Syfy, 10-17 January 2014
A team from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) travels to an Arctic science research base to battle an outbreak of an unknown virus…
There’s nothing wrong with the central idea for Helix (Ronald D. Moore’s new show, following Battlestar Galactica), but it might have been better served as a limited episode mini-series rather than stretched out over a 13 episode run. Already, three episodes in the show is starting to strain.
A worn-looking Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer, The Killing) is Dr Alan Farragut, leader of the team who travel to the Arctic to investigate an outbreak of a virus of unknown origin. Naturally, in the soapy way of these things, his estranged brother is one of the first victims, while his ex-wife (who had an affair with his brother) is on the CDC team.
Throw in some dodgy (as yet unexplained) experiments on monkeys, an inscrutable and mysteriously unhelpful Japanese head of the Arctic base (played by Lost’s Hiroyuki Sanada), and some murky military conspiracy overtones, and there’s your series premise.
The ‘Pilot’ episode was double-billed with episode 2, ‘Vector’, so giving the story a good kick start. There’s some good effects work and some gruesome examples of the virus at work, although the whole thing is far too reminiscent of several key episodes of The X-Files, with the virus here envisaged as a black goo exactly the same as the ‘black oil’ that troubled Mulder and Scully. It’s also highly indebted to John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (1982), although this series does have a few women in it (needed for those gratuitous attacked-in-the-shower scenes).
The problem is in the writing. Almost every character we meet is supposed to be an intelligent (presumably) scientist, yet faced with the virus outbreak they all act like scared children, turn violent and demand to be flow back to the USA immediately. Now, this is necessary so the show can explain to the viewer why that’s a bad idea, but in real life such scientists would know that and act accordingly. If their early anger and violence was supposed to be a side-effect of the virus, that wasn’t communicated effectively. An easy fix would be to make non-scientific support staff (there must be some, but we haven’t yet seen any except security and military) voice those concerns. Additionally, the base appears to be a huge underground complex in the Arctic—that’s the Arctic that has no land mass and is instead entirely made up of frozen water. Huh?
Each episode chronicles an individual day of the outbreak, so by episode 3, ‘274’, we’re on day three and the virus has turned Farragut’s brother into some kind of super-powered human, claimed several lives, and caused the CDC to entomb the infected in R-block which is now sealed off. The duplicity and stupidity of these supposedly smart people continues, as bad choices are made in the furtherance of episodic drama. These problems should have been ironed out at an earlier stage, as it does not make for appointment viewing to watch daft people doing daft things just to get themselves into dramatic situations. It’s a shame, as these points let down an otherwise effective ‘base-under-siege’ situation. Perhaps future episodes will shake off this problem and get deeper into the high potential Helix has for small screen body horror?
Verdict: Good as far as it goes, but problems with the writing and characters dilutes what could have been a killer concept. 6/10
Episode 1 ‘Pilot’: 7
Episode 2 ‘Vector’: 6
Episode 3 ‘274’: 6
Brian J. Robb