“Oublier” means “to forget” in French. Some might question whether that describes Helix’s second season. The show has come back with a different virus, a different locale, and different characters, all of them moderately linked to the Narvik strain of virus from the first season; other than those tendrils of storyline connecting to the Ilaria corporation, Helix feels like an incredibly different show. As I’ve argued in previous reviews, it’s not bad for a show to want to jump away from its initial plotting, and I think for Helix to succeed, it needs to continually push the boundaries of what the show can do. At the same time, this season has problematically juggled its ideas, and “Oubliette” is no exception.
The researchers have finally documented what it is that’s causing the weird viral outbreak: bees’ honey, harvested by the people of the island and consumed. It wasn’t clear whether this was purposeful or not: it would seem as though it’s not an accident, but in “Oubliette”, Brother Michael expresses disbelief that it could happen in the first place. So maybe he’s not apart of the awfulness going on on the island – he’s still, as revealed, an immortal with silver eyes, and the three women at his right hand are actually his daughters.
He’s also been around for… 500 years? It seems that’s the case, and if so, Ilaria’s influence stretches way, way back, more than whatever happened at Arctic Biosystems last season. Whether this twist can actually be explained is another matter entirely, but at the same time, Helix is introducing a very interesting twist: later seasons could jump back to the past to explore other Ilaria problems, if that’s something the show wants to try.
At this point, though, “Oubliette” is keen to drop this crazy twist without much fanfare. “Oubliette” is more about Peter and Alan figuring out their differences anyway. Michael drops them in the titular oubliette to solve their problem, and they end up duking it out until both are spent. Then the real talking gets underway; weak expositional references are brought up, like the ever popular “Dad was a jerk” that we also heard in season 1. But this scene just highlights the problem with all of the characters on Helix: rarely do we know much about them. Alan and Peter barely feel like brothers, so this close emotional tete-a-tete is somewhat wasted on characters that are poorly developed.
It doesn’t matter anyway, because Alan is just posturing. Peter gets left in the oubliette because Alan doesn’t trust him, knowing he works for Ilaria. The same is true for Kyle Sommers; Helix shows that he’s working for government to figure out what Ilaria is doing on the island, and Alan recognizes that there’s more to him as well. Helix has become a dialogue about trust, but at the same time, the viewer’s not even sure who to root for. Do we want Ilaria to win out, or are they part of a bigger global problem? Is Alan a savior or a villain? The mysteries keep getting deeper, but without a side to engage with, the viewer is left in the lurch. Maybe we’ll just have to put up with Sarah for now.
That element of confusion is what is driving Helix still, and season 2 is still a crazy season. But the inventiveness of last season is gone, and so is the claustrophobia. Even the “illness” part of the show’s repertoire has been dropped for semi-political dialogues. There are still those elements of surprise, like the return of the clinical handjob in this episode or whatever Julia’s purpose is in the future, but Helix just isn’t dealing with any of these subplots particularly well. At this point, it’s hard to tell what this season is about, especially after the continual shift of people and their alliances.
It’s hard, then, to say whether season 2 is good or not. I’m still having fun, if that’s a factor in how you watch; at the same time, the characters often frustrate. This is one of those shows where the impact of the season will have to be weighed near the end, where each episode can be judged in the context of the others instead of standing on its own, because that’s where Helix’s strength lies. So far, though, it all feels mediocre.