Virtuality, The Pilot Episode
From Battlestar Galactica, creator Ronald D. Moore brings us a story about twelve astronauts who are set out on a mission in space in search for the crucial answers to the survival of humanity as Earth may become inhabitable due to many natural disasters and crisis that have arisen over the recent years. These twelve individuals have signed on for ten years venturing further away from home and deep into space, into another solar system, to find these "go or no go" answers; amongst this is that there is a reality show within the show itself. The astronauts are being recorded daily and their personal lives will broadcast down to Earth in documentation of their journey, which causes some drama between the crew members. The only means for privacy are these virtual modules (similar to the Holobands seen in Caprica) which allows them to find escapism throughout the duration of this ten year mission. They can become anyone, do anything and have their own little world all to themselves without being interrupted and overseen by billions of viewers.
Trouble occurs when there's a glitch within the module system. Some avatar character pops into each and every one of the crew's modules and ends up killing them or harming them in a physically dangerous manner, and this stirs up worry and even psychological distress over what could be causing it or who hacked the system. The ending of the show leaves with one of the main characters, the commander of the mission, dead due to a possible "accident" although some suspect it was murder, as his behavior started to change after his encounter with the virtual intruder.
The show leaves us on a mysterious note, having us question the moralities of situations, such a virtual assaults versus physical assaults, the character drama, the depth in which things can head towards and so forth. While not everything is clear based on this one episode, but knowing RDM things can head towards all kinds of directions.
Initial Reactions and Afterthoughts
When first coming into this show I only knew some things about it, that Ron D. Moore was attached to the project and that Clea DuVall was in the main cast. Other than that and some of the descriptions and saw a few clips, I didn't know what the expect from this. I'll be honest, the beginning didn't really grab my attention that much. The mixture of flashy and shiny technology in a flashy future, everything so clean-cut and there's talking gadgets and whatnot, that stuff doesn't appeal to me. Aesthetics may be pretty, but I like the realistic grittiness in my scifi shows, like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly and even Supernatural. Not shit like you see in Stargate Atlantis. I start to get bored when there's stuff like that, even more when they're talking nonsensical technological talk that actually doesn't exist.
However this is Ron Moore, and much like Joss Whedon there are plenty of things that he can do to surprise and shock you.
It didn't take long for everything to pick up, for me to be engaged within these characters and their stories that were just introduced to me. Character drama is something I like, their journey and story and just focusing on the characters and how they deal with situations. We see that with the commander, Pike, and how he deals with the psychological effect of meeting this strange virtual avatar in his module and how it affects him during the latter half of the pilot, and the reactions from the rest of the characters after his untimely demise. These characters have the similar family/crew effect as seen in Joss Whedon's Firefly, the diversity of these characters instead of having the stereotypical kind of crew (we have two gay male cooks who are together, a biracial couple and a hardass female pilot). That alone made me interested in these characters and how they were placed together, of course one could also say this was another aspect of the whole "reality show" angle within the show; adding a group of people with different personalities, views and backgrounds because somewhere down the line drama will ensue, even more when they're all couped up inside a starship for ten freaking years together.
There's the characters, and then there's the mystery with this avatar stranger. Who is he? Where did he come from? Is he a virus, a hallucination, a glitch that someone did purposefully trying to make the crew go insane and fall apart? A machine taking on its own conscious mind? That is something that, if the show gets picked up for more episodes, should be addressed and looked into more than we did in the pilot. It has gotten me curious about the whole thing, though.
And the more the episode went one, the darker the atmosphere became. The psychological aspects dealing with virtual reality assaults, the morality over what constitutes as real and fictional in that virtual module. And with character relationships, there are issues over friendships, deteriorating mental states, secret love affairs via modules without the other knowing, etc. There are a lot of aspects to this show that can be explored deeper if it continues, which I am looking forward to.
Virtuality: Morality Issues and Complexities
If there's anything I like about a show is its ability to push the envelope and go to places that no other show would dare show or step into. Ronald D. Moore has shown us this time and again during Battlestar Galactica from its beginning to its end, and there was no doubt he add that within this series as well. While this show doesn't have political or religious issues or the hardship of war times, it does have that personal sense of morality in what a person deems right or wrong in certain contexts. One of these issues heavily discussed in this episode was Billie's rape in one of her modules.
