Ronald D. Moore, writer and executive producer of Battlestar Galactica, returns to Syfy with the drama Helix. He discussed the show at a Comic-Con International panel with executive producer Steven Maeda, writer Cameron Porsandeh and Syfy executive Mark Stern.
In the series, virologist Alec Farragut travels to the Arctic Circle to an isolated research station to investigate an outbreak for the Center for Disease Control. The virus and the people living the solitary life all turn out to be more than they seem. It’s not yet clear what the nature of the virus is, save that it probably concerns DNA. The residents of the research stations may be just as enigmatic and they all have intricate pasts.
Prior the stepping on stage, the producers of the show locked the remainder of their principal cast. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) plays Alec Farragut, while Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai) steps in as Farragut’s nemesis: the controlling operator of the research station. Farragut will also encounter a former lover on the assignment. “Two characters who essentially split up and now we’re gonna force them back together,” said Cameron. But, each of the characters will arrive a decidedly twisted history.
The series takes place largely in the remote Arctic and viewers can expect the alien environment to play a role in the development of the show’s story arc. According to Stern, there’s “real contrast between the claustrophobia, if you go outside you’re gonna die, but when you look outside, there’s this vastness.”
Syfy aired a brief of teaser to kick off the panel. It starts in a “clean room” – a pure white-paneled space outfitted for research. An automated voice repeats the word “Complete” as the shot pans around the room past an opened ceiling panel and a broken coffee cup. The camera comes to rest by a lighted sign that indicates sanitization is “complete.” And, then, the camera reveals two recently dead men, a foot caught in an automatic door. Finally, a pair of eyes on a dark, not quite human, face appears in a floor grate.
Additional details about the series remain scant. The title refers both to the nature of DNA and serves an allusion to duality. While the mysterious black goo used in the ad campaigns for the show does not tie directly to other science fiction properties, viewers can expect it to evoke familiar sci-fi themes, even though the series breaks some of the Syfy slate.
Moore came to the project after he was sent Porsandeh’s script. “I literally didn’t want to read it because I wasn’t interested in this particular genre,” he said. But, “it was one of those reads that you hope for.” The script convinced Moore to take on the show. Porsandeh had never previously written for tv, he broke in after a career in international philanthropy.
Moore, Porsandeh and Maeda took license to give the show a specific, unique structure. Each episode will also be structured as an individual day, making the series a 13-day investigation into the outbreak. “It is a season long mystery, said Porsandeh. “We think the pacing really serves the narrative.” The organization of the show also lends to continuation, if the show gets renewed in later seasons. Each season serves a chapter in the greater story.
“The fun is to play with the format of television,” Moore said, referring both to Battlestar Galactica and Helix. “And to just try to give you something you haven’t seen before.”
Syfy has already picked up the show for a full order of 13 episodes “Time to allow us to breathe,” said Steven. “We wanna set up character and make you come back because you want to spend time with these peoples,” he added. So, the pilot won’t be jam-packed with details because the creators can use the rest of the first season to rollout the details and the reveals.
Helix begins shooting in Canada in the next few weeks and the series is expected to air in 2014. Stevens also hinted that Syfy will be announcing a number of other pilots in the near future. “[We are] really embracing our sci-fi roots,” he said.” The show will air with Being Human, giving Syfy what it believes will be a strong programming block.