After Sheriff Walt Bannerman dies, Johnny’s visions of the Apocalypse ends. What is next for the psychic?
When it is time to end a show, the creators have a lot of choices to make. A show like Seinfeld ended on a perfect note as all the cast members were placed in jail and we faded out. A series like Angel also ended on a great note with the idea that the fight must go on. Others, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ended with the great climactic battle of good versus evil. The Dead Zone faced a difficult challenge when planning its demise.
It is based on a novel, which spawned its own film. If you do not know how the book or film ends, stop reading now because I am relying on the understanding that after twenty years, I shouldn’t have to worry about spoiling the plot. The original novel was written by Stephen King and the film was directed by David Croenberg. At the end of both, the lead character of Johnny Smith dies, but not before stopping Armageddon by ending the threat of politician Greg Stillson rising to power.
The producers of the television series had a tough choice when they chose whether or not to follow the direction of the book by killing its hero. After six seasons, it is not a surprise that was not a choice they were willing to make. Middle aged housewives everywhere would revolt if their beloved Johnny Smith were to bite the bullet. I feel the choice they made was the next best thing.
The season starts off with a bang and the death of a major character. It was a brave decision to make but producers admitted that after a two-year hiatus, they needed to do something to kick the final season off with a roar. I mentioned killing Johnny would have been a disaster in the mind of the majority of their fan base, but the death in Heritage is just as controversial and shocked me to the point that I can forgive the survival of Johnny and the changing in direction of the plotline.
I’m going to go ahead and give away that spoiler here since it happens in the first twenty-minutes of the first episode and changes the direction of the entire series. Sheriff Walt Bannerman dies in an explosion despite Johnny doing everything he can to save him. At the funeral, Johnny shakes Greg Stillson’s hand and for the first time he does not envision Armageddon. It seems the death of a bad guy named Janus at the same explosion has done something to avert the devestation Johnny has always feared. It might be Stillson was never the bad guy Johnny believed him to be.
With that turning point, The Dead Zone was a completely new show. There was no more Walt, so Johnny once again has a chance for his true love Sarah and his son JJ. There is no more fear of Armageddon, so Johnny can start to live as normal a life as he can, without the constant fears that Stillson might be the anti-Christ. Things are as normal as they can possibly be for a man who can see the future.
The show had gotten too comfortable and this season gave them a chance to shake things up. Harkening to the first season, Johnny meets the new sheriff, Anna Turner, and we get the familiar trappings of the law enforcement not believing Johnny’s powers are more than nonsense. This brings a new story arc to the show as Johnny must once again convince someone that he is to be taken seriously. Johnny also finds his relationship with Sarah is strained as she grieves for the loss of Walt and would rather find her independence than fall into the arms of Johnny. Stillson’s infatuation with her adds another cog into the wheels of Johnny’s life and the season is setup.
The turning point for Johnny and Sarah is Numb. Johnny falls into a coma and a local doctor explains that because of his prior coma, he now rests in a vegetative state and may never come out of it again. Without giving away the actual plot, it is Sarah’s kiss that brings him back and the two realize they almost lost each other once and they shouldn’t let it happen again. It sounds sappy but it is carried out well by both actors, including Nicole de Boer, who gets so few chances on this show to show what she can do.
Of course, this is not the end of their story. Since Johnny had visions of Walt’s death and could not save him, Sarah cannot fully return to him. Johnny and Sarah were doomed lovers in the book and things can’t be made that easy for them on the show either. That is where the rivalry between Johnny and Stillson resumes, this time not over Armageddon but due to something more personal – Sarah. The overlying plot line involves Walt Bannerman investigating the truth about Johnny’s dad and what it all had to do with Greg Stillson. In the meantime, Stillson plots his own plans to win over the heart of Sarah.
Johnny and JJ start to grow closer throughout the season as well (Big Top was a really fun little father/son episode) and Johnny learns a great deal about his own father. This ends with the series finale where we learn the three Smith males share something in common and the fears from the first few seasons has not been averted, just delayed. The series ends in much the same way as Angel. The battle must go on.
Audio Commentaries – There are commentaries on a number of episodes, including everyone including the producers, writers, directors and cast members. On the first episode, we even get young Connor Price, who plays JJ. These are usually easy going and involve the group conversing about how they felt when the scenes were being shot and getting reactions to how they turned out.
A New Home for The Dead Zone (08:40) – This is a feature about moving from Vancouver to Montreal for location shooting the television show. It is intereting that they shot the first two seasons of the show and then broke down and left. When USA stated they wanted to renew the show, they had to find a new home and thanks to Lionsgate, they found a system already set up in Montreal.
All Aboard: Shooting the Dead Zone on a Train (05:59) – The producers mention how they wanted to make the episode Switch look like a Bogart/Bacall movie. The feature is a making of that episode. 90% of the episode was shot in an old train museum, and that is really cool. This is short but a really good feature.