Helix is a show that does little new. Instead it uses known horror and science fiction devices together with a compelling character driven story to drive viewers to the edge of their seat. In many ways the show reminds me of Ridley Scott’s movie Alien, still considered the best B-movie ever made in that it introduced nothing new besides the story and special effects but relied on known cinematic shots such as claustrophobic close-ups to create a terrorizing atmosphere. Helix uses similar camera close-ups with great efficacy. Now, I am being fair to the show, it has the possibility of becoming something as big as Lost or Battlestar Galactica and become a A-list show but that can’t be determined from just two pilot episodes.
Helix will have a 13-episode first season with each episode acting as a real day at the secret artctic base. The first two episodes ‘Pilot’ and ‘Vector’ dealt with the first two days in which a team from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) try to reconstruct what happened at the base and what the dangerous pathogen that has infected people is made off. Quickly the team consisting of Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell), Dr. Julia Walker and Dr. Sarah Jordan run into obstacles as the base lead-scientist Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada) offers no explanation about anything. He is aided in this by Major Sergio Balleseros who is in communication with an outside faction. At first he denies the base has monkeys to experiment on but even when confronted with evidence that one of the team members, Dr. Doreen Boyle, was assaulted by an infected monkey he denies their existence.
The greater threat comes from Dr. Farragut’s own brother, Peter Farragut (Neil Napier) after he becomes infected, escapes and then attacks members of the 120 or so staff at the base. The hunt is on for Peter in which the show makes ample use of the constricted air ducts on the base and the blatant irrational fear of the infected people who Peter assaulted. As I said, Helix is all too familiar but is does everything superbly. Dr. Walker and Dr. Jordan discover that the pathogen that was experimented on has a structure never before seen, but has been theorized as having existed more than a 100.000 years ago. They suspect that besides its gifted ability to infect as many people as possible it also rewires the brain of those infected into wanting them to infect as many people as possible. Those infected also develop extraordinary strengths.
At times Helix can be a little frustrating in a way similar to Battlestar Galactica. Both shows were helmed by Ronald D. Moore and Helix just like BSG makes ample use of drama, and I mean drama as in a lot of screaming and at times illogical actions to create suspense. The group of scientist that Peter had infected become agitated by the end of the second episode and stage a breakout. The viewer is left wondering whether their actions are influenced by the pathogen or whether they deliberately ignore safety contamination because they are afraid. Similar themes were explored on shows such as 24, Fringe and Stargate Atlantis. From what I remember the people who try to break a quarantine usually end up getting shot by the military.
Helix’s main strength thus lies with the mystery of what the pathogen actually is and who is behind its development. Dr. Farragut demands full transparency from Hatake at the end of the second episode, something he is flatly denied. Major Balleseros continues protecting the pathogens origins by murdering a scientist who has gotten cold feet and tries to flee the base with a snowmobile. At the end of the second episode they are no closer to capturing Peter or the other infected scientist. Instead, Dr. Walker is assaulted by Peter in the shower room and is presumably infected. The viewer is left wondering whether Peter picked her because he had an affaire with her that broke up her marriage with his brother Alan.
Helix seems to make good use of its budget to create a believable world of danger and claustrophobia. The arctic environment is re-created in a believable way, something that had me doubting when I first saw the teaser trailers. Helix doesn’t immediately remind me of Battlestar Galactica, but instead reminds me of Lost in that it hint at a greater mystery without throwing it on your face. The show quickly proofs that it is isn’t afraid to pull any punches but the second episode does drag a little near the end just because it can’t pull all the punches without running out of steam. The show made one possible goof that sucked me right out of the episode, the security guard Daniel Aerov stated that the base had stun batons in order to deal with polar bears, but he doesn’t say how they should get close to such a 1500 pound animal.
As mentioned, the pilot consists of two episodes. The brief recap above hardly does the plot justice, so be sure to check out Helix yourself before going ahead viewing the third episode next week. From the trailer of next week’s episode ‘274’ you can see that the show will go into a new direction by increasing the scope of the story considerably. So far we have seen few of the 120 or people at the base but with the addition of a special forces team trying to contain the outbreak and Jeri Ryan as the femme-fatale guest star that will change.
Score; 8.7 / 10. A very effective Sci-fi thriller that re-uses horror themes with much efficacy.