Thursday, April 3, 2014

Downward Spiral!

When I first began to see ads for Syfy's Helix, I have to admit I was intrigued. It had a lot of characteristics I find fascinating in sci-fi adventures -- a remote isolated location, a medical premise, and what appeared to be a pretty compelling variation of the techno-zombie. And truth told it began quite well, with a well cast team of CDC scientists (led by The Rocketeer's Billy Campbell) heading off to the extreme reaches of the Arctic to confront an outbreak of a puzzling disease. We quickly meet the head of the Arctic lab, an enigmatic and Machiavellian type who with his armed guard lorded it over a few hundred scientists of various disciplines and loyalties in a lab which we quickly learn spirals down deeper into the Earth than we first suspected, and which hides secrets upon secrets upon secrets.

And soon enough we learn that the ties among the victims and the CDC team are more elaborate than we might've first suspected. Enter a mysterious and highly nefarious organization called ILARIA and the action begins to heat up quickly despite the cold weather battering the lab at all times. It's all there, a neat premise with promising stories which at first supply neat twists, surprise deaths, frozen monkeys, and even doses of suspense. And zombies were interesting and scary too. But then sadly it all goes away after the twisting becomes ceaseless and the deaths remove some of the most interesting characters from the stage. The suspense is replaced with tedium.

I won't bother spoiling this story. Now that I've finally seen all of the first season, I'm pretty sure I won't be returning next year for the rest of the story. The storytelling became increasingly complex, thinking I suppose that endless turns was the way to win friends. Alas it only became tiresome as everything you thought you knew disappeared in a single plot quirk and the ceaseless complications became predictable, not in how they'd twist, but that they'd twist, making you less than confident that you understood what you were seeing.

The most grating part of this show is the extraordinarily poor and sometimes puerile writing. The creators may have the big overarching plot thoroughly in hand, but specific scenes between characters became increasingly cliched and deadly dull as the season ground on. I more and more found myself talking back to the screen as characters mouthed pointless and tired lines at one another, lines seemingly extracted from defunct soap operas of years past. It all became hard to listen to as the heroes became villains and the villains became heroes, with the always-increasing body count putting the lie to all of the mopey philosophies spouted endlessly by characters who never seemed to have a compass or sacrificed same at the drop of a mote of blood.

Helix should've been better; it could've been better.

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