in his talk with Kyle about his apprehension over the irreversible step they were about to take in their revolution. Moments like this humanize him and are surely what happens among leaders of any ambitious movement, even if they never publicly give them voice. Yet, perhaps like the anarchist, a century ago, who shot US President McKinley, Marxist-Leninists who'd excuse any brutal means to secure Soviet Communism, and -- more recently -- neoconservatives of the Bush administration who projected simplistic plans for the Middle East with a prescience that defied understanding of the region's history and human nature, Kyle's conviction dissuades any uncertainty.

How Kyle explains himself to skeptics and how fresh and realistic his interaction with Tom is this episode.

His confidence in his prophetic book and Cassie is perhaps even better illustrated when its basis in logic is challenged in well-written exchanges with Isabelle and especially his father. A refreshingly realistic bit of texture was Tom's shift in approach in trying to reach his son. The troubled and frantic manner he usually adopts with Kyle would have only shut him down. So, Tom opts for the more practical approach of repressing his emotional tendencies, and speaks with a cautious yet calm tone.

Differences between Kyle's faith and followers of real world faith.

Despite the real world parallels in the portrayal of Kyle's growing faith this season, the unique aspect about it is that his devotion is not purely based upon faith in some imagined higher power. Established religions -- like Christianity, Judaism and Islam – may reference a miracle-ridden mythology and depend on cultural traditions, but they offer no actual evidence of God or a higher purpose. In contrast, Kyle's commitment has been earned by some healthy degree of evidence supplied by Cassie. Despite his trust in Cassie's intentions and the purportedly prophetic nature of the book, his faith is not completely blind. He is acting with the knowledge that the 4400 have fantastical abilities and are from the future to save mankind, and that his power, Cassie, has proven her ability to predict the future. Jordan Collier actually was resurrected. Even Diana intelligently hints at this distinction between Kyle's beliefs and those of other religions by mentioning that Maia can see the future and that perhaps Kyle's faith is not misplaced.

Maia's role

Seeing Maia's character mature was a welcome change. Her ominous visions (and perhaps age) caused her to not only relay her visions to Diana to act upon them, but to actually take the initiative to enter Collier's compound alone. It was a shock seeing her share a personal, though slightly quick, moment with Isabelle. I enjoyed how Maia responded to Isabelle's apology with a reiteration of the lesson she learned from her mother's treatment of April in Season 2 that "saying 'sorry' sometimes isn't enough." It might seem a strangely adult response coming from her otherwise, but the audience's knowledge that this attitude was learned from her mother made it quite believable. I appreciated the twist of her lying about a vision because why wouldn't someone who people believe all the time be tempted to exploit that?

Environmental themes and how they're dealt with.

I applaud the writer's nod to the theme of environmental problems without dwelling on it in a cheesy way. The environmentalist streak in Jordan's Promise City (awkward name?) makes his vision seem benevolent because it connects with the viewers by making us appreciate the indispensability of what his group brings to humanity. I wondered if the way the P-positive woman purified polluted water seemed a bit silly. Then again, there's no reason she should look so dramatically energized and have a clichéd self-serious pose and facial expression. However, and I'm probably nit-picking, the line "Come on in; the water's fine" served as evidence, yet again, that standalone characters often upset the flow of storytelling, as they did in "Try the Pie."

Jordan's movement and the government reaction

In any case, Jordan's political movement demonstrates a sensitivity toward the social and environmental threats facing humanity in a way the government does not. His actions in the interest of the greater good stand in stark contrast to the government's small-minded, excuse for intervening with Promise City by claiming violation of property rights; this would symbolize a historical kind of overzealous capitalist-driven prioritization of individual interests over those of the community. Yet the real reason behind the government's behavior, as stated by Ira Behr and Craig Sweeny in the season premiere's commentary, is to preserve the order and control which Jordan Collier's movement and the 4400 threaten. It also understandably seeks to protect itself and its voting public from the uncertain threat they may pose to humanity -- with promicin's high lethality and the dangerous powers wielded by survivors. In this way, government is treated fairly and realistically, and not as an evil caricature; the soldier had enough honor to honestly refuse Jordan's offer of membership without pretending to go along only to try to escape. Yet there is an undeniably dangerous quality which the state possesses, and I'm glad this program hints at this with a healthy skepticism sometimes not found in The X-Files.

Political analogies: the government's state power versus terrorism.

In witnessing the government's attempts to harness promicin for its own uses through Defense Department contractor Haskel Corp. in Season 3 (perhaps inspired by Haliburton), and now on its own, we see the hypocrisy of outlawing the use of 4400 abilities earlier this season. (Here's where I get on my soapbox for the next few paragraphs to discuss how issues related to terrorism in the show help us understand history and present day policies.) In a similar way, governments are wary of allowing non-state actors to employ the same means they use to achieve their objectives. One example is the use of force. When states use force, it can be organized and planned to have overwhelming impact through war. States can more easily afford high casualties on their side, and conveniently label innocent victims from the other side as accidental "collateral damage." When smaller, weaker groups use force, they must adopt asymmetrical means to win -- often disparagingly referred to as terrorism. It is without doubt that because terrorism doesn't require democratic consent, it can also be waged with very few members who may not have good reason or democratic interests and consent at heart. It also means they are more likely to target civilians if they are the root of state power in a democratic society.

Political analogies: historical examples of terrorism.

Still, history is full of terrorist cases in which resistance of this sort was understandable if not completely ethical. During the Cold War, many Latin American movements fighting for disfranchised Indios were mislabeled agents of Soviet Communism by America's allied ruling class, who obtained US aid and used the military to clamp down on popular will. The French Resistance employed terrorism to fight Vichy France. The American Revolutionary Army employed terrorist tactics in the South under General Nathaniel Greene. Contemporary etiquette of warfare meant troops had to arrive in full formation and announce their presence (band playing and all) before agreeing to fight in ordered fashion. British Generals were appalled at the weaker Americans' guerrilla style fighting intended to take the Britons by surprise by engaging in hit-and-run attacks, disguising themselves among civilians, and shooting from hiding places such as tree tops. American soldiers even spread deceitful propaganda to undecided towns about British-allied natives raping white women. American Revolutionaries violated civilized conduct because they felt it was the only way to win.

