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Go Ahead, Let Yourself Be Sucked into the Vortex: 'Helix' Review

By Cindy Davis | TV Reviews | January 12, 2014 | Comments ()


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SyFy’s new series Helix is equal parts science fiction and thriller, marked by goofy music—and only a small misstep or two. It’s a spiffy, sleek production that quickly draws the audience into its frightening, isolated world; you’ll immediately be sucked into the mystery. Helix isn’t quite so layered as say, Battlestar Galactica, but it’s a fun sort of Walking Dead/The Thing/Alien hybrid that makes for perfect Friday night television.

Created by newcomer Cameron Porsandeh, and executive produced by Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore and Steven Maeda (Lost, The X-Files). Helix takes place at an arctic outpost where a private company—Arctic Biosystems, run by Dr. Hiroshi Hatake—has set up an unregulated research facility. After what appears to be some sort of viral outbreak at the facility, a request for help is sent through the military to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is where we meet up with head of the science team, Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) along with several other key players. To add a little more drama to the equation, turns out Farragut’s ex-wife Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) was specifically requested by Arctic Biosystems, and Alan’s brother Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier), is among the infected.

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty…

The Very Good:

Pacing, Setting and Panic:

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Helix wastes no time pitching us into its encapsulated world. After a quick introduction to the CDC team and not too much exposition, we’re fed just enough mystery-crumbs to feel as suspicious and concerned about the Arctic Biosystems goings-on as Farragut himself. While it’s immediately apparent Hatake and Co. are holding back critical information, we care more about—and we need to know—the why.

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Arctic Biosystems’ frozen outpost is the perfect isolated location; falling under no particular government regulator or law enforcement agency means a possibly nefarious group can do whatever the hell it wants and get away with it. The landscape is also handy for hiding runaway critters…or people.

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Futuristic labs and quarters give a similar vibe to a spaceship—where we’d usually be sent to experience that isolated feeling. Endless corridors, multiple sectors, and doors that require identification to be accessed provide the same kind of cutoffs and hidden or secured areas; there’s separation within the isolation, and plenty of corners from which anything could pounce. That random fear we associate with the unknowns of space is found in a visually similar environment; the same dread, through the threat of an uncontrolled virus or mutation standing in as the alien(s).

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The Good:

Billy Campbell as The Earnest Leader, Dr. Alan Farragut:

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Campbell has perfected a type that’s well-suited to scientist and CDC team leader, Alan Farragut. He’s serious, reasoned, caring and honest—the man everyone can trust. Campbell’s solid performance anchors everyone around him, and evens out the sporadic fantastical, silly or overly simplified elements that sometimes jolt.


Hiroyuki Sanada as The Man We Know We Shouldn’t Trust, Dr. Hiroshi Hatake:

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In the pilot’s first minutes, Arctic Biosystems Research Facility head, Dr. Hatake discovers Farragut’s brother Peter undergoing some sort of physical mutation and calls it “progress,” a clear sign of his duplicitous nature. Though Hatake called for the CDC’s help (with what he describes as “only three infections”) and promises full access and cooperation, he’s clearly harboring plenty of secrets, both business and personal. Why is he so interested in Julia Walker, and why does he have a photo album full of her photos? Lost and Revenge veteran Sanada is perfectly cast as the mysterious man with everything to hide.

Jordan Hayes as The Girl Everyone Underestimates, Dr. Sarah Jordan:

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Anna Kendrick-y Jordan Hayes is the “youngest doctor hired by the CDC in over a decade,” whip-smart, young and pretty, she’s out to prove herself an invaluable asset to Dr. Farragut. Hayes is a natural and she handles the character’s quick dialogue with ease and wipes away our own suppositions as easily as those of her new colleagues. Hayes and Campbell have a nice rapport that may or may not be indicative of a more personal relationship between their characters.

