Review: Virtuality (TV Pilot)

A fresh new pilot from Ronald D. Moore (best known for his reimagining of Battlestar Galactica). Like Caprica, this pilot comes way before the series. Unlike Caprica, the series has yet to be picked up. As with all pilots, the main point of it is to lay out all the characters and star the ball rolling for some of the series-long plot points. While some may have their own sub-story, Virtuality one long story rather than a show made up of individual ones – just like Battlestar Galactica (although BSG did have the odd “individual” episodes, like Scar).

Virtuality jumps straight into life on the ship, which is being filmed and turned into a TV show for viewers at home. Each character is fully fleshed out and you learn bits and bobs about their past throughout the episode. The crew are extremely well written and come off as real people. They aren’t heroes, they’re just normal (well…they seem normal for a bunch of intelligent people with big fancy degrees) people. Their mission is simply to spend 10 years reaching a star – it’s just them and the ship for the whole series. No aliens, no space fights. It’s a pretty good job that they’ve nailed the interaction between the crew. It’s not really easy to describe, nor is there really a simple way to categorise each character, but they’re more realistic than most shows out there.

Naturally, 10 years is a long time for a small group of people. Luckily for them, they can enter their own personal virtual reality. While this aspect also appears in Caprica, it’s treated more as a personal thing rather than a big, shared virtual internet (although they can join someone else’s VR if they’re invited). The morals behind this also more prominent than in Caprica. If something is this realistic, should it be treated as so? Or is it fine to kill virtual people no matter how realistic they look. I don’t know what it is about the way they filmed it, but these simulations look like a fantasy and yet they look real at the same time…there’s just something about the way they feel…it’s like a dream.

The morals of the virtual reality escalate when some kind of glitch or virus starts appearing. He shoots the captain (unlike The Matrix, your body can’t be damaged…but you still feel the pain) and throws the doctor (who discovered he has Parkinson’s while on the ship) of a painted cliff (that particular scene looks beautiful). The biggest moral dilemma, however, was when this virtual reality glitch rapes a member of the crew. Even so, it remains unknown as to if this “virus” has it’s own agenda, of if it’s playing out the crew’s deepest, darkest fantasies.

After the crew go past the “Go, No-Go” point, with the captain and doctor’s decisions being influenced by his “afterlife” experience from their simulated death, there is what seems to be a small malfunction on the outside for the ship (unlike most shows, they don’t make it out to be a massive problem that would mean that they all die). So they prepare to head outside to fix it. This lack of tension massively heightens the surprise in store – the airlock closes with just the captain inside without a helmet. Then it opens, killing him.

The second in command deems the situation as an accident, however the ship’s designer knows that a simple short circuit wouldn’t cause the airlock to open – someone had rigged it. The only person who has a major problem is the producer of the ship’s reality show – although he doesn’t find out about his wife’s virtual affair with the captain until after his death. It could be the “virus”, or it could be that the captain did it himself (due to the enjoyment of his virtual death).

The producer’s wife find the captain’s VR glasses in her room and ends up in his wild west simulation. She find the captain, who seems to be alive and well in his virtual world. Did the computer download his mind? Is it just her fantasy? Or is the mission and the ship simply not real?

Of course, there’s a lot of stuff that I haven’t touched. Such as how the show uses a lot of CCTV cameras for the footage (although a usual camera is used when needed) and how you never see Earth. According to the people who are sending the crew on their mission, climate change will make the planet inhabitable in 100 years, although it isn’t clear if this is actually true.

Virtuality is a brilliant set-up for what could be a brilliant show. The characters are great and there’s plenty of great plot elements ready to be explored throughout the series. However, it’s rather lacking as a stand-alone “TV film” (it’s unlikely to become anything more as Fox are idiots), due to the long introduction and lack of a conclusion. The biggest challenge it has to face is finding an audience, as it’s clearly not what the general TV population wants.

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