Can Helix be the next must-watch drama for Syfy? The first few episodes of this thrilling new series certainly offer a glimmer of a hope. A mix of thriller, horror, mystery, drama and sci-fi, Helix gets off to a great start, building steady momentum as we’re drawn into the story of a potential disease outbreak in an Arctic-set research facility.
Executive produced by Cameron Porsandeh, Ronald D. Moore, Lynda Obst and Steven Maeda, Helix stars Billy Campbell as Dr. Alan Farragut, the leader of a team of Centers for Disease Control scientists sent to the freezing cold Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak at Arctic Biosystems, a research facility run by Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada). It’s evident from the start that Hatake’s not being completely upfront about what’s going on at this facility. Meanwhile, Farragut’s determination to get to the bottom of the situation gets personal when he discovers that his brother Peter (Neil Napier) is one of the newly infected patients.
The thrilling element comes in the form of the threat of this virus getting out and infecting the world, and the horror part comes into play when we see the nature of this horrible virus. It's a lot of black ooze, veins and zombie-like rage for those in the advanced stages of this nightmare illness.
The troublesome circumstances create the conflict and the character drama really serves to drive the story forward. In addition to Farragut’s concerns for his brother, there’s also a bit of tension between him and Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), his ex-wife, whose personal involvement with Peter makes things a bit more complicated. And then there’s Dr. Sarah Jordan, a young but extremely intelligent member of Farragut’s team, who idolizes Alan and is determined to prove herself capable of handling this situation, despite her lack of experience. Also on Farragut’s team is Dr. Doreen Boyle, played by Catherin Lemieux. Maybe its her expertise in veterinary pathology or just her personality, but of all of the characters, Doreen comes off as the most relatable. She’s a brain in the lab, but displays a very casual and light-hearted attitude, which makes her extremely likable from a viewer’s standpoint.
Sanada’s Hiroshi Hatake is about as far from light-hearted as it gets. It's evident from the start that the reserved head of Arctic Biosystems is not being entirely upfront with the CDC people, and proves to be a bit resistant to giving the CDC all of the access they’re promised when they arrive. Hatake’s efforts are aided by Daniel Aerov (Meegwun Fairbrother), the head of security at Arctic Biosystems. If Hatake has Aerov, then Farragut’s team has Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanime), the Army liaison for Farragut’s team.
Helix gets off to a promising start, offering a premise brimming with thrilling potential and the solid cast of characters. What’s necessary for it to work as a series is for us to care as much about the characters as we do about the situation they’re in. From the first few episodes, it looks like Helix has already found a nice balance of character drama and suspense. The personal and professional connections between Alan Farragut, his ex-wife, his brother and his team all serve to raise the stakes in this situation, as we understand early on that these people mean something to one another. With that in mind, the character drama doesn’t overwhelm the suspenseful aspect of the story. Helix is first and foremost a thriller, and the first few episodes set the mystery up nicely, leaving us to wonder what horror might be lurking around any given corner of this snowy, secluded facility.
With the story set up to unfold bit by bit, it's impossible to predict if Helix will prove to be a satisfying viewing experience when the dust (or black goo) settles and all is revealed, but if the series continues to build on the momentum set in its first few hours, we’re in for a truly suspenseful and thrilling ride.
Helix premieres with two back-to-back episodes Friday, January 10 at 10:00 p.m. ET on Syfy.