Tuesday, January 14, 2014

'Helix' Review + Spoilers

SyFy's much anticipated new show 'Helix' debuted Friday, January 10th. Like many others, I am very excited to see "SCIENCE FICTION" return to the SyFy Channel. The SyFy Channel has pretty much become a joke with all of its reality programming and wrestling. So 'Helix' is a step in the right direction and a welcomed relief to the winter television hiatus. The SyFy Channel smartly placed the first three episodes of 'Helix' on demand... and so far so good. The show hasn't "wowed" me yet, but it's intriguing and entertaining. I am holding may applause, because 'Helix' hasn't quite found its legs and is still a bit shaky, but we are only three episodes in. So 'Helix' has a couple more episodes to hook me or push me away.

Via Allison Argent
'Helix' has been described as a television version of 'Contagion' combined with 'Lost' and 'Fringe.' That description concerned me, as 'Contagion' was not that great of a movie. 'Lost' got LOST and 'Fringe' wasn't devoid of problems either. Thankfully, 'Helix' is more like an extended 'X-Files' episode/crossed with 'The Thing' and '28 Days Later,' which in my opinion, is a much better combination.
Peter Farragut (Neil Napier)
'Helix' has a decent cast of primarily unknown actors, with veteran actor Billy Campbell serving as the show's anchor. Campbell plays Alan Farragut, a CDC (Center for Disease Control) scientist tasked with leading a team to investigate a viral outbreak at an Arctic research facility near Greenland. The facility is owned by a faceless corporation named Ilaria and conveniently located, so it is not under government purview. Complicating matters, Farragut's brother, Peter (Neil Napier) works at the research facility and has contracted the virus that has killed several other people in horrific ways. Strangely, the virus doesn't kill Peter, but he begins to exhibit bizarre behavioral and physical changes.

The CDC response team's job is made more difficult by the facility's enigmatic director, Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada of 'Lost', '47 Ronin,' and 'Wolverine'). Dr. Hatake purposely impedes their progress and has a secret agenda of his own that has yet to be revealed. The CDC response team is fighting a war on two fronts: they are battling for much needed information and fighting against the virus at the same time. Meanwhile, there are missing rhesus monkeys, locked compartments, unscrupulous security guards, and crazed infected patients to deal with.
Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Meegwun Fairbrother
The CDC's response team has lots of internal drama of its own. Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) is in a love triangle with Alan and his brother Peter. To make matters worse, youngun' and newbie scientist, Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) has daddy issues and a huge crush on the much older Alan. So far the most engaging character on the CDC team is Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux). However, the actress' attempt at a southern accent is atrocious, but she delivers her lines well and her character is well written and sassy. Unfortunately, her character is under utilized, as the focus seems to be on the love triangle. Rounding out the cast is Mark Ghanime who plays the CDC team's military escort, Major Sergio Balleseros. Balleseros is another character with a mysterious agenda.

Via Lydia Stilinski
Each episode covers one day in the life of the 'Helix' world. After three episodes the scientists in 'Helix' are still attempting to identify the nature of the virus and the manner in which it was contracted. In the third episode, the CDC response team figures out how to detect if someone is infected, even if they show no physical symptoms. In the real world it would likely take more than three days to identify who is infected (particularly if they are showing no visible symptoms), but this is television, more importantly, this is a science fiction.

One interesting aspect of the show is the virus itself. The virus appears to be a living organism, which is contrary to nature. Viruses are not typically considered to be living organisms, because they are non-cellular and they require a host. The virus in 'Helix' is a 'Prometheus'-like virus that when replicated, expands into a tentacle black gooey mass. When Dr. Boyle attempts to replicate it, the virus replicates so fast it was like 'The Blob.' That was fun to watch.
Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes)
There is one slightly irritating aspect to the show and that's the communication issue. If there ever was a viral outbreak like this, I hope that the CDC sends a response team more competent (and larger) than this one. They don't seem to follow basic quarantine procedures until its far too late. Farragut keeps threatening to contact the military for more help, but they are cut off from communications because the satellite is not in position. I'm no science whiz, but I don't think it takes a satellite three days to orbit the earth. I may be mistaken, but I believe that some low orbit satellites take a couple of hours, whereas some higher orbit satellites take over 24 hours, but I've not heard of satellites taking over three days to get in position. Heck, I think the moon takes 28 days to complete an orbit. Anyhoo, that's a minor thing. I imagine they needed to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why Farragut doesn't immediately call for back up when he's confronted with such a deadly virus.

Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) Via Helix SyFy
'Helix' may have a dark concept, but the sets and the musical accompaniment feel light. While an infected Peter splatters an unknown victim's blood across the wall, 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' plays in the background. I suppose it's a cheeky juxtaposition to the dark drama? I believe they are trying to emulate 'American Horror Story,' whilst channeling a little bit of 'The Walking Dead.' But it doesn't quite fit with the theme of the show. 'American Horror Story' can get away with it, because the characters are kooky and not grounded in reality. 'Helix'...not so much.
Billy Campbell, Meegwun Fairbrother, and Hiroyuki Sanada
'Helix's' is produced by Ronald D. Moore, former executive producer of 'Battlestar Galactica,' 'Roswell,' and 'Carnivale.' Moore got his start in the 1990s with 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,' before he was "politely" asked to leave. Moore certainly has the SciFi pedigree, but he is not consistent, nor is he good with endings. Moore is especially weak with tying up loose ends. The SciFi fanbase can be very judgey and analytical. We like logic. Good rule of thumb: Don't bring up a story arch in the first season, thread it throughout the remaining seasons, only to forget about it in the last season.

The last season of 'Battlestar Galactica' had some serious problems and let's not forget how it ended (Edward J. Olmos' words, not mine). Moore has also had two recent television failures, 'Caprica' and 'Virtuality.' So 'Helix' may be Moore's last stop on the train. I am hopeful that 'Helix' is a good stop. Although I am curious how 'Helix' will extend beyond one season? The jury's still out, but I'm willing to give this show a wide berth. It may be worth it.


  1. I watched the first hour and taped the rest, but still haven't had a chance to watch it. Yeah, three days with no communication when dealing with a serious outbreak? Not going to happen.
    Agree with you about the last season of Galactica. For me it derailed with the third season - too much drama, not enough story moving forward.
    However, I am all for actual science fiction shows on SyFy!

  2. I haven't seen it yet, so I didn't read every thing, but i enjoyed your pics. :-)

  3. I (like everyone else) haven't watched it yet, but you make a good point about Moore. While BSG was brilliant it did suffer from a weak final season. Caprica was garbage. Hopefully this show will be a big comeback for him. Hopefully SyFy can squeeze more shows like this in between WWE wrestling matches and "Fake Ghosthunters."


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