Helix Review: “The White Room” (Episode 1.05)

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<i>Helix</i> Review: &#8220;The White Room&#8221; (Episode 1.05)

Paranoia. Hallucination. Self-mutilation. Things only get darker in the White Room. 

Helix heads deeper into madness and horror on Day 5, and it’s as welcome as a blazing monkey fire on a bitter Arctic night. The howling storm is closing in on the base, the walls of the base are pressing in on the inmates, their minds are collapsing upon themselves. When you’re trapped in the white room, there will be black curtains…

The episode is built around Balleseros’ quest for the elusive Dr. Hvit, more of a scavenger hunt than a well-organized mission given the lack of explicit instruction from his unknown masters. Balleseros is forced to try every trick he can think of to track the doctor down, and succeeds by the end of the episode—at a price.

In between, Jules and Hatake go on the run, Daniel shows he’s not an unthinking pawn in Hatake’s schemes, Alan and Sarah share a chemically enhanced kiss, and Daniel and Balleseros finally have their confrontation. Even Peter shows signs of life, literally, his brain switching back on after a day in a coma. Most crucially, Hatake on his visit to Level R contrives to get Jules alone, though we still only get an inkling of what he might be up to.

His method of drawing Jules’ attention, while effective, seems unnecessarily invasive. You would think there’s a more superficial way to fake an attack than impaling your back on a knife, but Hatake’s nothing if not hardcore. And it does the trick, as Jules falls right into doctor mode, dropping any distrust she may have. Jules and Jaye haul Hatake to safety while fighting off vectors (and eventually killing one), before Jaye and the others get separated. Along with Jules, Hatake’s stern mask finally slips a little, possibly because of the pain, or maybe from some (paternal?) tenderness for Jules. Hatake tells the story of failing to rescue his daughter from a fire, and tentatively says, “You remind me of her.”

(Curiously, with Jules killing the remaining black vector, the survivors on the base heavily incline to the Caucasian. After being introduced to a rainbow of ethnicities and countries of origin early on, we’re left (pending Balleseros’ ultimate fate, and Jules’ parentage) with white good guys and an Asian villain. That’s about as white as a room gets.)

When Jaye is revealed as Jules’ hallucination, it’s encouraging to see the confidence with which the show discards the conceit. Just as it becomes obvious, it’s resolved, suggesting there are plenty of tricks up the show’s sleeve where that came from. But the central mystery around Jaye—why exactly Jules “remembers” being at the lab as a kid (and why Jaye seems to be a vision of her mother)—persists. Even supposing Jules never really had visited the base, carved her initials into the wall then blocked that out, etc., the connection with childhood must mean something. Easy to lose track of in all this is Jaye accusing Hatake of lying about his daughter, which means Jules herself knows something’s fishy.

No further progress was made on the virus over the course of the episode, unless it’s by Balleseros’s bosses, to whom he sent Dr. Boyle’s research. However, Alan—who seems to admit at one point he’s a better researcher when he’s not distracted by all those sick people—improves the anti-virus in a way that may yet cure the disease. Alan, who’s showing much more fire in the last couple days, also finally smells Balleseros’ rat. Too bad by that time it’s crawling out of Dr. Boyle’s mouth. 

Sarah ministers to her patient while still keeping her a secret, even from Alan. The patient tries to find drugs to kill herself, but is interrupted by hallucinations of her boyfriend, Tony (hard not to think of The Shining’s invisible friend in those narrow, suffocating halls). So Sarah assists her in committing suicide before the disease overcomes her completely. The scene offers a strange respite from the general horror with a dignified death, and directly presents Sarah with the choice to fight or escape from her own terminal condition.

Balleseros’ Hvit-hunt finally ends when he dupes Daniel into revealing where and who Dr. Hvit is: a frozen head buried outside the lab. Daniel and Balleseros take turns leaving each other for dead and stealing the head, with Daniel winning in the last at-bat. But if Alan can find his way in from the cold, I wouldn’t count out the resourceful Balleseros yet, even with a pick-ax wound to the chest.

The battle lines have been drawn at Arctic Biosystems, though so far we’ve mostly had tactical skirmishes. The strategies of the generals—Hatake, Balleseros’ superiors, and maybe Alan—remain to be seen.