It's been a bumpy ride for the Syfy show Sanctuary. Over the first three seasons it would vacillate between being an excellent SF show and a terribly mediocre yawn-inducing program. With the end of the fourth season, the ride is over and unfortunately it ends on a low note. This final season has some very good installments but those are weighted down by a very standard overarching plot that covers the whole season and some episodes that are just misfires. The creators never really had a good handle on what works and what doesn't for the show and every time you think they've got it right, they veer off in the wrong direction.
The show centers around a Sanctuary, a special supposedly secret (though everyone seems to know about it) center that protects and studies 'abnormals' creatures that have unique and special abilities. The institution is run by Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), an intelligent and resourceful leader who just happens to be 157 years old. She's aided by Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), a psychologist and ex-police profiler, tech geek Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi) an attractive ex-thief and general badass, and the butler/ extra muscle when needed, an abnormal named Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl). Together they scour the world looking for and protecting abnormals.
At the end of the last season things were getting pretty hairy on a couple of different fronts. The subterranean abnormals who live inside the Earth have decided that they want their chance in the sun and three armies march out of caves in different parts of the planet. If that wasn't bad enough, Magnus is battling an old companion, Adam Worth, who manages to open up a hole in time and slip back to the 1800's with the aim of curing his terminally ill daughter. This will change the time stream irrevocably, so Magnus follows him on his one-way journey into the past in order to stop him.
This season opens with Magnus in 19th Century London, following Worth. He manages to wound her and escape, so she turns to one person she knows she can trust, he husband at the time, James Watson (yes, the one from the Sherlock Holmes stories.) Together they have to stop Worth, but even if they do, how will Magnus manage to return to the 21st Century? She does manage it, but it takes a very long time. (And they use the same trick that was employed in Doctor Who a few years ago. It's a bit disappointing they couldn't come up with something original.)
Meanwhile Will has been put in charge of the New York Sanctuary by the Sanctuary Network, that mysterious body that runs the various abnormal shelters around the world. He's having a rough time, as the US military wants to actually *gasp* attack the invading army, especially after there's a revolt in the refugee compound that's housing several Hollow Earth abnormals in which the subterranean creatures take hostages and threaten to kill them. No one in authority will take Will's calls, and with Magnus MIA he's clearly out of his depth.
After that crisis, and Magnus' return, things are different. The government is very leery of abnormals and they create a department, SCUI, to hunt down the Hollow Earth creatures that are still on the surface. Either imprisoning the abnormals that they capture or using them for experiments it's a race between the bad military and the saintly Sanctuary to see who can locate and capture the renegade abnormals first.
There are some very good episodes in this season. Monsoon, where Magnus is held hostage by some abnormal crooks while in an airport in Africa was a high point. Seeing the unarmed Magnus take out a group of ex-military super-humans was delightful and made me remember why I enjoyed the show.
Unfortunately there the good shows are in the minority. It's not that the other episodes are bad per-se, just very mediocre. Once you step back and take a look at the big picture, things make much less sense too. There are plot holes and illogical actions that leave viewers scratching their heads. For example, Magnus learns that the head of SCUI is actually her old friend Tesla. Is she happy that one of the good guys is running the show at Nogoodnik Central? Nope, she's disgusted that he'd work for the enemy. Yet a few episodes later she's happy that Will has been drafted by the same organization since she needs someone on the inside. What??
The series does wrap up (though there is room for more adventures) but it does so in a fairly unsatisfying way. The final two-part story revolves around the efforts of Magnus and a Hollow Earth abnormal to establish a homeland in a slum of a large city (presumably New York). I never understood what exactly they were planning. They talk about the Hollow Earth abnormals having their own government, but why would they think that the US would give up sovereignty to a large section of a major city especially to a group of creatures that had invaded??!? What's more, why did Magnus think that gathering all of the Hollow Earth abnormals into one place in plain view of the government would be a good thing? Wouldn't that just make it easier for the government to wipe them out?
As I mentioned, the series is wrapped up in the last episode, though it feels a bit rushed and a few minor points are glossed over. Still, it was nice that the show did get a coda. It deserved at least that much.
The Blu-ray Set:
The 13 episodes that make up the fourth season come in a custom fold out holder that has two pages with a pair of discs stacked one on top of the other on each page. I'm not wild about fold out cases or stacked discs and I wish they would have used a single width 4-disc keepcase.
This program is recorded on new generation digital cameras that recorded with a resolution of 4096 X 2048 pixels (in comparison 1080p HD has a resolution of 1920 X 1080 pixels.) Consequently the 1.78:1 anamorphic image show looks good on Blu-ray. The image was sharp and the level of detail was great. The blacks were dark and even. The colors on this set are very nice, thought the skin tones sometimes look like they've been played with in post-production. Overall this is a nice looking set.
The show comes with both a DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track and a DD 5.1 option. I really enjoyed the DTS track which was pretty solid. The dialog was clear and there are not any audio defects worth noting, but the subwoofer track is a bit anemic. This is especially noticeable in the few scenes with explosions. There are SDH subtitles in English.
This set comes with a good amount of bonus material that really makes a complete package. First, there are commentary tracks on five episodes with various members of the cast and crew. All of the leads are included as well as the series creators. I spot checked these and what I heard was lively and generally fun, though it did seem to be a bit superficial, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
There are also some behind-the-scenes documentaries included with the set:
Amanda Cam - A day in the life of Amanda Tapping
'Tempus' - Behind the Scenes
Robin Dunne Directs 'Homecoming'
'Fugue' - Making a Musical
In addition to all that there is a gag reel and a selection of deleted scenes. All in all this is a nice set of extras.
While I really enjoyed the third season, this one didn't do too much for me. I pretty much shrugged when it was over and didn't feel too sad or remorseful that it was all over. Thought the series did have a lot of potential and lived up to in magnificently in places, it was too uneven overall to be remembered as a great show. Fans that have stayed with the program this far should watch these final 13 installments, but make it a rental.