Top critical review
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on 11 January 2015
Do you remember "Lost"? How it built up a complicated web of secrets, hints and mysteries... and eventually, we found out the creators had NO plan in place, and were just making it up as they went along, leaving huge swathes of the story unexplained?
In a sense, "Helix" is the heir to "Lost's" throne. This series feels like it has been made up with no particular plan in mind, and with half-a-dozen genres that it bounces between like a Ping-Pong ball -- we have rage zombies, realistic epidemiology, sci-fi diseases, lots of soap-opera backstabbing, and villains who pop in and out of the story whenever things threaten to get boring.
Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) and his team -- including his ex-wife Dr Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) and his adoring student Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) -- are dispatched to an arctic research base to investigate a potentially deadly outbreak. But Farragut's real reason for going is that his brother Peter (Neil Napier) has been infected with a weird virus that makes you ooze black goo. Peter also broke up Alan's marriage by sleeping with Julia... which makes the whole thing less awkward than you would expect.
It's immediately obvious that Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada) is hiding something about this bizarre new disease, especially since the infected people show bizarre new powers. And after Julia is infected -- but somehow does not turn into a rage zombie -- Alan begins to uncover a horrifying conspiracy linked with the completely and utterly evil Ilaria Corporation (corporations are always completely evil in bad horror!) which could wipe out the entire world.
At times, "Helix" is like watching a soap opera -- we have sexual affairs (past and present), a fatal brain tumor, kidnapped children, secret parents, long-lost family, cold-blooded murder, redeeming love, tragic backstory involving alcoholism, and other hackneyed plot elements that just fill up space. Nobody is here to see Alan and Julia awkwardly talking about why she slept with his brother -- we want rage zombies vomiting tar into people's mouths.
But admittedly, the first few episodes of the show have promise. There are a few interesting characters (Dr. Boyle, a chubby quirky mortician) and a series of hints that all is not as it seems (Hatake's glowing blue eyes). Consider the chilling image of frozen, screaming monkeys lodged in the ice outside. But then Boyle is killed, and we're left with a cast mostly made up of stiff, thin-lipped, expressionless white people whom we have little reason to like. It's like watching a Twilight movie.
But as the thirteen episodes wind on, it becomes painfully obvious that there was little planning -- or if there was planning, then they bungled the delivery. The disease seems to change from episode to episode, depending on what the writers want, as do its effects. The infected people themselves just sort of... vanish whenever they're not convenient to the story. And whenever things get too boring, some villainous corporate types will show up to gorily kill people at random, and then be awkwardly and abruptly dispatched. And there's a weird subplot about one of Hatake's underlings spending time with the long-lost family of ANOTHER underling, and... it's all very dull and ultimately unnecessary.
And when the writers finally vomit out an explanation for what's going on, it's too little too late -- large chunks of the conspiracy were never really properly explained. It feels like the creators -- including Ronald D. Moore -- just threw in everything they thought would be cool, and then patched it together later into a hasty, unsatisfying explanation.
The saving grace of this show is respected Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada. While his accent occasionally makes it hard to tell what he's saying, Sanada shines like a lighthouse in the middle of all the more mediocre performances -- in his hands, Hatake is a conflicted and complicated character, doing terrible things but also stopping the far more terrible menace to humanity.
"Helix Season 1" is a big goopy tar-colored mess -- it's hard to believe that this was produced by the same guy who gave us "Battlestar Galactica." Perhaps the second season will be an improvement.