It was uncomfortable to watch, even though it wasn't as graphic as Athena's rape scene in the BSG episode "Pegasus", the implications where there that she was helpless, powerless and scared, even if it was inside her head via her virtual world. She couldn't get out, and when she could the damage had already been done to her psychologically.
The conversation with the rest of the crew concerning what happened was mixed, giving us precisely the mentality of how some people think in regards to something like this. Not just the whole virtual assault thing but rape in general, and how one would describe something like rape as just a physical or a psychological thing. Most of those opinions were made by the men of the crew, as all the women there stated straightforward it was a violation of someone and was wrong, but one of the male crew basically didn't understand what the big deal was since she wasn't physically hurt. That the modules weren't real and can be considered like a bad dream, like the module is some video game. The psychological aspect doesn't even compute to his notion at all, which is completely insensitive and cold to what happened to poor Billie. It's like the whole "you can't rape a machine" defense in regards to Athena and to Gina, they're machines, they are not human, they have no real feelings therefore physically and sexually assaulting them is not defined as rape. Not that I don't think the crew is split on how horrific rape is, but the issue about virtual realities versus the physical world is something of much debate.
But the point is, as given from the consoling conversation started by Sue to Billie, the physical act doesn't even register to the victim because it is all psychological. Rape is still rape, no matter what context it's in. I found that scene very touching between Billie and Sue were butting heads since the beginning, but now they've come to an understanding and respect. I think they would make a great team together if they can set aside their differences, which I think they have because of this incident.
Needless to say, this was a ballsy move to make for a pilot episode. Most shows wouldn't think about doing something like that. I'm actually surprised that FOX aired it given the context of something so serious. But this is something that should be discussed more often in the media, and I'm happy they discussed it further in the show instead of it being just something that happened and then moving on for Billie to deal with it on her own. She's not alone, and that's the great thing about it. It's also interesting because here on LiveJournal we just had some meta-posts regarding the very topic of men and rape and how some men think about rape in general, and then we have this show that goes further in that regard. I find it fascinating, if a little disturbing.
Another issue that came up are contraindications about being on the mission. One of the crew has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. It's in early stages, but something like that could make them return home as it would compromise their mission if it becomes too serious. Granted these people are going to be stuck there for the duration of ten years and illnesses are expected to happen I'm sure, but while they have medication they aren't equipped to deal with such issues that require a lot of medical attention.
But this brings up some questions of how much supply do they have? How much of the necessities are they living on in the starship? Even the Galactica had shortages of supplies, including proteins for food, and they spent four years with their civilian fleet. How can these people survive ten years? I know they are growing plants and gardens aboard, we see them eating a lot of leafy greens in the mess room so obviously there's vegetation, but otherwise what about medications? What if they encounter something foreign in space that is contaminated? There is a lot to think about with that, if they are worried about someone being diagnosed with something like Parkinson's. Of course, Pike did mention there is a long list of things that could compromise their entire mission, so obviously they aren't without complications. I just hope they address more of these issues later on.
Other than that, the show has a vast of complexities. From the characters to the plot, the issues about technology and the modules, where they are going and what's going to happen to these people in the long run. Lots of mysteries to unravel, and whether they can solve them or if there's something else at work here.
Things I Liked About The Pilot:
++ It has that Firefly appeal, particularly in the beginning scene with Pike's module. It had that cowboy thing going on. There's also the diversity of the crew, creating this family unit, including lighter humor than what Battlestar Galactica had. But it also has that Ron Moore touch, where nothing is what it appears to be. Of course the ending gives it that bitterness and at how utterly different this is. Think of it like what would happen if Mal had died and the crew of Serenity had to venture off alone without him as captain. That's the feeling I got from Pike's death. That and instead of Zoe, how would it be if Jayne was placed in command. Yep.
++ Sue. Yeah, she may seem like Starbuck a bit with her brashness, but I'm biased because it's Clea DuVall. To me, she can do no wrong.
++ Billie. She looks like a combination of AJ Cook and Leighton Meester. But I really am intrigued with her, because I felt for her situation regarding the rape incident and just, yeah. The poor dear. If anything I want to see her get this virtual sonofabitch that did that to her, with the help of Sue of course.
