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10 Problems With SyFy’s Helix

Wednesday 29th January 2014 by S.J. Borger

SyFy’s newest show, Helix, from Ronald Moore—he of Battlestar Galactica fame—gave us great, great hope that, finally, there would be another well-written, well-plotted, hardcore science fiction show on SyFy. The zombie-not-really-but-yeah-zombies plot gave us pause, but we went into the pilot with great hopes.

So many pretty people, looking serious and doing science! We're so excited! The cast of SyFy's new show, Helix. Courtesy of SyFy
So many pretty people, looking serious and doing science! We’re so excited!
The cast of SyFy’s new show, Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy

We watched the second episode, bruised but still optimistic—after all, pilots always have more than their fair share of bumps and detours—but by the end of it we were grimly planning what other shows we could DVR if we cancelled Helix.

Episode three had pitfalls, but the last half hour was dark, dynamic, twisty-turny, riveting television. That last thirty minutes redeemed the show enough to give it one more week’s worth of space on the DVR.

Still, the show has issues. Though well-acted (in that Ronald Moore deeply-serious-tones-and-circular-discussions-followed-by-an-ultimatum kind of way) and beautifully shot, the show seems to view disease control procedures, scientific research and well, predictable behavior as troublesome ideas best left for other, less cutting-edge shows to deal with.

Which leaves us with our ‘ten things wrong’ with list. Because nothing gets us yelling back at our TV more than blatant misrepresentation of scientific protocols.

(oh, and, because we have to: spoilers below!. Duh.)

Daniel Aerov (played by Meegwun Fairbother) as the Head of Security on SyFy’s new show, Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

1. The adopted-orphan-now-head-of-security dude: WTF? Daniel Aerov (played by Meegwun Fairbother) seems monumentally unfit to be the head of security. Utterly unable to actually catch anyone, he keeps running into sick people, and then does everything he can to make sure they get loose and cause the most amount of mayhem and panic they can. Examples: When patient zero escapes in the first episode, does he shut down the whole facility? No. Does he immediately initiate disease containment protocols? No. Remember, this is a guy who is supposedly equipped and informed enough to be the head of security at a state-of-the-art medical research lab, and even if we posit that argument that he is deliberately doing things wrong on some secret order of his boss/foster father (cause that’s not a conflict of interest) he does them badly. Not so much nefarious as bumbling.

And let’s talk about the RFID chip thingy he boasts so much about in the first episode:

2. The RFID chip thingy. Touted by Aerov for a good five minutes in the pilot, this handy little piece of tech is apparently immediately forgotten about by everyone at the lab UNLESS someone wants to try to get into some ‘spooky’ lab and can’t. Can we just point out that the number one thing in an infectious disease outbreak is containment? If we were a CDC scientist given that little gem (to be clear, Aerov very clearly states that ALL employees have one and that it can be remotely controlled to allow or restrict access—also implied is a sort of tracking system) our first order of the day would be to revoke ALL access and lock everyone in their rooms for a few hours while we figured out what the hell is going on.

ALSO, in the realm of tech-we-invented-but-didn’t-really-figure-out-how-to-use, when patient zero escapes into the vents (more on that later) and cuts off the hand of a security guard (with a bone saw!) to use his RFID chip to access rooms, not one person says: TURN OFF HIS RFID CHIP.

And later, when they lose even more people, no one says, hey, if the RFID chip receives a signal, can we track it??

Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier) in SyFy's new show Helix. Courtesy of SyFy.
Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier) in SyFy’s new show Helix. He totally doesn’t need to be quarantined. Pfft. He’s Fine.
Courtesy of SyFy.

3. LOSING PEOPLE. Seriously. The first two episodes were basically a CDC instruction manual on how NOT to quarantine people with a rare, unknown disease which causes paranoia, violence and a compulsive urge to spread said disease.  And they didn’t just lose people once or twice. They essentially lost every single one, sometimes MULTIPLE TIMES. Which allows for any number of walking-down-hallways-tossing-blame-around conversations where nothing ever gets resolved or changes or affects what people do next. They screw up, they have a tense conversation, then they go out and do the exact same thing again, and repeat the cycle.

