Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Saturday Review: Helix

Details matter. Details can make or break a story, because if the writer can't pay attention to details, you have to wonder about the rest of it. Now, I know some things get overlooked. Mistakes happen, and I'm okay with that. There's also a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required in almost any story, no matter how "realistic" it is. The less grounded in reality, the greater the suspension, but details can be key to holding that suspension in place.

It's in the details where Helix fell apart for me. I'm disappointed by this, because I wanted to like the show. There's certainly a lot to like about it, including the cast, but I couldn't help feeling they overlooked too many things. Maybe this is nitpicking, but when it gets to a certain level the nits start unraveling the whole.

(A couple of spoilers in this, so just be forewarned.)

I'm going to break these down into a couple of categories, starting with


Point #1: Okay, did anyone in charge of this show remember that the Arctic, unlike it's southern cousin, is an ocean. I know one person did: whoever did that gorgeous matte that was under the helicopter on approach to the facility. Did you see those cracks? They were great. They were there because, again, the Arctic is an ocean, and the ice there does very different things than ice on solid land. There's a reason there aren't the kind of bases in the Arctic that there are in the Antarctic, and one of those is that sea ice isn't anywhere near as stable.

Even when it isn't melting. Which brings me to

Point #2. Now, they did a nice job on the map situating it in a place where there is still not open water in the summer in the Arctic, but whoever sank the probably millions if not billions of dollars into this thing (I mean, did you see that head office? Wood floors, spacious enough to park a couple of cars in, and that massive window? In the Arctic?), I hope they designed it to float in the long term.

Now, judging by the day/night cycles it's somewhere between summer and winter (because they are, according to what they said, above the Arctic circle), so we can't expect it to be at the height of summer,  and we're not yet to open water in the entire Arctic in the summer, but if I were building something like that, I'd be worried about it.

Point #3: Speaking of temperature, what idiot walks out into that kind of cold without a face covering? Idiots who spend their lives in LA and don't actually have any appreciation for cold weather, that's who. This one should have been a matter of common sense. Again, even allowing that it's not the dead of winter, there was serious blowing snow and cold. Enough cold to freeze the monkeys solid, and rather quickly by the looks of it.  And yet, the army guy, and the scientist trying to escape, are out there dressed no more warmly than if they're trying to build a snow fort on a Saturday afternoon.

Contagion Protocol

If these are really the people working at the CDC, I'm suddenly a lot more frightened. I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. And even I know that those suits they wear are not just about airborne pathogens. Even I know that you don't take off the thing that protects your face when you have infected rats right in front of you. For something that they know is so deadly, they are awfully cavalier about it in certain scenes.

Beyond that, it looks as though new people will be showing up. I'm sorry, but what part of "quarantine" were they unfamiliar with? New people cannot come in, just as the old people cannot come out. That's what it means to be quarantined.

Even before the outbreak, why are there such big air vents? Why aren't there more filters that would make it harder for the bad guy to move around in the vents in the first place? This is a lab dealing with various pathogens, some of which had to be potentially airborne, and yet there seem to have been zero precautions in place. Maybe this will be explained as part of some nefarious scheme, but still...

Common Sense

This to me is the most damning part. Okay, they're playing fast and loose with the CDC stuff. Not like it hasn't been done before. Okay, it was clearly written by people who only see snow in snow globes. Not the first time there, either. But then there were these things:

You have a dangerous, contagious man on the loose. And yet, near as I can tell, the job of head of security is to stand around behind the others. Everyone seems to forget to look for the biggest threat.  What else does security have to do at this point other than conduct a manhunt for the number one threat to them all? Because clearly security isn't doing other things they should be.

Then the bad guy takes the hand of one of his victims. We know the chip in the hand allows access to the locks. Why not immediately rescind the dead guy's access? If I could figure out that's what he wanted a hand for, the guy who's job it is to keep everyone secure should have. Heck, even if it wasn't what the bad guy wanted the hand for, this does not seem an unreasonable precaution. Yet no one even suggests it, even after it's been demonstrated that access can, in fact, be restricted.

Also, what's the number one rule of any horror film? DO NOT GO ANYWHERE ALONE. This is not just a question of the characters being less genre-savvy than the audience, this is common sense. You have a bad guy who is traveling through the air vents, vents that lead everywhere and cannot be sealed off. (I'll grant them that one, seeing as the bad guy demonstrates serious strength.) Why is anyone, ANYONE, traveling through the facility or working alone at this point? I don't care if you're taking a shower, you don't go alone.

Speaking of which, tracking a person through a metal air vent should not be hard. It makes an awful lot of noise. Although in this case it only seemed to do so when necessary to build suspense. Though I suppose that falls under the convention of having big enough vents to move around in anyway. Look, I bought it for Die Hard - which they had the good grace to name drop - but, in the intervening decades, I thought we'd all become savvy enough to know that in real life, these vents aren't big enough for that.

I'd like to nitpick having to manually search for the guy in the vents in the first place, but it's not entirely implausible that there isn't so much as a Roomba in the entire facility. Though, really, someone or something has to be keeping that gorgeous hardwood floor clean and shiny.

So, where does that leave me with the show?

When all is said and done, I really, really wanted this to be good. And parts of it are. Parts of it - and some of these are narrative things that I did not address here - are not. The lack of attention to detail worries me, from the small details to the big ones that seem to be driving the story.

I may tune in next week, but I really think they've lost me just by not paying enough attention.

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