This episode focused on the two main sets of characters, the Graystones and particularly the Adamas, thankfully eschewing the dull subplots of Sister Clarice and Lacy. No matter how good an actress Magda Aponowicz is, I don't know if I can stand one more scene with Keon.
A major storyline was Tamra's discovery of the virtual world (V-World) in which she is trapped. In this installment, she encountered a fellow teenager who expressed how the V-World's games meant more to him, in many ways, than his own life, which he tried to avoid. Although I would have liked this psychological portrait fleshed out a bit more, I still admired these moments for the commentary they provided on how our society is increasingly dependent on living through the internet. I don't participate in the online game "Second Life" or any virtual reality stuff. Yet I recognize the teen's depiction as justifiable criticism of even the degree to which I conduct my life through the internet – investing more time in online connections with people whom there is no pressure to meet face to face – due to difficulties in and social anxiety about the real world.
I was worried that Tamra's behavior and ability to manipulate the V-World might resemble the film "The Matrix" a bit too much. However, I'll give this aspect of the show the benefit of the doubt in hopes that the writers will be imaginative enough to avoid the pitfalls of mimicking it and, thereby, being less original. Genevieve Buechner, the actress who plays Tamra, does a very good job; I didn't recognize her at all from her role on "The 4400" as Lily's biological daughter. She's convincingly conveys trepidation one moment and defensive aggression the next. I enjoyed the shock of watching this otherwise innocent and defenseless-looking teen suddenly react to indications that players she had just helped would force her to work for them by shooting them. Perhaps, though, her strut at the end of the episode was a tad over-confident and strangely sexy for her character.
The Adams family plot was well written, for the most part. I did think that Joseph's son Willie and brother Sam were a little hard on him. Why was it such a big deal that Sam had to come over to get Willie ready for school? Who wouldn't need help from one's family to get over the death of loved ones? I was shocked at the way Sam abetted Willie's school absences with the excuse that Joseph wasn't being a good enough father and was "losing" him and at how Willie so flagrantly disobeyed his father; Willie clicking his pen repeatedly against his father's wishes was a nice touch. Perhaps Sam's harshness is to be taken as a character flaw, but I get a sense that the writers imply that he's the good guy in all this. Still, however much I sympathized with Joseph's pain and found his behavior quite realistic, I also could relate to Willie being deathly embarrassed of being in public with his father. I found the way Willie violently responded to racial slurs of nearby teens overly aggressive, but understandable nonetheless; I have never been subjected to that kind of overt racism and can only imagine the pain building up from constant bullying. I suppose that explains why Sam's penchant for emphasizing Tauron identity appealed to Willie – because elements of Caprican society refused to accept him. This is the very plight many discriminated minorities face in the West and, one assumes, the world over.
I thought the funeral for Tamra and Mrs. Adams was very well acted and nicely written with lots of atmosphere conveyed by the director. I must admit to cringing every time I am reminded that tattoo-making is a celebratory part of Tauron culture because I find them gaudy. Although I wasn't as moved as I felt I maybe should have been, it could have had something to do with the knowledge that Tamra was alive, in a sense, through her avatar. It was predictable that the message from the boy who knew Tamra in the virtual world would interfere with Joseph's attempts to find closure. What I didn't expect was the fashion in which the boy barely explained his connection to Tamra, and then ran away. Yet his terrified and confused reaction was very convincing, and that made this dramatic move very effective and more satisfying than if the boy disclosed everything patiently.
The subplot involving Daniel Graystone and his attempt to keep his job as CEO of his company was easily my favorite storyline - being wonderfully handled and beautifully-written dialogue-wise. I loved the commentary on my age group's illegal activity on the internet via downloads, etcetera; I couldn't help but nod at my peers' selfish notion of expecting to have everything for free. Graystone's idea of producing hardware that can't be stolen online reminded me of how musicians and record companies are presently trying to offer deluxe editions of albums in an effort to entice consumers to buy them legally instead of illegally downloading the songs of an otherwise basic album. In this sense, his solution to the obstacles of profiting off the virtual world by selling hardware felt believable.
I especially loved how this episode exposed the selfish short-term thinking of private corporations. Being inherently profit-driven, they create a system of incentives that defeat attempts to look after the public good and that lead to exploitation. Indeed, Daniel Graystone's altruistic desire to improve conditions in the V-World by promising to stop Graystone Industries from charging access to it was greeted with plans by his company's board of directors to replace him as CEO. This oncoming coup, in turn, motivated Daniel to keep his job and power by adopting the short-sighted strategy of offering sentient cylons as a means of marketable slave labor. He even went so far as to argue that humans' tendency to anthropomorphize – to attribute human characteristics to – the cylons would add to their appeal. Given his implication that the more human the cylons seem the more popular they'll be, one wonders if he thinks this course of technological development might actually make the cylons more human. However – in all honesty – I would never have regarded the cylons as "human" in the manner we discover on Battlestar Galactica were I in Graystone's place or have thought of their ill-treatment as cruel. One could justifiably argue that this path aims to lessen human exposure to dangerous working conditions, though his presentation's framing of cylons as a profitable endeavor also implies that their use might increase unemployment. Daniel proving the cylon's subservience to him and against its very self-interest by ordering it to tear off its arm was stunning visually and disturbing due to our realization that Zoe was inside it. It made me wonder whether she felt physical pain and, if not, whether she really minded ripping her arm off, knowing it would eventually be reattached. The exploration of the theme of how corporations affect our society really excites me and I hope it will continue!
One quibble with the special effects is that the exact same exterior CGI shots are used over and over. This is fine for the Graystone residence, but the shot of Graystone Industries has the same aircraft flying over in the exact same way every time; also, the exterior scene of the Adams home is always accompanied by the faint sound of a car alarm or some siren. This takes away from the program's realism.
Nevertheless, I can't overstate how much this episode impressed me. There was not a bad bit of dialogue or boring scene. I intentionally avoided looking at who wrote this episode until I'd finished watching it twice – both live and on my VHS copy - in case that might bias my opinion; I even wrote this entire review without knowing who wrote it until this moment. So, it is with pride that I say to Kath Lingenfelter (and any other writers who might have helped) and Battlestar Galactica alumnus, director Michael Nankin, well done!
8.6 out of 10
(I should emphasize that 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.)