Helix episode 5 review: The White Room

Review Billy Grifter 3 Feb 2014 - 06:48

Helix shows a marked improvement in its fifth episode. Here's Billy's review of The White Room...

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 The White Room

It was with a sense of general dread that I approached the fifth Helix outing. Not that the US TV-friendly level of horror in it scared me, it was more to do with how unrelentingly dumb most of the last story was. Yet, and this doesn’t happen often, The White Room turned things around somewhat.

The critical difference between this and what went before is that for the first time almost all the characters appear to have taken their brains out of neutral and selected a forward gear. There are some still making very poor choices - that I’ll cover later - but most of them aren’t the same people we met last week, who couldn’t find their own backsides with both hands. Perhaps I should also say that they’re still not as smart as their qualifications suggest, but an elevation from a one-star-fast-food career rating they exhibited before is an improvement worth celebrating.

But that wasn’t the complete story of how this suddenly got better. What we’d been sold so far was a rather simple isolation horror story the likes of which has been done better and more succinctly a thousand times before. But almost immediately, this episode introduced some subtle complexities that hint at a much more nuanced narrative, of which we’re just seeing the iceberg tip above water line.

The first of these was when Balleseros burned the frozen monkeys, and they screamed. He wasn’t expecting that, and the audience wasn’t either. Whatever is going on here is therefore more complicated than a genetic experiment, or not just using a virus to re-encode DNA strands. It's something darker, and maybe even supernatural.

Okay, I admit that I didn’t follow how Balleseros typed the messages on his COM device with a glove on and no visible keypad, but the message he got to retrieve Dr. Hvit added another mystery immediately. That this person isn’t on the list of staff soon adds more mystery, compounded by obtuse comments by those he asks about the location of the doctor.

Things then get even better when Balleseros and Daniel cross paths, and aren’t on the same page. So far Daniel has been presented as little more than an instrument of Hatake, but now he’s making his own choices and that’s a significant progression.

Where that thread ultimately goes is interesting, but the sequence that I enjoyed the most was the one where Hatake injures himself so that he can tap into Julia’s medical instincts. The complication to all this would be the woman that Julia found in the previous story, except she doesn’t appear to actually exist.

I’ve seen a few forum discussions on the nature of Dr. Rae Van Eigem, and many people thought she was a ghost, oddly. I didn’t get that at all. What I concluded was that she was a manifestation of Julia’s subconscious, trying to provide her with a means to stay sane while the illness takes hold of her. What I didn’t really follow was how her stitching Hatake up on the outside would actually help him when the knife went through internal organs. He’d need to be opened up to find out what damage was done and internally repaired. Except he’s not human any longer, not that Julia knows that. We’re no closer to following the interest Hatake has in her, but she’s obviously very important at some level to him. What’s also worth noting is that the illness in her isn’t progressing at the speed it has with other victims, especially the one that Sarah has regrettably decided to keep in her room.

Where most characters were much better in this story, Sarah is just as dumb as before, and probably even more so. She had an opportunity to tell Alan she has a brain tumor and blew it. She also needs to mention that she has the dead body of a scientist in her bed, because it won’t be explainable at some point. I hate her character, I hate her lack of logic, and even Alan had the good sense to pass up casual sex with her.

Alan is by far the character who's made the most progress, because he worked out that poor old Doreen didn’t die naturally, and tracked down the culprit pretty smartly. The white-out fights seemed to entirely rely on people knocking others out, and then leaving them with a deadly weapon assuming they’d never regain consciousness. But beside those weaknesses, and combined with the curious revelation of the whereabouts of Dr. Hvit, it was generally good fun. It also set the next story up nicely. Someone is coming to retrieve Balleseros and Hvit’s head, but who, and how? And Balleseros isn’t dead officially, and as I predicted last week he would be, Peter is far from deceased.

Of course, with Sarah acting like a she’s at high school with a secret crush, it might all go horribly stupid again. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, because this story was watchable for most of its running time.

Read Billy's review of the previous episode, Single Strand, here.

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