Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is This What You Were Going For? AKA: Watching Syfy's Helix

Ramblings Post #256
When I was younger they used to have these things called soap operas that came on in the afternoon for your homemaker's entertainment. Maybe they still do, I dunno, but on these soap operas, it was a serialized story where the most ridiculous things happened and we all just went along with it. People would get married eight or nine times, kidnapped six or seven and come back from the dead if the actor signed a new contract. Now that I think about it, soap operas do still exist. They just come on at night now.

I watched an couple of episodes of Helix, this horror show pretending to be science fiction and had to stop watching. I thought I'd be able to work with this because unlike so many shows this one promises to have all it's major questions answered by the end of season one, but I just could not do it. It wasn't the silliness of the science - fifteen nanometers? Really? With just a plain old microscope? - or the zombies by a different name, or any of the other ridiculous's fiction, I get it. But how the show set up the premise and the rules and then proceeded to completely ignore them ten minutes later is just too much. 

Let's see, the story starts with a crack team of CDC scientists who fly into a top secret facility situated above the 83rd parallel, where apparently no law applies because it's really really cold. There, a company called Arctic Biosystems has been working on, something, only now they have a problem, because a virus has developed.
Our Hero, Dr. Farragut - Photo via Syfy
First problem - At some point the youngest of the agents proclaims to some people in quarantine that
they have "full jurisdiction." Only they don't. According to the show nobody has jurisdiction. And this would forgiven except this the same person who pointed out the lack of jurisdiction just one show ago. But maybe this is hyperbole to quiet the patients who are getting agitated. I'll grant that this is more nitpicking than anything else.

The joint is run by your non-denominational Asian I'm going to assume is your bad guy mad scientist who pretends to be helpful but is plotting on his own to do...well, something. The head of security is his adopted son tough guy who looks like a giant marshmallow. The army Sargent whose supposed to be the military support is sending secret messages and doesn't seem at all interested in solving the mystery.

Second Problem - Who called the CDC? The first time you see the bad guy mad scientist (BGMS) he's leaning over one of the first victims, eyes aglow with delight at his find, calling it "progress." He wouldn't want the CDC there. He controls the information in and out. The head of security follows him like he's in a cult, so not him either. If you need to placate the scientists, why not call in a fake CDC team, declare the whole thing over and get on with your day?

Now this facility is a massive structure in the middle of downtown nowhere, shaped like a new age
football stadium. How they achieved roads, no boats, just ice mind you, is just off the scale believable of course (insert sarcasm). Of course it has to be that large so that the air vents are big enough to crawl through, but that's coming up in like twenty minutes, hold on. Now, when the CDC arrives, the BGMS informs the them that this base in the middle of nowhere holds 160 scientists, of various disciplines.

Third Problem
- The CDC arrives, looks around and decides to let the base run as usual, we'll figure this all out. But it's just four of them. They couldn't ask the staff of scientists (who by episode 2 are getting antsy) to say, help out? Even if only 20 of the onsite scientists are qualified, isn't twenty people working on it better than just four people spread really thin?

Peter Farragut - our infectee - Photo via Syfy
Which leads to the fourth problem immediately. At the start of the second episode the first zombie-like infectee (who just happens to the head of the CDC team's brother who slept with his ex-wife who also happens to be on this CDC team - oh the luck!) slips out of the ventilation ducts and breaks into a section, infecting six people, three of whom run off. The heroic head of the CDC orders everyone to their rooms, and for everyone to only travel in pairs.

So why are the two CDC agents in peril in the first half of the episode doing exactly the opposite?  The old wise woman scientist is working alone in the half-monkey lab in the basement? Knock knock, zombie like creature. The youngest agent goes to the medical supply room alone. Knock knock, zombie like creature? Really? I understand where they might not follow the rules of reality, this is fiction after all, but then you can't follow the rules you JUST MADE UP? These silly setups were followed by a half assed quarantine, the patients (all doctors!) clearly displaying one of the signs the CDC says to look for but everyone ignoring it, a heavy handed reveal that that wasn't so much a hint as it was a lazy writing cliche and boom...the big horror finale. And that's where the free episodes stop.

Now I realize the time line and social circles are all condensed for television, so some of this is be
expected. I mean the weeks or months it would normally take to track what virus actually looked like
would be ridiculously boring television, so eh. But still, the show is supposed to have each episode equal roughly one day, so maybe you can stretch things out a little more? And while there is boring TV there is also stupid TV.  This is the latter. They keep saying "I've never seen anything like it" and "we don't know what it is," then why don't they act like it? And I keep getting horror cliches from the skeletons, blood spatters and people looking over their shoulder seeing nothing then BAM! Monster. Er..zombie like infectee. That's not good television, and I shouldn't be able to guess what's coming this frequently. The upbeat waiting room music they play to keep the viewer off balance quickly becomes annoying as well. I'd looked a review that said this is good, only to realize that the reviewer was lying.

This to me creates what I consider a counter productive trend in niche television. You've got a serial show, where people need to watch every episode to understand what's going on. I watched the two episodes online, then watched the current episode I and I have no clue what happened in between. The latest episode has new characters, new alliances, but hey, the big horror finale was addressed. I think. The BGMS is tied up in a room. If something else key happened, I don't know. Because as it turns out, unless I give them money  - because I THINK the other episodes are unlockable online due to the key symbol over the episodes - I'll never know what else the writers decided. But honestly, with the writing so hokey, I'm not all that interested in finding out. Yeah, lose an episode and you got no reason to watch anymore. So I'm out playa, ya'll at Helix have a good run.

Barkeep. I'll need a glass of white wine and a small plate of the crab cakes. Thanks. And could you turn to ESPN. Cool.

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