Episode Title: “Bloodline”
Writer: Mark Thomas Haslett
Director: Bradley Walsh
Previously on “Helix”:
There’s a moment in “Bloodline” that captures everything that’s right and wrong about “Helix.” Alan and Sarah are quietly conversing in the lab, preparing to potentially assassinate Sutton, when the writers decide to explicitly state the show’s dominant theme — you know, in case we haven’t gotten it yet. When Alan suggests that he and his team members are becoming “what they need to become,” Sarah makes a completely obvious observation: “Like the virus. Mutating, changing in order to survive.”
It’s clear by now that subtlety isn’t the show’s strongest suit, but it’s still a groan-worthy line that suggests the producers don’t have faith in their audience to keep up. Overall, I’ve enjoyed “Helix’s” commitment to bringing “Lost-like” plot twists to an Arctic setting, but ”Bloodline” feels completely unhinged, moving from scene to scene with little connective tissue and constantly repeating the reveals of the past. We get it, Julia’s eyes are weird! Hatake really likes her! The vectors leave them alone! There are heads in glass jars! So much time is spent re-iterating what’s come before that the things that really matter — Daniel’s conflicted feelings about Hatake, the strange relationship between Anana and Sergio, and whatever the hell happens to Peter at the end — are all undercooked.
At the same time, though, Alan and Sarah may as well have been discussing the show itself. It’s kind of thrilling to see the writers throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix just to see what sticks. The threat of infection now seems almost old-fashioned, what with all the backstabbing and power struggles and conspiracies involving a secret society. Oh, and there’s a sound cannon, so that’s kind of cool. Even at its worst, “Helix” is good enough at offering teases of better, more ambitious storylines lurking on the edges of what until now has been mainly an Arctic survival thriller. In this respect, it works well as a spiritual sequel to “Lost,” constantly daring the audience to imagine what’s really going on, and what narrative mutation might suddenly occur next.
Unfortunately, the most compelling ideas in “Helix” are wrapped around some pretty uninteresting characters. Early episodes offered enough of a fundamental sense of who Alan and his team were as individuals to effectively move along the plot, which has always been the show’s top priority. “Bloodline” is so unconcerned with character consistency, though, that it almost feels like part of a different show. Sutton, usually so confident and clear about what she wants, now opens up to Lt. Klein (a non-character the show seems to want to make us think matters before dispatching him) about her doubts.
Daniel seems to be dealing with the revelation he was kidnapped as a child pretty well — you’d think it might lead to a violent confrontation with Hatake, but beyond an assertive “My name is Miksa,” everything’s mostly as it was before. And over the course of an episode or two, Alan has transformed from an ethically-minded mediator into someone willing to resort to murder. The scene in which Sutton nearly gets her face blown off by a microscope works well as an isolated moment of campy thrills (which is what Helix does best), but it doesn’t feel meaningfully connected to the characters.
These character changes could be interesting if they developed gradually over the course of the season, but they’re too rushed to leave any impact. All of the characters are paper-thin wisps, blowing whichever the plot needs them to go. Their actions are driven entirely by the events around them — they have no inner lives. There’s no conflict about what to do, no doubt about who really wants what. They all seem to exist in a vacuum. “Bloodline” follows multiple pairs of characters through several subplots, yet they barely overlap, and the struggles of one group don’t seep into the situations faced by everyone else. You’d think there would be constant friction between groups in such an isolated, claustrophobic environment, but they might as well all be in different countries.
The best example of this is the Sergio and Anana whatever-it-is, a storyline that’s taken potentially interesting characters and stuck them in repeat, going through the same motions over and over. When Anana asks him, “Are you messing with me?” I wondered how she had read my mind. They hate each other, except they’re in love with each other, except they can’t trust each other, except they need each other! It’s not clear what these characters want, so it’s impossible to care when they can’t get it. Now that Anana has found her long-lost brother, what’s her plan? How come Daniel doesn’t want to kill Sergio anymore? And what is Sergio even supposed to do now? These are details that could be explained away in a few lines of dialogue, but Helix is so focused on developing its mystery it’s forgotten that even flat characters need at least one dimension.
The result is an episode that ultimately feels so weightless that it barely seems to matter when Dr. Sutton gets decapitated by Hatake, or Julia escapes Sutton’s clutches, or the vectors appear capable of being organized. These are events that should send the narrative and characters spiraling into exciting directions, but “Bloodline” hurtles from plot point to plot point so quickly that they never have any time to breathe. I still believe there’s a wealth of potential in “Helix,” and that with some fine-tuning this could be must-see television. This ideas are in place, it’s just the execution that needs work. Too much of this eighth episode felt like Julia’s Alien gag in the opening scene: it looks like meaningful stuff is happening, but really, it’s all a ruse.