LOS ANGELES - In the opening episode of season two of USA Network's science-fiction series "The 4400," government agent Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), who works for the National Threat Assessment Command (NTAC), finalized her adoption of Maia Rutledge (Conchita Campbell).
The little girl is one of 4,400 people who vanished over several decades and then were returned en masse in a single day, apparently as part of a plot by people in the future to save the human race. Maia, who was born in 1938 and abducted in 1946, came back with the ability to predict the future. Not everyone could handle that, but Diana has taken on both Maia's powers and the challenge of being a single mother.
Just about the time Diana thinks she's gotten her new situation under control, chaos intrudes, in the person of her twentysomething younger sister, April (recurring star Natasha Gregson Wagner).
In "Voices Carry," airing Sunday, June 12, the free-spirited April blows into town for a tattoo exhibition and announces she's sleeping on her sister's couch. She also quickly forms an attachment with Maia, which disturbs her brand-new adoptive mother.
"She is the black sheep of the family," says Wagner, the daughter of Natalie Wood and Richard Gregson (and stepdaughter of Robert Wagner). "A lot of times in families, there is one sibling that is the misunderstood one, the rebellious one, the one that dances to the beat of her own drum. That's how I see April.
"April and Diana really do love each other and really are connected, but they are so incredibly different. And Diana has such a strict set of rules for the way she believes April and everybody else's lives should be lived, which is so different from the way April looks at things. But I feel April really misses Diana and sees the fact that she's adopted Maia as a way maybe to repair old wounds between them."
As to the nature of those wounds, Wagner says, "There are a lot of references to the past in the show, so Jackie and I came up with some ideas of what we thought had gone on between them. I have a lot of sisters, so it was interesting for me to deal with all the sisterhood stuff. Having sisters is very intense. It's the greatest kind of relationship, in a way. It's also one of the closest kinds of relationships, and it can be so loaded."
Wagner says, though, that she's not the black sheep of her particular family.
"No, that falls on another of my sisters. I did the right thing. I'm definitely the good girl. I would say I'm more like Diana, and she's more like April.
"It was interesting to delve into the world of April. It made me think a lot more about this one particular sister of mine."
While Maia upsets most people, April warms up to her, even taking her out for ice cream and fake tattoos.
"Maia doesn't freak April out at all," Wagner says. "They're much more of kindred spirits than Maia and Diana. April's younger, and she makes a huge effort to connect with Maia. It's not that hard. They instantly like each other.
"She thinks it's weird that Maia predicts things, but then she realizes it's amazing. And April believes in psychic powers and stuff."
"The 4400" films in Vancouver, Canada, which makes it a homecoming of sorts for Wagner, who filmed the short-lived FOX series "Pasadena" there.
"In fact," Wagner says, "I was just e-mailing last night with Dana Delany. I was saying that I have been thinking about her so much, because we spent so much time in that Sutton Place Hotel together, in the bar, particularly."
Oddly enough, another former "Pasadena" star, Mark Valley ("Boston Legal," "Keen Eddie"), also had a recurring role in season one of "The 4400."
"I love Mark Valley," Wagner says. "I watched the first season, and I was so excited Mark was on it. He's so good. Too bad we didn't wind up on it at the same time."
April doesn't get to have powers, as many of the 4400 do, but Wagner says, "That would be cool, but I kind of exploit Maia's superpowers at a certain point."