Helix is a fairly new (2014) SyFy series created by Cameron Porsandeh and produced by Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica. Two seasons have been completed, but the show has been cancelled and there will not be a season three. Helix is a science fiction/horror drama that is heavy on the science but with some zombie-like results.
The pilot episode was overall well done. It got all of the important set up information out to the audience, which is the basic function of any pilot episode. The first thing I noticed was how the show’s tone is managed. The episode begins with the peppy “Do you know the way to San Jose” song framing an obviously serious and deadly situation. The show is consistently serious about the problem at hand with no jokes about the matter at hand, and the upbeat music is a nice accentuating contrast that makes certain scenes more eerie.
The relationships are already complex, but not complicated, although I will admit I had trouble keeping track of the names of the characters we are introduced to. Thank goodness I was taking notes. Most of the cast is made up of CDC workers. Alan Farragut is the primary protagonist and a hotshot at the CDC who seems to be involved in working with the newest employees. He is very methodical, very loyal, and seems to be easily wounded (emotionally). Sarah is the first CDC worker we meet after Alan, and is his predictably enamored aide; she is a bundle of raw nerves who reacts rather viscerally to everything thus far. Dr. Walker (Jules) is introduced next, Alan’s ex-wife and another top-notch scientist. Our final CDC worker is Doreen, the “glorified vet” who provides all of the pilot’s comedic relief because she spends most of the episode isolated from the rest of the team’s wild adventures.
The remaining characters are: Major Balleseros, a young military man who seems to be on the side of the CDC and a huge help to Doreen, until his last lines of the episode; Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, the astoundingly creepy head of research at Arctic Biosystems (where the series takes place) who is probably the antagonist of the series; Daniel Aerov, head of security at Arctic Biosystems and Hatake’s devoted pet; and the actual antagonist of the pilot, Peter Farragut, Alan’s brother and Jules’ ex-lover…hence Alan and Jules’ divorce. There are approximately 121 living employees at the base at the beginning of the episode.
The plot of the pilot is well done, all things considered. The focus is on disease—identification, isolation, origin, spread, characteristics, etc. Peter’s brother is the living victim of the disease. His role as a patient zero character brings Jules and Alan together despite their sour past. Peter being Alan’s brother also gives us some emotional investment through Alan, and puts Alan’s sibling loyalty on a pedestal. Their relationship as children of an abusive alcoholic adds an ominous sign to the story when Alan discovers a secret signal in a video diary on Peter’s USB key that translates to “run like hell.”
Despite generally liking the show, there were some issues. While the science generally seems to be good, the basis for the plot is the incompetency of the CDC’s supposedly most competent scientists. That’s a serious problem. Amusingly, Sarah actually does bring this up in episode two, only to be shut down by the other characters. Her point is spot on, though: they are failing to maintain quarantine and it is Super CDC Man Alan’s fault. This is maybe a little justifiable because his mistake was made with a syringe being thrust at him. Maybe. But even the quarantine problem aside, we have another problem. I’m sure it bothers you as much as it bothers me. Air ducts. A search/chase for Peter happens on hands and knees in the air ducts of the research facility. Can we not have a single sci-fi show without an air duct scene somewhere? Could they not have at least held off until a later episode?