HELIX Review: Putting the Science Back in Syfy

by     Posted 233 days ago

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The most promising aspect of Syfy’s new contagion thriller series Helix is the strength of its pedigree.  It comes from the creative minds of Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Lynda Obst (Contact) and Steven Maeda (Lost), who helped shape the idea brought to the network by Cameron Porsandeh.  Moore’s influence is heavily felt, not only thanks to the occasional use of “frak,” but also in the concept of being trapped, remote, and living alongside your enemy.  Hit the jump for more on this promising series.

helix-billy-campbellHelix follows a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, as they travel to an Arctic research facility where unregulated experimentation has lead to an outbreak.  Three scientists are already dead, and the horrifying contagion (which turns bodies into oozing masses of a black tar-like substance and bone) is not obeying the rules of the isolation chamber.

Helix‘s two-part premiere comes strong out of the gate, mixing a nice cocktail of science and horror, with a quick pace (each episode is one day in the universe’s time frame).  Though some of the character and interpersonal relationships are a little two dimensional to start, there’s certainly room for expansion.

Within the research facility, over 100 scientists from 36 countries inhabit the grounds.  At the helm is Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), a man who pretends to not know as much as he really does, in order to throw the CDC team off track.  Was he aware of the experimentations leading up to the outbreak?  Why would he lie to the CDC about a variety of things the lab was supposedly not doing, if it could help stop the outbreak that he himself could be at risk for?  Unless, of course, he engineered it. But why?

The CDC scientists are led by Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell), who has a personal stake in finding a cure for the virus since his brother Peter (Neil Napier) is infected.  But unlike his comrades, Peter doesn’t die — instead, the virus makes him incredibly strong, violent, and hell-bent on spreading the infection to others by spewing some of that nasty black blood-tar on them (there are shades of 28 Days Later here, especially when it comes to some very rage-filled monkeys).  Assisting Alan is his ex-wife, Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), as well as a young prodigy, Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes), who is of course in love with him (because Billy Campbell).

helix-hiroyuki-sanadaThis love triangle quickly takes a backseat to the action though, which is constant.  Hatake may be keeping secrets, but so is the U.S. military — represented by Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanime) — as well as most of the other characters.  Like Battlestar Galactica had its threat of cylons, the inhabitants of the research facility are also trapped with the enemy (or at least, the perceived enemy).  And as more and more become infected, there is no reliable way to figure out who belongs in quarantine until the painful symptoms have already manifested.  Plus, the virus seems to be mutating as time goes on, making it even more difficult to control.

There are plenty of familiar elements to Helix‘s horror — the show utilizes crawl spaces and long corridors to hone in on the feeling of entrapment and claustrophobia very well — but that doesn’t mean it’s not both scary and fun.  While the story may lend itself to a miniseries more than a full series, it will be worth finding out how the show plans to keep things fresh while expanding its world.  Though the characters could all use more development (except for Dr. Doreen Boyle, a veterinary scientist played by Catherine Lemieux, who is an early stand-out), the creep-factor and gore are well established.  That along with its stylish look and inventive soundtrack make Helix an easy watch, with a solid central mystery to keep viewers, as well as the scientists, guessing.  The best part is, its brought some good ol’ science back to Syfy.

Helix premieres Friday, January 10th at 10 p.m. on Syfy

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sangbaran Sam

    wohooo…cannot wait to see it.

  • The Flobbit

    Sounds intriguing. Hiroyuki Sanada = instant must watch.

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  • zengrrl

    I thought it was very promising. I’ll be back to watch it next week.

  • Mark Tornits

    makes me wonder how long it will be till there is a Science Fiction show that comes even remotely close to the production quality Battlestar- This show certainly didn’t look all that great in the pilot- despite having only a few effects shots.

    Game of Thrones has some amazingly great effect shots and sequences and then the cinematography for non-effects shots is pretty mediocre. It takes it from a theatrical feeling show down to a soap opera – its quite interesting.

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  • Farrell

    This was nearly terrible…great potential, but squandered by shitty writing with little to no tension and stupid characters doing nonsensical things.

  • hockablah

    after watching the first two episodes, i’m not impressed, but i will watch two more before i pass final judgment. honestly, if the infection (or mutagen, or whatever the hell they want to call it) doesn’t spread outside the facility they are in within those two episodes, i’m gonna pass on the series. no body gives a shit if the entire base gets wiped out. if there’s not a legitimate threat to the world, who cares then?

