We're on episode three of Helix, which means it's day three of the black goo zombie outbreak in a remote arctic research station run by a mysterious scientist and his hunky Canadian sidekick. And the hunky CDC people who've come to rescue them can't do their jobs because scientists are crazy!
Helix is a stylish show, and its zombies move fast but its plot moves really slow. This episode was packed with scenes like the one you see above, where nothing happens other than screaming and slo-mo. It's atmospheric, but it prevents us from going anywhere with the story. Let's break it down.
One of the scientists has become a "vector," a black goo zombie who infects other people by barfing into their mouths. When the other Arctic Biosystems scientists on the isolation floor find out she's running around loose, they just lose their shit. "She's killing people!" yells the guy who has been kind of a pain in the ass from the beginning. Then the rest of the scientists become a screaming, angry mob yelling and running around. This kind of scene makes sense in many zombie stories, but here it feels like incomprehensible padding.
First of all, these scientists know exactly what's going on, because they've signed up to work at an unregulated research facility that handles things like smallpox and other infectious diseases. This is one of the big "reveals" of the episode — Hiroshi tells Alan that Arctic Biosystems was trying to come up with some kind of cure-all for every disease in the world (um, OK), and therefore they had a special stash of smallpox and probably stashes of every other dangerous microbe as well. In fact, one scientist actually came up with a beta version of the cure-all, which worked. Unfortunately, only 25 percent of subjects who got the cure-all actually survived to enjoy it.
So every scientist at Arctic Biosystems is familiar with isolation procedures, and they know the risks. They know that they are there to work on horrifically deadly diseases. Plus, in the scene we're discussing, they know they're locked in. So why are they behaving like people who have no idea what's going on, and who think that if they run into the hallway they'll be able to get somewhere?
This show is lucky enough to have a premise that involves a building full of over 100 scientists. Why not use that, and have them act like scientists, instead of trying to wedge this group into your standard "crowd goes nuts" scene from every other zombie story? I'm not trying to say scientists don't go nuts. But these are scientists who know they are working in a facility full of potential black goo zombie microbes. They aren't ignorant. There has to be a more plausible way to show them losing their shit than this.
Ultimately this scene also proves to be the pivotal moment in the episode where all the plot developments so far are reset to zero. Sarah figures out a test to determine who is infected by black goo and who isn't. Everybody takes the test, which is why there are about 50 people down on the isolation floor — they're the ones who tested positive.
And yet, despite the fact that Peter barfed goo in Julia's mouth, she tests negative. At that point, we're not sure whether Julia even remembers the shower time with Peter, so it makes sense that she takes the negative test as a sign she imagined everything. Until this scene, when she watches the zombie barfing goo into some poor sucker's face. We see the realizing dawning on her face that Peter did infect her — and within minutes, she's realized that Sarah's test didn't work. (FYI: THIS is the kind of thing an infectious disease expert would do in this situation — freak out a little, and then geek out in the lab.)
So the plot arc of this episode was that we had a test, and now we don't have a test. Back to square one: We have no idea who is infected and who isn't. At least Julia has isolated herself in the isolation floor, unlike Sarah, whose keeps showing disease symptoms but insists she's fine.
Meanwhile, snarky CDC scientist Doreen and army guy Sergio have teamed up to figure out whether they can isolate the disease-causing microbe by grabbing a tissue sample from the popsicle monkey field outside. It seems that Hiroshi or hunky Canadian Daniel has stolen her unfrozen monkey sample. Luckily, due to science, the frozen monkey sample yields a big of microbe action.
There's a genuinely creepy, Species-esque scene, where Doreen and Sergio try to grow some of the microbe on a petri dish. When they put it in an incubator, it instantly blooms into an enormous swirl of black tentacles that look like Cthulhu's diarrhea.
So obviously this microbe is, um, a little different. Before we all start hoping it will be aliens, what's actually interesting about this subplot is how Sergio reacts. He warns Doreen to keep it a secret from Alan — because then Hiroshi will find out, and this experiment will disappear the same way her monkey did. Doreen buys it, and keeps the goo powers a secret.
The weird thing is that Sergio is working with Hiroshi, right? But as he tells Doreen, he and some other Army folks think that the black goo didn't get out by accident. Did Hiroshi unleash it to call the world's attention to the evils unfolding at Arctic Biosystems, thus making him a good guy? Or did he do it to advance a plan to destroy the world, thus making him a silver-eyed alien/mutant who, um, something something?
Either way, we have learned almost nothing about the black goo by the end of day three. Sorry, we learned that it makes you super strong and barfy. And, given that Peter finally turned himself in, muttering, "Help me," we know that eventually the zombie super-strength goes away. And we did see the Cthulhu thing.
Still, I really don't feel like that's enough. There are too many scenes of people freaking out and talking in jump cuts, and not enough plot-advancing excitement. I want to see things happening that don't add up to being in exactly the same place, story-wise, that we were when the episode started.
That said, as the episode ends, we do learn one more thing. Sergio is on a mission to make this show one, long bottle episode.
When Alan says he's lost control and will call the Army in for help the next time they have a "satellite window," Sergio takes matters into his own hands. For whatever reason, he wants this shit kept secret, and he's apparently willing to die to do it. He blows up the satellite communications dish, which means he's now the only guy who can talk to the outside world (he's got a pocket satellite setup that he used in a previous episode).
Also, for some reason, the satellite dish also relayed communications between phones inside the facility, which makes absolutely no sense. So now, when Julia calls Alan on the phone from the isolation floor, her message about the test is cut off. Alan doesn't know that the test didn't work, and Julia is left banging on the door yelling "It didn't work!" Which, again, why does this base have 1) no internal wired network and 2) no cameras? Maybe the show is actually set in the 1930s and that will be a big reveal?
I hate that Helix is turning me into the kind of fan who grouses about dumb details like why there are no security cameras. Seriously, there should be so much cool shit happening in this show that I don't even remember to think about whether the containment facility is realistic or not. I want blistering weirdness, and plot twists that make my eyes pop out of my head. I really hope those developments are in there, waiting to burst out of the next 10 episodes.