When one reviews or recaps individual episodes of a TV series, one tends to focus on each episode and sometimes forget each episode fits into a larger whole. This is the unique nature of television; each episode must stand on its own while moving a larger story forward by developing characters and revealing plot points at key moments. While the majority of the episodes of the fourth season of ‘Sanctuary’ are good, when the entire season is examined from beginning to end, the story falls apart near the end and leaves the audience with too many unanswered questions.
This is an in-depth examination of the season, so major plot points are discussed.
The season begins strong, picking up right where season three ended. “Tempus” resolves the Adam Worth storyline; Magnus follows Worth back to 1898, stops his plan from succeeding, and gets stuck in the past. Magnus contemplates suicide, but Watson persuades her to live by reminding her that her special blood will likely keep her alive. Magnus’s panic subsides, and she agrees to live as long as possible. She tells Watson that she has to find a safe place to hide so she won’t interfere with the timeline. Being stuck in the past sets up one of the plot threads of the season: Magnus tells everyone she spent 113 years in seclusion in a temple in Nepal. Her story about the 113 years in Nepal is mentioned several times throughout the entire season.
Also at the end of season three was the emergence of the Abnormals from Hollow Earth. With Praxis destroyed, thousands of Abnormals came to the surface, which is a problem because human society does not know about Abnormals. Having to hide and live in secrecy angers many Abnormals, and they want to fight for their place on the surface. Their first attempt, which started at the end of last season, was thwarted when Will and Magnus figure out the disruption in the camp is a ruse to distract everyone so an army of Abnormals can invade (“Uprising”). With the plot discovered, Garris agrees to lead the Abnormals back to Hollow Earth so they can rebuild Praxis. However, some Abnormals stay on the surface to continue the fight.
The Sanctuary’s refusal to bow down to the U.N. Security Council has consequences. In “Untouchable,” Addison, the leader of SCIU, brings in an inspection team to determine if Magnus and the Sanctuary are worthy of funding and support from the U.N. Of course Magnus manipulates the situation to her advantage; she wants the Sanctuary to be independent, and having Addison cut the cords means organizations will leave her alone. If Magnus had left, then the U.N. would have pursued her, causing more problems than Magnus wants. Also in this episode, Magnus decides to keep the Crixorum, an Abnormal who can control minds, locked in the lower levels, and Henry finds out he is going to be a father.
The fourth season has a great start. By the end of the third episode, the major plot threads are established: groups of Abnormals are on the surface fighting for the rights of all Abnormals, and the Sanctuary has no support from any international government. Magnus willingly has funding and support from major organizations cut off during a tumultuous time. Without interference from the U.N. or anyone else, Magnus is free to handle the situation with the Abnormals in the manner she deems best.
The next three episodes develop the plot well. Magnus solves her financial issues in “Monsoon” when Feliz agrees to be her banker. The episode is one of my favorites because it showcases Magnus as an intelligent action hero. In “Resistance,” Tesla is revealed to be in charge of a SCIU facility. Tesla claims to not be testing on Abnormals or developing weapons for SCIU; instead he is diverting funds for his own projects. Although Tesla really isn’t doing his job, Magnus points out that SCIU will expect him to produce results or they will find someone who will. On the surface, “Homecoming” seems out of place because the main story is about Will coming to terms with his past, but the episode’s secondary plot about Bruno and Shelia’s quest to rescue Abnormal children shows the threats Abnormals face on the surface. The children are set to be sold on the black market, and their mistreatment demonstrates why many Abnormals find it necessary to fight using questionable methods for their rights.