Here’s our understanding of basic quarantine (and remember, we got our degree in theatre, so this is just broad strokes):

a. Quarantine infected and possibly infected in DIFFERENT ROOMS than each other and the general population

b. Have one team working on identifying the disease while another works on patient histories to determine cause of infection, transmission type, and rate of infection.

c. List known symptoms and treat as needed until vaccine/drug therapy can be created or discovered while keeping the infected/possibly infected separate from the general population.

What our team did was this:

a. Find three dead bodies COMPLETELY DISSOLVED INTO BLACK GOO, which we never see again, and do nothing.

b. Find one living person with black blood and LOSE HIM (they took off his restraints and wandered away, because clearly the CDC quarantine protocol must state: “if patient looks to be calm, assume that that state will never change and feel free to go about your business”).

c. Spend the next 25 minutes talking about their relationships. Admittedly, some of that was over test-tubes and centrifuges, so I guess they could be doing science while talking about which of them was going to take sexy-older-doctor Alan Farragut (an even-more-than-usual-gravely-voiced Billy Campbell) for whirl.

Oh, have we mentioned yet that for a show set in a science universe, with three strong, science-y woman, the pilot STILL failed the Bechdel test? Just thought we’d share that tidbit.

Dr. Doreen Boyle stumbles across an infected patient (the the other doctors lost) in SyFy's new show Helix.  Courtesy of SyFy.
Dr. Doreen Boyle stumbles across an infected patient (that the other doctors lost) in SyFy’s new show Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

When the ONE person on the team actually trying to do science (Dr. Doreen Boyle, played by Catherine Lemieux), discovers one of the escaped patients (after the infected attacks her), it takes her TWENTY MINUTES to get upstairs and tell the rest of the team. AND, even though a crazy, super-contagious, violent man is out and about in the air ducts and apparently IMMUNE to poison gas, no one tries to find her, or warn her, or even wonder where she is (note: it was twenty minutes real time. It was, like, hours in Helix time).

When more people get infected with this disease that makes you paranoid, violent and compelled to spread it, they group them ALL together and allow the not-so-sick to watch the sicker get even sicker and then—shocker—the not-so-sick freak out and stage a revolt not once, but twice, the second one being successful. And now there are four infected, contagious, violent people out and about and what do our heroes do? Get tranq guns, shut down every door on every level and do a floor by floor search? Ha. No. Why do that? Let’s talk about our feelings some more.

Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) arguing against the use of stun weapons in SyFy's new show, Helix. Courtesy of SyFy.
Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) arguing against the use of stun weapons in SyFy’s new show, Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

4. Tranq Guns: There aren’t any. Really? In a lab using animals for test subjects? Even if there aren’t any animals, I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of drug hanging around that will put down an elephant if given enough cc’s. But nope, despite many (many, many, many) conversations about the sanctity of life and the compassionate treatment of the infected, nobody even brings up tranq guns. Stun Batons, sure. Cause a crazed, paranoid, freakishly-strong infected not-zombie is just who you want to get nice and close to while also sending a bazillion (note: not actual amount of current) volts through them. That sounds like an EXCELLENT plan.

5. Shooting Infected People: Ok, so they’re super violent. And a little scary. But the disease is blood-born. Blood born! So don’t shoot them when they’re a few feet away from other people. BLOOD BORN CONTAGTION, PEOPLE. And Farragut’s self-righteous ‘we don’t shoot the sick’ was stirring and all that but he left out the ‘BLOOD BORN CONTAGION YOU IDIOT’ bit

Doreen Boyle, Major Balleseros (Mark Ghanime), Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell), Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) and Sarah Jordan (Jordan Harprer) get ready to do some science on SyFy's new show Helix. Courtesy of SyFy.
Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux), Major Balleseros (Mark Ghanime), Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell), Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) and Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) get ready to do some science on SyFy’s new show Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

6. Your Science is Bad, And You Should Feel Bad: Six samples—three ‘control’ and three ‘infected’–does not a statistic make. The two women scientists (finally not having a conversation about a man) who are (we have been repeatedly told) the absolute smartest, brightest, best-at-what-they-do-in-the-world, decide that the rapid response test with a total of SIX samples is obviously fool-proof.

