Thursday, July 27, 2006


Deus ex machina

A month or two ago, the USA television "network"[1] aired a "marathon" of episodes of its series The 4400, in preparation for the launching of the third season of the show. I'd not seen it before, but tuned into one of the episiodes by accident, and wound up watching six of them (not all at once; I watched two, and recorded the rest and watched them afterward), which got me filled in on the premise, the general plot lines, and the characters... and caught me in, so I've continued to watch it.

The premise is that over a sixty-year period, 4400 people had disappeared, one at a time, and no one had any idea they were connected. But one day, in the Seattle area, where the show is set, all 4400 of them reappeared — at the same time, at the same place, and without explanation. They hadn't changed since they'd disappeared, and they had no idea where they'd been, what had happened, or why they'd been put back. And some — not all; in fact, a relatively few — soon displayed paranormal abilities.

And then, in the last episode of the second season, they pulled out the deus ex machina — a hitherto-unknown neurotransmitter that caused their abilities, and a hitherto-secret government program to drug them all with something that suppressed it. When the program was uncovered and they stopped taking the drug, they all started developing abilities, and, appropriate to the deus, all hell could now break loose.

Probably the most bizarre deus ex machina in television was on the 1970s/80s TV series "Dallas", where they rolled back an entire season of the show by starting the next season with the revelation that the whole prior season was just a dream of one of the characters. They'd killed off a major popular character, and the fans objected. What to do? Hey, just call it all a dream and bring Bobby back; what could be easier? Or sillier?

I don't generally like the deus ex machina device; it's unsatisfying, and it's usually used to cover up weak writing.

Anyway, another reason to mention "The 4400" here ties into something from a recent entry:

If you have any doubt about how we take it all for granted now, take note that advice to evacuate Lebanon is being send to Americans through, among other channels, text messages on their mobile phones.
Well, in the third season of "The 4400", fans can subscribe to text messages about the show, including messages from some of the characters and teasers for future episodes. There are also blogs "written by" the show's characters, and a "diary" by a character who sees the future, giving vague hints about what's to come. It's an interesting use of what's become day-to-day technology, to enhance the user experience — and the marketing — of the show.

[1] Rather a misuse of "network", actually. When all television was broadcast, networks of broadcast stations formed so that people in all cities could see the same programs at the same times. But now with cable, it's not a network of coordinated broadcasters any more. It probably should be called the "USA channel" instead.

1 comment:

FreeThinker said...

The 4400 ... Sounds like a mind-bendingly good show. But I have not turned on my TV in months! Someday when I'm sedentary I'll catch up ...