Again, solid start. However, the rest of the season is uneven. Out of the last seven episodes, three do not connect to the ongoing plots established at the beginning of the season. The plot about the Sanctuary being alone is developed, but the writers could have used the time spent on “Icebreaker,” “Chimera,” and “The Depths” to reveal more about the war with the Abnormal insurgents. Magnus and company mention the insurgents, but not a lot of time on screen actively deals with the war. For example, near the end of “Resistance,” Galvo, an Abnormal Biggie brings to the Sanctuary, tricks Will and Biggie into locating a group of Abnormals. The group is killed. Galvo takes responsibility and tells Biggie that they were weak and killed because they separated from his group. Galvo is locked away in the Sanctuary and is never seen again. And we never learn if his group is connected to Caleb, who is the main threat to peace in the season finale. The murder of the Abnormals was sudden and shocking; to not carry this idea into other episodes shows a lack of planning on the part of the writers. The writers knew they had only thirteen episodes this season. Not having the Abnormal insurgent story arc tight and well-structured was disappointing.
The biggest moment in “Icebreaker” was the death of Alistair. The episode was filler. The Magoi killed in order to defend themselves because they were being illegally transported on an icebreaker ship. The topic of illegally transporting and selling Abnormals was handled brilliantly in “Homecoming,” so another episode was not needed. Why not have Declan and the team investigate leads about Galvo or Caleb? (I am not sure if the men are connected because the season finale really doesn’t make it clear.) With the team on an important mission, Alistair’s death could have been more dramatic. First time viewers of ‘Sanctuary’ would not know Alistair’s connection to Henry. Alistair saving someone on camera (in the episode, his death was off camera) in addition to Henry’s guilt would have created a poignant episode.
While it was interesting seeing a digital Adam Worth act like the real Adam Worth, “Chimera” had nothing else to offer. “The Depths” is another episode that could have had a better plot. Yes, Will and Magnus had some issues to work through, but they could have done so during a mission more interesting than getting away from a serpent that guards magic water. Also during “The Depths,” we see Henry demonstrate his personal energy shield device while taping a video to his unborn son Alistair, a necessary sequence that could have been the subplot of a better episode. The demonstration of the device is needed because the invention saves Magnus’s life in the explosion that happens in the season finale. The problem about the power source could have been solved another way, perhaps Tesla could have helped.
I have doubts about whether or not “Fugue” is a part of the larger story. Abby is infected by a virus. The purpose of the virus is to transform a human into an Abnormal. In the season finale, Biggie steals a virus from Caleb and gets it to Magnus. Tesla analyzes the virus and discovers the virus activates the latent Abnormal DNA in humans. When Tesla tells Magnus about the virus, she acts surprised and shocked by the news. Magnus is very concerned that Caleb could succeed in his plan of transforming every human into Abnormals. Is this the same virus that infected Abby? I have no idea. What happened to Abby is not mentioned by Magnus or anyone else during the season finale, so viewers are left to decide if the viruses are the same. I will venture a guess and say yes because it makes sense that Caleb would field test the virus. However, it does not make any sense that Dr. Helen Magnus, a certified genius, would forget to connect the two events.
The lack of consistency throughout the season is the fault of the writers. A significant plot that was not developed well was about Biggie. The first hint something wasn’t quite right with Biggie is at the beginning of “Chimera” when he says he isn’t sleeping well. We learn why in “Acolyte,” when it is revealed Biggie’s mind has been remapped by the Crixorum. Magnus’s decision in “Untouchable” meant the Crixorum had to be taken care of, which put Biggie in danger because he entered the Crixorum’s room daily. Biggie’s exposure to the Crixorum allowed the Abnormal to enter Biggie’s mind and turn him into a terrorist. At the end of the episode, Magnus says that Biggie will be fine because the mermaid Sally reversed the damage, but Biggie is seen entering a meeting place of the terrorist cell. Is Biggie pretending to be back to his regular self or is he going undercover for Magnus?
Unfortunately, this is another question the show does not answer.
“The Depths” followed “Acolyte,” so the Biggie plot is not picked up again until the season finale, “Sanctuary for None.” In the two-part season finale, Caleb makes Biggie his confidante and tells Biggie his plans. How did Biggie gain Caleb’s trust so quickly? I have to resort to guessing again, but I think Biggie went undercover to gather information for Magnus. He does steal the virus and send it to her. Also, Biggie protects Kate from Caleb and his men. The majority of the plot about Biggie occurs off screen, robbing viewers of a great story involving a character who has been on the series since the beginning. And because of Biggie’s status, I am very disappointed with how Biggie was treated at the end.
