HELIX Review: Putting the Science Back in Syfy

     January 10, 2014


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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