  • IanM

    Loved the tension of the first ep, old school music counterpoint, paleovirology (great premise for mystical creepy viruses), Billy and Hiroyuki and overall creepiness. The “virology” was disappointing…was hoping for something more Contagion’esuqe-more grounded in today’s reality. Having watched 3 eps, its become Outbreak crossed with 28-days later angry-yet-smart-and-strong-zombies. Treat the audience with more respect, make it novel (or at least do it better than what;s come before) or don;t bother. Nerdy comments below.

    _What is it about a retrovirus outbreak that would identify it to non-virologists and what are the symptoms that are so acute and worrying that CDC would have been called out? What retrovirus causes you to bleed out and die? How did the Arctic guys identify it was a retrovirus before asking for help?
    _”Spherical” worm virus? Clearly nothing like a retrovirus.
    _”The cells are heavily damaged almost totally deformed, it’s like..Armageddon down there.”
    “But no sign of a virus?”
    _15nm (?) on an EM screen…showing a scale of 8um..pretty good on -the-spot size estimation
    _portable, real-time high-magnification scanning electron microscope, adjustable with a focus knob, that can show CG wormy virus entering cells, without the SEM killing/breaking down the cells or the virus?
    _What’s with the unofficial CDC logo – or lack of the official logo. Not supported by the CDC?
    _”…screened for all current viral structures..” … “…even icosahedrons”. What are the chances??? Pretty good actually.
    _You take off your suit because a mouse doesn’t what..die in a matter of hours? If it’s enacting annihilation upon humans, I’d like to at least see a monkey (and we do later, but the protective gear doesn’t go back on, and then in later episodes it does, then it’s off, then a non-sealing rubbish mask…etc) if not human cell culture result (see above) before I started breathing that air!
    _In a later Ep we develop a test using green fluorescent protein and a patient’s white blood cells. The (huge volume) of liquid glows green (under normal light) just seconds after a (huge volume of) sample is added …all developed, without validation, within half an hour or so? Exemplifying how great the 26-year old post-doc with 2 Maters’ is in the lab I presume?
    _Let’s conduct a monkey autopsy with a face shield and that is not sealed. Aeroslized bits of diseased freaky-monkey tissue in your ling anyone?

  • IanM

    Loved the tension of the first ep, old school music counterpoint, paleovirology (great premise for mystical creepy viruses), Billy and Hiroyuki and overall creepiness. The “virology” was disappointing…was hoping for something more Contagion’esuqe-more grounded in today’s reality. Having watched 3 eps, its become Outbreak crossed with 28-days later angry-yet-smart-and-strong-zombies. Treat the audience with more respect, make it novel (or at least do it better than what;s come before) or don;t bother. Nerdy comments below.

    _What is it about a retrovirus outbreak that would identify it to non-virologists and what are the symptoms that are so acute and worrying that CDC would have been called out? What retrovirus causes you to bleed out and die? How did the Arctic guys identify it was a retrovirus before asking for help?
    _”Spherical” worm virus? Clearly nothing like a retrovirus.
    _”The cells are heavily damaged almost totally deformed, it’s like..Armageddon down there.”
    “But no sign of a virus?”
    _15nm (?) on an EM screen…showing a scale of 8um..pretty good on -the-spot size estimation
    _portable, real-time high-magnification scanning electron microscope, adjustable with a focus knob, that can show CG wormy virus entering cells, without the SEM killing/breaking down the cells or the virus?
    _What’s with the unofficial CDC logo – or lack of the official logo. Not supported by the CDC?
    _”…screened for all current viral structures..” … “…even icosahedrons”. What are the chances??? Pretty good actually.
    _You take off your suit because a mouse doesn’t what..die in a matter of hours? If it’s enacting annihilation upon humans, I’d like to at least see a monkey (and we do later, but the protective gear doesn’t go back on, and then in later episodes it does, then it’s off, then a non-sealing rubbish mask…etc) if not human cell culture result (see above) before I started breathing that air!
    _In a later Ep we develop a test using green fluorescent protein and a patient’s white blood cells. The (huge volume) of liquid glows green (under normal light) just seconds after a (huge volume of) sample is added …all developed, without validation, within half an hour or so? Exemplifying how great the 26-year old post-doc with 2 Maters’ is in the lab I presume?
    _Let’s conduct a monkey autopsy with a face shield and that is not sealed. Aeroslized bits of diseased freaky-monkey tissue in your ling anyone?

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