Since 2009, the television world has lived without Ronald D. Moore. But with the premiere of Helix on Syfy this past Friday, he comes roaring back bearing a heaping load of scifi horror that seems primed to fill a hollow in me that has existed since The X Files went off air. In fact, the entire premise of scientists trapped in an arctic research station, and its atmosphere of distrust and paranoia recalls S1E8 of The X Files, “Ice”, along with John Carpenter’s The Thing. Can it possibly live up to these lofty expectations without feeling like a complete ripoff? Let’s find out.
The plot of the show, in a nutshell, is that an alleged viral outbreak at a private arctic research facility prompts an investigation by a team from the CDC. Our main cast of characters include: Evil Scientist, Evil Head of Security, Shady Military Guy, The Good Doctor, The Good Doctor’s New Girlfriend, The Good Doctor’s Ex-wife, Additional Quirky Girl Scientist, and The Good Doctor’s Badly Infected Brother. There are also a host of other scientists who work in the facility, most of whom it can be assumed will be fodder for gory death scenes.
The show starts off in good fashion, giving echoes of Event Horizon as Evil Scientist and Evil Head of Security discover The Good Doctor’s Badly Infected Brother as the lone surviving member of an otherwise dead cadre of scientists deep within the arctic facility. Evil Scientist gives Badly Infected Brother some water (in the creepiest most evil way anyone has ever been given a drink of water), and his eyes light up as BIB’s throat begins to vibrate in a way that only a creature living inside you can.
Cut to Atlanta. Shady Military Guy and The Good Doctor’s Ex-girlfriend inform The Good Doctor that a private pharmeceutical firm has requested assistance in dealing with an outbreak of an unknown disease at their facility which happens to be so remote as to be conveniently outside the legal jurisdiction of any particular country. Once the additional blow of “Your brother is infected” is dropped, a team is gathered, and we’re off to the frozen tundra for good.
In short course we learn some incestuous backstory for our characters. The Good Doctor’s Ex-wife is ex because he caught her sleeping with Badly Infected Brother. New Girlfriend Scientist is not really new girlfriend, but she really wants to be, and thusly I shall refer to her as such until proven wrong in my naming conventions. Also, Evil Head of Security is Evil Scientist’s adopted son. Thusly, I hereby reserve the right to start calling them Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein.
Following the introduction of the Evil Science and Good Science contingents, The Good Doctor’s team is assured by Frankenstein that the RFID keycard chips now implanted in their hands will ensure them unrestricted access to the entire base (read as: these will get you access to some small part of the base, and someone will most assuredly have their hand cut off as a plot point). We are also informed that though the internet connection at the base is super fast, being satellite-based, it is only available for one hour per day.
The Good Doctor and Ex-Wife visit with Badly Infected Brother, who, after some fevered whisperings about “The White Room” and the revelation that his blood is now black, begins yelling “You all lie! Everyone lies!”, and attempts to murder the both of them. They manage to sedate him, while Quirky Girl Scientist and Shady Military Guy investigate the laboratory rat population. (Technical Plot Point: The rats are engineered to be unable to reproduce.) She asks where the monkeys are, and Son of Frankenstein informs her that they do not have any monkeys.
The Good Doctor, Ex-Wife, and Girlfriend investigate the bodies of the other infected scientists, discovering that everything but their bones has turned to a ranced black goo. Girlfriend processes this information the best, vomiting inside her helmet. Meanwhile, Quirky Girl Scientist and Shady Military Guy perform tests with the rats, and determine the disease is not airborne. They also discover some monkey fur in a sink drain, proving for the first time that Frankenstein and Son are not being wholly truthful.
Frankenstein gives Ex-Wife all of Badly Infected Brother’s research, claiming he was working on mutagens (compounds meant to incite and accelerate genetic mutations). He also does a good bit of pervy staring while she peruses the material. The Good Doctor and Girlfriend find a seemingly innocuous video diary of Badly Infected Brother, but The Good Doctor notices a gesture that he and BIB used when they were kids to warn of when their drunken father was in a rage. They are interrupted when BIB manages to escape his holding cell with a bone saw and superhuman strength, making his way into the ventilation system. (Technical Plot Point: BIB’s RFID chip has been disabled.) Son of Frankenstein floods the ventilation system temporarily with gas to stop him before he gets to the rest of the population of the facility. The Good Doctor insists on going into the ventilation shafts himself to retrieve BIB.
Quirky and Shady discover that their RFID chips do not open every door when trying to access the transgenics labs (transgenics is the transfer of genes from one type of organism to a different type of organism). Luckily, Shady MacGyver saves the day with some liquid nitrogen and a hammer, and they discover a wrecked laboratory full of busted open monkey cages. A laboratory that apparently is not completely abandoned, as evidenced by the freaky CGI monkey that tries to eat Quirky’s face off! Shady kills the monkey, but not before both of them witness its throat vibrating just like BIB’s.
Back in the ventilation system, The Good Doctor finds a body. It’s not Badly Infected Brother, but BIB has obviously been there, as evidenced by the bone saw, and the cadaver’s missing hand. Meanwhile, Ex-Wife and Girlfriend get their first look at the actual virus, which looks like a tiny black worm, much smaller than any known current virus.
Up to this point, Shady Military Guy has been making every effort to be super helpful and friendly to the Good Science group, but now we see him cutting into the padding of his jacket to pull out and piece together a tiny satellite dish, which he carries out into the snow to send a signal. As he’s returning from this bit of skullduggery, he’s taken aback by the sight of a hundred small monkeys frozen to death, seemingly in the act of running away.
While Ex-Wife and Girlfriend explain their findings to The Good Doctor, Shady and Frankenstein have a private meeting, cryptically referencing a “delivery” and the disappointment of “the people we work for”, ensuring that we understand the full shadiness of Shady MacGyver. The Good Doctor’s ladyfriends, meanwhile, show him that in a small fraction of cases, the virus is invading cells, and not killing them, but changing them, and as they ponder just what Badly Infected Brother might be changing into, we are treated to BIB’s sweaty, black-veined visage as he uses his stolen hand to infiltrate a room. The door closes behind him, and a scream and a splatter of blood on the door’s window signals the end of episode one.