With last night's episode of Helix, the show finally hit its stride. What's become obvious is Helix is not a conventional science fiction tale. The zombie disease is our MacGuffin; the true mystery at the heart of the story is Hiroshi, the man who runs the Arctic Biosystems facility.
I know this will sound weird, but I started to get a kind of Basic Instinct feeling as I watched this episode, which was penned by Middleman creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Like many noir movies, Basic Instinct is about trying to solve a crime, but more than that it's about a charismatic person who acts like a criminal but could in fact be innocent. Sharon Stone's bizarre behavior, and its possible meanings, structure that entire story. OK, yes, I guess I am saying that Hiroshi is Sharon Stone. Live with it.
What was refreshing about this episode was that we finally got to appreciate who our characters are, without all the drooling zombie razzamatazz and laboratory discovery fakeouts. This show is absolutely terrible every time it tries to "do science," and is great every time it veers into capturing its characters points of view. So I guess it's good that Sergio — who might also be this show's Sharon Stone — murdered our one decent scientist, Doreen, at the end.
So here's what happened. Alan gave his brother Peter some of the mega-antiviral serum that one of the researchers had been working on, despite the fact that it had a 75% mortality rate in mice. "Wouldn't you do it if it were your brother?" he asks the serum inventor guy. Well, maybe not if I had several dozen freaked out patients locked up in quarantine downstairs and it was my job to deal with them. Alan is so focused on saving his brother that he's neglecting his real duties. He's not even trying to figure out a way to communicate with the sealed-off isolation floor.
Still, he discovers that the serum works, albeit briefly, and we get a brief moment of Peter being coherent. They bond over their past, and Alan tearfully admits that he owes Peter for saving his life from their abusive father. Then Peter admits that his affair with Julia wasn't "that one night" — it was ongoing, and as we know from Julia, they had seen each other just days before the outbreak. Unfortunately, Peter doesn't know anything about the disease. It turns out Hiroshi just had him doing "grunt work," running tissue samples for the other scientists. "The main thing he seemed interested in was Julia," he whispers before slipping into a deep coma. Apparently, Hiroshi and Peter had bonded a little, and Peter had spilled part or all of his guts about his forbidden love/lust for Julia.
This detail makes sense, given that we've already seen Hiroshi's edition of My Creepy Scrapbook, filled with spy pics and upskirts of Julia. It makes even more sense when Julia starts to realize that she's been to Arctic Biosystems before, but doesn't remember it. This was actually a pretty awesome moment in last night's episode. Julia gets booted out of the dorm area on the quarantine level, after arguing with Crazy Guy about how to deal with their situation. Crazy Guy advocates for using that level's manual override on the oxygen scrubbers to force the people upstairs to come down and negotiate. Julia advocates for not killing people.
Which is why Julia is left wandering the hallways, mildly hallucinating, while Crazy Guy and his buddies shut down the oxygen and Hiroshi has to figure out WTF to do. It turns out the person in a gas mask that Julia keeps seeing is actually real — she's another person who is hiding out away from the dorm area and Crazy Guy. As Julia and her new pal bond over a cache of cheez whiz they've discovered, vectors are roaming the halls like random monsters rolled up by a slightly lazy DM.
Then, beneath a box of cheez whiz, Julia discovers her initials scratched into the wall, in her handwriting. Obviously, she's been here before and maybe even tried to leave herself a message about it. Why can't she remember being there? We know for certain that she wasn't there visiting Peter, because he tells Alan that they only hooked up at conferences. Now Hiroshi's My Creepy Scrapbook is starting to make a little more sense. It's possible that Julia is one of his experiments, or maybe an unwitting collaborator. Or a clone! Or an alien! Or something even more cool!
OK, calm down. Let's focus on Hiroshi for a minute. When all seems lost, he takes a secret stairway down to the quarantine level with ninja sidekick Daniel. While he's there, he stares down a vector who has been attacking people — and the vector just lets him pass.
There's Hiroshi's "do not fuck with me" stare. Nice.
Hiroshi has some kind of power over the vectors obviously. He also does this really touching negotiation with Crazy Guy, saying they all have to work together, and convincing them to turn the oxygen scrubbers back on. Then, when we're all feeling like Hiroshi is the good guy, he shoots Crazy Guy and his henchmen. Even Daniel is taken aback.
But Hiroshi points out they were just going to keep being a pain in the ass. Which — he's right about that. Crazy Guy was awful. "Clean up those bodies," he says, going back upstairs. So Hiroshi's main focus is on protecting the facility, and he doesn't really care who he has to kill to do it.
Meanwhile, Sergio is vying with Hiroshi to be the show's Most Interesting Psycho. He keeps harping on how Hiroshi didn't deliver what "their employers" ordered. So Hiroshi was supposed to be working on some kind of weapon (?) or maybe something even more nefarious for a secret organization that we're starting to suspect probably isn't the government. Or maybe it is?
Before Sergio kills Doreen, he tells her a story which might actually be true, about how he is investigating a "black bag" operation for the Pentagon, and urges her to check to see whether the disease is genetically engineered. Presto — she figures it out. Yep, it's a human-made disease, a form of gene therapy delivered by a virus, intended to give people "new traits." What those might be Doreen will never know, because as soon as she figures this out, Sergio kills her with a syringe to the neck. Then he leaves her to be eaten by the hairless rats.
Oh and meanwhile Sarah has some kind of tumor. And she's hiding an infected woman in her quarters, dosing the woman and herself with morphine because why not. I know I should be more interested in this subplot, but I'm sick of Sarah. All anyone ever does is sexually harass her. I love how Peter wakes up from his virus ravings, sees Sarah in her lab coat, and asks Alan, "Who is the pretty one?" Really? Um, she's a scientist, like everybody else here, and calling her "the pretty one" is kind of awful. Whatever — Julia already introduced herself to Sarah by saying, "Yeah I was like you once, and then I fucked Alan." Which is also pretty harassment-y. Ugh. I shouldn't blame Sarah for all this, but I just want her gone.
So let's focus on Hiroshi's twisted relationship with Julia and the zombies, and Sergio's twisted relationship with the virus and the government. And that's what this episode delivered. We finally got a story that focused on the real mystery — who these people are — and not the MacGuffiny crap in the labs. Given how utterly incompetent Alan has revealed himself to be, I'm really hoping for a showdown where Hiroshi shows him who's boss.
That's right Alan — quake in your booties.