A lost opportunity: Helix.

In case you have never heard of it, Helix is an American SF/ thriller TV series aired by Syfy. The plot: a team of scientists from CDC travels into two different locations (series 1: a research facility in the Arctic. Series 2: a far-away island in the Pacific Ocean) to investigate mysterious disease outbreaks.

Looks good, isn’t it?  As the Guardian mentioned in its first review of the show, “the opening hours of Helix make it seem as if it’ll be a knowing exercise in claustrophobia and paranoia, stealing moves from that other snowbound classic The Thing. The base is abruptly cut off from the outside world just as things start to break really bad – the virus turns people into agitated, mucky-mouthed monsters who pass on the pathogen through aggressive heavy petting. These infected are called “vectors”, a sexy bit of biochem nomenclature that seems to exist only to persuade viewers that they’re not zombies. (They’re pretty much zombies.)

The series, however, was cancelled after the first two seasons (2014 and 2015). Why? Probably because it didn’t live up to the expectations. Yet all the conditions were there. After all, the producer was Ronald Moore (Battlestar Galactica). Moreover, Helix debuted to 1.82 million Live+SD total viewers, breaking Syfy Live+3 records by 1.2 million (+53%) in total viewers.

What went so wrong? Many things. And if the judgement about the first season might (stress on “might”) be mixed, the second was a total failure, and on this everybody seems to agree. Probably because the things that didn’t work in the first were amplified to an unbearable extent in the sequel.

First of all, the science behind Helix was flawed. Now, nobody expects a TV show to be totally accurate, but some degree of accuracy is most welcome, especially when this is the focus of the series. But this is not the case. One blog made a good analysis of the bad, bad science portrayed in Helix (I quote one of the many incongruities, just to give an example: “the virus-ridden Peter inexplicably becomes very strong and starts traipsing around the facility, rocketing up air vents like Spiderman. That’s dangerous. “Peter may have antibodies! We gotta find him. No one is safe from the virus until we contain him,” laments Alan. But Peter has been infected for under 48 hours, and it takes at least 5 days to make antibodies. Anyone remember when early HIV tests detected antibodies three months after infection?” Read the whole article for the others).

Also, the series goes into a crescendo of unreal situations that makes it lose whatever SF (if not scientific) character it might have had at the beginning. If, as it has been said, it was The Thing meeting The Andromeda Strain, by the end of the season 1 is only The Walking Dead meeting Highlander, the Last Immortal. You may like it or not, but it wasn’t what you had been promised with the trailer.

Personally, what disturbed me the most in Helix is the total lack of overarching logic in the show -twists and turns that require not (or not just) suspension of disbelief, but the integral removal of whatever you’ve got in your cranial cavity. Short of that, you will find this one no more than what I have announced since the beginning: a lost opportunity for a good show.

[You can form your own judgement by watching the two seasons, now on Netflix. Here’s the trailer].


  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I saw the first season, and I agree on the fact that the promises of the first few episodes were either betrayed or forgotten by the end of the season, to the point I felt no need to watch season 2. A pity indeed, because it could have turned up into a good story…

    1. Steph P. Bianchini (Post author)

      Wise words. I forced season 2 down my throat because I didn’t want to trash it in a review before having seen it all, but it was *so* painful…!

  2. sjhigbee

    I trudged through a couple of early episodes and decided that the whole premise was so sloppy and cliched, I wouldn’t waste my precious time watching any more this claptrap. Such a shame… I’d love for folks to have a higher opinion generally of science fiction as a genre – but when TV and film invariably resorts to the same lazy, stupid tropes that we regularly see, I despair.

    1. Steph P. Bianchini (Post author)

      I agree – it’s a real pity. This is why I generally don’t watch SF, I prefer reading it. But I have a soft spot for medical thrillers, and I hoped this one to be a good one. That was clearly not the case…

      1. sjhigbee

        What a shame!


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