What is the scariest thing about Fox's Virtuality? The ship's engineer has this idea

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Virtuality, the upcoming Fox sci-fi "movie" that began life as a series pilot, centers on the starship Phaeton, which is on a 10-year mission to a distant star, and its troubled crew, who make use of "virtual reality modules" to stave off boredom and psychological issues on the way.

But in talking exclusively with cast member Erik Jensen, who plays ship's engineer Dr. Jules Braun, we learn a bit more about how the VR modules bring the crew members' inner turmoil to life in disturbing ways.

"Dr. Braun is probably the most seemingly centered member of the crew, and probably the most internally conflicted," Jensen said last week. "They're embarking on this trip to [the star Epsilon] Eridani to basically save the world. But Dr. Braun is actually sort of trying to run from his past. He experienced a personal tragedy, he and his wife, that he's trying to both run from and pretend never happened. And, of course, no matter where you go, even if you don't have a suitcase, your baggage follows you."

Virtuality—which Ronald D. Moore produced with fellow Battlestar Galactica alumnus Michael Taylor—follows the crew (including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sienna Guillory and James D'Arcy) of the Phaeton, a ship on a 10-year journey through space. To help pass the time and relieve stress, the crew members enjoy the benefits of a virtual-reality system, but things take a dark turn when a virus taints the program. Oh, and did we mention that everything happening on the Phaeton is being filmed and aired back on Earth as, yes, a reality show?

"Even getting millions and millions of miles from Earth isn't going to help him," Jensen says of his character. "And, in essence, that's really what ... a lot of the series is about. You know, these sorts of demons that haunt us are much more frightening than the ones that are out there in the universe somewhere. I've said before that I think that this isn't about outer space so much as it's about inner space, and that's an infinitely more terrifying place to travel."

The show places its characters into a stylized and unsettling hyper-reality when they are in their VR modules. "The only thing I can compare the feeling to is like sort of being fully immersed in a really interesting video game," Jensen says. "The feeling I get when I'm watching it is sort of the same feeling I got when I was playing Myst—you remember Myst? That video game from many years ago? There's something unsettling happening, but it's happening internally with the characters. It's not an unsettling thing that's happening with the external grit and the sort of look with the piece. The camera floats as it follows people. Whereas in Battlestar, the camera sort of smashed back and forth between people, so there's this unsettling mystery feeling. I sort of guess the pitch for it would be, you know, Sunshine meets Lost."

Virtuality airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET/PT.