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Helix: “Dans L'Ombre”

Illustration for article titled Helix: “Dans L'Ombre”
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I have a reputation for being a little F-happy. I should start there. So there may be some of you who entirely disagree with this grade, and sight unseen, I’ll concede your points. This is not an episode wholly without merit. But then again, I don’t see an F as an indication that something is merely of poor quality. My reasoning for a failing grade comes from my black-or-white (and therefore possibly flawed!) idea of what the creative process is supposed to be about. In short: Was this worth making? if the answer is yes, congratulations, move on to the next question, where we will discuss how well you did it. If the answer is no—and I find that the answer is “no” a bit too frequently in offerings from NBC Universal—then what’s the point of going forward? You have not progressed beyond a certain threshold, and should probably go back and re-evaluate.

Helix’s finale is so bad that it is funny, which is exactly how it should be. This is a story that has no idea where it is going, so it throws drama at the wall like overripe tomatoes. Julia’s mom is alive! Splat! Hatake kisses her! Splat! Alan and Julia kiss! Splat! This whole episode should have been scored with the reality-show sound effects that Kroll Show parodies—boingy spring noises, stingers before every cut to commercial, and a liberal sprinkling of “the drop” from a sick dubstep beat, just to round things off.

But while it is somewhat funny—I laughed out loud when the random doctor in the lab informed Sarah that she’s pregnant—it’s not nearly funny enough. Instead it’s disjointed and almost nonsensical. There are no connecting threads between the beginning of the episode and the end. When “Dans L’Ombre” opens, our heroes are in the Arctic base trying to get out from under the thumb of the Scythe. When it closes, we get a flash forward to 256 days later, where Alan and Peter are meeting clandestinely in Paris—where, we discover, Julia is on the board of the Ilaria corporation. Is it dangerous? Has plague taken over the world? Are Alan and Peter trying to rescue Julia, or are they trying to kill her? Why are they marking alleyways in chalk and glad-handing around stacks of euros? In short: We don’t know. There’s no explanation.

There’s also no dramatic tension. It sort of looks like maybe the show thinks there’s dramatic tension? But there’s none. We see Julia get dragged onto a helicopter after the entire base goes up in flames—and then she tells Alan to find her before kicking him off said helicopter—and that’s, you know, it. That’s all the explanation. At the end of the first season of a science fiction show, you want cliffhangers! Drama! A creeping sense of dread! Helix offers instead the narrative stakes of day-old jello.

My best guess for what happened here is that Helix got the second-season order and had to rapidly retool what was supposed to be a series finale into a season finale. But I’m saying that because if this is actually the season finale that they planned for all along, I might have an aneurysm. The finale essentially pulls a hard reboot—killing off most of the characters, destroying the lab, and introducing a few future plot elements. The epilogue has desperation written all over it, and you know what? If it were just the epilogue, maybe I’d cut Helix some slack. One of the major pressures of television is that sometimes you have to chart a new course midstream—it’s the nature of the form.

But “Dans L’Ombre,” in quick succession, breaks away both from the characters that Helix has spent 12 episodes trying to get us to care about and the creepy tonal shifts that made the pilot so appealing. The former occurs largely because by the end of the episode, everyone who isn’t a Farragut or immortal is dead—and some of the immortals might be dead, too, though it’s hard to tell. The only characters spared are those that are least interesting: Alan, Peter, and Julia (ordered from least to most interesting). Ballesaros, who came back to the base to try to find the list of missing Inuit children? Dead. Anana and the Other Brother? Also dead. Julia’s mother who was dead and now isn’t? Dead again. Every other redshirt in the lab? Dead.


For 13 episodes now, Helix has promised a huge mystery: It spent the first six episodes slowly moving through the lab and uncovering progressively worse things, savoring the air of melodrama and icy black death. It used the bleak Arctic wasteland to its advantage, to create an isolated, semi-insane environment. It used all the scientists at its disposal to create a story that was about scientific progress at the expense of humanity. It wasn’t original, but it had good ingredients.

And the finest thing about Helix was that despite its elements of melodrama, it was capable of moving back and forth between the self-seriousness of the characters and the splashy fun of an Arctic horror film—that cheesy theme music is nothing but the show laughing at itself, and inviting you into a more complicated understanding of the story. But in “Dans L’Ombre,” the theme music is totally incongruous—because the show has failed to maintain that perspective. By “Dans L’Ombre” everything interesting about Helix flattened out to melodrama.


Insanely frustrating melodrama, I might add. Helix asked for our time and interest to get invested in the stories of its characters—and then flipped the story so fast that all that investment is wasted. Why bother spending scene after scene on Sarah Jordan dying, living, becoming immortal, and then becoming pregnant if she was just going to get buried under rubble? Why bother offering us the Anana/Ballesaros relationship without any clear resolution to their relationship? Why bother killing Hatake right after he’s reunited with Jane?

Separately, all those losses could mean something. Even all together, it could still mean something. But “Dans L’Ombre” doesn’t care. There’s no camera time spent on our fallen heroes. No dramatic music. No resolving moments that cap off the arcs that were introduced; no sense of purpose in why what happened in fact happened as it did. There isn’t even some kind of postmodern, “meaningless is the new meaning” spin on what we’ve experienced—no, there’s just a big explosion, some yelling, and then a “Huh, well, now that’s over” shrug to finish off the episode.


Even the twist—the twisty twist, the story’s big twist through the whole season—is entirely anticlimactic. Peter was working for Ilaria the whole time! That is actually kind of a big deal! Obviously, it makes no real sense, but okay, it might go towards explaining why Peter always had weirder, special-er powers, and perhaps also why he was up at the base in the first place. But once that information is revealed, it’s just dropped. Splat! Peter lets the Scythe go and blows up the base and no one finds out about it and we still haven’t really gotten his feelings on what it was like to be a monkey-person and now he’s a secret agent in France for some reason and does he know that Alan and Julia kissed and really does it matter anyway?

It doesn’t. That’s why this deserves an F. None of it turned out to matter at all, in that kind of “ha ha, joke’s on you” bait-and-switch that Lost perfected.


Episode grade: F
Season grade: C-

Stray observations:

  • RIP, Team Banana.
  • My guess is that Sarah Jordan isn’t actually dead—that pregnancy plot point was a little too convenient for her to be dead. But if she’s immortal, does that mean she stays pregnant forever? (She is, after all, frozen at 26.) Season two will probably be about how the immortals have families and stuff, which actually sounds pretty boring.
  • Why was Constance’s head rolling around the helicopter at the end there? Just as an extra reminder that Jeri Ryan was on the show?
  • Thanks to you all for following along with me this season. It was fun—even when Helix crashed and burned, it’s been great to hash it out with you all in the comments.