Anyone remember the first season of Lost? The terror, the uncertainty, the promise of an amazing unfolding of events, history and imagination. Lost had that “it” factor.
The minds behind Lost then spent the better part of the next season destroying all such promise, adding a bunch of characters that mainly ended up dead, going down tangents the resulted in little but frustration for viewers, ignoring everything it had previously done to build its fan base.
What’s amazing about Helix is that it managed to achieve that frustration level in just one season, 13 episodes to the 40 or so it took Lost.
But rather than write about all the issues the show has – meandering and occasionally confusing story lines, poor acting, worse writing, etc. – I want to talk about what Helix got right: The setting.
The set-up is this: A CDC infectious disease team, led by Dr. Alan Farragut (played to the cheesy hilt by Billy Campbell), is called in to deal with a potential epidemic. Potential because, although the secret disease has popped up, at this point it is contained at a secret arctic research facility owned by the Ilaria Corporation. The hitch: At this point the lone infected “vector” is Farragut’s estranged brother, and the estrangement is because of a love triangle involving Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky, who easily gives the best acting performance on the show), who is part of Farragut’s CDC team and ex-wife.
The arctic base is terrific. Big open corridors. Small, dimly lit labs. Everything white, gray, sparse, clean, antiseptic. The overall effect is haunting and claustrophobic, especially when compared with the cold, harsh, dark weather and open, snowy terrain that surrounds the lab. The facility itself has its own presence and character, reminiscent of the arctic base in John Carpenter’s The Thing or even the isolated hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Unfortunately, even that gets screwed by the minds behind Helix. Occasional and largely unnecessary trips to an Inuit village and a visit to an abandoned facility accomplish the one thing that should never happen on Helix: Taking the cast any further from the creepy facility than its immediate exterior. And, of course, those trips mean little. The big reveal from the Inuit village is marginally interesting … until the character that the reveal means most to offs himself. I still don’t recall why Farragut and Julia go to the abandoned facility. Must have been really vital to the show.
To sum up: There’s no reason to watch Helix. You’re just encouraging them. And SyFy can fill the space with Sliders re-runs. At least that’s a show is both fun and honest about its lack of smarts.