TV Review: Helix -- "Level X"
Note: This article was originally published at CraveOnline.
Well, that’s more like it. After last week’s botched attempts at meaningful development, the ninth episode of “Helix” was a step in the right direction. It’s not perfect, but “Level X” at least flows somewhat logically from scene to scene, even though the writers still haven’t quite nailed down the right pacing for their big reveals. It’s an episode in which the central conflict — Alan and Julia traveling to the secret level of the base to get samples of the virus — really doesn’t amount to anything (the samples have already been taken by someone else). There’s enough going on with the other characters, though, that there’s still an overall air of forward motion, and progress slowly but surely being made.
For starters, Sergio actually has something to do. There’s a bit of wheel-spinning in the first half of the episode, when he’s sharing cell with Klein, who for some reason is still an actual character who exists and is alive. It’s now clear that Klein was only introduced so that in this episode he could provide two things to the narrative: news that Anana and her village might be in danger, and a coat for Sergio to wear when he goes to save them. Surely there’s a more efficient way to accomplish those things than inventing a whole new character? Once he’s done that, he’s dead.
This at least gives Sergio some sort of motivation. After all of the frustratingly vague love-hate banter between him and Anana, it’s nice to get some confirmation he actually cares. When the gang reunites after a nicely-staged shootout, I still think it’s weird Daniel-Miksa and his twin brother Tulok don’t immediately start asking a million questions, but they’re now in a position to work together. The longer this show goes on, the more I realize that the less ambiguous its characters are, the better.
And speaking of working together, the vectors are now completely organized and functioning as a group. They’re hunkered down in Level X, which is basically just An Underground Place Where Every Important Thing exists. There’s a lab containing vials of pretty much every disease that’s ever existed — even Alan raises his eyebrows at a few of them. There’s also a secret room that looks just like Julia’s childhood cabin in Montana… because it’s the same room. It’s a fantastic reveal that answers a question while raising more, making the mystery feel deeper more satisfying rather than just manipulative. Why was she here as a child? What does she remember? Were her memories implanted?
The scene in which the vectors revive Peter by feeding him their black blood-spit is one of the best things the show has ever done, precisely because it’s so intentionally goofy. From the mug that says Keep Calm And Carry On to the way Neil Napier chews the scenery as a revitalized leader of infected plague mutants, it’s clear the producers know what tone they want. It’s pulpy and cheesy, right down to the way the lighting makes Peter look like a purple alien, and I enjoyed every second of it.
That same spirit rears its head again when Hatake finally tells Julia what most viewers have suspected all along: that he’s her father. Hiroyuki Sanada continues to be the most compelling screen presence on the show — he’s the only character with ambiguous motives that are actually intriguing — and in the episode’s climactic moments he brings out all the gravitas he can muster, slowing his speech so we can hang on every word. This is soapy melodrama, and he and Kyra Zagorsky push it to eleven. They don’t sit down and have a conversation about Julia’s childhood like normal people. Why do that when you can gaze reflectively off into the distance before taking out your contacts to reveal your magic all-powerful glow-eyes? It’s so bad it’s enjoyable, and more proof that “Helix” is at its best when it’s keeping its tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Sarah, whose plotline this week is so overblown it stops the episode dead in its tracks every time she’s onscreen. Once she and Hatake turn out the power so Alan and Julia can reach Level X, her tumor starts acting up and she goes into a seizure, mumbling random things about training and sex and how she’ll die without accomplishing anything. She goes from being perfectly healthy to questioning mortality and the meaning of life in a matter of minutes, and the result is a jarring transition that irritates when it’s supposed to compel. Is this really all actress Jordan Hayes is going to get to do this season? Tremble and monologue her feelings?
Aside from that subplot, “Level X” is a solid episode of a show that’s mostly good but still finding its footing. The main issue Cameron Porsandeh and the producers should work on in coming seasons is how they reveal certain pieces of information. It’s been obvious for a while now that Hatake is Julia’s father. Meanwhile, we still don’t know why she was there as a child, or even more importantly, what the virus even does. Hatake directly states in this episode that he used the virus and the cure to create something “more beneficial,” yet nobody bothers to ask him to clarify? Really? That’s not suspenseful, it’s artificial and irritating. There are a lot of great ideas floating around “Helix,” but until it improves its pacing of exposition, it will never be quite as infectious as the virus it depicts.