On the new Syfy drama series Helix, an outbreak plagues an Arctic research facility. When a team from the Centers for Disease Control arrives on the scene, the researchers discover a disease that has killed at least two and turned a third man into an unstoppable monster attempting to spread the disease.
So is Ron Moore's latest project just The Walking Dead with snow? Not necessarily. "We're really trying to not make it a zombie show," showrunner Steve Maeda says. "I would say the main difference about our 'vectors,' as we call them, is that they are not mindless eating machines. They're very scary and they're human and they look horrible. What we're going to find out about the vectors is that they're incredibly smart and so they retain a lot of their intelligence, if not their humanity, which makes them very different from zombies."
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Leading the CDC team is Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell). When he and his team — whose team includes Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) and Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux — are brought to the Arctic Biosystems facility where the outbreak originated, they learn that Alan's brother Peter (Neil Napier) is actually the infected monster.
At its core, Helix is a psychological, horror thriller. With Peter on the loose, watching the residents of the isolated facility becomes a nail-biting joy ride. "It lends itself to a very claustrophobic environment because you can go outside, but only for brief periods of time," Maeda says of the Arctic setting. "It's almost like being set on a spaceship where you're trapped inside with unseen horrors and then there are all sorts of human problems that develop from that."
That, of course, is also the goal here. "It takes some of the characters to some very dark places and they start doing things that they might not do if they were in regular circumstances," Zagorsky says. "Their true humanity comes out, the good and the bad."
Of course, the vectors aren't the only thing the team has to worry about. Hiding the possible truth behind a virus is Arctic Biosystems' director Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is only one of many characters keeping dangerous secrets. "Everyone's got an agenda," Maeda says. "Everyone's got secrets, every single character. Some of them are big, giant things that will impact the plot, and some are smaller, but just as important character secrets."
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Although the team is pretty much confined to Arctic Biosystems, the disease itself provides a way for the show to explore other parts of this world. "Part of what the virus does is it makes you hallucinate," Maeda teases. "So, hallucinations play a fairly good-sized piece of certain episodes. And what they allow you to do is go to places you wouldn't otherwise be able to go."
That said, keeping things contained is an important part of the series: The doctors have no hope of leaving the facility until they find a cure to prevent the disease from spreading to the general population. "We have to solve it or figure it out or at least keep it here in this place because if it gets out, it's going to be a calamity," Maeda says. "Our CDC scientists and the other scientists are not only scared for their own lives, but scared of what might happen if this thing gets out."
Will it spread beyond Arctic Biosystems? Find out when Helix premieres Friday at 10/9c with two back-to-back episodes on Syfy.