Neil Napier as The Monstrosity, Dr. Peter Farragut:

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As a mysteriously transmuted “vector,” Napier manages to make Peter Farragut both sympathetic and terrifying. After he’s discovered by Hatake, then tested by his brother, Peter makes his Alienesque escape into the vent system, and begins stalking the regular folk—seemingly not at random. But the brother Alan once knew isn’t completely gone, and has periods of lucidity—trying to communicate—in between a couple of invasive, violent attacks. And after Alan discovers a video-log of Peter using a distress signal they shared as boys, evidence against Dr. Hatake’s explanation of Peter’s experimentation mounts.

The Not Quite As Good:


Kyra Zagorsky as The Drama Queen, Dr. Julia Walker:

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Alan Farragut’s ex-wife, who coincidentally (and unnecessarily) had a one-time affair with Alan’s brother Peter, seems—at least in the first three episodes—more like manufactured drama than important character. The most interesting thing about Julia is Dr. Hatake’s interest in her, and as of the third episode, 274, we still have no real information on why he requested her by name. Zagorsky (The ABCs of Death) isn’t more than serviceable until 274, when she seems to come alive—hopefully she’ll only improve as the show goes on.

Catherine Lemieux as The Tough Chick, Dr. Doreen Boyle, and Mark Ghanimé as The Soldier, Major Sergio Balleseros:

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Both Dr. Boyle and Major Balleseros are written as oversimplified—and frankly, stupid—caricatures, sent to find easily uncovered creatures or information. In other words, they go on completely expository missions wherein everything that happens is fortuitous, simple, and without any real motivation other than to pass on information to the audience. At least Major Balleseros is hiding something, which makes him infinitely more interesting than Dr. Boyle’s cynical, dimwitted veteranarian routine.


The Verdict:

Despite a few underdeveloped characters and a shortcut or two (Hey, give me that piece of drainpipe with the instantly identifiable clump of monkey hair I’ll readily retrieve…), Helix is undeniably intriguing right from the outset. After the two-part pilot aired Friday, I immediately followed up with episode three and given the chance, I’d have kept going. Hopefully the writers will tighten things up as they go. For now, Helix is quintessential Friday night entertainment: not too heavy or light science fiction to go along with popcorn-eating, beer/wine imbibing—mystery-solving, slightly heart-pounding fun. Just don’t take a shower alone, okay?


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Cindy Davis, (Twitter)







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Chuck

    This show is ridiculous and terribly so. From Dr. Farrugut's blatant idiotic ultimatums that are self defeating, to the entire CDC team's complete disregard for how serious the situation is.

    They are stuck inside a laboratory that is supposed to be the be all and end all of unregulated research, yet the base is built without any of the most basic of safety precautions concerning ventilation and quarantine.

    The oxygen scrubbers are located on the same level that they were doing fusion research, with no backups.

    The base has all communications, both internal and external tied into a satellite array, for no other reason than to create some sense of suspense when it blew.

    Apparently anyone who is smart enough to sneak passed the imbecile CDC agents can access the exit and leave.

    You have an entire base of scientists who know how important quarantine is yet, they can do nothing but complain and cause trouble, some through violence, which is completely unnecessary for reasons I have already stated.

    They wasted all but five minutes before they introduced a possible love triangle between Dr. Farragut, his brother and Dr. Walker. On top of which they add Dr. Jordan to the mix, making it a possible love square.

    They cannot have a helicopter on site because the fuel will turn to jelly but they can have it on call 200 miles away, where the fuel will still turn to jelly.

    Julia gets attacked, knows how it is spread yet she insisted on opening her mouths so the puxic ooze could flow in.

    Somehow, Dr. Farragut's brother attacked, knocked unconscious and undressed a man, so that he could dress in his clothing for absolutely no reason. He did this while inside a ventilation shaft with a diameter of about 2 feet in less than a minute.

    Julia knows Dr. Farragut's brother is out roaming around in the ventilation but she thinks nothing of all the sounds she hears coming from the ventilation.

    Dr. Farragut proves his good will to those inside containment by removing his bio-suit. Yes, it is not airborne and he knows it, but then he says that now they are in it together, implying he may have been infected, then he leaves containment and they finally accept being in containment.

    Even though Dr. Farragut's brother is going to die within the next five minutes, they couldn't give him any more anti-viral because it might send him into anti-viral toxicity and kill him.

