Friday, January 16, 2015

REVIEW: 'Helix' - The CDC Team Heads to a Remote Island to Investigate a New Viral Outbreak in 'San Jose'

Syfy's Helix - Episode 2.01 "San Jose"

15 months after the events at Arctic Biosystems, the CDC team with the addition of biotoxicologist Kyle Sommer respond to a potential outbreak on a Windjammer in the Northern Pacific. Their search leads them to an island occupied by a mysterious cult led by the charismatic Michael. Meanwhile, 40 years in the future, Walker arrives at the same island searching for Alan Farragut.

Helix has so many big ideas on its mind about the fragility of life, the organization of civilizations, survival instincts and the ever-changing future. And yet, it has zero idea on how to execute any of it well or at least in an entertaining way. The first season was a hodgepodge of science fiction tropes that got larger in scope as the season progressed but the foundation just couldn't handle it. It ended the season with the destruction of Arctic Biosystems and the promise of the larger shadow and nefarious organization, Ilaria Corporation, hunting down every member of the team for what they discovered. The show tries to move from that grand sense of doom to a relatively small stakes story at the start of its second season. It offers no clarity on the events that concluded the first season or if any of it had any purpose at all. Instead of offering any more clarity on this universe, Helix would rather head to a different corner of it and not act like any of its grand proclamations had any repercussions whatsoever.

"San Jose" spends the majority of its running time trying to establish new mysteries. A new viral outbreak is introduced and it promises to impact the world for the next forty years! The disease from last season is mentioned. The new doctor on the CDC team asks Sarah about it a couple of times and the coast guard representative is only really interesting in this disease if it's the previous one. But that's about it. This new disease causes people to act crazy and develop gross fungus-like spores on their bodies. It all traces back to a tropical island that inhabits two different but equally mysterious and crazy groups of people - a cult and unknown inhabitants of the woods. It's not as claustrophobic as last season's locations was at its best. The tropic setting allows the series to try different types of scares. They are similarly not that effective.

The plotting continues to be the weakest element of Helix. At the start of the premiere, we see two different storylines about people coming to the island - the CDC team and Julia by herself. We are led to believe that they are happening concurrently. Even though the two aren't connected any more for some reason, its thematically relevant to have them in the same location at the same time. However, that's not the case. Through cheap tricks, we are suppose to foolishly believe that Peter and Sarah would happen upon Julia while they are trying to find their new acquaintance from the disease-infected ship. I never once believed they were on the island at the same time. First, it's spoiled in the episode description above. And second, the sequences with Julia were filmed with so much light saturation that it had to be demonstrative of a different point in time.

And then, "San Jose" makes this grand statement that the immortals that it introduced last season are not immune to this new disease. Julia has come to the island to find Alan. What she finds is his grave. Alan was the show's leading man last season. In its second season premiere, he has a cameo appearance - enough for me to get my hopes up that he wouldn't be as important a character as he was a year ago. That doesn't make me care that he is going to die sometime. 40 years is a big time span. There's a lack of urgency with this development. I also don't care about Alan so the idea of him being dead is a joyful one which is likely not the intended effect.

For an episode that spends so much time on introducing new stuff, I don't have a strong grasp on what the new story arc is actually about. Helix loves it some mysteries and being vague about things and introducing stuff that will just be pointless later. It doesn't immediately seem like the show has learned anything from the mistakes of last season. The addition of Steven Weber as the leader of the island cult intrigues me to keep watching but I'm not feeling compelled to do so in a grand story way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "San Jose" was written by Steven Maeda and directed by Steven A. Adelson.
  • The cult people like teeth and the wild inhabitants like eyes. Yep, this season is already off to a fairly gross start.
  • Sarah's pregnancy was one of the most ridiculous last minute twists of the finale and it doesn't even get a mention in the premiere. I hate the character because they never have a consistent story beat for her to play. But there doesn't seem to be any actual repercussions or fallout from what happened last season.
  • Also, I keep forgetting that Peter has aligned himself with Ilaria. It was such a haphazard twist in the first place though. To make up for it, he seems like a much better lead of the CDC team than Alan ever was.
  • Alan is still lurking around Sarah. His cameo appearance is as a member of the cult bringing her food. It's cryptic and I'm already dreading to learn more. Though he supposedly blew up the building in Paris from the last moment of the season finale.
  • Why did Caleb keep asking Julia "Do you know the way to San Jose?" It's obviously some kind of code that would help identify her as an immortal. But to bring it up only for it to get no explanation is just so infuriating.
  • Can Matt Long please stop with the thick Texas accent. And can the character stop being a walking Texan stereotype? I already hate him and I don't even really know him as a character.