Helix 1.04 "Single Strand" & 1.05 "The White Room"

A tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

[Editor's note: With the hectic time-suck that goes along with launching a new website (Psycho Drive-In) from an older, fully-established website (Comics Bulletin), we've fallen a bit behind on our TV watching and reviewing. With that in mind, this week Paul Brian McCoy will be catching up on Helix and reviewing the four episodes we've missed. This first one will be doubled-up, since they weren't very good. Feel his pain.]

Helix 1.04 "Single Strand"

After the virtuoso directing of last episode by Steven A. Adelson, this time out Helix demonstrates a remarkably pedestrian approach to its storytelling, thanks mostly to a weak script by Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost, Medium, The Middleman) and directionless direction by Duane Clark.

"Single Strand" is filled with melodramatic touchstones, including the revelation of abusive childhoods for the Farragut boys (Billy Campbell and Neil Napier) by an abusive father, a secret tumor and a secret patient for Sarah (Jordan Hayes), all capped by a dramatic vegetative state for Peter and a dramatic straight-up murder for Doreen (Catherine Lemieux) by the shifty Major Sergio (Mark Ghanimé).

I may be the only person watching this show that is glad to see Doreen go. I found her character tedious from her opening scene with the downhome frankness and smartass dialogue, and while I hate to see a talented actress lose work this early in the season, I won't miss her character much at all.

I don't know if dumping a bunch of flesh eating rats on her was absolutely necessary, but it does get style points.

And Peter's coma couldn't come quick enough after he and Alan started sharing their feelings about their horrible dad only to cap it off with the patented "I was sleeping with your wife all along, not just that one time" admission as his eyes close and the machine that goes ping began pinging. Do writers really think that sort of melodrama is necessary to satisfy an audience?

Personally, I found it incredibly annoying and a bit insulting as a viewer.

Speaking of Julia (Kyra Zagorsky), she's kicked out of the safe room down on the quarantine floor for daring to stand up to The Most Paranoid Scientist Ever Put On Television (Vitali Makarov), so she decides to go hide in a weird little nook until a Vector shows up. For unknown reasons that defy any sort of logic, she chooses that opportunity to try and sneak out.

Needless to say, it doesn't go well.

Luckily, there's a super cute scientist (after she ditches her hazmat suit, rubber gloves, and oxygen mask) named Jaye (Amber Goldfarb) -- who may or may not be a hallucination -- also in hiding who helps her escape. But not before causing a pretty graphic broken wrist effect on the hyper-crazed Vector. During this time we also discover that not only does the inscrutable Dr. Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada) think it's important to keep secret stashes of spray cheese, it appears that Julia may have been at the base as a child.

The mystery of why Hatake wanted her called in deepens. This is a good thing, because we need to really start developing reasons to care about these people, and at least this makes Julia a little more interesting.

The only other item of note occurs in the final minutes as Hatake confronts The Most Paranoid Scientist Ever Put On Television and his threatening lackeys, talks them into laying down their weapons and restarting the oxygen scrubbers (they shut down the scrubbers to force the docs up-top to negotiate their extraction from quarantine -- you know, like a rational scientist would) before grabbing his security chief's gun and murdering all three infected scientists.

WTF? (I typed this before knowing that Syfy was using "WTF is happening on Helix as a catchphrase, but screw it. I'm keeping it.).

After coolly killing these guys, Hatake orders Daniel (Meegwun Fairbrother) to clean up the mess while he goes to take care of some unidentified business with Julia. And along the way, he meets up with the rabid Vector from earlier, stares him down, and passes like an Alpha Boss.

WTF, indeed.

2.5 stars

Helix 1.05 "The White Room"

Writer Misha Green (Episode 3: "274") returns with a passable script for episode five, "The White Room," and Duane Clark continues to not make waves directing as we find out where the White Room is. Hint: it's not really that surprising, but it does hold a surprise or two.

Ooooh, mystery!

Unfortunately Helix continues to plow forward with very few surprises (not counting the hairless rat that emerges from Doreen's dead mouth! My favourite Doreen moment in the series!!). Mysteries are not really very mysterious, instead they are just odd and then explained in pretty mundane ways. For example, after killing Doreen last time, Major Douchebag goes out in the -60 degree weather (I point out the temperature because it was brought up both last time and this, and yet characters continue to go out with their faces almost fully exposed in what is practically instant frostbite weather) to burn up those frozen monkeys. After dousing them with gasoline (which in reality becomes a thickened gel at temperatures that cold) and setting them alight, they begin screaming.

Yes, the frozen monkeys were still alive. Which doesn't bode well for Peter in his coma, but we all knew that wasn't going to last, right?

The Major's betrayal is pretty quickly discovered by the new team-up of Alan and Daniel, who points out that Alan is trusting Douchie's uniform instead of being rational. It's a good point, and if there's a saving grace for Dr. Emotional, it's that he can turn on a dime.

For example, after a doped up (on Morphine) Dr. He's Too Old For You kisses Alan on the mouth, he digs it at first (gross!) but then he groks that she's high and gives her a lecture. Then later, he decides he was too hard on her and accepts her lies about migraines as an excuse.

I still don't understand why she would keep her tumor a secret.

But then, I still don't understand why she would keep a clearly infected person in her room without telling anyone. Although she does clean up that situation this week, with an assisted suicide.

Might as well embrace it: WTF is happening on Helix?

Meanwhile down in the quarantine level, Dr. Hatake stabs himself so that Julia will feel obligated to help him (???) and we learn that (surprise!) Jaye is, in fact, a hallucination. It's all so cliché that I considered giving up then and there, but there's still that mystery of why was Julia at the base as a child.

Hatake's story about losing his daughter in a fire doesn't ring true and will probably be another Not Surprise as the show goes on, with the possible twist that Julia was his surrogate child afterwards.

The child he experimented on!!! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

No, really. That's probably going to happen.

Meanwhile Major Douchebag gets orders to find the mysterious Dr. Hvit and starts asking everybody he can find about the dude. Sneaky. The story goes that Hvit got some sort of immune deficiency problem and turned hermit. In an isolated Arctic lab with crazy security protocols.

I seriously think they're making this stuff up as they go at this point.

Turns out, Hvit is in "The White Room" which is an in-joke for the Arctic. They're all in the White Room! Get it?

This clearly means that Hvit is outside. Wha?

Anyway, in the only plot point interesting enough to match the burning alive monkeys, Hvit is actually a frozen severed head kept in a super-secret outside location, where when you hit a button, a bunch of weird containers rise up from under the ice. At least six of these things rise up, but we only focus on one -- the one with Hvit's frozen severed head -- mainly because the others immediately disappear.

Then Major Douche knocks out Daniel and steals the head, yadda yadda yadda. There's a confrontation between the Major and Alan that involves Alan yelling (in the -60 degree wind and snow with no face covering except for goggles) "You killed her, you bastard!"

I shit thee not.

Anyway, there's more punching and when everything's said and done, Daniel stabs Major Douche with a pickaxe, then strips him of his protective gear (exposing him to the cold) and leaves him for dead after retrieving Hvit's frozen severed head.

I really don't know what to make of all this. It's mostly bad, but there are glimmers of hope here and there. I'm curious about the frozen severed head, and I know Seven of Nine is showing up soon, so I'm still in.

But really. This shit needs to shape up.

3 stars with reservations.

Be sure to check out this review and more over at Comics Bulletin's new sister site, Psycho Drive-in!

Paul Brian McCoy is the Editor-in-Chief of Psycho Drive-In, writer of Mondo Marvel, and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

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