TV Review: Helix, Episodes 1 “Pilot” and 2 “Vector”

Helix vertical posterGenre: Sci-Fi | Drama | Suspense

Creator: Cameron Porsandeh

Network: Syfy

Air Date/Time: January 10, 2013, 10/9c

Written by: Cameron Porsandeh (“Pilot”), Keith Huff (“Vector”)

Directed by: Jeffrey Reiner

Synopsis: Helix is an intense thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic, Arctic Biosystems, 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.

The 13-episode Syfy drama is executive produced by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander), Steven Maeda (Lost, The X-Files) who is also showrunner, and Lynda Obst (Sleepless in Seattle, Contact). Cameron Porsandeh, who wrote the pilot, will serve as a Co-Executive Producer.

Billy Campbell (The Killing, Killing Lincoln) stars as Dr. Alan Farragut, leader of the Centers for Disease Control outbreak field team called upon to investigate and control a potential outbreak. Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, 47 Ronin) also stars as Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, director of Arctic Biosystems and its mysterious viral research program.

Helix also stars Kyra Zagorsky (Supernatural) as Dr. Julia Walker, Mark Ghanimé (Emily Owens, M.D.) as Major Sergio Balleseros, Jordan Hayes (House at the End of the Street) as Dr. Sarah Jordan, Meegwun Fairbrother as Daniel Aerov, Catherine Lemieux (White House Down) as Dr. Doreen Boyle and Neil Napier (Riddick) as Dr. Peter Farragut.

Helix is produced by Tall Ship Productions, Kaji Productions and Lynda Obst Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television.

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Welcome back to our screens, science-y science fiction series, we have missed you terribly. Helix is what we have been waiting for since we lost Fringe, and X-Files before that, in that it combines science with suspense, multiple layers and multiple mysteries, quiet creepiness and real scares. Plus, and it’s a big plus, it could be real.

I am all for escapist scares and dramas and the relief that comes with knowing there is honestly probably not going to be, say, a kaiju attack on San Francisco in the next day or two. Helix is scary with a sense of foreboding that reaches beyond the screen and stays with you in your daily life, when you read the news. As creator Cameron Porsandeh has said, the science in Helix isn’t decades away; it’s just a few years away.

Helix 101 entering the lab

If that doesn’t give you the chills, the setting will. The brilliance of this production of viral outbreak is that it’s set in the arctic, in a giant but self-contained lab. The arctic is the perfect setting for this series, because the isolation that is so vital to the unnerving atmosphere is heightened. And just as a side note, those exterior scenes were shot in an actual freezing-cold room; I’ve been there. It. Is. Cold. So when you watch the actors, know that they really are, to an extent, battling the elements.

Yes, the arctic was “done” in The Thing, but in a much smaller setting. There are 106 people living in the lab, plus the members of the CDC team, who are all potential victims. Enclosed, but with a lot more opportunity to explore the spread of the contagion, and the shifting balance between victims and potential victims.

And, for that matter, victims of the victims. I’m not spoiling anything beyond what you see in the TV ads and trailers to say that the victims of this virus are scary. But please know that this is not, in any way, a “zombie show.” I have only recently heard that some people thought it might be; honestly the thought never entered my mind. If you are no fan of any sort of walking dead, for whatever reason, no worries, this is not that.

Whether you are or are not a zombie lover because of the visual grossness, this isn’t that either. The moments of visual ewww-ness are few and far between, and are nothing compared to what you see on The Walking Dead or Bones. Most of the fleeting nastiness is related to the black, err, “stuff” that has been a part of the advertising campaign for this show since the earliest nothing’s-been-shot-yet teasers. It says a lot about the production that CG effects are primarily kept to filling in the arctic scenery seen through the lab’s windows.

Helix 101 Jordan

Kudos on the decision to structure the series as one day per episode. In other words, the first episode is Day One, the second episode is Day Two, so that we know that the entire season takes place over thirteen days. It adds an immediacy that keeps the story from ever getting bogged down, and works perfectly with the growing intensity, literally and figuratively, of the outbreak.

