Visiting the Arctic Circle to research your new television series is one thing, but who would want to live there? That’s one of the questions that struck writer Cameron Porsandeh as he began developing the story around Syfy’s Helix.
“I would say it’s the closest place on Earth to being on the moon,” Porsandeh said. “It’s desolate, it’s empty, it’s haunting, it’s beautiful. What I became sort of fascinated by when I was in the Arctic Circle was, ‘Who would choose to live there?’”
In the case of Helix, the answer would be the 100 scientists living and working at a research base where a virus breaks out, causing a team from the Centers for Disease Control to investigate -- and find a lot more than they expected.
“When you think about this base, we have 100 scientists who have chosen to give up everything to go live in the middle of nowhere,” Porsandeh said. “What kind of person does that? So I think we’ve really populated the base with interesting characters.”
He and producer Ronald Moore were on hand at Comic-Con International to answer questions about the new series, which joins the Syfy lineup in January.
Moore said the mystery behind what the base really is will be pervasive throughout the season.
“It’s not really owned or controlled by any one particular nation,” he said. “It’s a group of people who got money together through mysterious sources and have been up there for quite some time doing some medical research. Something happens in the base, a virus breaks out and they go into quarantine, and they call the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta to send a team to help them contain this.”
“What becomes clear relatively quickly is there’s nothing at all ordinary about this virus,” Porsandeh said. “There’s something very different going on at the base, and when that becomes clear, the stakes will radically heighten in some pretty interesting ways.”
Initially the CDC team thinks the virus is the retro virus, which “causes you to bleed out and die,” Porsandeh said.
“But what’s going to be great about this story is when they start discovering it’s not just a virus, and there’s actually another side to this thing,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of conflicted emotions about how to feel about it, and that’s something we’re going to play up a lot. The title Helix itself is about the duality of our storytelling, and there’s definitely going to be a second side to this virus. And I think that’s part of the mystery, and I think the reveal will be fun.”
Billy Campbell of The Rocketeer and Once & Again fame plays Dr. Alan Farragut, the leader of the CDC team. Hiroyuki Sanada, who has appeared on Revenge and in The Wolverine, is in charge of the Arctic base when Farragut’s team arrives. Moore said he’s the “man of mystery,” and who he really is will be part of the puzzle. Expect some tension between him and Farragut, but he isn’t the only one Farragut will have tension with. During the show, Farragut is reunited with his wife and brother – whose affair broke up Farragut’s marriage.
“We’re going to reunite all three of these characters up there under horrific circumstances,” Porsandeh said. “So I would say it’s the most screwed up love triangle ever under the most screwed up context ever, and they’re going to find a way to reconnect in an Artic base in a snowstorm, while a virus is breaking out, killing people.”
Each of the show’s 13 episodes will span one day at the base, and “the tension just keeps ramping up and ramping up until we get to the end of the first season,” Moore said. The creators already have thoughts about the second season, which they said would be set in a different location.
“The bigger mythology, which we will learn toward the end of the season, is what’s gonna bridge us over to these other seasons,” Porsandeh said. “It’s always going to be a mystery per season, but we are going to change places where these things happen. Just like in real life, we have outbreaks all over the place, but they’ll be tied together under this larger mythology, which is frankly what we’re really excited about. It’s people doing bad things, but they’re trying to do something good, too.”
Which begs the question – will everyone make it out of Season 1?
“People will die,” Porsandeh said. “It’s a virus, and that’s part of the fun of playing with this kind of story.”