Day 4 in Arctic Biosystems translates to Episode 4 for us, and you know what that means... 4-EPISODE TEST TIME! So of course it was a bad time for Helix to turn in its worst episode yet. Yeah, "Single Strand" pushed some mysteries forward (Julia was in the lab as a kiddo! Sarah has a toomah! Hatake and vectors are friends!), but it threw them at us rather clumsily. And most disappointing of all, this was also the show's worst-looking and most plainly structured episode to date. The cool cinematography that made the first two hours so fun is gone, and our main characters all have their own problems to deal with—some not quite as interesting as others.
However! I dunno why, but I'm still enjoying the show, especially as a Friday-night hour of spooks. It's a far cry from the brilliance of Battlestar Galactica, but it's miles ahead of major network attempts at science-fiction; considering the slim pickings when it comes to competent options in the genre, we have to take what we can get. And there are some things Helix does really, really well. As I've said before, I think the research facility itself is the show's best character (dead psycho monkey a close second), and the auditory whiplash from abrupt cuts between scenes—cutting off the score, or slightly changing the hum of the machines—is a little treat that I find myself way too excited about. Sure, the acting and dialogue (ouch, that dialogue) are just a tornado and a shark and a Tara Reid away from Sharknado, but I knew that would be the case (and accepted it) when I changed the channel to Syfy. Sometimes I want all the characters to shut up just so I can hear the whirring of the lab's machines. Quiet, scientists! I'm trying to listen to the symphony of machinery!
When I mentioned the poor structure of "Single Strand," I was referring to the fact that each CDC character took off on his/her own adventure, in contrast to the team effort to identify the virus and figure out how to contain that we saw in the first three episodes. That was much more interesting to me, probably because it seemed a lot more important than being cooped up in a room with one infected person like Sarah was for this entire episode, or waiting for an anti-viral serum to kick in on Peter, like Alan was saddled with for most of the hour. But since "Single Strand," was divided into four separate stories, let's take a look at them individually, shall we?
The episode introduced us to the series' first big single-episode problem, otherwise known as "stretching it out," with an oxygen quandary. The basement dwelling infecto-losers realized they could turn a valve that would deplete the oxygen supply to the entire base, setting the clock for about six hours before people would start passing out. With the roomy basement able to hold more breathable air, the "infected's" air supply would last longer than that of the more cramped facility above them, giving them the upper hand in getting freed from their subterranean prison. Sheesh! That's a pretty serious "If I can't have it, no one will" decision there. I'm still a little perturbed by the mob mentality of a bunch of scientists putting self-preservation ahead of that of an entire species. You guys are really bad scientists!
So everyone dying from no oxygen should be a big deal, right? Except it wasn't. After raising the big "OH SHIT" flag to start the episode, this major crisis was hardly touched on throughout the hour, while people literally waited bedside or in their rooms. WHAT? Hello? Six hours until everyone dies! That's just one viewing of Klondike! These people need a crisis prioritization workshop. Instead, Hatake said, "I will take care of it" in that lifeless voice of his, and Alan essentially gave him the thumbs up and spent time with Peter. Not only that, but aside from a few blaring alarms, there was very little movement on the oxygen-depletion plot while Hatake casually strolled around the facility and showed off his hidden staircases. (Hidden staircase means it's official, Hatake is a supervillain; piranha pit and white fluffy cat still to come.) Also, big whoop, he has a hidden staircase. Once in the basement, Hatake engaged the oxygen kidnappers with some pretty bad negotiating and then shot them all as soon as they flipped some switches, so problem solved and everyone won except for those three dead scientists. Yay! Crisis that no one really cared about averted.
Poor Dr. Cutie Pie (Sarah). She had the worst chunk of "Single Strand" as an intense, infected lady scientist came to her asking whether she was sick or not. Sarah administered her completely ineffective virus test, and the results came back negative! And wrong, of course. Sarah's broken test completely ruined her character. She was supposed to be the smart one, yet her first attempt at "science" was a total failure. Who is she now other than the cute, doe-eyed Canadian chick? She's the cute, doe-eyed Canadian chick with a tumor, that's who! Yep, her shakes are being caused by a cancerous mass inside of her, and the infected scientist will keep her trap shut if Sarah does the same about the infected scientist's condition. Sarah said sure. This was a really bad scientist decision on Sarah's part; Someone needs to teach Sarah and Doreen what "infected" means. Later, Sarah popped a bunch of morphine out of boredom, I guess. I don't really get what the point of that part was, but if it leads to Sarah becoming some sort of morphine junkie, I'll be asking for the check.
