Syfy's new horror/sci-fi series, Helix, shows us its dark underbelly when the show premieres tonight, said executive producer and showrunner Steven Maeda in an exclusive interview with Blastr. In fact, things are going to get downright freaky, maybe even X-Files freaky. Helix's double-episode premiere airs tonight on Syfy at 10 p.m. ET.
Maeda chatted with us about the show's mythology, its screwed up families, and what will happen next year if it gets a second season. Warning! SPOILERS AHEAD:
Things are going to get weird
“What's really been fun in doing this is to open [the storytelling] up in a way that is unexpected. I think you will see in the pilot, we tried to do it in music, we tried to do it in the way we cut the show and in the storytelling, in the casting a little bit. Just to take it to a place that you may think you know going in, but once you watch the first episode you'll go, 'Whoa, wait a second, this is a little weirder than I thought it would be,'” said Maeda.
Helix stars Billy Campbell as Dr. Alan Farragut, the leader of a group of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who are called to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic when a possible disease outbreak occurs. However, something terrifying is going on at Arctic BioSystems that just might hold the secret to mankind's salvation or total annihilation. The series, which comes from Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore and Fringe's Maeda, and also stars Hiroyuki Sanada, Neil Napier, Kyra Zagorsky, Mark Ghanimé, Jordan Hayes, Meegwun Fairbrother, Catherine Lemieux.
Oh, yes, it's sick AND twisted
Helix has “these quirky edges and it's scary and creepy, but it's kind of sick and twisted, too. 'What the heck's going on here?' So that was a really appealing thing for me to be able to open up what could be a very straight-ahead story about a virus, an outbreak situation, and to take it to these fantastic places,” said Maeda.
As it turns out, there is nothing “straight-ahead” at all about the virus or the people who have been working with it. That includes Alan's brother, Dr. Peter Farragut (Napier), a scientist on the team who has been exposed.
“What we tried to do is open up a lot of what lies beneath, both character-wise and plot-wise, and then also just about the space itself. Uncover a much deeper mystery going on. It brought me back in a lot of ways to working on Lost, working on X-Files, which we did a couple years back, in the unraveling of a conspiracy that seems on the surface to be supernatural, in a way, or cool and scientific anyway, but then becomes something much deeper once you get into it. That was very appealing, just that whole element of coming and saying, what is this person's hidden agenda? What can we get up and discover once we find that it's an outbreak? But wait, there's something weird going on. What's that about?” he asked.
Helix is also freakin' scary
A virus is a terrifying story element, said Maeda. “Does it move through the air? Is it going through the water? It's very elemental things. You're breathing, you're eating, you're drinking, you're having contact with people, and suddenly you're afraid of those things. It's just like existence itself is scary. You can't see the enemy. That's something we wanted to play with as well, just the idea of, how do you fight something you can't see?
“We have these CDC scientists who come in who are experts at this, but at the same time, they are in a really difficult situation because they don't have all the resources they would normally have. They're in this very isolated location. In a lot of ways, it's like being on the moon, because the exterior is so forbidding. It's not a place you want to go spend a lot of time,” he said.
It's about really, really screwed up, twisted families
At it's heart, “it's about family. That's one of the big themes we explore. About how families go wrong. You see that from the very beginning. As subsequent episodes unfold, we'll see that get even more twisted and tangled and messed up, just the bad ways things can go, but also the good things that can happen. We are trying to tell emotional stories at the same time. I don't know. It's been an interesting ride to see what the show revealed to us as we were doing this,” he said. “There were some fun discoveries along the way that enabled us to make the stories richer.”
While Alan's relationship with his brother, Peter, is at the core of Helix, that relationship is colored by the fact that Alan's ex is on the CDC team, and she cheated on Alan once upon a time with Peter.
There are “several dysfunctional families at play here. As you get deeper and deeper into the series, that becomes more and more evident,” said Maeda. They are “pretty screwed up. Our goal is just how screwed up do we make it while still having some kind of grounding in science and in believability? But then what kind of messed up places can we go to?”
Great conceits in time and space
While Helix certainly draws some of its inspiration from The Thing by way of The Andromeda Strain and The X-Files, there's another TV show that the series also takes its cues from.
“One of the things that was a great conceit of the script just from the very beginning, before I even got there, was the idea of having it confined to this location. If not the base itself, then the Arctic circle in general for the first season,” said Maeda.
“Then also playing each episode as a day. Not unlike 24, but a little bit longer duration. Each episode takes place over roughly a 24-hour period. That idea of keeping contained time-wise and location-wise, but then seeing what we could come up with was really challenging and fun,” he said.
“If we're fortunate enough to get a second season...”
While Maeda loves the Arctic location and the isolation that provides, a second season would go in a very different direction.
“I think the key, if we're fortunate enough to get a second season, what we would love to do, and we have ideas about this already is to reinvent the series in some way. A lot of people are wondering, 'How do you stay at this Arctic base? How do you keep it going past the original 13?' I would just say that we are planning to open the world up in all sorts of cool ways,” he said.
Every season will NOT be like American Horror Story... mostly
“Our hope is to ask as many cool questions as possible in the first 13, answer them as much as possible, but then also open up new mysteries that can propel us into other related mysteries. We don't want to go quite as standalone seasons as American Horror Story, for example, but we definitely are not planning do to multiple seasons at the Arctic base. We want to take the world and the characters and allow the series to slingshot around and open itself up in ways, however they reveal themselves to us,” said Maeda.
“That's what's so exciting about it as well. There are other horror shows out there, but this feels like it has an interesting perception, an interesting take on the genre. We're still doing good old-fashioned horror storytelling, but with a twist, I think. A sick twist in some ways, an offbeat twist,” he said. “This is not a show that you could see anywhere else.”
Helix airs on Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.
Here's a look at Helix:
What do you think? Is Helix worth watching?