After Caleb discovers the virus is gone, he and his men beat Biggie. Biggie’s body is left at the front gate of the Sanctuary for Magnus to discover. Magnus leaving Biggie’s body is understandable; after all, her life is in danger, and she has to deal with Caleb. However, Biggie’s fate is left unknown, completely unknown. At the end of the finale, we know Henry and Tesla are fine, but when Will meets Magnus, she is happy and not acting as though she just lost a dear friend. We are not sure how much time has passed. Will says he quit SCIU the week before, but it is not clear how long Will was with SCIU after the destruction of the Sanctuary. A mention about Biggie’s death or Magnus asking Will if there was any news about Biggie would have let viewers know the fate of a beloved character.
Stories should not answer every single question, and filling in small gaps engages viewers, but leaving large holes in the plot is unsatisfying and frustrating. How Caleb became SCIU’s most wanted is left unknown, we don’t know if the Crixorum was working on his own or with Galvo or Caleb or if they were all working together, it is not clear if the same virus that infect Abby is Caleb’s virus, and Biggie could be alive or dead. Another question has haunted me since the season finale: Did Magnus move the Abnormals out of the Sanctuary before the explosion? Besides Galvo and the Crixorum, Sally and many other innocent Abnormals lived in the Sanctuary. Magnus’s plan seems to have been (yes, I’m guessing once more) to have a Sanctuary hidden from the world so she can take care of the Abnormals without any interference. If she knew the Sanctuary was going to be destroyed, did she evacuate or release the Abnormals beforehand? I hope so. Thinking Magnus sacrificed innocents for her personal gain is unsettling.
Poor plotting is the only weakness of season four, and the season ending weaker than it started is a letdown. However, not everything about this season was awful. The performances are compelling. The cast has great chemistry, and when Magnus and Tesla are together, I can’t take my eyes off the screen. Robin Dunne proved he can direct; “Homecoming” is one of the stronger episodes, and Dunne balanced the heft of Will’s past with the quirkiness of the Bruno and Sheila story. If you can only watch one episode from season four, make it “Monsoon.” Magnus’s sarcastic wit is in full force, and she uses her intellect and physical prowess to outwit and defeat a team of dangerous foes.
After a season ends, I ask myself, “Do I want another season of this show?” So, do I want another season of ‘Sanctuary’? Yes. There are very few actual sci-fi shows on the air, and hardly any shows have capable, smart female leads. I think the writers can learn from this season and give viewers a stronger fifth season. With the destruction of the old Sanctuary, the writers can move the show in a different direction, possibly with a smaller cast. Kate Freelander is with Garris in Hollow Earth, and Henry is likely with Erika in London. With the fate of Biggie unknown, it is plausible to have a fifth season with only two regular cast members, Robin Dunne (Will) and Amanda Tapping (Magnus). To get renewed for a fourth season, the producers agreed to a 13-episode season, so reducing the budget by having a smaller cast could increase the chances of getting Syfy to approve of a fifth season.
If the show does not get renewed, the season finale did have a series finale feel. I appreciated how the writers tied “Sanctuary for None” back to the two-part first season opener, “Sanctuary for All.” When Will meets Magnus after she faked her death, she apologizes for breaking their deal. At the end of “Sanctuary for All,” Will agreed to work for Magnus as long as she was “straight up” with him and did not keep any secrets. Magnus did not stay in the temple in Nepal for 113 years; instead she worked toward building a Super Sanctuary away from prying eyes. She lied to Will and kept her plan from him. It was a nice touch to have Magnus ask Will, “Shall we begin?” when she shows the new Sanctuary to him. This is the same question she asks him at the end of “Sanctuary for All.”
With the old Sanctuary destroyed and a new one built, it feels like the slate has been cleared, and the show can be rebooted, but it also feels like it could end.