Even when Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) knows she’s been infected, and still passes the test, nobody doubts it for a second. There are so many problems here. Sample size is one thing, we could almost give the show that out of necessity; but the blithe ‘I tested it on three guards for a control’ comment—how are they a control? There are escaped, contagious people out and about, intent on spreading the disease, and we’re just going to assume that the first three guards you talk to aren’t sick?

 And, when Julia discovers she is actually infected (as she coughs up black blood), she doesn’t immediately think “well, crap, the test is wrong” which is almost understandable because she’s just realized she’s a dead woman walking, but NEITHER DOES ANYONE ELSE. Literally a room full of scientists who are supposed to be the WORLD’S best and no one goes, ‘um, wait a minute…’

Also, why was it even a thing about who was going to get tested and who wouldn’t amongst the CDC people? Shouldn’t EVERYONE get tested? Haven’t they ALL been exposed?

 These are not happy people, people! Courtesy of SyFy.

These are not happy people, people!
Courtesy of SyFy.

7. Quarantine Attempt Number 2: For their second attempt at a quarantine, Farragut et al find the abandoned level R, which once housed all of  Umbrella Corporation Arctic Biosystems, and which everyone says (at least twice) is really big and completely empty.

We would like to point out that the Level R geography is apparently Hogwartsian: nothing is ever where it used to be, and rooms and staircases and whole sections can move about. For example, the cold fusion room, which is the FIRST ROOM we see as being on Level R, is later not on Level R when they first send the violent infected there for their third attempt at quarantine, but then it is on Level R when the infected break out.

NOTE: What is the point of a quarantine room where the violent, paranoid, compelled-to-infect-others patients have ready access to the door?? Shouldn’t there be a least some sort of sally port?? Especially since they’ve already escaped twice…

 At first it seems like, after three days of idiocy, we’re actually going to get a real quarantine. Seal of the stairs, make the elevator the only access point, put the infected there and the uninfected go about their business (though we do have to bring up, one more time, why not just LOCK THEM IN THEIR ROOMS WITH THE RFID CHIP???). So they bring everyone at Arctic Biosystems down to level R (sorry, sorry, but we have to point out, again: why not lock everyone in their rooms, do the test, and then send anyone infected down to Level R? Once everyone has been tested, release the lock. Just…seriously).

Dr. Farragut (Billy Campbell) pushes through the rampaging crowd of people on SyFy's new show Helix. Courtesy of SyFy.
Dr. Farragut (Billy Campbell) pushes through the rampaging crowd of people on SyFy’s new show Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

 So they bring everyone down to level R and the do the rapid response test and then PUBLICLY call out who gets to stay locked in downstairs with the group of people who will become paranoid and violent and who gets to go back to their nice, clean rooms with windows and everything. And, hey, shocker, some people are not happy about that.

Also, they don’t isolate people, even though they’ve already seen how bad it can get when infected are keep with each other, and even though Level R apparently has lots of empty space. No, they just leave a bunch of people infected with a disease that makes them violent, and paranoid, and compelled to infect others,  in one giant warehouse-y type room.

Then, they lose another infected person. This is the third time now…AND they had put her in the same room with another patient, who she apparently killed?? Why do they keep putting these people IN THE SAME ROOMS TOGETHER? And when the guards open the door (for ….some reason) out she scampers, all bloody-eyed and leaking black blood.

It's not pretty. Courtesy of SyFy,
It’s not pretty.
Courtesy of SyFy,

Of course our favorite security chief runs into the main room full of already tense, sick, angry people and loudly announces that there’s a blood thirsty, infected, killer on the loose on level R.

Why would he do that?

So of course there’s a stampede to get off the level, and Farragut—he of the ‘we don’t shoot our patients’—has to shoot the rampaging infected girl, and then the CDC people somehow manage to get off level R and an agonized Farragut commands them to ‘lock it down.’

