TV Review: Helix 1.2, "Vector"

rating: 3.5

Second episodes are crucial to how a new series is perceived. Whereas pilots have the advantage of a relatively blank slate, those immediate follow-ups need to prove the series can facilitate momentum through the stage set by the inaugural episode. "Vector" achieves momentum, but not quite as clearly as it would like. The episode was less intense than its predecessor, even retreading some of its already covered ground, but new information is also carefully dispersed which bodes well. "Vector" felt more like a second act lull, a moment to catch your breath after the initial shock before the next wave hits. The good news €“ and there's more than enough to go around €“ is that there's plenty of solid indications that the next wave will surely knock the breath right back out of Helix's viewers. There were a couple downsides to "Vector" such as the argument between Alan and Julia feeling forced and disingenuous (a minor quibble made up for later when the two shared a moment of intimacy that felt more authentic for two former partners), but the only other concrete drawback of the episode for me was the scene where Balleseros is searching for Peter in the vents. Seeing this so soon after such a similar scene in the pilot rubbed me the wrong way. I also can't decide yet if the soldier surviving the encounter was contributing to his mysterious nature and clandestine connection to Hatake and the party both men work for, or just lazy writing. I'm opting at the moment for the former rather than the latter, and am more pleased the episode isn't giving me clear-cut answers. There are two types of TV audiences: those who wish to be pacified and those who wish to be challenged. Each of us, myself included, has been both of these types at different times for different shows. Sometimes you need to just unplug and soak up something familiar, easy, and pleasing. Greatness, however, is measured €“ at least in terms of art and media €“ by how much something forces its audience to participate, pay attention, and actually think. "Vector" didn't propel Helix into the arena of television greatness, but its tendency to slyly drop narrative breadcrumbs rather than spell out its plot is comforting. Helix hasn't broken the mold for sci-fi thriller stories, but it isn't following a case-of-the-week format €“ or any format €“ as of yet. That's a lie. There does seem to be the "Day 1," "Day 2," format where each episode appears so far to be a new day in the post-outbreak containment attempt/investigation. That, however, feels less formulaic and more exciting. TV can be like children in that it craves structure, not monotony. Helix's second day may have been less nail-biting than the first, but it demonstrated some enticing features. I'm a fan of raising the creep factor by using upbeat old timey music during scenes of potential terror or vulnerability. It's a tried and true method of evoking dread and emphasizing an ominous quality in a scene. Like anything else it can be overused, and I feel like Helix could be walking a thin line here, but so far it's been done consistently and with restraint. Only at the top of the episode while the camera crept up behind Doreen as she performed the monkey autopsy, and at the end during the shower encounter between Julia and Peter (more on that later) was this technique utilized. If it's continued to be spent sparingly, in addition to the somewhat Lost-esque opening title sequence, it could prove to be a strong motif. As mentioned earlier, "Vector," while repeating itself just a tad, did cover new ground, which is vital to keep plot momentum moving. We got to see more of the scientists inhabiting the enormous Atlantic Biosystems research facility base, which will hopefully become a consistent aspect of the series. A story's setting isn't just it's backdrop. The community surrounding a story's main cast grants the story stakes and dramatic weight. Hopefully we'll see more from these individuals as they can illustrate what our cast is fighting for. At present it's provided an individual who mentioned "Viral vaults," and was stabbed to death for threatening to expose this information to the public and buried in the snow by the unassuming Balleseros. As for those breadcrumbs mentioned before, it's suggested by the cracked window of the missing scientist's room (as well as the frozen menagerie of monkeys) that the virus may crave the cold €“ or that its hosts may have been driven outside in the attempt to neutralize its infection. Said missing scientist, in her deliriously paranoid rantings, mentioned more talk of the "white room," referring to herself as "Us," and snippets of making a virus to be "the perfect weapon." These coupled with the other infected scientist's claim of "Not knowing," being the culprit for panic, and Peter's mention of the mysterious Walker, illuminate Helix's apparent strategy for keeping its audience returning for more. "Vector" may have had a slower pace than the pilot, but slowing down to show and not tell is definitely a move I agree with. Though I'm intrigued by what exactly Hatake's shiny eyes indicate, as well as the ending in which Peter infects Julia, even the most captivating plot will eventually falter without equally fascinating characters. I wasn't thrilled with the apparent love triangle (or square?) dynamic which looked to be the situation among Julia, Sarah, Peter, and Alan, but this wasn't emphasized in "Vector" and Julia's recent transformation will certainly add new layers to that conflict. Similarly, Hatake's fascination with Julia will certainly be altered as well. Much rests on the shoulders of second episodes, but "Vector" bore the pressure well if not in the most spectacular fashion. I like that the plot is of a continuous serial trajectory so far rather than the typical case-of-the-week formula. We're gradually learning more about the characters and what they're dealing with which is a pace I'm happy with. As long as there's an interesting world to explore then it's good to let events unfold unhurried. Though still early, Helix is shaping up to be a world that I'm excited to explore.
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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.