Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Helix: “Level X”

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When Helix stops beating around the bush, the results can be exhilirating. There’s not a dull moment in “Level X,” and though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s great television, it’s a very good episode of Helix.

Primarily that because Hatake finally tells Julia that he’s her dad, which we have known since the pilot (good job, everyone!). And even though the reveal is terrible, it’s the great kind of terrible. Hatake brushing off his contacts and intoning solemnly “You have your father’s eyes” is the worst way, ever, to tell your daughter that you are her secret dad. Worst. Julia’s already going through the stress of being infected and having weird eyes she didn’t know anything about. Today she’s discovered that her childhood in “Montana” was actually in the basement of a creepy Arctic lab, where she is trapped with her ex-husband and the guy she cheated on him with. Let’s make that worse by obliquely informing her that she came from your sperm without any expression of comfort or even a “let’s sit down, here’s a cup of coffee, let me tell you how you and your mom met and made you into a horrible monster-clone.” Hatake is not going to get a lot of cards on Father’s Day.

I sort of loved it, though. It’s hardly unusual: This show is melodramatic with its exposition—all the characters just tell you what their feeling and what the secrets are with a little bit of mild prompting and a few dramatic pauses. Hiroyuki Sanada has made Hatake into a complex character on a show that doesn’t seem to understand complex characters. Hatake appreciates reticence, and not only in the stereotypical “inscrutable Asian man” way. Alan, bless him, is still the most useless person in this show, but I loved that he flat-out interrogated Hatake, much in the way that we, the audience, interrogate Hatake: “You don’t get to be the hero!” he yells, pointing out that while Hatake might have convinced himself that he’s working for the greater good, he’s also killed, kidnapped (maybe?), lied, and infected. He’s not a good guy. Hatake has delusions of grandeur and a weird, creepy agenda. He might not be all bad, but his hands are pretty dirty. And even after all these confessions, I still don’t quite know where he stands. Though that’s a bit frustrating, it also seems true to the character.

For once, the title of this episode related strongly to what I found most interesting about it. “Level X” is the name of the sub-sub-sub-basement that is currently housing 1) a zombified population of swarming vectors 2) Julia’s “summer home” in Montana and 3) a stockpile of samples of every plague that has ever hit humanity. Including Narvik-A and Narvik-B, of course. I’m into it, but at this point the Narvik-B vial is just a MacGuffin of sorts to keep the plot moving. The basement/summer home? That is something else entirely. When I saw the recreation of Julia’s childhood living room in the sub-basement, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I don’t know what it means, exactly—did Julia never live in Montana, or were their two different locations she was taken to? And why would her parents want to take her to an Arctic bunker and… pretend it was somewhere else? But it doesn’t matter. It is creepy, and I am down with it. And the fact that Julia’s hallucination, “J,” was in fact her mother Jane satisfies my need for this all to be a fucked-up family drama.

The other thing pretty nuts about Level X is that the vectors are all down there, and they’re not violent or dying… they’re worshipping Peter as a god. (I’m glad the vectors all watched I Am Legend before heading downstairs.) Helix dips into the super-gross by demonstrating that the vectors’ black spit-up is some kind of life-giving liquid for them—they all spit up into a cup, and then make Peter drink it. It wakes him up and makes him black-eyed and vector-crazy. I applaud the show following through on the creepiness of the black goo spewing from the vectors’ mouths. Way back in the first review I pointed out that the fact that the vectors transmitted the disease through their mouths had a terrifying, psychological underpinning—it’s both a violating and intimate gesture. Here, the zombie-vectors have made it nurturing. I don’t quite know how I’m supposed to feel about it, but that might because I don’t really care much about Peter one way or the other (even though Helix thinks I should care). Julia and Alan know Peter better, but they also seem unsure as to whether or not his sudden animation is a good thing. At least when he’s in cryogenic sleep, he’s not commanding armies!

What I’m noticing more and more is that Helix is a show with great ideas and fair-to-middling execution. These are some great twists and turns—it’s a lot to make a story like this truly unpredictable, but despite some missteps the show is able to reliably create horror and weirdness. But it can’t always sell it to us. A show needs not just good ideas but good mechanics, and Helix suffers from erratic storytelling. It has something cool to show you, but can’t quite find the words for it. (Like a puppy. Like Lassie!)


Where the show is succeeding is with what I’d call the Ron D. Moore Signature Method Of Crackship (RDMSMOC): It’s giving us very exciting and somewhat insane pairings for characters and then letting them bounce off of each other, whether those are pairings of friendship, romance, family, or hating each other for no reason. It’s the best part of this show, which is why my investment is always in what the weird combinations of characters are going to do next. I had no idea Hatake and Sarah were going to be locked in a room for a while in the dark in this episode, but hey, it was weirdly compelling! Sarah convulsing is so far the most interesting thing she’s done. (Of course, from a plot point of view, it makes absolutely no sense. It seems unlikely a stage-four cancer patient would look quite as healthy and chipper as Sarah usually does. And did she really have a seizure just so that she could “talk in her sleep” and inform Julia that she and Alan slept together? Who the fuck says “Alan, sleep with me again!” in their sleep? I call shenanigans. But that being said, the point stands: It was interesting.)

Nowhere is RDMSMOC more apparent, though, than in the machinations of Team Banana. After hearing that Constance sent a kill squad after Anana, Ballesaros breaks out of the cell they’re in with his sexy lockpicking skills, kills the beardy guy, gets on a snowmobile, withstands attack from Daniel, and stages an attack on the death squad just so that Anana can lift up his shirt and tend to his now-bleeding wound. And call me crazy, but do Daniel and his twin share a look of “aw, they’re into each other!” while Banana is banana-ing? This is now my favorite family outing ever.


Stray observations:

  • For those of you who also read the Hostages reviews, Level X is the sub-sub-sub-basement where the ice weasels live. It absolutely is.
  • I wonder that Julia has such vague memories of her mother. At first it seemed like her mother died when she was six, but in this episode, Julia couldn’t remember what her mother looked like. Is that a thing that happens? (I know Princess Leia claims it happens in Star Wars, but that is not the same thing.) My first instinct was that there’s no way Julia actually has those memories—maybe she was brainwashed or implanted to believe she was in Montana?
  • Team Banana Update: THEY ARE REUNITED. I know I sound like a crazy person, but Ballesaros and Anana together have more life in them than everyone else in this show put together. They are a welcome, and necessary, sideshow. Also I believe they are now hate-flirting, which is a step up from sexy-hating. This is all progress. #TeamBanana
  • For the love of God, why does Hatake have so much lettuce in his office?
  • Sonia’s Speculation Corner: Baby Julia was inoculated with Narvik-whichever makes you immune to all diseases. Hatake gave her another dose of it, which brought out the silver eyes and made her full super-human. He lured her there, through Peter, because she’d die if he didn’t do that.
  • Or, they’re both aliens.