Current political issues related to terrorism and why US military aid to certain nations isn't a good idea if we want to stop Al Qaeda-type groups.

Maia's statement that Jordan was one of the good guys again shows how terrorism doesn't make someone automatically evil. This is contrary to the simplistic and hypocritical position adopted by many Western leaders like Tony Blair who arbitrarily call their opponents' actions deplorable but find no objection in similar tactics waged by themselves or their allies. Just this week, the US government has agreed to supply billions of dollars' worth of arms to Israel, and repressive regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These states' policies only helped create or inspire the Al Qaeda-type groups threatening civilization, and they continue to inflame the situation with actions that increase their membership. Democrats have rightly opposed this aid by pointing to the origins of Al Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. With decades-long American financial and military support, such Arab states have only led to this violently disturbing reaction, which rightly seeks to overthrow despotic systems that have failed their people, but wrongly seeks a solution through an ugly, colonial form of Muslim nationalism that is even more despotic. Where Democrats have historically been wrong is their unwavering support for Israel, based on domestic politics and familiar cultural ground. They have turned a blind eye to Israel's use of terrorism and ethnic cleansing to free its territory of Palestinians, beginning in the 1940s. Democrats and increasing numbers of Republicans have permitted Israel's continued occupation through US-funded and -supplied state violence and intimidation to do what they will without consulting Palestinians before unilaterally deciding how they live.

For decades, Israel's actions have flown in the face of UN resolutions denouncing its continuing settlements beyond sanctioned borders. I recently watched a French documentary by an Arab Jew called "The Wall." It showed how Israel unilaterally decided to build a wall to protect its citizens by crossing the green line up to 6 km into Palestinian territory. This has caused many Palestinian farmers to lose their land, and forced many to take overly circuitous routes to get to their jobs in Israel. Indeed, much of the wall is being built cheaply on Palestinian labor, perhaps as the proposed US-Mexican wall will be built with Mexican labor. I saw a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) report last year about a wealthy Jewish couple who sold their home in Toronto, Canada to move to a settlement newly established on the Palestinian land newly confiscated by the wall's construction. They gave no thought to compensating the Palestinians who've lost their land, so the Israeli state can back their colonialist behavior. Actions like these have occurred for decades, as Palestinians live in squalor.

While terrorist groups like Hamas don't threaten the world the way Islamic fundamentalist groups do, Muslims sympathetic to the Palestinian plight misdirect their outrage by either tolerating or joining Al Qaeda-type groups. This aid package would only strengthen Israel's hand in making it less likely to make peace or even negotiate on terms fair to the Palestinians, including acceptance of Hamas' democratic mandate. It would also strengthen so-called moderate Arab states' hold on power, even though they fund Islamic fundamentalist teachings as a compromise with their restless populace. The Saudi embassy gives out a Qur'an containing exegesis (interpretations of the text) with atypical racist remarks about Jews. It's important to challenge Iran's Ahmadinjad's childish hate-mongering, but the US should keep a better check on its allies' more effective and widespread racism. In this way, America's aid to the Israeli occupation, its military presence in the Middle East, and its support for despotic (so-called "moderate") Arab regimes all fuel the growing Islamic fundamentalist terrorist movement.

Appealing quality of Jordan's offer to save the discrminated 4400 from government and societal oppression.

As this program shows, terrorism often results from discrimination or oppression (often real, occasionally imagined), and, while it can take on irrational and violent traits, it can also be used for good. Jordan Collier's offer of sanctuary to the persecuted 4400 is quite stirring because its heroically protective quality resonates with the audience's sympathy for the plight of discriminated groups throughout history who would have welcomed such an opportunity to freely be themselves. His movement also appeals to a desire for social justice with its elements of brotherly love and his standing up for the down-trodden (seen in how he respected the homeless at the end of last season).

Brilliant strategy of giving out promicin for stabilizing Jordan's revolution.

I only recently realized the brilliance of the writers' move last season in allowing anyone to become a 4400. In doing this, both they and Jordan Collier turned a mission to be carried out by a select few -- vulnerable to discrimination from the fearful majority -- into a popular and more democratic revolution by allowing anyone to become a 4400. This had the added effect of making the 4400s' mission to save humanity increasingly resistant to grassroots and state opposition as membership grows, and, therefore, more stable and likely to succeed. The parallel in religious terms is spreading the faith by accepting new members among a previously-confined chosen people.

Exclusionist streak in Jordan's movement and injustice toward non-4400s.

Yet, there's an exclusionist streak in this movement which won't accept non-4400s, unless they risk the injections to join their ranks; the parallel in religious terms is conversion to the faith to be accepted. By shifting the power balance, as Danny Farrell mentioned in "Fear Itself," isn't the creation of a two-class world an injustice in almost forcing regular humans to take promicin and risk dying? Even if there was no risk, forfeiting their normalcy is quite a price. In addition, some of Collier's terrorist tactics are a bit unsettling, even if understandable and even-tempered. The fact that he has the ability to choose who among the Extra Crispies retains their powers recalls Shawn's mistrust of the potential for Jordan's own accumulation and abuse of power; this would have anti-democratic implications for his revolution. I was relieved he did not kill the government's strike team, since the setting reminded me of the kind in which Westerners are tragically beheaded in Iraq. Yet, he was prepared to mount a counter-attack, which could have killed many innocents. While such targets have the power to control their government's policies with their vote, and would bear some responsibility for the attack, it would still be sad. Even though Jordan's ultimate solution was more passive, there was something chilling about how Promise City unstoppably expanded its borders. History has shown that the line between a justified, protective defense and an aggressive offense that leads to injustice toward the other party is sometimes indistinguishable.

In this fashion, the writers continue to refuse fictional absolutes, in demonstrating that "good" doesn't mean morally perfect (and "bad" doesn't mean inherently evil), by having Jordan prepared to react with violence and willing to expand his zone with force. As a result, they depict a more complex and realistic notion of human nature one doesn't find in most TV shows and I'm thrilled to find in this one.

Little aspects that made the episode work.

