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How did Syfy’s “Helix” Measure Up?

By on January 12, 2014
(Photo by: Phillipe Bosse/Syfy).

(Photo by: Phillipe Bosse/Syfy).

By Clinton Bell

It’s been a long time since Syfy had a new series worth getting excited about. The network—which in recent years has become known for its paranormal reality programs—has been unable to fill the void left by the critically acclaimed Battlestar GalacticaHelix, which is executive produced by Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore, is a serious attempt to recapture some of that former glory.

Billy Campbell stars as Dr. Alan Farragut, a CDC scientist who must travel to an arctic research facility after his brother Peter—and several other people—are infected by a strange virus. Alan is joined by several companions, most importantly newcomer Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) and Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), his ex-wife.

Upon arriving at the facility, the team is greeted by Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, who is the director of research and development at the facility. It is strongly implied that Hatake is the person responsible for the pathogen outbreak in the facility, yet by the episode’s end we still don’t know what his goal is. “Pilot/Vector” treats Hatake as merely a mad scientist, possibly obsessed with scientific breakthrough at the cost of lives. At this point, Hatake is a dull antagonist, too mysterious to be compelling or feared.

Both episodes give only minimal character development, and instead favor a brisk, action-oriented pace. We learn early on that Julia was once married to Alan and cheated on him with Peter; by the episode’s end, we’re still not sure how Alan feels toward Julia or Peter. It’s clear that Alan wants Peter to survive, but it isn’t clear how much the affair strained their relationship. It is the show’s most soap opera-ish aspect, but also an aspect that will be important in future installments, as the characters (hopefully) develop into more three-dimensional people.

The second half of the two-episode premiere deals mostly with Peter running loose in the facility and attacking people. It’s a race against time as Alan and his team search everywhere for Peter’s whereabouts and attempt to prevent further spread of the pathogen. The pathogen has imbued Peter with enormous strength, and is turning him into something inhuman. Whatever it is, we’ll have to wait and see. The premiere concludes with Peter attacking and infecting Julia, which will surely serve as the main focus of the next episode.

Though the CGI exterior shots are disappointing, even for cable TV standards, the episode still boasts some impressive, moody visuals and attractive set design. Directors Jeffrey Reiner and Brad Turner do a solid job of composing shots, which makes the show look more cinematic than most other Syfy shows. The cold open is particularly cinematic and perfectly establishes an unsettling tone.

It’ll be a while before Helix can be deemed a success or failure. The show does enough things right to make it worth watching for at least a few more episodes. The characters and stiff dialogue need improving, but the writers have at least eleven more episodes to make us care more about these characters. Though the premiere leaves a lot of unanswered questions and dangling threads, the most compelling part of it is how it manages to keep raising the stakes and pushing the plot forward. Helix seems to have enough momentum to remain entertaining for a while, and if it manages to figure out its characters, it could emerge as Syfy’s most formidable current series.

Helix is created by Cameron Porsandeh and airs Fridays at 10 EST on Syfy.