If this is what Helix wants to be, I am fine with it.
I've given the show some heat in the past few weeks for plodding along—and to its credit, "Aniqatiga" blows the mythology of Helix right open, such as it is. The show is still not as rich as the best science fiction, nor is it quite coherent enough for the pieces to all fit together right now. But with tonight's episode it proves that it is more than willing to have fun with its premise. And it's fun that isn't self-referential, necessarily—it would be so easy to go that route, especially with Helix's cut-rate CGI and B-list actors. But we have enough of that—and Helix instead wants to have fun with its idea, with its original premise and inspiration for this weird story on top of the polar ice caps.
And it is fun. First off: Ballesarios isn't dead, obviously. (If a body isn't dismembered or devoured by rats, it's not dead.) He is, however, half-naked on a pretty woman's couch—thank goodness. "Sergio," as he introduces himself (so now he's an Italian male model?), is one of the most interesting characters in Helix, even though his shroud of mystery is at times infuriating. And throwing sexy guy at sexy woman who even go so far as to grapple with handcuffs? Best. The mysteries they uncover are also actual mysteries, instead of just things that don't get communicated because one of the characters doesn't feel like telling Alan what's happening. Manana (I believe that is what she calls herself) is a police officer investigating missing children—one of which turns out to be her brother, who is Daniel, the guy who tried to kill Ballesarios—yes. Best. Bring on the brainwashed twin and the mistaken identity and the soap-opera playbook. Bring it to me. I am not yet convinced that anything that is happening in the arctic base makes sense—the mysteries uncovered this week are raising more questions rather than answering our old ones—but I am now convinced that the show knows how to enjoy itself with its premise.
A lot of that centers on how much stronger the Julia storyline has gotten. She was probably my least favorite character when the story started—a character who swaggered into the story with an attitude that said, "Look at me, I'm the love interest with a shadowy past!" But as soon as she started hallucinating, Julia's story has gone from irritating to intriguing—as she's become a character shown to really be at the mercy of Hatake and the virus, her one-dimensional character isn't quite as obvious. It's pretty clear by now that Julia matters more for what she is a symbol or carrier of than who she is as a person—which sucks a little for her, but definitely makes the story more fun.
"Chosen One" stories are thick on the ground already, though, so Helix has its work cut out for it in trying to make this one different. It's already succeeding in a few ways. Television has proven itself to be a very good medium for psychological realism—to the point that it seems every show trying to distinguish itself has to make a stab at it. This has resulted in Breaking Bad; this has also resulted in Ray Donovan. I like that Helix isn't trying to be something it's not—in that way, it reminds me of Sleepy Hollow, which is also deliberately lightweight. That type of hero's journey storytelling is way more common in cinema—because it's an arc with a clear beginning and ending. It's nice to see Helix playing with this large-scale storytelling, but it will also be a challenge. (Already Helix is not building character as well as a TV show needs to, for example.)
So in this episode, Julia's demons are quite literally personified as the other cast members, who all congregate in her head for a Thanksgiving dinner. It's not exactly subtle, but it's effective—mostly because the characters in her head are not the characters we've seen in the real-life of the show. Rather, the hallucination is sort of like Bizarro Helix—Alan is lighthearted, Peter is charming, Hatake is soft, and Sarah is bitchy. Why it matters is still not exactly clear—sure, Julia is probably a clone of Hatake's daughter, or something, and the virus exists to make her eyes turn silvery like his are. But more than that is unclear. Right now it seems like the virus exists just to do very badly rendered CGI of black tendrils leaping out of petri dishes and/or other stunts that encourage both Alan and Sarah to make sad/confused faces.
Alan and Sarah are like, the most hilarious thing about this show right now. They are both so deeply, deeply uninteresting, and yet get so much screentime by virtue of being "protagonists." In this episode, they grope at each other sexily, and then have sex. Also, they put Peter into cryogenic deep-freeze. (That's how the sex starts. No, really. Like, two minutes after, they have sex. These characters are so boring.) Unrestrained excitement over the rest of this episode almost prompted me to give it an A-minus, but Sarah and Alan will have to either die or get a lot more interesting for that. As it is, they weigh down the rest of the show, which is expanding to stretch its legs rather nicely. The tone's shifted to something a bit more electric, and though I miss the spirit of live-action Pam (yeah, yeah, Doreen) I think this is a better direction for the Helix.
- "Aniqatiga" means "sibling" in Inupiaq, which is the language of the Inupiat peoples who live in Alaska. The meaning of that seems self-evident. We've got Daniel and his brother and sister. There's also Alan and Peter. And if Julia's got clone-sisters, there's that, too. Though increasingly, I'm beginning to think that it was more like Julia's memory was wiped for some reason.
- Sonia's Speculation Corner: I'm curious if everyone else in the lab was a kid stolen by Hatake. Like, all of our dead doctors who are now "monsters" down in the lower levels. And if so, what experiments is he running on them? Correct me if I'm wrong, but we still have no idea what the virus was trying to transport to people, right?
- For like, a good five minutes, I was convinced that Daniel was used as a vector for a bunch of clones. And also, that Manana was a rhesus monkey/human hybrid. I was wrong on both counts, but I liked my theories.
- Hatake might be crazy but he's also maybe my favorite character. Okay, no, Ballesarios and Manana are too interesting. But he's up there.
- Oh my god, the portmanteau of Ballesarios and Manana is BANANA. TEAM BANANA ALL THE WAY.