It wasn't just the main plot that was very good, but there were little touches and character moments that didn't feel too self-conscious, and were executed more skillfully than they have much of this season. For example, the dinner scene between Tom and Diana was very well done, especially the non-cliché observation by Tom as to the reasons women invite men over: attraction or pity. I also liked how Garrity pointed to Doyle's professional flaws, as he did in the premiere. Regarding the appearance of the show, the special effects for invisible soldier were very well done. The fight scene between Tom and the soldier looked great. It wasn't overly choreographed or tediously long (as on Angel or Buffy) but believably tough, too. I like that Tom knew where the cloaked soldier was hiding but that it didn't make a difference because he didn't react fast enough, and he still was beaten. The soldiers in this episode gave a much better military performance than was given in Season 2's "Lockdown." There was a regular, "uncool" look to many of the extras, especially the woman standing next to Jordan at the end, who cut NTAC's camera connection. Initially, their appearance was off-putting. Yet maybe it was a good choice, considering these might be the kinds of ordinary people who wouldn't look self-consciously dramatic, if this were to happen in the real world, and you were watching them on CNN.

Little things that need improvement on the show.

However, not every detail was well-executed, as minor faults continue to detract from the show's look and sound in post-production. They have to get rid of the slow motion technique used in the teaser when Collier addresses his followers, and used throughout the series. Perhaps, it's how they use it to draw out a moment; it always looks cheap – as if there are too few frames per second and this was a last-minute decision made in post-production to give the scene some gravity the director felt lacking. Even when composed music is as forced and formulaic as that of "Lost," it definitely heightens mood. For the best effect, I'm a huge fan of Mark Snow's score for Seasons 3 through 6 of The X-Files and the melodic work by Bear McCreary in the new Battlestar Galactica. I appreciate this show's shift in respect toward letting dramatic moments stand on their own merits by not clubbing the audience over the head with the scene's meaning through cheesy Top 40 music and lyrics. However, there were still problems with the much-preferred score. The triumphant music for the teaser's rousing speech scene and Maia's alert of impending doom could have been better; it could have had a less artificial-sounding, clunky synthesizer; perhaps it needed more layering, more dynamism through loud and soft, or some well-synthesized strings. I'm still having a problem with the throbbing bass synth sound used to create suspense, when it just feels a bit boring to me. The sound of the synth toward the act break before the theme song sounded better. I have heard better music from John Van Tongeren and Claude Foisy and the music during the end montage (and the choice of that scene only having music and no other sound was a good one) was much better. Also, there was a cool sound effect when Shawn and Maia were watching Jordan on TV, which didn't sound like some rip-off (which many shows do) of Mark Snow's sting or that of any other show or movie.

Return of the Wolfe: the writer of the episode.

While Robert Hewitt Wolfe has been serving as Creative Consultant since "Try the Pie," this episode features his return as a writer. He wrote the Season 1 episode "Trial by Fire," but is much more impressive to me for his excellent work alongside – and, often, co-writing with – head writer Ira Steven Behr on the unique and equally political Star Trek Deep Space Nine, which Mr. Behr headed in the last 5 of its seven year run. Based on his lovingly-expressed thoughts on the DS9 DVD sets, Mr. Wolfe shows a keen interest in history and politics. After working on non-political shows, it's nice to see his passion and adeptness for political insight into the human condition working so well to bring out what this show does best. I hope he stays on.

8.4 out of 10

(I should emphasize the only the rarest of shows get 10 -- only the absolute best episodes of The X-Files ("Talitha Cumi", "Paper Hearts", "Redux II", etc.), Battlestar Galactica ("Pegasus","Lay Down Your Burdens", "Occupation"/"Precipice") and Deep Space Nine ("In the Pale Moonlight"). I would give the best episode of The 4400 to date, "Terrible Swift Sword"/"Fifty Fifty," around 9.0, and I really loved that.)
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Old 08-04-2007, 02:08 AM   #54
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Great 6 minute video commentary on the episode "Til We Have Built Jerusalem" by writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe.
http://video.usanetwork.com/player/?id=134025
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Old 08-07-2007, 01:17 PM   #55
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I have been watching The 4400 since last year. My sister watched from the beginning and got me hooked.
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Old 08-17-2007, 04:19 AM   #56
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Alright here's my review of the week before last's episode -- probably the worst one of all, if not the season.

My review of: "No Exit" by Adam Levy

Nowadays when I watch an episode, I try to not look at who the writer is, so that, based on the expectations I have of given writers, I'm not prejudiced into touting something as great or ineffective before it has finished. No offense to Adam Levy, since he worked on "The Gospel According to Jordan Collier," but, after watching the episode, I was crossing my fingers hoping Ira Steven Behr had not written this poorly-executed effort at a "bottle show" – which, according to the Writers' Blog, is an attempt to save the network money. I absolutely loved this episode's emotionally-intimate moments, especially between long-established characters. However, what could have been elaborated upon for a powerful character piece was ruined by a seeming identity crisis in choosing the focus of the show – or, rather, in deciding to divide the focus between a worthwhile character exploration and an uninteresting action dynamic to keep us entertained. I presumed the writers understood the focus should be "the characters, stupid." Instead, half the story time was misguidedly redirected toward satisfying the standalone plot mechanics of a dull suspense thriller. Still, as I'll comment toward the end of my review, P.J.'s 4400 ability to bring together adversaries in a psychic game of cooperation provided interesting commentary on the feelings of powerless citizens toward world leaders, especially in the dominant West, who refuse to admit fault or negotiate with opponents by dismissing them as irredeemable. P.J.'s yearning for understanding among the most pivotal players in the struggle between 4400s and non-4400s, and his ability's use in the service of this goal captured the spirit of what the concerned and voiceless in our world only wish they could do to bring peace.