Because beyond anything else, this is a psychological thriller. And oh how I love an intelligent psychological thriller. In fact, one aspect of the psychology of the series is the one thing that is somewhat similar to The Walking Dead: How do people act in the face of a growing, life-threatening situation? At what point, if any, do they become less human, or maybe less humane? Who will be a hero?

Helix takes that question but adds into the mix the question of whether or not at least some aspect of this scary virus is part of a plan. Yes, kids, this just may be a conspiracy! That adds a richness to the plot that I really sink my teeth into. Is there a conspiracy? Who might be involved? And why might they be involved?

And here’s some good news for some of you; if you’re of a mind to, I think you actually might benefit from taking a few notes about what you see. Yes, my note-taking Lostie friends, I’m talking to you. I’ve seen this double episode a few times now, and every time I do, I notice something else.

But whether or not you’re a note-taker, this is one of those shows that benefits from a rewatch, and for those who do, I believe we’ll get better payoffs as we go along. More “I knew it”s and more “no way!“s. So. Much. Fun. This is going to be a water-cooler, chatroom, hours-of-discussion-worthy show.

Helix 102 Hatake

Billy Campbell is perfect as the intense leader of the CDC team, and Hiroyuki Sanada is equally perfect as the uber-cool head of the giant arctic research lab. The rest of the cast is terrific as well (though I wish the “southern” scientist would lose that accent), but the leaders really shine. Sanada in particular is masterful at bringing in glints of something else going on behind the cool persona. I can tell you, having also already seen the third hour, that everyone just keeps getting better.

The sets for this series make it easy to lose yourself in the storyline, because they are exceptional. In other words, you’re not distracted by low-quality and therefore unrealistic surroundings. The series is shot in what was once actually a lab, and although all sorts of work was done on top of that, it must have provided a great framework. If you haven’t seen them yet, check out my 40+ photos from the set visit posted elsewhere here on SciFiMafia.com and you’ll see the quality.

The one low spot visually is the elevator scene, which you’ve already seen if you watched the first 15 minutes of the pilot, recently released by Syfy and also posted here on SciFi Mafia. If you were put off by that one bit, don’t be. It is not representative of the vast majority of the production. It is the only scene I can think of that has that signature CG brown-gray cast to it, which is actually part of what made it so noticeable. But again, it’s an anomaly.

Even beyond my set love, however, is my complete adoration of another aspect of production, a height of appreciation that has only been matched for me by the first season of American Horror Story: the music. I don’t mean the background music, although it is perfect, understated and enhancing, and the balance of its use with the use of absolute quiet is excellent. What I’m talking about is the incorporation of a particular pop song (that now will not leave my head) and the use of waiting room music as a theme song. I LOVE THIS. It makes me laugh out loud every single time. It adds an indellible touch of irony, snark, and whackadoo that is complete brilliance. I was so afraid that it was only temporary, on the screener I was provided, but hallelujah, it made it to the released first 15 minutes, and showrunner Steven Maeda has confirmed that the incorporation of unexpected and therefore delightful bits of music is intentional and will continue. He’s even said that it’s his favorite part of the production.

That music is the perfect crown to a series that is a must-see, that has me climbing the walls in anticipation of the next episode and all the episodes to come. I need to know what happens next, absolutely as soon as possible. In fact I can barely wait to binge-watch the whole thing, hopefully the first season of many to come. For now, I’m grateful that we’ve been given two episodes to start us off. Don’t miss them.

I give Helix, Episodes 1 “Pilot” and 2 “Vector” Five Out of Five Stars.
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Erin Willard
Written by Erin Willard

Erin is the Editor In Chief and West Coast Correspondent for SciFiMafia.com

2 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    January 11, 2014

    Iv still got to watch it. Sounds like a Area 51 place.

    thanks for the review, I love Fringe and X Files, I’m glad you gave it five stars, I will watch it now.

    Reply

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