Helix: Season 1
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Helix: Season 1

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Of all the possible categories the story can be placed into science-fiction is arguably the one with the most potential for subtext. The vagaries of the human condition to be examined through robotic characters or the foibles of a government subject exploration under the guise of an alien civilization. Science-fiction is excellent at constructing a veneer over subjects and themes that many might feel too controversial to address directly. One plot element that is most among those commonly used in sci-fi provides insight into what frightens us most as a society. In the 50s, directly after the first use of atomic weapons, radiation was the driving force for a significant number of sci-fi flicks. Giant mutated insects, human beings irradiated into horrible monsters or the terrible world remaining for the survivors of an all-out nuclear exchange. More recently, the specter of the misuse of the atom abated, giving way to the latest cutting and danger imposed by advancing technology; genetic engineering. Our rapidly increasing control over our genetic makeup, the very language of the book of life is written in. Many cases we have the same the mutants and giant insects, only instead of being the result of out-of-control radiation they were created by genetic manipulation on its most fundamental level. Only decades ago, we saw the misuse nuclear age, with the potential appending all life on the planet. Now, a simple string of molecules, referred to as a virus can be created by man released into the world, either inadvertently or as part of a terrorist plot. No matter which scenario plays out it will have the same result; humanity grinds to a halt. Original series by the aptly named SyFy network, ‘Helix’ is one of the latest forms of entertainment to take on a virus apocalyptic potential.

When a virus outbreak occurs in this facility the Center for disease control (CDC) is notified as a matter of protocol. One of their best field epidemiologists, Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) is dispatched along with his team to investigate. The research center is under the control of a genius in the field of genetic engineering, Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada). The biotech firm funding his research is the Ilaria Corporation, the prototypical huge conglomerate with nefarious agenda. Much of the credit of the writers, they refrain from playing the ‘evil corporation’ plot contrivance, at least until much later in this initial season. Even then it is just a front for the truly evil cadre behind the scenes. Before introducing the corporation’s agent in charge, Constance Sutton (Jeri Ryan), great care was taken to lay the groundwork not only for what’s going on in the extent of the danger, but also to elucidate the personal relationships among the main characters. Dr. Farragut is caught in a good old-fashioned romantic triangle. One of the researchers on the project is Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), longtime associate of Dr. Hatake, who just happens to be Dr. Farragut ex-wife. Adding an additional layer of emotional complication Farragut’s current girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan, Hayes) is part of his team from the CDC. If not for the careful preparation in the construction of the overall themes of this series a romantic Triad such as this could very easily derail the proceedings spiraling into just another primetime soap opera. It is obvious that everyone concerned with this series had their eyes set on a higher goal.

Many might feel that the pacing is far too slow, especially for a science-fiction series whose promos promised gunfights. Each episode advances the plot line by the slightest iota frequently raising more questions than are answered. While this is certainly true the writers have learned from the mistakes made by similar shows, most notably ‘Lost’, paying attention to the idea that the unfolding of the main themes does not have to permit the story to meander. This series is a complex web of masterfully interwoven plot lines. Just when you think you know the basic direction. The story is taking you encounter a twist bring you to an altogether different course. The victims of the viral outbreak, a subject either to a horrible death or become vectors, mind is zombielike creatures intent on spreading the virus by fighting their victims. One of the lower levels, Level-R, is overrun by the vectors requiring it to be isolated, quarantine from the rest of the facility. Naturally, much-needed clues the research are contained in laboratories on that level. This did use in this aspect of the series a certain ‘zombie apocalypse’ motif. Thanks of the vision of the show’s creator, Cameron Porsandeh; the similarities remain superficial contributing nuances to the proceedings not overwhelming it.

This tapestry of this show is extremely complex, bordering on the precipice of being overwhelming. It turns out that Julia has a stronger connection to Dr. Hatake than she ever could have imagined in the brilliant doctor has been performing research of a highly suspect and immoral fashion. For many years native children have gone missing from the nearby Inuit community. The sister of one of these lost Inuit children, Anana (Luciana Carro) has found her missing brother, Miksa (Meegwun Fairbrother), working for Hatake under the name the doctor raised in with, Daniel Aerov. One common thread between all the strange occurrences going on in this artic research facility is that in some way or another, has Dr. Hatake is at the center of it. While it would seem natural to make him the primary antagonists, the Corporation in a group that controls the behind the scenes of the true sources of evil, providing the show with a novel torch that sets it apart similar explorations of these themes. So many television shows degrade into the predictable all too fast. One thing that must be said for ‘Helix’ lies in the fact that it is very difficult to pin down. It consistently leads you into thinking what you expect is what is occurring only to pull the rug out from under you in the most entertaining way possible. Despite the complexity of the numerous storylines it all stems from a manageable number of groups; the researchers, the vectors, staff members, the Corporation and the native Inuit population. There is another set of characters which cannot be mentioned here in order to avoid the much dreaded spoiler.

Over the years, most of the television networks have devised their own incarnations of the sci-fi series. In many cases, despite popularity, the series are canceled prematurely. One of the greatest courses for this is science-fiction shows have a tendency to be heavy and special effects. Although the course for this has lessened, due to growing advances in computer generated effects, building the practical sense, costuming and ancillary props infrequent results in higher production course per episode that advertising revenue and meet. In this series, the potential pitfalls have been expertly avoided by infusing into the fundamental premise aspects that work to keep costs under control. The setting for this thriller is an arctic bioresearch center. Exterior shots are either a shot of a high-tech circular complex set white snowy wasteland of the North Pole. The interior shots are all rather generic hallways, laboratories and offices. The few times we need to see people in the outside of like backdrop snow machine in conjunction the actor suitably attired in subzero certified parkas are all that’s necessary. The means to avoid cost overruns that usually end in premature cancellation the writers were able to better focus their mind on carefully building an intriguing series that expertly blends mystery and suspense into the often used potential end of the world scenario.

Among the most crucial elements of any television series is the ability a suitably intense degree of drama and suspense, hopefully up for several seasons. With a science-fiction series, it is unfortunately all too common for the technology to overshadow the storylines. With ‘Helix’, this danger is deftly avoided by making it primarily the character driven series. The technology, specifically the virus, is in a real sense it plot contrivance referred to as the McGuffin; plot point that is crucial to the characters within the context of the story, but ultimately secondary to the viewers. The virus is the means to gather the various factions to this North Pole facility. The potential for global devastation provides the urgency necessary to allow this show earn the classification of thriller. The paramilitary corporate security team builds on this to add the always necessary ‘the Sword of Damocles’ , with the potential threat of biological global annihilation hanging in the balance. As the season continues on becomes increasingly evident that although the location and complete the structure of the virus is crucial, it becomes increasingly obvious, as the series progresses, that the powerful cabal acting behind the scenes is intent on bringing their plans successfully to fruition. This crucial piece of the puzzle had been alluded to all along; possibly seen in retrospect. The show runner and his writers had enough faith in this project, not to overcrowd the freshman year too many of the secrets too soon. Like a signature dish at a renowned restaurant the ingredients must be introduced at the proper time and afforded the opportunity to blend together. Like many of the fans of the series, I am anxious to see what happens next. Of course, considering science-fiction icon Ronald D. Moore is an executive producer of the series, there is an excellent reason to look to the future of the show.

Cast & Crew Commentary on the Pilot Episode and "Dans L 'Ombre"
Ronald D. Moore: The Outlier of Science Fiction
The Future of Disease
The Art of Isolation
Dissecting the Characters
Outtakes
Deleted Scenes
Writing the Tension
Fabricating the Plague

Posted 06/29/2014

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