Why such standalones are a waste of the series' potential.
I checked a spring 2007 interview with our man Behr on tv.ign.com and this episode (Number 8) was the annual, experimental "palette cleanser" to which he referred, just as was last year's "Blink." However, I was really hoping for the kind of innovative and dramatically-powerful story he delivered in Season 2 around the same time of year with "Life Interrupted" or even last year when he co-wrote "The Home Front." Ira Behr has overseen successful "bottle" shows, such as DS9's "Starship Down." I hopefully expect he's saving all his best work for the second half of the season, after a disappointing premiere. Yet, such a decision confuses me, since there are so few episodes a year, and much of the otherwise fascinating and innovative continuing story has sometimes felt more disjointed (and perhaps more rushed) than in past years. Instead of dissatisfying "Touched by an Angel"-style drama of standalone main plots, I feel it would have been better to further detail the continuing story elements (especially Kyle, Jordan, and Shawn's journeys) of each episode to fully fill that episode. I just don't buy the argument that, in order to win over new fans, it is better to have a mediocre standalone plot that takes away time from the continuing story rather than a well-executed and textured fully-serialized set of episodes. I've introduced myself to serialized shows part-way, but instead of being dissuaded by the complexity, I was won over by the engaging drama. Simply put, I don't see how compromising the strengths of the show is going to win over new viewers; it will likely just lose older partial fans of the show when they do check it out. The standalone story elements could have sufficed but the writing quality needed much more work to be worthy of the third of the season that they have consumed so far; even so-called mythology episodes like "Try the Pie" with detracting standalone elements and somewhat lesser standalone townspeople characters are obviously far less engaging than full-on mythology episodes like "Till We Have Built Jerusalem."

Similarities with "Blink."
Season 3's "Blink" made the same mistakes as this episode. It provided an opportunity to understand more about Diana and Tom's past and two of their deeply psychologically-affecting relationships. The drama provided by each lead's interaction with hallucinations of Diana's ex-fiancé and especially Tom's father allowed for some realistic and relatable aspects of the characters to be exposed. Nevertheless, the writing staff needlessly balanced the character drama with ineffective "excitement." They focused half the story on the silly detective work of finding out how this happened to our heroes and the uninteresting process of catching the cookie distributor. This plot-driven exercise only detracted from what could have been a great character piece. This was a missed opportunity to know so much more about Tom and Diana or at least explore more dialogue and interesting moments with their past loved ones. In "No Exit," the dramatically-intimate prospects were perhaps greater and potentially more effective by involving more of the main cast. Yet, partly for those reasons, the continual shift toward plot-driven jeopardy was even more of a dramatic mood killer this time around. P.J's game wasn't nearly as interesting as the apparently incidental character moments that came between the supposed "meat" of the episode – the action.

Problems with subplot.
I sympathized with the set-up needed to bring all these characters face-to-face so they could have great drama. However, too much story effort was put into explaining this set-up and making it (and P.J.) a character in itself that exploration of the existing characters was far less deep than it could have been. The dramatic point of the episode was lost in self-consciously trying to make it superficially entertaining, and neither goal was well achieved. Even if the characters reacted believably, the whole suspense dynamic felt dull, cheap or silly with a living NTAC building come to life; this kind of situation was more expertly done on Star Trek: DS9's "Civil Defense" in which the station's security protocols threatened the crew; here, even if viewers knew it was a dream, the same threats just felt hokey, especially the sliding doors and ventilation system machinations. While some sort of basic plot device could have provided the backdrop for getting Collier's group and NTAC's staff to work together, it should have been simplified, so we had more time to give the wonderful character interactions their full due.

Presentation and finer details were lacking.
I'm not sure if the director was to blame, but there was something off about the tone of how the characters met (except perhaps Shawn, Isabelle and Kyle) that felt boring and started off the show poorly. Some of the acting or perhaps how such acting was captured on camera (Isabelle's reaction to Shawn's "death", Maia's screaming, etc) or even scripted was also less than stellar. This was strange because the show has a very talented cast. One notable exception was the way Meghan Doyle fiddled and reacted to being shocked, which seemed quite embarrassingly real.

Original character dynamics that made the story interesting.
There were minor elements related to the boring subplot that deserve praise for being refreshing and unique. Diana, one of the heroes, was shown up by a minor supporting character for her ineffectual idea of protecting themselves from Jordan's side by barricading the room. A nice touch was in having Jordan's terrorist group more willing to cooperate than the NTAC staff. Jordan was willing to share the risk in helping Tom escort P.J. to end the game early, Kyle and Isabelle welcomed Maia's help, and Isabelle pressed a distrustful Diana to cooperate. I also appreciated that working together produced some mutual respect between Tom and Jordan, but was not some magical breakthrough in politically uniting the two. The complexity to this new level in their relationship was conveyed in Jordan's polite but insistent request to Tom that one of them end their phone conversation, since they both expressed the limits to their rapprochement.

Severity of the justice system toward P.J.'s crime.
While P.J.'s success in even momentarily breaking barriers between Tom and Jordan was not lost on the audience, an interesting choice was made to have Marco and especially Diana unimpressed by what P.J. had accomplished. They seemed unmoved by his pleas for the need for understanding and unsympathetic to his plight in being arrested for doing some good. It's interesting to note the very realistic hypocrisy in Diana's more loving conduct when her sister committed the same crime. In this way, viewers can see the inherent cruelty in a rigid justice system that sometimes fails to take into account the context of a person's crime. From unfair treatment of the poor to enemy combatants in Abu Ghraib, similar black or white justice is meted out in the US and the larger world. In P.J.'s sentencing, one sees the harsh treatment of ordinary folks who inject themselves, either out of ideological persuasion by Jordan's message, or fear of changing power dynamics that would put them at a disadvantage if they didn't.

Intimate character moments.
The best dramatic use of the characters did not come from suspicious, fearful reactions to the tense set-up, but from softer, personal moments generated by long-standing personal and/or political grievances over past and existing relationships. However, while the drama derived from characters trying to get to know each other in a new light was a neat idea, perhaps it was less interestingly and convincingly handled. When she wasn't screaming in fear, Maia had an interesting role in confronting Diana and Marco about their awkward distancing – much to Diana's nicely-acted annoyance. This allowed some good discussion about their feelings and their desire to preserve their friendship; this is the kind of thing fans have been waiting to watch. I'm still unsure about Meghan Doyle as a quality character or at least her use in the show. Moments between she and Tom, while believable, still feel slightly contrived and uninteresting, especially the last scene in which Tom hugs her. In contrast, Kyle and Isabelle's relationship has been better handled such that no one can surely predict whether they will get together romantically; avoiding that kind of fatalism makes their relationship more believable. In any case, I liked Meghan and Tom's discussion of how he keeps moving forward by concentrating on the task directly ahead of him. It felt true. Tom's conversation with Kyle was another well-written moment allowing each to believably express his perspective about Kyle's terrorist role this season. Through this exchange we understand each one's personal and political differences. A nice touch was how Shawn's death slightly affected Kyle. It would have been cliché to have it shake his beliefs completely and have him turn on his mission. The writers chose a more realistic approach in making Kyle adopt the mindset of terrorists who witness deaths all the time in their search for a better world. Kyle's reaction was such that he only questioned slightly his willingness to risk lives to make the prophesy and Jordan's vision a reality. People's judgment is often slow to change and it's appropriate that the writers realized this.

