Helix: 274 review

Episode 3 of Helix cements what we already suspected: Ron Moore's new show is full of surprises, even in a seemingly familiar genre.

This review contains spoilers, so read on with caution if you haven’t seen Helix episode three yet!

With all of the introductions out of the way, Helix moves along at a fairly brisk pace in its third episode, “274.” It’s a bit less forgiving this time. You have to allow the first episode or two a certain amount of set-up and exposition, and with that grace period out of the way, it leaves some of Helix‘s weak spots a bit more exposed. Nevertheless, “274” also confirms that the show has a solid foundation that can probably withstand some awkward speed bumps and if nothing else, the rest of this season should be exciting stuff.

Opening in the immediate aftermath of “Vector,” Doctor Farragut finds Doctor Walker right where we left her, on the floor, recovering from an attack by the grotesquely infected Peter that may or may not have actually taken place. This memory that might not be a memory haunts her throughout the episode. “Get it together, Jules,” she tells herself after one harrowing flashback. “You don’t get sick.” This is a trained CDC responder who has seen some of the very worst the world has to offer, and it’s got her plenty spooked. It’s a nice way to remind the audience right out of the gate that these aren’t superheroes. No matter how competent they seem (or how rock solid their ideals appear to be), the cracks are gonna start showing pretty quickly in close quarters with something this horrific.

The base itself is quickly becoming a microcosm of humanity in general, and we can see all the archetypes coming into play. The warring interests of the military, business, science, and basic self-preservation all make up the essential conflicts that will probably define the rest of Helix‘s run. The helplessness of the other individuals on the base, who are well-aware that they may be at the mercy of people who see them as nothing more than lab rats or pawns is a little overplayed, but I’m not sure there’s any other way that this could be handled. The question will then become who is the real problem here? Is it the well-meaning but ineffective scientists studying this? The Ilaria Corporation employees who “played god” and probably unleashed whatever this disease is?

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When the decision is made to quarantine folks on a lower level of the base (which may or may not have been used to additional shady research in the recent past…but I’m betting that it has, otherwise they wouldn’t have telegraphed it), it’s one of those “necessary evil” moments. We’re soon treated to our angry scientist from the previous episode trying to get out of there with an axe and drooling black blood while demanding a cure. A cure that may or may not actually exist (well, as we’ll see…there IS an option, but it’s not one you necessarily want to take). It’s already been established that “vectors” will exhibit aggressive behavior, and now we see one just starting to develop the most visible and gruesome symptoms while also being the paranoid, aggressive jerk that we saw in previous episodes. This should make for some tense moments in future episodes, as paranoia and frustration overtakes these characters (and it will), we’ll be left to wonder who is genuinely infected and who is just plain old losing their shit.

Doctor Jordan and Doctor Walker collaborate to develop a test, and as they dance around the suspicions that the other is infected, I was half-hoping for the “hot needle in the petri dish of blood” gag from Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s definitely something very wrong with Doctor Jordan…although whatever it is, it isn’t the infection. Now, SPOILER warning. The test doesn’t work. But honestly, did you really expect it to? Certainly partitioning off the infected and the uninfected so early would have been way too convenient. It does allow for a final minute that would have been right at home in a Twilight Zone episode, if only it didn’t all feel so familiar.

“247” does a fine job of advancing the “not quite a zombie show, not quite a medical horror show” aesthetic of Helix, but I couldn’t help feeling that it still doesn’t do all that much for the characters. Catherine Lemieux’s Doreen Boyle remains a mystery, existing only to swear emphatically in a southern accent and be the show’s obligatory hothead. The fact that Dr. Farragut would be forced to take a life despite his lofty talk earlier in the episode was telegraphed from the moment the words left his mouth. There’s a dreadful bit of character exposition monologue from Dr. Walker that is fairly inexcusable. The “She’s killing people!” bit from the nervous scientist that immediately sets off a near riot is so cartoonishly bad that I couldn’t help but feel it would be more at home in a Simpsons-style parody of a show like this. Hiroyuki Sanada could use about double the screen time, as he is such a tremendous presence (and Dr. Hatake is by far the most interesting character we’ve yet seen). Also, of course, you can bet your bottom dollar that if somebody emphatically tells you that “there is no cure” or there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on at any point in Helix that the exact opposite is true.

Despite these hiccups, Helix is still worth your attention, and as the situation spirals out of control (and the cavalry inevitably fails to arrive) it will be fascinating to see some of these characters stretched to their breaking points. Every major character seems to harboring some kind of secret, some likely bigger than others, and I wonder how they’ll find time to handle all of them in the remaining ten episodes. Perhaps as the herd gets thinned (and we probably aren’t too far off from the first major character getting their ticket punched) that will help speed things along a little.

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3 out of 5