TV Review: Helix 1.1, "Pilot"

Helix Pilot

rating: 4.5

Helix's pilot definitely won me over. Syfy's been putting a lot into pushing its latest original series and I can't help but feel they've definitely bet on the right horse. It's no surprise that with Ronald D. Moore executive producing (the man responsible for the Battlestar Galactica reboot, probably the network's greatest success that doesn't have to do with fishy weather systems, as well as the much buzzed about upcoming Outlander series for Starz) Syfy is doing justice to the vision of its latest endeavor's creator, Cameron Porsandeh, who also wrote its pilot. The episode establishes Helix as a sci-fi thriller that lives up to the genre's potential. The most important thought I took away from this episode is that good story-telling isn't in the what, but the how. The episode uses a lot of familiar ingredients such as a love triangle, a shady corporation, military personnel with ulterior motives, a viral outbreak, ominous experiments, scientists remarking that mutations are dangerous, creepy old music, etc. But some of the best, most timeless works of science fiction €“ all fiction really €“ do the same thing. What distinguishes classics from mediocrity isn't the content, but the presentation, and Helix's first episode presented its material in ways which let its viewers know that it's aiming high. Right from the offset Helix's influences are evident. Aside from scientists stuck in the arctic being reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing, the opening shots of long hallways inter-cut with shots of a frantic man running scared evoked the vacuous oppression of The Shining's Overlook Hotel and the horrific panic of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. And the depiction of protagonist Dr. Alan Farragut crawling through the air vents was similar to corresponding scenes in Ridley Scott's classic, Alien. In the right hands these aren't merely cheap rip-offs, they're acknowledgments of the best of what's come before and hopefully a forecast of what the show aims to accomplish. Director Jeffrey Reiner should be commended for these choices as well as two others which stood out for having emphasized the scope of the show and the enormity of the forces these characters have tapped into: the bird's eye view shot of the helicopter flying across the arctic, and the music playing at the episode's start and finish. Both the tiny helicopter set against the vast white tundra perceived from some higher vantage and the use of Dionne Warwick's innocuous and upbeat "Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?" while showing the remnants of graphic violence each produce an effective juxtaposition between that which is small and ignorant and that which is colossal and dangerous. These suggest themes of naivete and horror will be predominant throughout Helix's run. Though I've been excited for this series I was somewhat skeptical of a show about scientists struggling to contain a monstrous viral outbreak. Not that I'm a germaphobe or anything, but considering the questionable efficacy of Moore's inclusion of spiritual themes in Battlestar I was afraid the old story of scientists suffering for "playing God" might come off pious or self-righteously anti-science. Though only time will tell if this is ultimately a message to be interpreted from the completed series (here's hoping that the inclusion of the story about how a scientist and a clergyman were the pioneers of epidemiology bodes well for a compromise between science and religion rather than a dominance of one over the other), for the time being Helix's pilot has provided much to be excited for. Details such as the hand signal for "Run like hell" Peter used in his video journal knowing his brother would probably see it, Peter's ramblings of a "white room" (the title of the fifth episode), and implications that this virus is of ancient origins are just a few of the gems that make me think there's much to look forward to from this show. Plus, a self-contained community of intellectuals trapped in an isolated setting tends to produce compelling narrative results. And that reveal of the frozen monkeys really hooked me as well. Essentially I can't help but feel Helix, based solely on the pilot, is looking to be taken seriously. Even if it doesn't pan out I'd always rather watch something aim high and fail than succeed at mediocrity, something which this series does not in any way look to be interested in. Helix Pilot B
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Fed a steady diet of cartoons, comics, tv and movies as a child, Joe now survives on nothing but endless film and television series, animated or otherwise, as well as novels of the graphic and literary varieties. He can also be seen ingesting copious amounts of sarcasm and absurdity.