++ Oh, and her module with her thinking she was a Japanese superstar/special agent? I don't know why, but that amuses me.
++ The fact that the starship looks similar to the Zephyr ship in Battlestar Galactica.
++ The hologram technology via goggles/eyewear. RDM uses this as a vital part in Caprica and he's using it again for this show. Not that I'm complaining, I like the complexities of such technology because it is a reality, or becoming a reality for us today. They even have the ePaper within the show, which I think is awesome. Also, using data of someone to create an image/memories within an avatar or your surroundings in a module. It's that same explanation used in Caprica that with the right collection of data you can recreate someone, such as yourself or someone else within virtual programming perimeters.
++ I really love Alice/Kenji and Val/Vinny, the two gay cooks. They are excellent additions and I think they're cute as couples.
++ The whole idea of them being on a reality show within the show itself, and the mystery of whether they are really being broadcast back on Earth (or my theory, if Earth had been destroyed once they left, or they are being controlled by the government....crack!theories and cracky right now, I'm exploring all possibilities and scenarios). Really adds to the drama for these characters, especially with the need for the modules which are now being hacked into. Also with the confessionals by the characters, and even the lolarious "airing on FOX" on the reality show preview within the show, considering that the FOX network is producing this show they feel the need to boost their egos more. I see what you did thar, FOX, lol.
++ The mystery with this avatar dude and whether he's real or a virus or something else entirely.
Things That Needs Improvement:
++ More explanation or revisiting why they're out there on that mission and what possessed these people to get involved. I know there was the mini-intro with the reality show commerical and all and the crew's little confessionals in the beginning, but I feel like we could have some possible flashbacks or something or a bit more backstory and the whys and hows and such. I don't know, I feel like there needs to be more about it other than tragedies on Earth and the need to find a solution.
++ The love affair between Rika and Pike, with Rika's husband not in the know until the last moments in the pilot. I think I would like to know more about their marriage and whether Rika was, indeed, displeased with her relationship with her husband and why. I don't like cheating and even in a virtual reality their feelings definitely transcended into reality, and that is how her husband found out through the videofeed of Pike saying "I love you" before he was nearly sucked out of the airlock. I would love for them to explore this relationship further, but I don't like cheating or unfaithfulness between spouses.
++ Obviously this avatar guy is something to be explored more if the show picks up, but I do feel we need a bit more than what we'd gotten in the pilot. It was nice for introduction to a potential threat to the crew, and obviously changed something within Pike for him to become so erratic towards the end leading up to his death. We just need more followups, which I'm sure RDM has planned.
++ Less of the useless shots of the starship and its Hull cam stuff. Yeah I know, nifty effects and shit, but seriously, unless it's with Cylon raiders or vipers having spacebattles no need for pointless shots in space. Just saying.
++ Pacing. I know, I know. This is the pilot and the pacing will be different with its normal hour run as opposed to this two hour, but better pacing in future episodes would be swell.
Overall: Virtuality definitely has a lot of potential and promise, yet another creation from the mind of Ronald D. Moore. I'm already anticipating more of Caprica, so this also makes it with another highly anticipated RDM which I hope gets more episodes. It's airing on FOX so, you never know with that network. I mean, they renewed Dollhouse which was a shocker, but I don't really expect much miracles from them but I think they should at least give it a shot. Too bad the show couldn't be shown on SciFi since FOX is producing it, oh well. But I really do think this show has much to offer us. A lot of complexities and character developments, mystery and intrigue, and the fact that it's not your typical scifi show with the spaceships and such is something I like, because it deals with human issues like morality and ethics and the "what what you do in such a situation?" kind of questions. Because this is a RDM show of course he would have those kinds of questions for the audience, and even the difficult and uncomfortable moments leaving you to think afterwards.
Would I recommend this show to people? Absolutely! But with a fair warning beforehand, of course, because this isn't a show for anybody due to its very mature nature in subject matter. But I think I just found another potential new fandom to appreciate.
I'm planning on writing my Caprica review sometime as well, since I had started to be never finished due to rl interferences, but writing this has rekindled it.