Lunchtable TV Talk: Helix – “Do you know the way to San Jose?”

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What does it say that I rolled my eyes and felt real dread when I realized this week that I had forgotten to watch last week’s episode of Helix? Meaning… this week, I would have to watch two episodes to catch up. Um, I can’t explain why I feel I have to keep watching something I have not liked at all from the get-go. But if we understand that this is my nature, and that I persevere, and move beyond it – let’s try to understand what the purpose of this show is.

Nearing the end of its sophomore season, Helix is incomprehensible. I found it hard to follow the first season, and when I try to explain what it’s about to other people, I find that I can’t. I found the characters and premise impenetrable during the first season – I won’t even try to explain what the plot was because I am not totally sure I get it. It’s… a bunch of CDC researchers at a facility in the Arctic investigating an outbreak of some sort. The outbreak seems to turn people into violent zombie-monsters afflicted by something that looks a lot like the bubonic plague. Or maybe that is what this year’s virus makes people look like – last year I think it was something else but either way – viruses are a-flying.

A bunch of mysterious characters come into and out of the scene with hidden motives and agenda. There’s a massive, shady corporation (Ilaria) involved somehow, and eventually it becomes apparent that there have been scientific experiments on local native people and then the emergence of immortal people. It was a confusing mess and did not become clearer with time.

Almost a year ago, I included this muddy first season in a roundup of shows I could not fathom why I was watching and included Helix in this, although Helix was not and still isn’t the worst offender of the bunch (that title is taken by The Following – and no, a year later, I still have not stopped watching). There were reasons why I kept trying with Helix – I thought it was not sure what it was trying to be and might sort itself out. Scifi? Horror? Thriller? Drama? All of the above?

The second season is not a whole lot better, but the change of scenery made it a bit more palatable. The stories that have been unfolding over the course of the season are all starting to come together a with a bit greater clarity, and some of the obnoxious characters from the first season are starting to feel at least more familiar, if not likeable, compared to the cult-follower tribe of island dwellers who became the antagonists in this story in the second season. The cult leader, played by Steven Weber (who has of late shown up almost everywhere), is compellingly egomaniacal – maybe only because it is Weber behind the character. He is an immortal and has some freaky stuff going on on the isolated island he runs.

There is a clear story emerging pitting the immortals against mortals, i.e., the immortals intend to deploy some kind of mechanism that will render mortals as infertile in order to stem population growth. They believe they know best and can reverse this mass infertility once the planet’s resources are restored to sustainable levels. Essentially, they play God and think they are entitled to do so because it is certainly in their best interests as immortals. Somehow amidst all of this, there is another virus on the loose – maybe the same virus or strain of the same virus. I honestly can’t tell you because for one thing there is so much going on at once that I don’t pay attention or watch closely and for another the storytelling does not hold my interest strongly enough.

It is very possible that if I sat down and started watching it all again from the beginning and paid closer attention and had all the episodes to binge on, it would be a more satisfying experience.

On balance, I will keep watching (I’m not a quitter, even though I need to learn when to quit – for real!), but I don’t recommend that anyone else do so.

I will say that the show’s quirks – I assume they are intentional – are what keep me coming back. Rather funny dialogue and a wacked-out and extremely eclectic soundtrack are unusual but effective hooks (for me, anyway). Many shows feature stellar soundtracks to the degree that the music choices are one of the only things I love about them. Helix’s music choices – ranging from the strangely and incomprehensibly poppy theme song to some of the songs woven into the episodes. It makes me wonder how these incongruous choices are made.

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