Saturday, March 8, 2014

“I’ve Done Things, Terrible Things...”

“…in the name of science.”  This from the evil Dr. Hatake, who in a moment of self-reflection states what has been obvious for the last 8 episodes of SyFy’s Helix.  Yet Sarah Jordon, the earnest young scientist from the CDC, offers him comfort:  she reminds him that some of the greatest discoveries in medical science, those that saved millions of lives, began with highly unethical experiments on vulnerable human beings.  Maybe the Narvik-B virus is not so bad after all. Her arrogance and naiveté provide one of the more chilling moments of the show.

Sarah has good reason to reconsider the ethics of Dr. Hatake’s work, even though it involved stealing Inuit children from a nearby village for genetic experiments.   She has been dying of a cancerous tumor that has invaded her spinal cord.  Later in the episode she subjects herself to a trial inoculation prepared from a sample of Julia’s spinal fluid.  She has nothing to lose, but collapses in a seizure by the end of the episode. 

It is day 10 at Arctic Biosystems, only a couple of days after a violent but unsuccessful attempt by the Ilaria Corporation to regain control of its property in the frozen north.   The Narvik-B virus is running rampant on the base, converting the scientists there into silver-eyed immortals or blood thirsty, drooling zombies.  The show has lost some of its initial claustrophobia, now that important scenes are taking place outside the laboratory: at the nearby Inuit village, and in last night’s episode, at an abandoned radio station.

An interesting feature of the show is that the good guys do not stay good, and the bad guys do not stay bad.  For years, Dr. Hatake has been stealing local children for his experiments, but then does all he can to protect Julia, his daughter—who was also a subject of his experiments.  He also saved the base from the depredations of the villainous Constance Sutton, who had once been his lover.  The treacherous Major Balleseros has murdered about a third of the CDC team and helped Hatake kidnap the Inuit children, but is now working with Anana and Miksa to save the village from an attack by the ruthless Ilaria Corporation.  If only Constance Sutton had changed her evil ways—she might have avoided decapitation.

Dr. Adrian, the cryogenics expert, had saved Peter’s life in a previous episode by freezing him solid in the laboratory.  But he tried to escape the base in last week’s episode with the original strains of the Narvik A and Narvik B viruses—probably to make a deal with the Ilaria Corporation.  Alan and Julia catch up with him at an abandoned radio station.  All three come under attack by an escaped Ilaria guard, and Adrian is killed.  Alan and Julia are later captured and tied up by the guard, but before this happens, they find a trap door leading down into an enormous basement.

Much of this show has involved discovery and exploration of hidden rooms and levels, both at the Arctic Biosystems laboratory and now at the abandoned radio station.  It may be that some of this imagery is inspired by video games, but the motif is much older than that popular pastime.  Stories about haunted houses, and dreams and nightmares about houses are common—the chief activity being exploration and discovery of hidden rooms, objects and something else.  Some dream psychologists interpret these images as indicative of a search for either hidden talents or repressed memories. 

All of us know instinctually that there are two places in a mysterious building—real or imagined—you never want to go, at least not alone:  the attic or the basement.  (It’s also probably a good idea to stay out of the ventilation ducts that connect them.)  Alan and Julia head right for the basement.

They find a creature down there in the dark, a silver-eyed Nosferatu who has been chained there by Constance Sutton—oh that Constance!—for 29 years.  He is insane from all the years of isolation.  “Free me!” he begs, but he does not mean from his chains.  “To live forever is to die ten thousand times,” he says.  Julia tries to remove the chains with some cable cutters, but “Gunner” grabs them, puts them to his throat—and becomes the third person to die horribly in last night’s show.  Yet overall, a relatively quiet day in the Arctic Biosystems neighborhood—just three fatalities.

Miksa shoots the Ilaria guard and rescues Alan and Julia just before they themselves are about to be shot.  The three set the radio station on fire, in a scene that suggests purification.  But Julia has secretly stashed the recovered vials of Narvik A and B in her purse.  Bad Julia!

By my count, there are only about three more episodes, so it will be interesting to see how this all works out.  For more information about the show, see Helix | Syfy.  Helix is on SyFy Friday nights at 10:00.

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