SyFy’s ‘Helix:’ First 15 Minutes (Scary Stuff)

SyFy’s new drama Helix, from Battlestar Galatica showrunner Ron Moore, is high on our list of debuting midseason shows (Jan. 10 debut). Steven Maeda (Lost) is the showrunner of the 13-episode drama, described as a “thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to the high-tech research facility to investigate a possible disease outbreak, only to find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that may hold the key to mankind’s salvation or total annihilation. However, the lethal threat is just the tip of the iceberg, and as the virus evolves, the chilling truth begins to unravel.”

Billy Campbell (The Killing) stars as Dr. Alan Farragut, leader of the CDC team, and Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) stars as director of Arctic BioSystems and its “mysterious viral research program.”

Meredith Woerner of the science and sci-fi blog io9 loved the pilot:

Syfy’s hottest new show in 2014 is the mysterious Arctic thriller Helix. And now we’ve seen the first episode, and we can honestly say this series could very well be the next Lost (before it went downhill). Here’s our spoiler-free review of the pilot.

Set in a mysterious private research center in the Arctic, the series follows a team of CDC scientists sent to handle a viral outbreak that has impacted three scientists in an isolated incident. Of course, nothing is as it seems.

Full disclosure, we viewed the pilot as a screener with unfinished FX, so we cannot comment on the FX. However we can comment that FX aren’t really a huge part of this series so it didn’t alter too much of our viewing. But we’re super jazzed to see what it looks like when it premieres on January 10th.

The Good:

Slick, sweet horror. Goodness gracious this is sick little piece of science fiction. Helix has the futuristic science lab green camera filter, steel everything, glass rooms, shiny clean suits and tons and tons of tech. It’s all sparkling and glamorous.

Then an infected person shows up and bleeds black goo all over everything. It’s a good look. And that feel permeates the pilot. Infected Doctors, with nice faces and very athletic bodies, collapse clutching their vibrating virus-afflicted throats. Globs of black blood leak out of their eyes and mouths. Rats become hairless spotted disease-hoarding beasts, as do the monkeys. This gorgeous football stadium of scientific triumph is about to go tits-up in black bile, and we cannot wait to watch.

Plus dumping a bag of teeth and black blood (the remnants of a virus victim) onto a pristine floor really helps highlight the body horror.

The Characters. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) is head CDC scientist and hero as Dr. Alan Farragut. Earnest, and educated he’s a lead who breaks down outbreak scenarios with engaging history lectures. He’s immediately likable, and seems as though he could be lugging around heaps and heaps of emotional baggage — but remains the level headed leader of this gang of scientists. Even when he’s sent to the Arctic to save his infected brother along with his ex wife and entirely-too-hot assistant. Dr. Farragut is the star. Hands down.

The rest of the players (thus far) are just trying to prove their merit as they break down secrets and lies inside this massive science structure. Just tiny bits of personality are revealed with the rest of the crew, but thankfully, the people who work for the Hollywood vision of the CDC are intelligent. The hot assistant vomits the first time she sees a bloody sack of virus body goo, and spends the next minutes assuring Dr. Farragut that this reaction will NEVER happen again. And because Dr. Farragut is the nice-guy dreamboat captain, he assures her it’s fine. All in a very clinical, but still dreamy way.

Basically, I like this crew. A lot. They seem educated and react to situations I suspect other educated (but still human) scientists would.

On the flipside, you have Hiroyuki Sanada who is playing the seemingly evil Dr. Hiroshi Hitaki. Sanada is amazing and scoring this actor was a triumph. He hasn’t done much yet in the pilot, but we know there’s a whole lot more to this person, or they probably wouldn’t have cast Sanada in the role to begin with. The anticipation is high with this character.

The Near Future. There’s no body-scan tanks, glowing-spine-sex cyborgs or wildly ridiculous technology to interfere with the horror. This whole series is set in the near future, and it feels grounded and believable.

Sure the Arctic research structure itself is pretty magnificent, but the most sophisticated bit of Trek technology is a few swooshing doors and locks triggered by implanted radio chips (injected into the crew member’s palm). Keeping the technology in the current future gives the actual horror a bit of reality. Nothing can be fixed by the swipe of a medical wand, actual science had to be done to get to the root of the problem. In fact it looks like a LOT of critical thinking and brow furrowing microscope peering is going to have to happen, and we couldn’t be more pleased. It gives the main character, the vile black mucus creating virus, the center stage.

Even When It’s Bad, It’s Good. Speaking of those radio chipped hands, the second we spotted the CDC crew getting injected with this trope, we couldn’t help but snark “how long until someone gets his or her hand chopped off as a key.” It’s the Chekhov’s Gun of the scifi world. And sure enough, that happens. HOWEVER, by the time this goes down, you’re already invested and cheering for the characters stuck in an impossible situation. You know it’s coming, and you’re actually rooting for the trope to happen. Which is really surprising. We assume it’s because of the way the whole reveal was executed, slowly and with a great soundtrack.

The Devil’s in the Details. We may have missed some science mistakes in this first episode — an inaccuracy or a poorly-thought-out “Don’t take your helmet off” scene — but it felt as though great care was taken (in the beginning) for the CDC to be accurate and realistic. There’s a particular scene where two scientists are strapping into their clean suits, and taping the other up, thus revealing a real, physical need for each other in this situation. However, the characters themselves have absolutely no reason to trust one another. The juxtaposition was great.

The Bad:

Who is really in charge? Even though Dr. Hitaki is supposedly the authority figure on this research base, he’s really not. This is international territory, so it’s a lawless land. Plus by the end of the pilot people are hinting that they’re working for someone else, etc. etc. it’s all super vague. This could go horribly wrong. Lots of “guy behind the guy behind the guy” stuff. However, this also allows the heroes to tell Hitaki to fuck right off when he applies restrictions on their research, which they pretty much do the second they get there. And that’s kind of fun — plus no forceful military presence means no Outbreak-esque talking the military down from blowing up a town scenes.

Dr. Hiroshi Hitaki’s Number 2. I could not gel with this cast member. I’m not sure what was getting in the way but I assume it was the fact that he was given all the “you’re on a need to know” lines in the pilot and that’s not a fun burden to carry. Dr. Hitaki’s head of security was an adopted boy he found in an orphanage? Didn’t like this character — however it’s a pilot, so he’s getting a pass for three more episodes.

Lost Rips. There’s a specific moment where the horror of what is happening is being backed by the song “Do you know the way to San Jose” and while Lost doesn’t own the trope of using classic songs in wack-a-doo scifi settings, they kind of cornered the market on it with the “Make Your Own Kind of Music” reveal. We could see how a lot of people might point and shout “LOST DID IT FIRST” — but we think it works. Brilliantly. So there.

The Verdict:

Sold. We were completely sold on Helix the minute the “before the title” scene dropped. We are completely hooked, and just so DAMN happy that actual horror is on Syfy again. All we want from this series is terrifying body horror with a dollop of conspiracy theories. And that is exactly what Helix is serving up.

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Author: James K

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