When we first heard Battlestar Galactica's Ron Moore was doing a show about a deep-space long-haul crew who lose themselves in virtual reality entertainments, our first thought was, "Oh great, a whole show of Star Trek holodeck episodes." But Moore's new Fox pilot, Virtuality, is a lot more multi-layered and twisted than that, judging from the tons of script pages that have turned up. The pages are "casting sides," for actors auditioning for roles in the series, but they appear to be taken from the actual pilot script. Details, with spoilers, after the jump.
There are three strands in the Virtuality pilot, and only one of them relates to virtual reality as such:
1) The ship, the Phaeton, is nearing a slingshot maneuver around Jupiter, which will either send it back to Earth or send it hurtling forwards to its destination of Eridani. This is the "go/no-go" decision point, which will decide the crew's fate once and for all. At the same time, the ship's doctor, Eyal Meyer, has Parkinson's Disease, which throws an extra wrinkle into the tough decision. Should the ship go forward and risk not having a doctor on board? If they don't go, it may be 20 years before humans can try again — which may be too late. There are also glitches with the ship, and emergency repairs may cost one character their life.
2) The crew are all spending time in virtual reality "modules," including everything from a restful seaside scene to a Civil War battle where Confederate troops attack Union soldiers, only to fall into an ambush. In all their "modules," a mysterious figure known as the Green-Eyed Man shows up and kills the humans in gruesome ways. (Unlike in The Matrix and other scifi classics, being killed in VR doesn't harm you in real life, but it's jarring.) Is the Green-Eyed Man a hack by one of the crew members? A computer glitch? Or something else? Everybody suspects Billie, the computer geek — until she's raped by the Green Eyed Man, in a brutal and horrible scene.
3) Even as the crew is stressed out by the experience of being in deep space alone for 10 years, and losing themselves in VR entertainments, they're also being watched. In particular, the ship is one huge "reality TV" show, which is broadcast back on Earth. The ship's computer whiz, Billie, becomes the "host" of the show, which is struggling with declining ratings — so she has to find ways to increase the show's "drama" to make it more compelling viewing. There are interview segments interspersed with sequences where Billie films the crew arguing. The crew have to take part, or risk breaching their contracts — which could mean their families back on Earth lose their preferential housing. (There are tons of hints that Earth is one huge ecological cesspool, and liveable dry land is at a premium, with long waitlists for housing.)
The show's most freaky character — sort of a cross between Gaius Baltar and Brother Cavil — is Roger Fallon. He's the ship's therapist (and may have to take over as doctor if Meyer is incapacitated.) But he's also the producer and director of the ship's "reality TV" show, which places him in a weird conflict of interest. He's supposed to be listening to the crew's problems, even as he's urging Billie to create more "drama" to boost the show's ratings. He's a manipulative snake, who's a famous self-help guru with a book that's almost as popular as the Bible back on Earth. We're clearly supposed to hate him and yet find him oddly compelling. His wife, Rika, is having a virtual reality affair with the ship's captain, Frank Pike. (Yes, the captain is really named Pike.)
Other simmering subplots: Manny and Val, a gay couple, have been stuck on galley duty and hate cooking, plus they're bad at it. Another married couple, Alice and Kenji, are having sex in weird spots all over the ship and trying to keep it secret for some reason. (Plus it seems as though Alice had an abortion so she could go on the Phaeton's space flight, and her sister just had a baby back on Earth.) Billie is adjusting to being the host of the "reality TV" show, and her VR module is a hilarious scenario where she's a Joan Jett-esque rock star who's also a superspy. (And her band are all super-spies too.) Another character, a scientist named Jules Braun, is having the computer create a virtual reconstruction of his dead son, Shawn.
Bottom line: It's a bleak and disturbing look at the effects of a long space trip on humans, as dark in its own way as Battlestar Galactica. It sort of reminded me of the underrated film Sunshine, in the focus on psychological drama in cramped quarters, plus the dangerous repair sequence and the fact that the ship has a hydroponic garden. But the "reality TV" aspect adds a whole extra sardonic layer to the cake. [Thanks to Lukas for the heads up]