Billy Campbell (Jordan) and Joel Gretsch (Tom), <EM>The 4400</EM> Billy Campbell (Jordan) and Joel Gretsch (Tom), The 4400

Buckle up, fans of USA Network's The 4400, because the twists and turns are about to come at you a good 4,400 miles per hour. The two-hour Season 3 premiere (Sunday at 9 pm/ET) alone uncorks some shockers that promise to change the pace and direction of the show forever, as well as to bid farewell to a familiar face or two. All of which raises the question: Will this be the wildest 4400 season yet?

"We certainly hope so," executive producer Maira Suro tells, pointing out that that is precisely the message being communicated by the show's massive ad campaign. "Creatively, we're still putting out the best show we know how to do, but we hope to get a lot of new viewers. At the same time, we've got great surprises and more of the exciting pace that has made us the show that we are."

Indeed, serial shockers and a breakneck pace are the stuff The 4400 will really be made of this time around, kicked off by the emergence of the rapidly aged Isabelle (now played by newcomer Megalyn Echikunwoke) and the simultaneous exit of an original cast member. "There are huge plans for grown-up Isabella," promises Suro. "She is very much the center of this third season, as part of a pretty big phenomenon that we kick off with."

That new phenomenon dictated the departure of Laura Allen, who had been playing Lily, Isabella's twentysomething mother, since The 4400's July 2004 debut. "When you have a big ensemble, and you're trying to grow that ensemble creatively to see where the stories can go and what new places you can take the audience to, sometimes you're forced to make tough kinds of choices," Suro explains. "This was one of them."

Back to the topic of souped-up storytelling, Suro says the plan to progress the story at a quicker clip came up last season. "We decided that the episodes that worked best and the ones fans gravitated to more were the ones where our core characters were involved in major dilemmas, as opposed to meeting '4400s of the week' who may or may not impact our core character," she recalls. "So there was a very conscious choice that this be the season we just don't let up. There will be moments where we let the audience catch their breath, but for the most part, that's our plan."

Speaking of plans, what are the nefarious government types on The 4400 going to do now that their covert Promicin inhibitor plot has been exposed, forcing Peter Coyote's Ryland before a rather torturous congressional hearing? "Knowing what I know about Season 3, what I would say is that Promicin was just the beginning," Suro teases. "That is just the beginning of much bigger plans that the government has in terms of how they're going to deal with the 4400."

Might the 4400's Christ-like Jordan Collier, last glimpsed in the Season 2 finale, "return from the grave" to save his kind from trouble, perhaps in the form of the Nova group, which evolves into a militant group of 4400 rebels this season? If so, Jordan's appearance won't be until much later on, due to the fact that his portrayer, Billy Campbell, left his bosses in a tiny lurch by embarking on an 18-month, around-the-world cruise. "It wasn't the best news we've heard," Suro tells us with a laugh. "But Billy was committed to doing it, and fortunately we were able to work out something where he still could be a part of the show."

And how. "It's late in the season" when Jordan appears, "and when he does, it kicks into high gear," says Suro. "It's a big piece that falls into place, a locomotive that takes you through the end."