    I mean honestly, I cannot see how anyone can say this show is good. I think the only show worse than this is Bitten.

  • Afferbeck

    Who built this mega-billions of dollars facility, and how? Surely concrete would just freeze before you could do anything with it? I'm imagining hundreds of construction workers freezing their asses off saying 'worst contract ever'.

  • RilesSD

    I would add the Security Chief to the list of stupid characters. That actor is horribly miscast, at least as far as the first 3 eps went.

    Two simple rules they should follow, and frustratingly didn't: Stop going places alone! And stop telling people everything. Seriously, telling everyone that as soon as the satellite link is up the Army is going to be called in, you're just asking for it to be sabotaged.

    I did like the show, although I hope they tighten it up a bit.

  • Three_nineteen

    I found most of the characters annoying, boring, or both. I didn't like Billy Campbell's non-reactions to everything - even the blow up at his ex-wife lacked passion. I also don't like the whole soap opera angle of girl-cheats-on-husband-with-husband's-brother.

  • Groundloop

    Possibly because there's a dearth of decent sci-fi on TV, and possibly because I'm re-reading "At The Mountains Of Madness", I'm digging the show so far, despite the issues noted by Cindy and some of the commenters.

    That said,

    !!MILD SPOILER!!

    the end of the third episode ("274"), yikes. Could the writers not have come up with a better, less obvious way for Balleseros to muck up the satellite uplink? Kinda obvious, no?

    But, just like Cindy, had there been more episodes available on Hulu, I happily would have watched another. I'm hoping that they can smooth over the rough patches and deal with the spotty writing.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I think Soldier Boy needed a quick (and dirty) solution after Farragut stated his intentions.

  • Groundloop

    I see your point, but I still would have liked a more devious method and/or not seeing who it was. To me that would have been more in keeping with the creepy vibe the show has established.

  • Dominic

    it's a horror story in a scifi setting . Only with amd scientist themes , instead of aliens . maybe that it's people become alien-like after being injected by Virus B or "turned" . is their a conspiracy to make a 'super-soldier" that got out of hand ?? As one of the secret that has to come out , is why the facility is there in 1st place , and who's funding it .....

  • Dominic

    That's "mad" scientist themes ..
    not a psycho chipset manufacturer ....

  • Ian Fay

    This show is basically The Andromeda Strain crossed with The Thing, with a healthy dose of The Walking Dead thrown in.

    Loving it so far. Angry at myself for watching the network that I always promise myself "never again", but it's good.

  • Dominic

    What's wrong with SyFy ?
    It's the only place a show like Being Human , my fave show on syfy , would fit . I like Lost Girl too , even tho it's horribly campy ....Continum could be on another network , as it was more like a semi-Reverse Castle than hard scifi most of the early episodes . But good when they do concentrate more on the time travel/hard scifi aspects .....
    so basically I put up with/just don't watch their reality-tv-like shows like Ghost Hunters , or Face-Off . I wish THEY were showing the Star TrekTNG and Battlestar Galactica reuns , instead of BBC America .,Esp the BG ones , so I didn't have to pay Comcast extra to see them ..
    Overall it's thumbs up from me for them , as this USED to be the only place to see a CB-based scifi series or movie . hopefully they'll keep pulling good story ideas out from there ...

  • Ian Fay

    MST3K cancelled
    Farscape cancelled
    Ghost Hunters
    Rasslin'

    Shall I go on?

