Helix "Survivor Zero" Review: My, What Big Silver Eyes You Have
There's a fine line between good television and bad television, and Helix is currently lying on that line, motionless and limp like a fat cat in a sunbeam, refusing to budge either way. But after an opening like this week's—where Dr. Hatake, under orders from his new hardass boss, was forced to sternly say, "No one gets out alive," and the line was accompanied by the musical equivalent of a gasp, and then there was a hard cut to Helix's fantastic and fun bossa nova opening theme—I'm inclined to nudge Helix toward the good side of things. I love what this show is doing with tone and viewer expectations, which is that it's sabotaging whatever sense of tone and expectations we might have to somehow create its own unique tone and upend our expectations. Make sense? Helix is trying to force us to expect the unexpected, and I'm eating it up.
The whole show is one great experiment in trolling the audience through atypical television-making decisions. When Jeri Ryan's Constance Sutton first spoke to Alan, there was a subtle musical cue that sounded like a reprise of Helix's theme song, and I was fully expecting the opening sequence to kick in. But nope, it never came; those quiet drums and that low humming organ were just there to tease us. Was there a reason to use that music at that moment? No, not at all. But Helix threw it in there to keep us on our toes and off balance. The show is low-bridging us, telling us our shoes are untied and then yelling "Gotcher nose!" And did you notice the odd establishing shots sprinkled throughout the episode? Like this one:
A few scenes later, the editors used a similar establishing shot for the basement that started out of focus and then transitioned back to the action. There's no real precedent for this style, so why is Helix using it? Who knows! And when Helix wants to throw to commercial, have you noticed the way it always cuts off a beat early? Re-watch the scene where Julia was hiding from the redheaded vector and you'll see what I mean. It's all part of the game. When I spoke to Helix showrunner Steven Maeda earlier this week, he told me that he's purposely experimenting with different stylish techniques—jump cuts, music that doesn't quite fit the scene, unusual editing–to keep us feeling unsettled while we watch. And it's exactly that feeling that I'm looking for every time I sit down to watch an episode. Plot? That's secondary to me now. I'm more excited to see how Helix puts itself together each week, and I have no problem taking the bait. The series is purposely trying to capture an amateur filmmaking style to heighten its sense of unpredictability, and I love it.
But I suppose we should spend a least some time discussing the plot, eh? Jeri Ryan! I never Trekked, so her guest casting isn't as exciting for me as it may be for you, but I love the addition of Constance Sutton as corporate middle manager descending on Arctic Biosystems to look over everyone's shoulders. She's a psychopath without a doubt, and her directness provides a sharp contrast to Hatake's extreme caginess. She also brought with her a good opportunity to kick the plot forward without diluting the other characters because she demands answers, dammit!
And let's not forget that she's got those silver eyes, too, just like Julia and Hatake. The silver eyes must have something to do with a cure or an immunity to the virus, right? Is Julia THE cure, like Peter suggested? When Julia flashed her eyes at the vector, that thing looked like it'd just seen a ghost and skeedaddled away, whimpering. Is that the bad version of the virus's way of reacting to the cure? Here's an interesting thought: Is Helix treating these people like they're a macro version of what happens on a microscopic level between viruses and cells? Is Julia the human equivalent of a white blood cell, and the vectors walking viruses? You know how stoners sit around and say, "What if we're all, like, little parts of a much bigger being, you know? Like the Earth is just the cell in a huge entity" and other metaphysical babble? Maybe THAT's what's going on here. Or, you know, maybe I need to go back on my medication.
Anyway, back to the virus. We know from a few episodes ago that Hatake has some crazy regeneration/healing abilities, so let's add Julia's scare-the-vector-with-an-eye-flash trick to the list of things that people who accept the virus "well" and experience whatever the subsequent transformation is can do. We also saw Constance GRINDING DOWN HER TEETH with an electric sander, which is probably because her chompers are growing, so throw in some extreme dental health along with everything else the virus provides its healthy hosts. Is bone growth a side effect of the virus, or part of it?
Of course, everything I just said assumes that Hatake, Constance, and Julia were infected in the same way. Maybe they all have different pieces of gene therapy from different trials. I don't know! It's fun to theorize about what's going on, but I'm not sure we have enough information at the moment to be right about anything, so let's all be wrong together.
One thing that appears to finally be coming together is all the lovey-dovey stuff that felt forced in the pilot. It's certainly not great yet, and it's dwarfed by everything else that Helix is doing, but it's at least enough to elicit a few wolf whistles and snaps. Now that Alan and Sarah have done the deed, as we saw in that unsexy sex scene last week, Sarah can get on board the Jealousy Express because Julia's back and she saw Alan and Julia hugging. And Hallucination Peter asked Julia why she was hallucinating him instead of Alan, which is a darned good question. (Although, is it? Didn't she essentially leave Alan for Peter?) Helix is beginning to actually use all the personal baggage these CDC scientists brought with them, and I'll allow it for now, even though I used to think it was the weakest part of the show.
And just to further soap things up, "Survivor Zero" revealed that Constance and Balleseros are at least lovers, if not more. Small world, I guess!
This week's big send-off—and this show really knows how to hang us off a cliff—was a breach of the safe levels by a trio of vectors, who I guess were riding on the top of the elevator? And their escape went down to the tune of "You Give Me Fever," in another cheeky, well-done scene that left me wanting more of this bizarre show. If these stowaway vectors cause as much havoc up top as we saw in the excellent vector action sequence that took place in the basement this week, things should start to get very fun very soon.
"Survivor Zero" kept Helix's within the realm of "interesting enough to continue watching," but what I really find fascinating is the way the show is holding steady. The plot didn't move forward that much this week, and we didn't get any big answers, but there's an all-in feeling to Helix's erratic presentation, and it hit another high in this episode. There are currently enough distractions in play to keep me from getting frustrated, and with only six episodes left in the season, I'm pretty sure we'll see the story catch up to the presentation soon enough.
– That scene where Constance's army guys got attacked by vectors was fantastic. Very 28 Days Later.
– After a slow start, Daniel is quickly becoming my favorite character. I loved the way he stood up to Constance, and how he deflected Anana's insistence that she's his sister. When she showed him the picture of them as kids, he shot back, "Impressive, but I can use Photoshop, too." Hahahahaha, haha, hahaha! Go Daniel, you giant stern bear. He may not be the most emotional oaf, but you have to sympathize with him as the big victim here.
– Why do I love every single line of dialogue that Hatake utters? "I'm sorry you had a rough journey" had me cracking up and I don't know why.
– Oh geez, I just realized that I once said this could be the best show Syfy has put out since Battlestar Galactica. I forgot about Alphas. So let's try that again, Helix is the best show Syfy has put out since Alphas. Okay, phew.
– More fuel for the "Hatake is Julia's dad" theory: He was crying when he was bandaging her up after he saw that she had the silver eyes. He seemed to be more emotionally invested in her than he would be if she was just his lab rat.
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