DEADtime TV: Helix ‘The Ascendant’

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“The Ascendant”‘s title refers to Peter, taking the position of leader at the Abbey – he assumes the new name Eli, he adopts a child, and he basically looks a lot like Michael standing over the wasteland that once was a vast apple orchard. But there are multiple power shifts in Helix‘s penultimate episode that are much more interesting than Peter’s rise to power, one of the most compelling being Kyle’s emotional dialogue with Soren after his mother is killed right in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s been the case with most of Helix‘s back half of season 2; since it’s taken a turn to put Peter in a power spotlight, it has lost the lasting appeal and mystery of the Abbey.

Part of that is because Helix has done a poor job of setting up Peter’s mental change. For much of season 2, he’s been the protagonist leading the CDC team to find a cure for the fungal illness that plagues the people living there. In one encounter, Anne was able to change all of that – drawing on his need for power, on his status as second fiddle in both life and his relationship with Julia, he has since become the prime leader of the Abbey’s now nutso followers. On one hand, Helix has been working on this for some time, and it has done a good job of showing Peter’s jealousy; at the same time, the shift in allegiance still doesn’t make much sense, because most people don’t just decide on a whim that killing people and leading a group of individuals on an island is a good life choice.

“The Ascendant” attempts to rectify that; Peter’s got Anne, and he’s clearly lost Julia both to Alan and Ilaria. It shows him in a position of power that he’s always craved, allowed to do whatever he wants. It also gives him a moment to wax philosophical on his life thanks to his adoption of a baby from the baby-making station in the basement; he states he always felt like he was adopted, not a part of the family he grew up with, and this all comes back to his alcoholic father. But blood doesn’t matter, he realizes, just how you’re raised.

It still doesn’t explain his shift towards insanity, though. It wouldn’t be a huge problem if Helix wasn’t relying on Peter as the motivating factor in these last few episodes – he’s the one leading the attack on the CDC, the reason why everyone needs an evac post-haste, and without that realistic reasoning behind Peter’s actions, it’s less effective than it should be.

But Helix still has a few characters that have quite an impact on the proceedings. Kyle is my go-too guy – he’s all around a nice dude, and when Soren sees his mom’s neck snapped by Peter, Kyle quickly assures the kid that he’ll be family anyway. In the same episode, he agrees to help Sarah find a new tube for her baby, the same baby that’s been unborn for about a year – he knows it’s futile and could cost him his life, but he’s just a nice friggin’ guy, dammit.

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“The Ascendant” overutilizes Sarah’s plight, though. Her race to save her baby as also been shoved into Helix‘s plot for relatively no reason. It’s understandable that she’d want to keep the thing, especially since she carried it for so long, but at the same time the show has made Sarah into an annoying and somewhat unstable character that’s solely motivated by the need to save that baby. Seeing how the audience doesn’t even know if the baby can be saved, it’s a subplot that really doesn’t resonate. At least, not when it’s simply here to extend the season one more episode by delaying her evacuation from the island.

Still, there’s one good thing about “The Ascendant”‘s focus on the baby: Sarah comes into her own form of power, torturing Anne to show her where the test tubes are and, in the process, revealing the dark secret beneath the abbey. As I said before, Sarah has had very little to do this season, and Helix has put her in a state where she’s been acted on more than anything; this episode at least allows her to get back at Anne by chopping off a few of her toes.

Alan and Julia have their own meet-up, a revealing moment that continues their earlier conversation. They haven’t had a chance to discuss much since Alan lost her at Arctic Biosystems, and he tells her that he continued to look for her by killing anyone from Ilaria that got in his way. But Ilaria has revealed things about Julia she never knew; as much as she wanted Alan to find her, things with them just felt right. It’s also the reason she needs to stop them from mass genocide.

Both of them set out to find the Mother tree, the source of the root that could have helped figure out how to create mass infertility. Turns out the abbey was built on the tree, which is lucky because the poison gas ravaged the island. The roots system lies underneath the ground, and they head down below to find some to bring back. The fungus growing there is enough to create the virus, but Alan is unwilling to let her infect the population. The episode ends with a stand-off that shows just how far these characters have come since season 1 – Julia’s allegiance lies with Ilaria (though to be fair, she knows what they’ll do to humanity if she can’t come up with an alternative), and Alan will go against her to stop mass infertility.

I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with how Helix has handled this second season with the new location. It has certainly felt more structured, focused on the storyline in a way that the first season was unable to do. With that said, the last couple of episodes have really stretched the formula out to a breaking point, especially with Peter’s newfound psychosis. It’ll be a relief when Helix ends next episode, because it feels like there’s little left to explore on the island. Oh yeah, but what about the FUTURE!?

pros

  • Fast-paced execution following three different sub-plots
  • More time spent on Peter/Eli’s insanity
  • Poignant moments with Kyle and Soren
  • Alan and Julia’s confrontation continues over from season 1

cons

  • Peter’s evil motivation still doesn’t make much sense
  • Sarah’s plot way too centralized on the baby this season
  • Little left to explore on the abbey, leaving a feeling that the last few episodes are stalling

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