  • Dominic

    I forgot Defiance and Haven . Not the best sci-fi ever, but OK shows . Bitten MIGHT be good , but they're beting on Laura Vandervoort to be the next hot female on the network and werewolves ......
    as to ur list : mst3k is only good IF you wanna commit 1-2hrs to actually watch the campy movie being reviewd . thus not god for the AVERAGE TV viewer . Farscape OK it was a diferent time maybe it lasts if it's put out now . besides ur not taking Fillion from Castle . Lateral move in the Disney family tho so maybe after Castle he does something for Syfy
    Ghost Hunters Does Suck , whether it's true footage or not . Still somebody's watching or it wouldn't be in its third ? season . it's one of those reality-like shows I don't watch.. BUT it makes money ...
    which brings me to to Smackdown . again it doesn't matter if you or I watch it cause it brings in $ from those that do . Much like USA , which is a network SyFy competes with , It IS the highest rated show on the network . thus MOST of the other shows can be "loss-leaders" in a way .. From a network needing ratings standpoint , it was the best thing they could do . So don't complain about pro wrestling , or this network might not be on at all . Gives SyFy same 'prestige" as USA for being a "Destination " network . . And hey , just maybe you WILL watch a show after seeing the ad for it 3 times an hour during Smackdown .......

  • Dominic

    So I watch about 5 shows on the network , and maybe bits of two others if I'm home .. Pretty good considering I don't watch that many shows on other Entertainment( not news or sports ) TV networks ..

  • St

    Well I’ll watch next episodes. I like those kind of stories. But Gosh it was so over he top cheesy and ridiculous so often, Trailer looked so promising.

    But it had bad CGI, many of predicted "shock" factors. And at the end I was rooting for that monkey to bite that stupid blond fat lady.Because obviously. When you see crazy monkey and you greet it like it’s some nice cat then you deserve to be bitten.

    Whole CGI was so bad. Not believable snow and that station in some snowy place. Fake monkeys, Forced love triangle or something. Did they really had to bring those stupid love stories?

    I’ll give it a chance because it was pilot. And everything is always rushed in pilots. When they try to please everyone. But if it will be as over the top and cheap then I will stop watching.

  • The whole, I'm smarter than her, scene with Dr. Jordan really annoyed me. She may have multiple advanced degrees, but that doesn't make her smart enough to not lust after her boss.

    I like the show quite a bit, this is my favorite type of sci fi. A lot of the dialogue made me cringe, but I'm greatly enjoying the premise.

  • John W

    Overall I liked it. I watched the 3rd ep on SyFy.com it was good as well.

    My one complaint is how much all the scientist remind me of the ones on Prometheus, Dr Boyle is a good example.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    It was the scene with the monkey, right? "Ah, who's a good boy! YOU'RE a good boy!" I can guarantee that if I saw a hairless monkey with black veins all over it or a penis/snake monster, I wouldn't be quite so friendly.

  • Ian Fay

    So, those aren't actually monkeys, right?

    They're totes some sort of monkey/human hybrid or something equally creepy, right?

  • Dominic

    I got the impression that the'monkeys" were former test subjects , of Virus "A"( whatever name it was I forgot ..) thus the reason for Peter to test the virus on himself ; to not put more others( station personnel ? ) at risk .

  • Dominic

    for Peter to test Virus "B" on himself

  • John W

    Yup. You hit the nail right on the head.

  • Lotney

    It felt very generic to me and it looked like I have seen this show 10 times already. The writing so far has been very lazy. So many incredibly predictable scenes it really turned me off. I was hoping for something original.

  • Greg!

    Does anyone else think that Dr. Peter Farragut as infected monster looks like Timothy Hutton?

  • I thought it *was* Timothy Hutton until now!

  • aroorda

    The method of spreading the sickness is pretty icky. Vomiting into the mouth via kissing? That's the stuff nightmares are made of. Good show overall and I'm glad they didn't go with zombie-esque the bite infects you, but its pretty revolting. Especially the final scene.

  • idiosynchronic

    All of the other rape/violation metaphors have been retired, turned out to pasture, shot, buried, sent to the glue factory, reanimated, and then given to Ridley Scott.

  • NateMan

    The show was great, except for of course the stupidity of the characters. Immediately after saying "everyone should travel in pairs" what do they do? Split up, and stay that way! It's my only quibble, but it's a pretty big one.

  • RilesSD

    Exactly!

    Also, I wasn't supposed to find this monkey, but I'm going to leave the body alone for hours and expect no one to take it. Oy.

  • jeannebean

    I was sold from "Hiroyuki Sanada". Oh, lord, yes, PLEASE...

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Yeah, me too.

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