Best of all the character moments were the interactions concerning Shawn. There were so few moments, but they all felt meaningful and deserved to be mined for all they were worth instead of having him implausibly sacrificed for some suspense dynamic. Shawn waking up next to Isabelle was a chilling touch. I loved his reaction (evident in his body language and tone) to Jordan's group as well as how Kyle pointed out how his relationship with Jordan was more equal than Shawn's had been. It felt convincingly true because all the episodes this year showed this, but I hadn't yet realized it; I wonder if Shawn felt some jealousy toward Kyle over this. Not everything was great; the distinction between Jordan as someone who "shoots first and asks questions later" and Shawn's more peaceful approach was a bit obvious, but acceptable. Perhaps Shawn's "death" did provide some dramatic use when Tom and Jordan discussed his importance to them; I had never heard the characters talk about their history with him that way; it was great to see, but also far too brief.

The most politically-insightful and relatable dramatic moment.
Perhaps the nicest moment in the entire episode involved Tom arguing with Jordan over each one's responsibility for the world-wide political turmoil. The writers insightfully gave each side a valid perspective. Both were able to point out how each one's inflexibility had led to his (adoptive) son's estrangement. Tom blamed their present predicament on Jordan's irresponsible distribution of promicin to the masses. He argued was causing a mounting death toll and unleashing dangerous abilities among P-positives, including P.J.. Jordan convincingly retorted that the government's counterrevolutionary tactics of heavy-handed criminalization and fear-mongering only forced "the gifted" into hiding and prevented them learning to use their abilities safely and constructively. This exchange reminded me of the war on drugs debate. Proponents of legalization sometimes claim the violence and enrichment to drug cartels and mafias come from government criminalization, which makes drugs less accessible and drives up the profit to those who provide it. Careful regulation, they say, might make the problem more manageable. The difference between the War on Drugs and the War on Promicin is that I'm opposed to dangers legalization of drugs might bring in making its availability easier, especially to minors; while 1930s prohibition didn't halt alcoholism, it did lessen it, and making something legal tends to make it more acceptable, when perhaps it shouldn't be. In the case of Jordan's distribution of promicin, such actions seem carried out with the best intentions of saving humanity to prevent the accumulation of power among a few.

Political parallels in how states' counterrevolutionary behavior can worsen things: How America's reaction to Al Qaeda only strengthened its cause.
In any case, Jordan's response reflects a politically-astute and historically-accurate observation by the writers that state reactions to perceived threats sometimes increases the power and likelihood of such threats. For example, the Bush administration's reaction to 9/11 by invading Iraq involved a misunderstanding and intentional miscommunication to the Western public of the nature and causes of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Despite the good intentions of some in the US military, the war and occupation have been carried out with criminally immoral carelessness. Members of the administration have failed to gain Iraqis' trust in refusing to swear off permanent US bases and, most importantly, potential US profit from Iraq's oil reserves. Using the rhetoric of free enterprise, Dick Cheney and others pushed to ensure that American business can profit from Iraq's vast oil reserves, instead of stipulating that petroleum will only be used for the benefit of Iraqis. This sends the message that America is there primarily for its own interests and not to help Iraqi society. US incompetence also contextualizes the reasons for the distrust of Iraqi insurgents (which have different goals than Al Qaeda-type groups) toward America's presence in their homeland. As more innocent Iraqis are mistreated or have their loved ones killed or maimed (as collateral damage in perilous warfare Americans would never risk among their own), they are more likely to join the insurgency. The line between ally and opponent in Iraq is related to the experience of the occupation.

Consequently, the worldwide popularity – and, therefore, the power -- of Al Qaeda-type groups among desperate and misguided Muslim youth has indisputably grown to a far greater threat to not only Western, but human civilizations than had Iraq been left alone. None of this argument takes away from the responsibility for the racist kind of colonial nationalism Al Qaeda-type groups preach. However, it recognizes the West's part in inflaming that unjustifiable ideology. It is important to acknowledge the appeal of some of Al Qaeda's direct goals of ending the Israeli occupation and a militarized US presence that buttresses repressive regimes in the Middle East to protect petroleum interests. This in no way excuses Al Qaeda-type groups' actions or sees as rational their more honor-based, selfish notion of Islamic identity – an identity based more on taking offense when foreigners harm Muslims than when fellow Muslims commit wrong. However, a similar irrational nationalism occurs among many cultures, the US included, in which notions of moral superiority are selectively sensitive toward certain injustices in the world, but not others.

Political parallels with concerns over uncompromising factions: the real Tom Baldwin and Jordan Collier. The most admirable aspect of the P-positive standalone subplot was its poignant relevance to the present political climate. The idea of an ordinary person getting world leaders – let alone, pivotal players in the future's outcome – to reconcile their differences and allow for peace is relatable and unique in its own way. P.J. demonstrated emotionally-realistic reactions to political tensions we see in the real world that were mirrored on the show by various sides being unwilling to understand one another.

In the last few weeks, certain issues in the Democratic Party's presidential campaign have come to the fore regarding how the US should treat adversarial regimes, especially Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. Democratic Party discourse showed promise when candidates Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama had, at different times, expressed a desire to negotiate openly and at the highest levels with such regimes to contrast themselves with Bush's haughtiness. Disappointingly, they have been quick to recant or modify such positions, in recent weeks. This may be an attempt to appeal to supposedly moderate, nationalist values. Such intolerance toward opposing regimes has been typical of most US administrations. It is based on the supposition that America is morally superior, and has not done anything to deserve their opposition. There is a morally false assumption that these regimes are in the wrong and must compromise first if the US is to risk its status and show them equal respect. Yet the historical record shows a different picture in which these regimes' hostility has – at least, partly -- been brought about by American abuse and interference in the lives and freedom of their peoples. Add to this the fact that these countries are substantially poorer, weaker and more prone to suffering the effects of a global system skewed toward American interests, and the wrongs committed by them are more understandable. Their mistakes and aggressiveness should not be simplistically used as evidence of inherent evil in refusing to surrender to American wants. There are rational reasons for distrust of American power.

