Episode 1.01 “Pilot” & 1.02 “Vector”
[photos: Philippe Bosse/Syfy]
Ronald D. Moore returns to Syfy with Helix, his answer to The Thing. Does it work? Is it worth tuning in? Well, at least it’s science fiction on what is ostensibly the science fiction network. Right? And it has Billy Campbell!
Despite using a number of familiar elements from other stories we’ve already seen before — it borrows heavily from The Thing and Alien — this show is a pretty good mix of pieces and parts.
Billy Campbell gives a thoroughly intense performance as the put-upon Dr. Alan Farragut, who has to travel to the Arctic with his ex-wife and protégé to rescue his brother Peter and over a hundred other researchers from an unknown viral outbreak. Except when they get there, they quickly learn that not all is as it seems. Dr. Hatake, the facility director, clearly has something to hide, and Hiroyuki Sanada delivers a pitch-perfect “evil mastermind” character — cold, calculating, devoid of concern over anything but the results of whatever experiment is going on.
The usual soap opera stuff is in play here, too — Alan’s ex apparently had a fling with Alan’s brother — and the surprise of the night came from the fact that the ex-wife and wannabe-girlfriend didn’t automatically start hissing and spitting at each other, even though there was a hint that it could go that way (probably to make sure critics like me would recognize when it didn’t).
Other good performances from Neil Napier as Peter Farragut, Jordon Hayes as the student in over her head, and Kyra Zagorsky as the ex who may have more to do with all of this than even she suspects. Napier especially does well considering he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but instead has to rely on body language and eye movement a lot of the first two hours. His secret signal to Alan via the log entry was a nice little piece of character, showing that he clearly knew something was up and figured his brother would be the one to pick up the pieces.
Everyone gets a scene or two to live in the spotlight — Hayes with her character having to face down angry isolation patients who are really put out by her age, Sanada with his smolder throughout the premiere, Mark Ghanimé as the Army soldier who’s more than he lets on, and Catherine Lemieux as the veterinarian that I thought would be the show’s first red shirt, the way they were telegraphing what would happen next.
Production notes: not too fond of all the out-of-focus shots and slow motion. And the incessant droning of the bass notes and spooky-ooky music throughout almost the entire first two episodes is going to wear thin really quickly. I get it. This is scary times. This is death and danger lurking at the door. But there’s such a thing as overkill, and the score is very close to that line.
Now, at this point, it could very much go either way — get really intricate with smart twists and intelligent dilemmas that come out of unexpected places, or totally predictable everything so much that everyone knows how it ends before the season’s over. It’s on the bubble for me right now. Keeping on eye on it to see which way it leans.