Elsewhere, Alan gave Sarah a run for the worst storyline of "Single Strand," but since Alan's portion was just boring and he didn't do anything as stupid as Sarah did, he's off the hook. Alan had Peter injected with the anti-viral serum, and we waited and waited and waited for it to take effect. It finally did, and Peter experienced a few hallucinations that flashed back to a time that Alan had conveniently mentioned earlier in the episode. How fortunate! What are the odds!? Then they tripped over some of that love triangle baloney that Helix wants us to be invested in but I refuse to care about. It turns out Peter and Julia had been boinking well before Alan caught them. Sorry, Peter. Soon after breaking his bro's heart, Peter went into a vegetative state, leaving us all to wonder what else we could have been doing while this snoozy story unfolded.
At least things were much more interesting down below, as Dr. Julia got kicked out of the quarantine "safe" zone. This was the straight-up-horror part of "Single Strand." Very The Last of Us. One mean vector chased Julia around (why did Julia leave the safety of her hiding place?) until Julia was saved by Jay, some random gas-mask-wearing woman who we know nothing about because Julia didn't bother to ask her a few incredibly basic and entirely obvious questions. They rummaged for food together and did cheese-can whippets (well, that's what I would have done). Later, Julia would find her initials on the wall, scrawled in her own young-self handwriting. She'd been at the facility before! Dun-dun! Now Hatake's obsession with her becomes more clear. There's some chatter about Julia being Hatake's daughter, but I don't buy it. Please don't be Hatake's daughter, Julia. Please. Julia has to be a key to this virus thing somehow, because even though she's infected, she isn't showing the same signs as others. Patient Zero perhaps? Innate immunity? Is Julia the perfect carrier for this virus that Hatake is looking for? Is Hatake actually a robot?
Finally there's Doreen. Another bad scientist decision: She still kept all the details she knew about the virus between her and Balleseros. Did all of these scientists graduate from Selfish Scientist University? I mean, that's beyond dumb. If this virus gets out, it's all on Doreen and Sarah, because they refuse to share findings with the supposedly brilliant Alan. Anyway, Balleseros continued to puppet-master Doreen into doing things for him, this time DNA-sequencing the virus. She discovered that the virus was man made, and that it was delivering a strand of unidentifiable DNA. Basically, stuff we already knew, right? And with her usefulness to Balleseros finished, old Ballsy injected her with some death juice and then knocked over a bunch of rat cages her to stage an accident. And *crosses fingers* I think the rats started eating her Kenny-style! What a waste of a character. Doreen was there just to accidentally help Balleseros, I guess. But at least her death launched the best part of "Single Strand."
In the final minutes of the episode (this show has a knack for great final minutes), the music kicked in, and Hatake roamed the basement and walked right past that vector who was chasing Julia, and the vector just let him pass, almost with recognition and a respect for authority. All this while the rats swarmed over Doreen's twitching corpse. Fantastic! Is Hatake himself at a different and more advanced stage of infection? Are vectors designed to recognize him as their leader? Has he designed this whole CDC investigation as a means to get Julia to show up and be his virus queen? And why was this scene so much fun while most of the episode was boring? So many questions, so many terrible theories.
Helix is on a downward trajectory, but it still has this occasional sense of fun that I'd like to see more of. The series should embrace the energy of that goofy theme song and final scene instead of Alan and Peter talking about being Eskimo Brothers or virologists breaking the first three rules of viruses. It's those glimmers of potential that will keep me coming back, and I'm hoping that "Single Strand" was an anomaly. Despite all its mishaps, Helix has established itself as a watchable series and after four episodes, it has just barely passed TV.com's Four-Episode Test.
– We're still not entirely sure who Balleseros is, but he mentioned to Hatake that they work for the same employers. It would seem he's at the facility as some measure of quality control—maybe an investigative third party who's authorized to do what he thinks is necessary to make sure Hatake gets his work done, so the big powers that be (there are always bigger powers that be in shows like this) can rest easy knowing their investment is going pay off. But Hatake might be going Colonel Kurtz and turning the experiment into his own power trip. I dunno, I'm just guessing here.
– How calm was Alan about the oxygen and Sarah's broken tests? He was just like, "Okay, go make another test then! Bye, I'm talking to my brother."
– "Am I the only one alarmed by this?" Alan asked of the exploded communications station. Yes! Yes, you are, Alan. Everyone else does not seem bothered.
– Next week: It's White Room time!
What'd you think of "Single Strand"? Does Helix pass YOUR 4-episode test?
AIRED ON 3/28/2014
Season 1 : Episode 13