Saturday, March 1, 2014

I’ll Have a Cup of the Narvik Roast

As suspected, Arctic Biosystems has at least six more levels beneath Level R, where people infected with the Narvik B virus had been quarantined in previous episodes.  In last night’s episode of Helix, viewers learned of Level X, where the malevolent Ilaria Corporation stored its collection of Earth’s worst microbes, including the original strains of its trademark viruses, Narvik A and Narvik B.  In last week’s episode, the tirelessly evil Constance Sutton, chief operating officer of Ilaria, was vanquished along with most her minions.  But this is only a temporary respite.  The corporation will soon return to secure its property, and when they do they most likely will torch the base and everyone still alive in it.

Which are not too many people, these days.  At least it is easier to keep track of the characters and subplots now, since there are drastically fewer of them.  The story line has achieved greater focus through a series of zombie attacks, shoot outs, and bludgeonings.  To paraphrase Constance Sutton, my favorite though now sadly decapitated villain, “the herd has been trimmed”.   

The show opens with the capture of one of the zombies—they prefer to be called vectors—using Sarah as bait.  The CDC team is almost gleeful to have accomplished this, and quickly has the creature shrieking and writhing behind glass in a special quarantine chamber.  This scene and several others with the vectors owe much to movies like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and especially Day of the Dead (1985).  In the latter film, scientists try to determine whether a zombie is capable of thinking symbolically, communicating, and being trained for various tasks.  (In the 2004 zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead, bagging groceries is one of these tasks!)

Often in zombie flicks the capture of a live—so to speak—zombie provides license for temporarily human characters to mock and torment the hapless creature.  (This motif may go back to the original Frankenstein movies).  Torturing a zombie is something that characters and—vicariously—the audience can enjoy and ‘get away with’.  The zombie is after all dead and barely human.  Yet the suffering of the undead inspires sympathy as well.  Suffering is the zombie’s most humanizing attribute, the one we can identify with most.  Justice demands that those who mistreat the undead suffer an especially gruesome fate, which they typically do.  It will be interesting to see whether the creators of Helix follow this convention.

Much of the show involved Alan and Julia exploring the heretofore unknown Level X.  They have to navigate in and out of a crowd of frozen vectors—the team had shut the power of the base down to freeze them solid—but fail in their quest to find the original strains of Narvik A and Narvik B.  Someone has beaten them to it.  Meanwhile, Sarah succumbs to her spinal tumor, and winds up under the care of the treacherous Dr. Hatake.  (His membership in the American Medical Association has probably lapsed at this point.)  Miksa, Anana and the recently redeemed Balleseros defend the nearby Inuit village from attack by a remnant of the Ilaria Corporation’s guards.  Julia confirms that she is indeed Hatake’s daughter, and discovers on Level X a replica of the cabin in Montana that she believed she grew up in.

Hands down the most memorable scene in last night’s episode was the grotesque resuscitation of Peter Farragut by his fellow zombies.  In last week’s episode, they had rescued him from the cryogenics lab, carrying him off into the air vents while he was still in his deep freeze suit.   In a sort of reverse coffee klatsch scene, the vectors gather and regurgitate black slime into their coffee mugs, then give it to Peter to drink.  He is completely revived, and then some.  He has had his morning cup of java.  Peter stands up over the zombie horde, raises his hands, and growls triumphantly.  His peers get down on their knees in veneration.  Zombies may be capable of thought, communication and learning, but also unquestioning devotion and obedience.

For more information about the show, see Helix | Syfy.  Helix is on SyFy Friday nights at 10:00.

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