Monday, February 17, 2014

Is HELIX a "Survivor?"

Article first published as Is HELIX a "Survivor?" on TheTVKing.

There's a lot to praise about the SyFy original series Helix. For one thing, it's much smarter than most of the fare on the network. It's a disease outbreak stretched out to full television series proportions, which hasn't really been done before, at least not successfully. It contains some actual science (and, admittedly, some liberties with facts, too). It has mystery, suspense, and mythology on its side.

The thing that has kept it from really soaring for me, though, is the characters. Dr Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell), the lead, is a ridiculous caricature. He's very intelligent, but also abnormally kind, and is willing to fist fight with trained soldiers. He's way too stereotypical a hero, too good at too many things, and lacking any real depth. His relationship with Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) is beyond dumb and formulaic. I'm not sure if it's the actor or the way the part is written, but it drags the show down.

Thankfully, quietly, slowly, the series has been building up an interesting ensemble that may be the key to take it to the next level. Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) not only has a unique plot arc, but also some history with the company behind this whole mess that even she doesn't remember. Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada) is more than he seems, and actually has personal motivations that extend beyond a grab for power or profit. Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanime), who I had written off after his murder of the only interesting personality from the first few weeks, stumbles onto some information that could shift his allegiances, making him a dangerous uncertainty.

This is all ramped up in tonight's excellent "Survivor Zero." If you've been on the fence and letting episodes build up on your DVR, this installment, the halfway point of the season, sent out to press for early viewing for a reason, is where things begin to change and get really interesting. There are developments which each of those three mentioned in the previous paragraph that should shock and intrigue you. They are part of a story I really want to see.

All of this is instigated by the arrival of Constance Sutton (Jeri Ryan, Star Trek: Voyager, Body of Proof). Sutton is the head of the parent company that runs the base, Hatake's boss. She comes to check on the progress of the mission, clues of which are revealed in "Survivor Zero" that haven't been obvious before. Her showing up kicks off a number of new subplots, or speeds along those that had been barely blooming, increasing the pacing of the show as a whole.

She is also a heck of a great character. Ryan shines in playing multiple sides, a master manipulator who has her own goals, some overt, some not so much. I've liked Ryan before this, but this is much more of a meaty role for her than the past work I've seen her in, and should she stick around, has the potential to quickly become the most magnetic personality on Helix.

I am loathe to go into details because I think "Survivor Zero" works best without clues. Not being one to watch episode previews before they air, I'm not sure how much has been given away, but popping this into my player this past week was surprisingly rewarding. If this is an example of what is coming for Helix, and by the way it unfolds, I think it is a good indicator of what is planned for the back half of the season, it should really become something to watch in the very near future.

Helix airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on SyFy.

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