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Helix S01E03: "274" 

The first three stages of a viral outbreak in a television show or movie are:

  1. Determine that you're dealing with a virus
  2. Freak out!
  3. Really, really freak out!

And with Episode 3, "274," Syfy's Helix entered the third stage as everyone really, really freaked out. The series is still covering all the basics of viral-outbreak tales at a slow trot (and "274" was probably the slowest of the three episodes, despite the spread of the Black Goo) but the deliberate pace does come with steadily increasing tension and suspense instead of boring side stories about love triangles that no one cares about. So let's give Helix credit for doing that right.

But we've all seen Outbreak and Contagion and The Andromeda Strain, so I'm still waiting for Helix to show me that it's evolving into some superstrain of a virulent thriller rather than the same old "scary sickness" story we're all immune to. "274" was full of science jibberish about catalyzing, enzymes, pathogens, and control groups, and maybe the specifics that Helix went into really tickled the virologists in the audience. But to a dumb-dumb layman like me, all I hear is, "Yep, it's still a virus." If Helix wants to get to that next level, it should start unlocking some of its mysteries—specifically the mysteries about what the virus is doing and why, I'm guessing, that Dr. Hatake created it; the series needs to prove that it will involve more than just running around corridors chasing sick people and containing the infected. Right now, Helix is banking on its spook factor to keep us entertained. That works for a two-hour horror movie, but for a television series, it's like, "C'mon, let's get on with it," you know? Because the characters, dialogue, and acting alone aren't doing it. 

"274" was mostly about finding a new place to stash the sick people while the healthy people worked on finding a cure, and Alan located just the spot in the basement. It's unfortunate that the newly appointed sick ward, which looks just like the basement of any school or apartment complex, subtracts from the awesome "creepy space station"/"horror hospital" atmosphere of the rest of the Arctic Biosystems facility, but a basement is a basement, I guess. And naturally, confining a bunch of maybe-sick people within a small space does wonders for group morale. As Helix recycled its "an infected person is on the loose" plot with Dr. Sulemani, some French-ish scientist screamed, "She's killing everyone!" which sent everybody into a state of panic. It was on a bigger scale than what we saw last week, but it was more or less the same thing as the three doctors in isolation. Basically, people were freaking out last week, and more people were freaking out this week. 

I just wish that these scientists who were working in a lab on viruses understood that quarantines are part of the risk that comes with working on viruses. If anyone is going to understand the importance of containment, shouldn't it be these people? Didn't they sign a waiver before putting on a HazMat suit and handling smallpox? C'mon, guys. Panic should be reserved for non-scientists. Show a little backbone and respect for your field! Is Alan the only REAL scientist here? And why must every group on television form an angry mob whenever something goes wrong? What happened to free will and individuality?

Elsewhere, Dr. Hatake (probs my favorite character for creepiness) continued to be awfully coy about what was actually going on in the labs, and he better start talking or this will get even older than it already is. He was apparently working on a supercure for all viruses that had a near 100-percent death count for H1N1 and HIV. Just a slight problem: it killed 75 percent of the hosts, too. Oops. Doreen and Balleseros have formed a flimsy alliance after some missing monkey business, and someone should smack Doreen with a newspaper for agreeing not to tell anyone about the virus growing like a weed mainlining Miracle-Gro when something something growth factor something something critical mass (like I said, I'm a dumb-dumb layman). Is now really the time to keep your mouth shut on important information regarding the virus? Obviously Balleseros is here for bad reasons (he blew up the satellite link that big jerk), possibly to see that this virus does escape, but Doreen should at least tell Alan what she knows. Isn't there some sort of honor code between virologists? Whatever! It fits Helix's story better, say the writers of Helix. Sarah had a shaky hand and a weird scar on her back, and huh? What? Okay. That's what's going on with her, I guess. Julia is infected, because that's what happens when you shower with people who have black crap spilling out of their mouths. But the big news here was that the tests Sarah crafted that supposedly indentified the infected DIDN'T WORK. So all that research and containment that we spent a lot of the episode establishing? Pretty useless. That's two parts, "Oh good! These people are all screwed!" and one part, "I guess Sarah is pretty bad at this science thing." Maybe this supervirus outsmarted the test? I demand an answer next week.

Yet for all the headway "274" didn't make with the overall mystery, Helix is still juuuuuust fun enough to continue watching. And that has everything to do with what I gushed about last week, which is the mood and look of the show. I love those humming machines in the background and the odes to 2001 with the lights reflecting on the face shields. Even if Helix is still a virus story the likes of which we've seen before, it at least looks good doing it. However, there comes a point when you can see potential fading away into the "been there, seen that," and I reached that point in "274." I'm worried, and that sucks because there are lots of things to like about Helix. Next week is the all-important TV.com 4-Episode Test (intergalactic copyright), so let's hope Helix figures out what makes it worth watching.



NOTES

– All I see when I look at Doreen now is the real-life version of Archer's Pam. In fact, "Where the hell is my monkey," is just the sort of thing Pam would say!

– Security guy Daniel shot Sulemani when she was begging for help, but he didn't even draw on that crazy scientist who was swinging an axe at them? Are we to believe that Daniel, who's obviously part of Hatake's big conspiracy, is taking Alan's advice? 

– On the flip side, good for Alan for shooting Sulemani. It's nice to know he isn't entirely spineless. 

– Those jumpy cuts from last week's series debut were back this week, and they worked great when the show needed to condense the depiction of lab work (like when Doreen was using a centrifuge and pipettes), but not when Julia was talking to herself about her boring relationship problems over a sedated Peter. Stylize it all you want, it's still not going to make this love triangle garbage any easier to swallow.


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