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Helix: “274”

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Helix

"274" 

Season 1, Episode 3

“274” is good, but it's also a bit of a missed opportunity. I'm beginning to remember the characters' names now, which is a good sign. But I'm not quite convinced that anyone really has a character yet. I think this is supposed to be an episode that tells us a lot about Julia, but I am not totally convinced that I have learned anything about her.

Helix is having a little bit of trouble with follow-through. The characters aren’t sticking. The plot points aren't landing. And if my italicization seems a bit out of hand it's because I'm having trouble defining exactly what it is that Helix is doing wrong, but I know that it doesn't have it. It’s weird—the show is so well-shot, and I find myself drawn into the suspense of each episode (including this one), but there's still something basic that isn't locking into place.

Sarah Jordan surprised me this episode (she's the 26-year-old with the hand tremor). I don't know what her deal is, but I felt like actress Jordan Hayes sold that character—an idealistic and brilliant young scientist—better than Kyra Zagorsky sold Julia Walker's ambivalence around telling Alan that she was infected. (I hate to casually compare two women against each other, but these two are often in the same shot, or in conversation with each other. And they're both romantically connected to Alan. The show has built them as complementary forces, for whatever reason.)

Still: These characters just aren't terribly electric. They're not doing anything interesting—certainly, I'm not seeing a lot of the emotionality that characterized Battlestar Galactica. Helix is a lot more about the mystery of the environment than the drama of the characters, and that's a pity. Environmental mystery, in a show like this, is the equivalent of empty calories. Any suspense we have now is going to burn up quick.

We are three episodes in, and I am still not sure why any of the characters are doing what they're doing. There are too many questions. I'm not quite willing to buy that the entire CDC team is a bunch of Good Guys, just as I'm not willing to buy that everyone at the base is a Probable Bad Guy. But it does seem as if the show is expecting me not to dig too much farther than that. I imagine that once a few secrets are revealed, the Probable Bad Guys (let's call them PBGs) will seem like Good Guys (GGs) and then some other entity will be designated PBGs. There's so much mystery surrounding the story that it's too early to tell. But I worry that Helix has mistaken ambiguity for mystery. That's actually two different things—the first is vague, the second is highly specific. In terms of plot, Helix has found mystery (all that stuff about viruses! blah blah blah viruses!). In terms of character? We're just looking at a lot of poorly drawn personality types.

The “love triangle” around the brothers Farragut and Julia Walker is chief on the list of character offenses, so far. I found myself hoping that Julia would die from the infection, because it might excuse that lazy plot device. The “love triangle” with Julia, Sarah Jordan and Alan is equally reprehensible. The characters don't have chemistry. It's easier to imagine that Julia is in love with poor infected Peter than with Alan—at least we can assume Julia and Peter got on better before he was drooling black stuff.

I didn't buy any of Alan's guilt around the 274 victims of the outbreak—though I'm willing to accept that it is a reasonable plot device. Presumably, what's shocking about this outbreak is how quickly and violently it spreads. I did buy the suspense around the tests that didn't work. I'm not sure what happened to the fluorescent jellyfish gene thing that Sarah was so confident about, but Julia trying to tell Alan and failing got me stressed out. These people are all screwed.

Live-action Pam, meanwhile, is starting to keep secrets from Alan—correctly guessing that she is the smartest person on the base, so she might as well play her cards close to the chest. And hey, because it's a Friday night and we're all watching this random, splashy show on Syfy, I will confess: I'm shipping her and Army PBG like crazy. (Did I detect a lingering look of longing after she told him she didn't trust him? Did I?) Army PBG is probably just manipulating her to keep Alan in the dark, but the idea of them crushing on each other is the most interesting character development that occurred in “274”—and it largely occurred in my head, which is not encouraging.

Last week, a few of you in the comments mentioned that it seems like Hatake might be Julia's father, based on that family album and his weird way of asking about her. That conspiracy theory is on like Donkey Kong: His reaction to her being in the quarantined level is kind of random. He might not be her dad, but he's interested in her for some ulterior reason.

Overall, a fine episode. I'm still waiting to see what Helix is going to do with its pretty setting and interesting material.

Stray observations:

  • This is not a funny show. I haven't laughed once, except when I realized that live-action Pam was live-action Pam.
  • What on earth was Julia thinking, keeping her infection secret? She's a CDC INFECTIOUS DISEASES DOCTOR. Come on.
  • The screeners I have don't have VFX added in yet, so I'm missing some of the CGI that might make everything seem cooler or scarier. Let me know if the veins crawling up live-action Pam's gloves blew your mind.
  • The episode attempted a little more psychological suspense with Julia this week—starting when she sees lesions grow on herself in the mirror, to her weird, fractured conversation with Peter, and then her very confusing frozen-in-time encounter with one of the vectors. I think I was supposed to be more affected by Alan shooting someone for her, but it seems to me that she is kind of an idiot and he is just the kind of sadsack guy who would still be hung up on his ex-wife. Am I off-base, here?
  • Sonia's Speculation Corner: Ok, so Hatake clearly infected everyone here, right? But why? Is it with smallpox, or was that just a red herring? And did Peter summon Julia to mess with Hatake's plans, or did Hatake want Julia (his daughter or something) to be there for some particular reason? Is Hatake infected? What is he infected with, if so?
  • Dr. Sulemani turned from a scene-stealing side character to a scene-stealing creepy monster with aplomb. I thought Tamara Brown played her well, and I will miss her face dripping with weird black stuff! 

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