Sanctuary: Season 4

| July 17, 2012

The Sanctuary team are back for this fourth season of the Syfy original series, exploring bigger myths, deadlier monsters, and darker secrets than ever before.  If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s fairly simple.  Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) runs an institute known only as The Sanctuary, in which she keeps and protects a menagerie of mythological creatures.  She works with Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) and Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins) as well as a revolving door of other characters to not only keep the Sanctuary and its inhabitants safe, but also bring other creatures out of the real world where they might be a danger to themselves and others.

Season 4 picks up where Season 3 left off, watching Adam (Ian Tracey) jump back in time to try to save his daughter from dying of a terminal illness.  Magnus follows, leaving her team behind to hunt down Adam and prevent him from altering the present in potentially disastrous ways.  The season hits the ground running, and even though it does have its weaker episodes, it manages to keep its format fresh and interesting for its audience.  After the timey-wimey season premier, we quickly catch up with the rest of the ensemble to get on with the dominant arc of Season 4: the understanding of the “abnormals” who live in “hollow earth” (an underground society).  While the Sanctuary team work to keep the abnormals safe, they are continually thwarted by Caleb (Gil Bellows), an abnormal.

I have two major criticisms of the series overall.  First, it doesn’t have the budget necessary to do a show like this.  The creature effects are good enough, and the special effects are fine, but most of the Sanctuary setting is created with green screen technology.  It’s obvious, and static, and really distracting.  Fortunately, the Sanctuary writers are able to create stories that either move away from the need for so much green screen, or embrace it.  There are two excellent examples of this in this season.  One episode sees the Sanctuary team rendezvousing with a London Sanctuary team to explore a deserted Russian icebreaker ship near the North Pole.  If the episode had any green screen, I didn’t notice it, and with an actual, tangible setting for this story, the characters and plot were able to shine much more brightly than usual.  It’s very possible that this simple shift is why this was by far my favorite episode of the season.

Another episode saw Magnus and Nikola Tesla travel into the Sanctuary’s computer network to prevent a sentient virus from wreaking havoc.  Here, the show is able to use their green screen technology to effectively create an artificial computer environment for the characters to explore.  It looks like the sanctuary, but everything’s slightly off, and the fact that it’s created with the green screen somehow makes that story line even more plausible.

Not every experiment within the show is a success however.  Season four features a musical episode, where one of the characters can only express herself in song and only understand people who sing to her.  It’s a total misfire, and obviously just an excuse for the showrunners to write a musical episode.  It’s forced and awkward.

My other big criticism concerns the Will character.  In the pilot for Sanctuary, will was working with the police to help solve cases.  He had an almost Sherlock Holmes caliber eye for deduction, but as soon as he’s recruited by the Sanctuary, he gets reduced to a veritable Alice character, forced to blindly wander through this wonderland and ask questions the audience might have.  By season 4, Will’s general confusion has just become irritating and more than ever I’m left longing for the cunning investigator we saw in that first episode.  Obviously, the Alice character is important in a series like this, but there is definitely room for him to be asking questions and have a personality.

Special features on the DVD include audio commentary on select episodes, several behind the scenes featurettes including one for the musical episode and one focusing on Robin Dunne directing the episode “homecoming.”  Other special features include Amanda Tapping’s video diary, bloopers, and deleted scenes.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Entertainment One on July 17

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.

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