We thought it was locked down? Wasn’t that the point? That the infected were locked in there? That access was limited? Couldn’t they still send food, etc. down there? It just doesn’t make any sense!

And of course, the people in Level R immediately devolve into Lord Of The Flies-esque behavior (complete with leaving dead bodies just lying around the hallways, ‘cause that’s sanitary), because that’s what people do at the slightest possible provocation.

Clearly evil. Mark Ghanime as Major Sergio Balleseros on SyFy's new show Helix. Courtesy of SyFy.
Clearly evil.
Mark Ghanime as Major Sergio Balleseros on SyFy’s new show Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

 8. Evil Military Man Does Terrible Things and No One Notices. If everyone could just stop being so concerned about who may-or-may-not sleep with Doctor Farragut, or who did-or-did-not sleep with each other, they might actually start to wonder about  Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanime) who is clearly up to NO good.

ex 1: A random Arctic Biosystems scientist manages to walk out the front door, after a quarantine has been initiated? Send Balleseros after him and then NEVER EVER ask if he found him, and if he did, where is the scientist?

ex 2: Only two people know about an infected monkey, one of whom is Balleseros, and the monkey disappears? Couldn’t possibly be because Balleseros is a BAD GUY.

ex 3: Threaten to tell the world about the bad things Arctic Biosystems is doing in front of Balleseros and the next thing that happens is the satellite dish blows up? Who would possible want to investigate that? Why even have a conversation about it? I mean, clearly, if security genius Aerov thinks there’s nothing weird about a satellite dish BLOWING UP than everything must be kosher, right?

So. Many. Problems. I may need to monologue soon. Courtesy of SyFy
So. Many. Problems. I may need to monologue soon.
Courtesy of SyFy

9. Everybody Has Problems, But My Problems Are Worse Than Yours: We get that drama needs, well, drama, but sometimes a deadly contagion should really be able to take center stage. Not so for our heroes, however, because every single one of them has a BACKSTORY, and it’s AFFECTING THEM. God. Why can’t people understand??

So far, in just three episodes, (and only counting major characters) we have:

a. An ex-husband (Farragut) who is still in love with his ex-wife (Julia), who cheated on him with his brother (ew).

b. An ex-wife  (Julia) who is still in love with her ex-husband’s brother (ew) but isn’t above lobbing cheap shots at the ex-husband for not ‘seeing her’ enough, which apparently is a good enough reason to excuse her cheating on him with his brother.

c. The hot-shot super-smart-multiple-PhDs-but-not-a-lot-of-social-skills-doctor Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) who has a crush on Farragut and views Julia as inferior because she clearly wasn’t good enough to keep her man (seriously?) AND is hiding the fact that she has a deadly brain tumor (which apparently can be diagnosed on sight by any decent oncologist… but none of the other CDC doctors who are trained in diagnosis even notice) and has run out of her drugs so decides to get high on some morphine instead.

d. The unnerving head of Arctic Biosystems, Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), who clearly is creeping after Julia right from the first episode but on one else notices (ew again) and is clearly hiding many, many things from, well, just about everyone. he also has super-weird silver eyes. Oh, and he has the smallpox virus just hanging out in his basement

e. The brother (he of the cheating on/with) who is Patient Zero and dying, is still in love with Julia, but so tortured by it he fled to the Arctic to avoid it; and oh, if that wasn’t enough, Brother Farragut and Doctor Farragut had a drunk, abusive dad that Brother Farragut protected Doctor Farragut from. (Based upon the number of TV characters with this particular backstory, one out of every 2 homes must have an abusive parent in it).

This is what happens when you don't protect your air ducts, people! Peter Farragut (Neil Napier) attacks Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) and infects her with the mystery disease on SyFy's new show Helix. Courtesy of SyFy.
This is what happens when you don’t protect your air ducts, people!
Peter Farragut (Neil Napier) attacks Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) and infects her with the mystery disease on SyFy’s new show Helix.
Courtesy of SyFy.