US policy toward Latin America.
Despite proclamations that America eschewed the colonialism practiced by European powers, the historical facts show this to be a hypocritical reading of America's approach toward Latin America. With the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt corollary, the US claimed to protect Latin Americans from European colonialism by declaring the Americas in its sphere of interest; instead of serving Latin American interests, however, they implemented interfering and controlling policies to serve US interests. When it was not acting colonially in directly seizing land from places like Mexico (and the Philippines in the Pacific), it practiced neocolonialism to allow US citizens, in the spirit of individualist capitalism, (not directly the state) a free hand in the region to directly benefit American society. In this way, it demanded economic and political access in the affairs of Latin American nations, so that US business could profit at the expense of mostly poorer groups, especially Indios. During the Cold War, the US employed the rhetoric of fighting Communism to ensure friendly regimes serving US economic and political interests. This often meant supporting brutal, dictatorial regimes like Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Oftentimes, it meant thwarting the people's will, as the CIA did in funding a military coup to overthrow Guatemala's democratically-elected, leftist government of Jacobo Arbenz when he threatened the presence of the United Fruit Company.

Castro's Cuba.
In the case of Cuba, the US-supported General Fulgencio Batista's oppressive means to allow whites to prosper and Americans to use the country as their own resort. Fidel Castro may have used regrettably violent and anti-democratic means to attain and hold onto power, but he has largely worked in the interests of helping the poor reach a living standard unknown in the region. In contrast to Bush's callous neglect for both saving thousands in the wake of Hurricaine Katrina or helping survivors in the aftermath, Castro ensured there were no mass casualties, as his government mobilized its resources to save lives. John Kennedy's repeated attempts to assassinate Castro and overthrow his regime with the Bay of Pigs attack of 1961 hardly helped inspire trust in America's moral superiority. It led to Castro's greater closeness with the Soviet Union for aid and protection in the form of missile installation. It was only at the urging of Nikita Khrushchev for compromise that a solution was found to the Cuban Missile Crisis. In exchange for removing missiles from Cuba, Kennedy agreed to accept Castro's regime and to remove US missiles pointed at the USSR from Turkey – only, at a later date, to avoid publicly acknowledging a compromise and, thereby, the limits of American power. While administrations from Nixon on eagerly pursued economic and political cooperation with China, despite its communist orientation, Cuba continued to face hardship from US-led sanctions and ostracism by the international community. Any economic help Cuba has received from US inhabitants' remittances pales in comparison to the prosperity and softening Cuba would show if it had been welcomed and not faced unrelenting hostility from the US.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Similarly, the reasons behind US opposition to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have less to do with his disappointing authoritarian policies (including his disregard for a free press) than his challenge to US interests. By nationalizing Venezuela's petroleum, Chavez threatens the security of a vital resource that used to be securely assured to US corporations. While the Bush administration's concern over anti-capitalist steps which put US business at a disadvantage is valid, its organizing a coup against Chavez was immoral and unacceptable. Its failure was due to Chavez's popularity among the masses that defended his hold on power. The failed coup only fed into a vindicated, traditional suspicion among Venezuelans, and Latin Americans in general, about America's long-standing disinterest in Latin Americans' interests if they conflict with its own. It also caused understandable ire on Chavez's part toward Bush at a recent speech at a UN assembly. Whatever Chavez's faults, his hold on power is democratic and just. Furthermore, he shows a sensitivity toward the interests of lower classes and the larger public that, historically, undemocratic American puppets in the region have not. In this light, Chavez's anti-US (mostly anti-Bush) policies and rhetoric must be understood as reasonable efforts to do what's best for his country and the region. They're certainly not out of bounds when compared to similarly irrational stances US politicians often adopt with pretensions of moral superiority.

America's historical role in making Iran aggressive.
For its part, Iran's antagonism must be seen in the historical perspective of American interference and aggression toward its people since the end of WWII. As the Cold War began, US diplomats rushed to secure strategic interests in the Middle East. These included petroleum, as well as strategically-essential pathways to both enable access to it and to serve as potential routes of attack on the USSR. US policy sadly took on an intolerant streak as officials sought to control such resources themselves to deny any chance of Soviet access to them. Even governments that were neutral (not decidedly in the US-led orbit) became unacceptable. In 1953, US and British officials felt threatened by Prime Minister Muhammed Mossadeq's decision to nationalize petroleum exploited by their countries' businesses and by his willingness to be friendly to the Soviets. At Britain's urging, the CIA staged a coup which overthrew a democratic government and effectively imposed a dictatorship under the Shah, Reza Pehlavi, who was firmly pro-US interests. Iranians suffered under a brutal and corrupt regime because US officials were impatient in tolerating the slight risk a democratic Iranian government might bring to their interests.

In the Eugene Jarecki's award-winning 2005 documentary "Why We Fight," a former CIA official named Chalmers Johnson defines a concept in CIA terminology called "blowback." Referring to the Iranian hostage crisis and 9/11, he says it is "the unintended consequences of foreign operations that were deliberately kept secret from the American public, so that when the retaliation comes, the American public is not able to put it in context – to put cause and effect together so that they come up with questions like 'why do they hate us?'" Chalmers states that in the 1953 CIA report on the coup, officials wrote that they expected blowback from this operation. The Shah remained in power until discontent bubbled up in the form of blowback -- a fundamentalist, religious revolution in 1979 -- which sadly took hostages from the US embassy. While one cannot deny the danger an Islamic theocracy that has remained largely undemocratic poses to the world and especially the well-being of its people, the Revolution's actions against the US were understandably irrational. Yet, US president Ronald Reagan fed upon US nationalism to vengefully back Saddam Hussein's Iraq in an 8-year war against Iran. Just as they supported the foreign Arab Mujahideen in Afghanistan against Soviet invasion, they supplied Saddam with arms and biological weapons to use against Iranians. These are the same biological weapons the Bush administration rightly accused Saddam of barbarity in using on his own people (Kurds and Shiah), though Defense Secy Donald Rumsfeld was an envoy in the Reagan administration who worked to supply him with them in the first place.

