“I’ve got lots of friends in San Jose.”
Premiering Friday night with an extended episode that felt a little more cinematic than the usual fare, “Helix” traps viewers in the remote space of an Arctic research lab where a lethal outbreak is underway. With the series acting as Ronald Moore’s (of “Battlestar Galactica”) reintroduction to the small screen, and boasting executive producers with previous work on “The X-Files” and “Contact,” it’s hard not to be pulled in by the pilot’s sleek visuals and early promise of disturbing twists. Even with a synopsis that could easily be transplanted into any number of sci-fi classics, the pilot manages to hit just the right tone needed to keep viewers around.
After intercepting a distress signal from an Arctic research facility, the U.S. military is tasked with collecting a team of the CDC’s top scientists, transporting them safely to the source of the signal, and prepping them for investigation. The outbreak, which has left two men dead and a third lethally infected, is found to be unlike anything else that the team of scientists have faced before. The living third man has begun to morph into a creature that’s no longer entirely human. Having gained a level of strength that is far beyond that of other people, as well as the ability to climb walls, move with great speed, and an immunity to sedation, it isn’t long before the team begins to question the outbreak’s identification as a natural disease. When the third man escapes the clutches of the security team and takes to the air vents that span the entire facility, the researchers are forced to defend themselves against the unknown force that now hunts them.
“This is going to be the most fracked up family reunion ever.”
As the crew watches their helicopter fly into the Arctic snowstorm and out of sight, the series’ construction of an isolated environment is brought into focus and made into the base on which everything else stands. The facility is shown to be quite small with its population of only a couple hundred people, and the cold, metallic interior of its corridors and medical centers result in a setting that’s very prison-like. Even as personal dramas and hints of love triangles awkwardly push their way into the script, “Helix” strives to produce an atmosphere where the increasing anxiety of the crew takes precedence over their personal development.
Although there’s plenty of room for conflict and symptoms of cabin fever to develop among the facility’s personnel, the main characters take a noticeable back seat in “Helix’s” pilot episode. Normally, this would be a sign of a major problem. However, if this is any indication of what’s to come, it might actually work in the series’ favour to not focus too heavily on them. As questions concerning the nature of the disease are put forth, more people become infected, and the facility’s director reveals a more comprehensive understanding of the virus than let on, the forced love triangle of the three scientists and the familial connection that their leader shares with the infected third man can definitely go ahead and take a back seat. While the characters presented in this early introduction are interesting enough, they lack the definable features and presence needed to really get behind them. It’s early yet, and there’s still plenty of room for the actors to refine their roles, but all I’m getting from the cast at this point is that they’re there to carry the plot along, and I’m okay with that.
As with any pilot, it’s hard to know exactly where “Helix” will go from here. It certainly has the potential to bypass its lackluster plot and develop into something a little creepier. The pilot’s directors have so far made great use of the constructed space to play up the claustrophobic nature of the facility and the close quarters shared with the creature. The reliance on cheesy plot points to develop the characters, and short spurts of clunky dialogue, are a bit concerning, but they weren’t distracting enough to detract from the developing story arc. Hopefully, with a few more episodes, “Helix” will deliver on its potential.