I do not consider it to be a good sign that after having enjoyed commentary tracks on every third season episode of "The Dead Zone," that there are only a pair of commentary tracks to be found on the DVDs for the fourth season. I watched the fourth season right before the premier of the show's fifth season on the USA network, so I was easily struck by the way the show ended up where it started, with the love interest of Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) paying the price for being involved with a psychic. At the start of season four we are talking about Rebecca Caldwell (Sarah Wynter), who wants to (finally) blow away Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery) for killing her sister Rachel, while at the end it is now Miranda Ellis (Laura Harris), the daughter of Senator Harlan Ellis (Don S. Davis), and Stillson's unwilling fiance. By now it is clear that the Stillson question is not going to be resolved until the final episode of the series, and so that plot line is going to get strung out until the very end. There are a few episodes that move things along slowly, such as when Johnny's brightest former student invents something that fits into Armageddon ("Vanguard"), and as Rev. Purdy (David Ogden Stiers) experiences some problems with his ministry ("Saved").
Most of the season is devoted to individual cases with the main difference that being that while Johnny Smith is not a household name there are a lot of people who know who he is and believe in his powers so that he does not have to prove it time and time again (although somebody finally does ask him why he does not use his powers to get the winning lottery number). This creates a slightly different dynamic from the first couple of seasons of the show. Another key factor is that there is no longer an attempt to work the entire supporting cast into each and every episode. Consequently, one week Johnny is dealing with Walt Bannerman (Chris Bruno) and Sarah (Nicole de Boer), and the next they are not around and Johnny is teamed up with Bruce Lewis (John L. Adams) again. Sarah shows up the least, and only if she is central to the plot, as when a friend disappears ("The Collector"), Johnny finds out her favorite rock star faked his death ("The Last Goodbye"), or she visits her father ("Coming Home"). We even get to find out some things about Johnny's father that prove to be of interest ("Babble On"), but I find it somewhat surprising that they are not doing more about Johnny's son now that the truth is known. The title sequence makes a big deal about the life Johnny has lost, but by the fourth season that really does not matter all that much anymore.
The most interesting character from the season is Alex Sinclair (Jennifer Finnigan), another psychic, who runs into Johnny in "Double Vision" and comes back for the season finale "A Very Dead Zone Christmas." Her powers are slightly different so when a vision pops up there is often a question as to whether it is her or him, but what makes the relationship fun is that even though they are attracted to each other they know this would never, ever work, and still manage to have some fun, especially when there is an amnesiac Santa involved. As always, the ways they come up with new and interesting ways to represent Johnny's visions , and in "Grains of Sand," where Johnny insists on taking care of the baby of an immigrant woman who dies, the visions get mixed up with daydreams. So they keep on finding ways of making things visually interesting, even if the stories keep having to come up with obstacles to make it more difficult to Johnny to save the day. "The Dead Zone" remains an interesting show (and USA has great promos involving Johnny Smith, Monk and the new guy from "Psych"), but it not quite as good as it was early on. But I am going to stick around until Stillson finally goes down for good.