10. The Air Vents: Why are there GIANT air vents that go EVERYWHERE, throughout this contained facility where people are carrying out research on some of the most deadly airborne viruses known to man. So sure, large, unfiltered, non-hermetically sealed air vents are JUST what you’d find there.

Even if, say, we were willing to believe the living areas had large air vents (okay…) they would not connect to the lab levels; and certainly the air vents in the lab levels, where all of this super dangerous research was happening, would essentially be super-filtered every step of the way, creating a hermetically sealed environment in each lab. Right? We mean, that’s just basic how-to-keep-bad-things-out-of-the-air protocol, right?

Wrong. Giant, metal, unfiltered, un-HEPA’d air vents throughout every level of the facility.

Oh, but they can lock the vents tight and push poison gas through them. Why?? What did they think were going to get into the vents?? Why did they spend all that money on ‘fill the vents with poison’ equipment instead of filters, etc., which would keep people (things?) out of the vents in the first place??

We’re not saying they couldn’t use the vents; we’re just saying, this stuff needs to be explained. Especially on a ‘hard science’ show.

What do you think of Helix? Love it, hate it, haven’t seen it? Let us know in the comments!

Helix airs on the Syfy Channel on Fridays 10/9c. Catch up on episodes at SyFy.com

  • Andrew

    Yup, agree with you 100%. I didn’t even make it to the second episode.

  • TronSheridan

    Good grief, wall of text for 10 simple points. Sorry, I only read the title of each point…too long.

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  • BA Rehmel

    You left out the fact that a research center in the Arctic doesn’t really make sense. Where would this be located? Canada, Russia, Alaska? No, because these areas would be tundra, not snow and ice and they are visited by caribou and Eider ducks every spring. So, maybe they meant the Antarctic where there actually are snow fields, the continent is surrounded by icy water, and no herds of animals visit. That seems like quite a blunder though. Blunder number two: involving the CDC. This might make sense if you have a ten-year-old’s understanding of science (like those who created The Walking Dead and Contagion) but the real CDC is a bureaucracy with thousands of people. In other words, you can’t just ship people off somewhere and have them disappear because there would actually be records and dozens of other people who knew about it. And, sure, they keep trying to claim that this isn’t a zombie show, but it is a zombie show and why keeping making new series in a genre that was beat to death years ago? SYFY’s slogan should be “why bother imagining anything”. BTW, new science fiction shows are not hard to create.

  • MFuller

    Not to mention both daylight and darkness in even amounts (i live in the yukon, and already we have daylight from 6 am until 10pm and its only the begining of April).. And so much more…

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  • disqus_RYaIusCelS

    What really killed it for me was the fact that all these people are supposed to be top notch scientists. For them to act so ignorant about diseases, infection and transmission is just wrong. If any group of people understands diseases and is going to follow quarantine protocols, its scientists. I expect this paranoid, fear-mongering behaviour from the uneducated general public, not these people. A group of idiots would have followed the quarantine protocols much better.

  • Arcticnerd

    I love bad science movies / tv shows if for no other reason then to find the bad science and you guys have pointed out some great bad science. Their is one thing I think you have miss which always annoys me when Hollywood goes to the arctic climates is their overestimation of the cold. In the first episode the helicopter has to leave because if it doesn’t the gas will freeze? I’ve lived and worked north of the arctic circle where their have been days of -60c and I have never heard of gasoline freezing. Most engine failures due to cold have to do with batteries freezing and loosing their charge or motor oil congealing. Both of these problems can happen when the temperature hits -10c and are solved with simple winterization.

    Second in a later episode they suggested that in full winter gear the people in the base would freeze and start dying after 28 minutes of -50 something. They never do specify Celsius or Fahrenheit. While it is true that at -50 whatever an exposed person will die quickly an arctic base would have plenty of winter gear to keep the people protected for an extended period of time.

    Their are many other cold related issues that pop up, like characters driving snow-machines seemingly perfectly fine without face or hand protection, and I could go on but I think these outline my point.