Bush's change in Iran from potential ally to potential adversary.
Despite the US interfering in Iranians' democratic will and waging a proxy war against them, Iranians were quite pro-Western in the 1990s. They are a mostly young population that had been reacting against their regime's oppression, the had elected a moderate in President Muhammed Khatami, and they stood firm with America after 9/11; a million people took to the streets of Tehran in mourning to show solidarity for America's tragedy. Yet with much of the Islamic world sympathetic toward America's plight and unquestioned support at home, George W. Bush chose to divide the world to pursue selfish interests instead of unite it. In his needlessly aggressive "Axis of Evil" speech in January 2002, he engaged in fear-mongering by naming Iran as a threat. By invading Iraq and leaving North Korea alone, the Bush administration proved that, if the US was determined to overthrow an enemy regime anyway, having nuclear weapons was safer than not. Iranians have been understandably on edge. With the support of conservative rural segments promised better living conditions, the warmongering racist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected from a group of candidates selected by the theocracy. Rather than helping Iranian society liberalize, hawkish US pressure has recently caused the regime to make aggressive statements and engage in provocative behavior. Although the UK has failed to provide satisfactory evidence to that they were in international waters, Iran's arrest of British soldiers for trespassing into Iranian waters led to a kind of showdown. Even if Iran's claims were correct and its behavior was comparatively militaristic with how the US would have reacted, it was risky. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed mostly because the US was tied up in Iraq, and another war was out of the question. Even in Iraq, Iran seems intent on implementing ambitious designs to reshape it and the region in its favor. The morality of Iran's actions will depend on the future well-being of the Middle East's peoples, including Iraqis, and not just on serving its own interests. Yet Iran's behavior is hardly evidence that it is purely involved to thwart American interests, as US officials argue. None of this is to deny the potential for Iran to behave as morally ambiguously in the Middle East as the US has in Latin America. Though, the difference would be that the US never faced any serious threats in the Americas to justify its interference and Iran is surrounded by adversarial states. Yet, isn't that all the more reason to see Iran's meddling in Iraq to ensure a friendly neighbor for its own security at least relatable to how US officials have behaved in their sphere?

How Bush's aggression is hurting liberalization in Iran, and rallying the people behind an unpopular establishment.
Most importantly, US antagonism has given the theocracy-dominated regime an excuse to halt progressive change at home, including further democratization. It has prompted the government to viciously crack down on civil liberties, including what little freedom of the press and freedom of speech people possessed. The threat of war has weakened the ability of moderate voices to affect both the direction of government policy and civil society, as the fearful public will surely rally behind the regime. While aggressors tend to think pressure on a despised regime will lead to grassroots rebellion against it, very often, the reverse occurs, and the public rallies to those in power. Al Qaeda expected its attack on 9/11 to persuade Americans to force their government to leave the Middle East. Yet, it actually bolstered support for an incompetent and unpopular Bush presidency, paving the way for fascistic policies for the sake of security. Israel's 2006 massacre of over 1000 Lebanese in an effort to root out Hezbollah in and make them unpopular among a suffering populace backfired. Israel's actions weakened confidence in a moderate government whose pleas for international help fell on deaf ears, as the West gave carte blanche to Israel's slaughter. This only increased public support for the terrorist group as the only means fund reconstruction, and defend against and strike back at Israel. Only when a democratic society is reasonably well-off do minor sanctions and inconveniences work to change public's attitude about the ruling regime; for example, in South Africa, sanctions helped turn public opinion against apartheid. When people feel unjustifiably threatened and treated condescendingly, they blame the aggressor, not the regime, and react nationalistically by supporting policies they otherwise would not.

US politicians often say that their quarrel is not with the people of a given country but with those in power. This policy is seemingly based on the moral justification that intolerance of a morally inferior regime ultimately serves the greater good, and will lead to its destruction and free the inhabitants. However, what is best for the people as a whole is often to negotiate and work with these regimes in such a way that they are able to better the lives of their people, including the implementation of liberal policies. This has been America's approach to China. When dictatorial regimes are handled with uncompromising coercion, it is the people in less than properly democratic states – not their objectionable rulers -- who often suffer in wars and invasions. They are made to fight unwillingly as soldiers, and die as collateral damage or from sanctions as Iraqis (who had no vote to remove Saddam) did for over a decade after the Gulf War. Iranians are understandably skeptical of American claims to fight in their interests, especially upon seeing how callous US plans for regime change were toward bettering the lives of Iraqis.

"It's the culture of political campaigns, stupid."
The history of US foreign policy outside of Europe, especially in the last few years, does not provide evidence to support the often-claimed assumption that America is morally superior. As such, US political candidates should realize their country's role in inspiring some of the world's anti-Americanism. Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran's animosity toward the US is often warranted and should be appreciated as such, given the context of greater US cruelty inflicted upon their peoples than these regimes have upon Americans. What's more, "Why We Fight" observes that American culture is such that its citizens live in a state of amnesia. They are made to only comprehend events in a short-term context -- to not ask why evil occurs. They are encouraged to assume homogenous, inherent evil on the attacker's side, and to not fully know what the US may have done to contribute to the situation. I read a book in high school by Dan T. Carter, called "Race and the Conservative Counter-Revolution," in which he argues that campaigns are really the only time the general public is educated about major issues. Presidential candidates have a responsibility to not just distort issues for the short-term benefit of winning but to explore them honestly, so that the public makes informed decisions over the long-run. In this sense, the Democratic Party is missing a unique opportunity to change the dysfunctional discourse that has permitted so much bullying of the rest of the world, and provoked so much contempt.

