[This is a review of the Helix series premiere. It will contain SPOILERS.]
SyFy’s Helix dares to stand out in a landscape already filled to capacity with genre-based behemoths, like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Where those series tackle issues on a massive scale, Helix smartly stays small by giving its ensemble cast a tiny stage to showcase one of the best new series of 2014.
Science fiction is quite possibly the most difficult of all genres to turn into a success; it is also the most fragile. Helix executive producer Ronald D. Moore achieved acclaim with his reimagining of Battlestar Galactica by disguising relevant topics such as terrorism, religion, and racism into a series about robots wanting to destroy their makers. Moore’s show was deeply layered, and was not just another space opera with strange looking creatures.
Unlike Battlestar, Helix does not take place in outer space, but rather an isolated research facility somewhere in the Arctic. The primary strength of this series resides in its setting. The fact that these scientists are locked away in a frozen wasteland with a highly volatile virus is the perfect playground for creator Cameron Porsandeh to tell his story. When the team from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) arrive at the base, the mystery has already begun. Like any good mystery, some questions are best left unanswered, giving the viewer a reason to come back for more.
Aside from the virus that is causing havoc at the facility, the characters that inhabit this terrifying world are also intriguing. With the exception of Major Balleseros and head of security Daniel Aerov, everyone is a doctor. Even with their commonalities in terms of education, each character is unique in his/her own way. Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) may be straitlaced in appearance and tone, but there is little doubt that he will be the voice people turn to when things get ugly. The lovely Kyra Zagrosky plays Farragut’s ex-wife, Julia. To make matters worse, we learn early on that she had an affair with Alan’s brother (Dr. Peter Farragut), who also happens to be the infected individual running lose around the facility. Is that enough drama for everyone?
Dr. Hiroshi Hatake comes off as your run of the mill mad scientist, but as the two-hour premiere progresses, there is definitely more too his ambitions. The dynamic Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) brings a quiet dominance to the screen. The Tokyo-born actor steals every scene he’s in, yet he does so without ever raising his voice. Sanada is never the loudest person in the room, yet he demands respect whenever he speaks. Next to location, it’s apparent that casting was at the top of the creative list, as Helix gives its viewers a diverse array of characters worth the time it will take to understand them better.
Speaking of time, the concept of having each episode account for only 24-hours adds to the already tense atmosphere the show has created. With only a single day encapsulating an entire hour of television, each moment and every character interaction feels that much more important. Time is not on the side of the men and women trapped in this research facility.
Cameron Porsandeh and Ronald D. Moore have put together a unique blend of drama, suspense, and horror that have culminated into one of the more unique journeys into the science fiction genre since Battlestar. Helix has the potential to be a great show if it doesn’t collapse under the pressure of its own weight. The word “potential,” like “science fiction,” is both fragile and dangerous.
Are the characters and mysteries surrounding Helix enough to bring you back for a second viewing, or is this another failed attempt to reignite the world of sci-fi? Only time will tell.
Helix continues with ‘274’ next Friday @10pm on SyFy. Watch the episode before it airs on Syfy’s official website.