America's failure to meet its moral standard did not begin with Bush.
This administration has been rightly criticized for its unilateral arrogance, its willingness to see only enemies where there could be friends, and to prepare for apocalyptic dangers by dealing with the world aggressively. Yet, while it has taken these tendencies to an unprecedented extreme, these characteristics are not new among US officials. This thread of behavior runs through the history of US foreign policy since the start of the Cold War, perhaps earlier, and it has created long-standing, mostly justified grievances among the peoples of the world. Bill Clinton is frequently considered the anti-Bush, and this is true in many ways. Still, it was Clinton who continued the legacy of disproportionately upholding Saddam Hussein as a danger to the US to appear tough and presidential. To distract from his failures, such as the Lewinski scandal, he bombed Iraq every so often, killing people who were not responsible for Saddam's hold on power. According to Scott Ritter, it was Clinton who illegally allowed the CIA to infiltrate the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq, which caused Saddam to kick inspectors out in the late 1990s. Nonetheless, this propaganda (some from deceitful Iraqi exiles) had the effect of brainwashing the American people in exaggerating the threat Iraq represented. So, when Bush purported the Iraqi government had ties to Al Qaeda, when Saddam was actually their opponent and quite secular in his policies (including women's role in society), it didn't take much to persuade Americans of the need to remove him. They had already been conditioned to think of him as the source of all evil, and as an intolerably eminent threat to the US.

It was also Bill Clinton who signed into law "extraordinary rendition," allowing the torture of many innocent citizens of foreign origin, based not on strong evidence but suspicion. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website explains the term: "Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing to this day, the Central Intelligence Agency, together with other U.S. government agencies, has utilized an intelligence-gathering program involving the transfer of foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism to detention and interrogation in countries where -- in the CIA's view -- federal and international legal safeguards do not apply. Suspects are detained and interrogated either by U.S. personnel at U.S.-run detention facilities outside U.S. sovereign territory or, alternatively, are handed over to the custody of foreign agents for interrogation. In both instances, interrogation methods are employed that do not comport with federal and internationally recognized standards."

America has to be more understanding in its foreign policy for peace.
If America is to live up to the moral superiority it has proclaimed in the last century as the basis of its right to lead the world, it must lead by example. If the Democratic Party is to break with not only recent history, its country's past as well, it must approach the world with more understanding and patience. In the final analysis, it is not only in America's moral responsibility as the richest, most powerful nation, but also in its long-term practical interests to find peace with these opponents. As stated in the Baker-Hamilton report, without Iran's cooperation, stabilizing Iraq will be impossible. This is not to argue that America's opponents are inherently virtuous, but that they are just as complex as Americans – as capable of kindness and cruelty. They deserve the same respect through patience and comprehension of their perspective that the US has long expected others to allow it, despite its many blunders. I keep losing faith in supposedly brilliant, insightful politicians bringing about mutual understanding. Bill Clinton showed tremendous grasp of the plight of minorities and the poor, but showed little interest in prioritizing their needs, let alone those of the Third World, especially the Middle East. There is little hope when Barack Obama -- touted as liberal and capable of bringing a new sensitivity toward the rest of the world's problems in his leadership – adopts the same conservative position as many leaders before him. If America's leaders are either ignorant of, or unwilling to admit, the immorality of actions the US has carried out that have contributed to tensions, then all is lost. Unless America changes the course of its foreign policy, there can be no peace.

What does all this political talk have to do with this mediocre 4400 episode?
In this seemingly convoluted but carefully-explained way, P.J.'s role in "No Exit" spoke to important themes about the need for understanding "the other" that are essential to building a better world. The friction between Tom and Jordan is a political metaphor for the strain between the West, specifically the US, and the non-European world. It is also an allegory for the issues concerning conflict between the state and reasonable activists/terrorists. P.J.'s role illuminated the frustration among moderate members of the public, like myself, who feel unable to get either side in the War on Terror and other conflicts to find agreement. We wish for both sides, including their most fervent supporters, to at least see their mistakes and acknowledge the fair grievances of "the other" in creating this conflict. The drama of The 4400 is very much revealing of the essential political themes required to comprehend the dilemmas of the real world. If only the execution of these themes had led to a better story.

7.2 out of 10

(I should emphasize the only the rarest of shows get 10 -- only the absolute best episodes of The X-Files ("Talitha Cumi", "Paper Hearts", "Redux II", etc.), Battlestar Galactica ("Pegasus","Lay Down Your Burdens", "Occupation"/"Precipice") and Deep Space Nine ("In the Pale Moonlight"). I would give the best story of The 4400 to date, "Terrible Swift Sword"/"Fifty Fifty," around 9.0, and I really loved that.)
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Old 08-18-2007, 02:44 AM   #57
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Originally posted by skjuls
I have been watching The 4400 since last year. My sister watched from the beginning and got me hooked.
Just watched "Daddy's Little Girl" yesterday and it was really good. Did you like it?

Hey, Uberbeaver, it seems to be getting better now.
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Old 08-18-2007, 04:51 AM   #58
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A 28 paragraph review of a single episode? And 13 of those paragraphs are devoted to the parallels in US politics??

I think you're taking this show just a wee bit too seriously.
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Old 08-18-2007, 06:57 PM   #59
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A 28 paragraph review of a single episode? And 13 of those paragraphs are devoted to the parallels in US politics??

I think you're taking this show just a wee bit too seriously.
Actually I'm not because the show is VERY political. It just doesn't always come out in a single episode but across many. I'm trying to get people, especially on the official site, to see the themes of what the writers are trying to say. There are very pro-Bush people who are watching the show and supporting a terrorist character like Jordan Collier who defies the government and inspires fanatical upheaval of the entire society. But they just don't see the parallels and just end up voting for Bush anyway, when, if they understood the common principles they agree with are found in reality, they might rethink things.

Same with BSG, which is much better at political commentary, but you have viewers of that show totally saddened at humans being unable to see the cylons' perspective and how different they all are, but then they never question the way Americans are encouraged to hate Arabs/Muslims and assume stereotypes about them unconsciously. They watch the show and pull for the humans committing suicide bombings against the cylons but then are shocked when Palestinians do the same in Israel. The writers, I think, would be all for what I'm trying to do.
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Old 08-18-2007, 07:02 PM   #60
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I've been watching the 4400 this summer and I still prefer Heroes.

I don't see how you can compare the two, one's a comic book-style action/sci-fi series, the other is an X-Files-esque drama with some political connections. Hell, there were better political allegories in the original series of Star Trek.

Heroes is entertaining, this show isn't, at least for me, but I'll leave it to your own devices.
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