Warning: contains plot spoilers for The Rig finale.
The Rig may have started out like a Doctor Who story missing the TARDIS, but it ended up as an absorbing eco-thriller fable. Creator David Macpherson’s series layers sci-fi invention over geological theory to tell a story about the environmental extinction and the survival of planet Earth.
Set aboard a remote Scottish oil rig (is there any other kind of Scottish oil rig?), the six-part series follows the crew of the Kinloch Bravo platform. Following a mysterious tremor and the loss of all communications with the outside, the rig is surrounded by a thick fog, stranding them at sea.
The crew learns that their workplace is scheduled for decommissioning by energy giant Pictor. Tensions flare, and crewmember Baz (Calvin Demba) is exposed to the fog and mysteriously survives what would have been a fatal fall. When Baz starts having visions and ranting about rings and waves, it’s clear that Something Weird is Happening.
That Something Weird turns The Rig into part virus-thriller, part conspiracy-thriller, part apocalyptic sci-fi. Let’s unpack what went down in that ending and look ahead to a possible second series.
Beneath the sea, dormant for millennia, is an intelligent microbial lifeform with a full slate of sci-fi properties. It’s phosphorescent, spreads at speed, is able to infect humans and alter their physiology, colonise environments with plant life, and convert oil back into organic matter. Emily Hampshire‘s Rose theorises that it could be the basis of life on Earth, hence the nickname the Kinloch Bravo crew give it – The Ancestor.
The Ancestor microbes enter some crewmembers’ bloodstreams carried by ash particles contained in the strange fog. They interact with blood cells to heal injuries in record time and ‘purify’ the body, causing it to shed non-organic materials such as metal fillings, piercings and tattoo ink. Baz, Leck, Garrow and Fulmer are all infected (Baz apparently most severely because the Ancestor effectively resurrected him from death after his fall from the tower, while the others were healed from lesser injuries). The Ancestor is able to communicate with and through them, using a form of bacterial communication known as Quorum Sensing.
Despite making Baz kill Alwyn (reader of thematically appropriate John Wyndham fantasy novel The Kraken Wakes), the Ancestor doesn’t want to hurt people, as seen when it recognises Cat’s pregnancy and chooses to protect the new life she represents. It wants to stop people from killing the planet by extracting oil from the seabed. It’s sent warnings but humanity hasn’t listened, and now the Sixth Extinction is imminent.
The Concentric Rings and Closing the Circle
In The Rig, the Ancestor is thought to have been what restarted life on Earth after past mass extinction events ended geological eras. Its concentric rings on the seabed (and implanted in the minds of its human hosts) represent the five previous mass extinction events that Earth has survived, one for each period, like the timeline rings inside a tree trunk. At the beginning of the series, the sixth circle, representing the next mass extinction event that will end human life on Earth, is almost fully but not quite closed.
When the Ancestor closes that final outside circle at the end of the penultimate episode, it signifies that the Sixth Extinction has begun. Humanity will be wiped out and it will re-start life on Earth after our removal, as it’s apparently done several times before.
Project Cirein, Coake’s Plan and the Pictor Cover-up
After Mark Addy’s character David Coake turns up (joining Magnus’ Iain Glen and Hutton’s Owen Teale as former Game of Thrones alumni), having escaped the now-destroyed Kinloch Charlie platform, we learned that Pictor knew all about the Ancestor and was already trying to kill it. Coake was part of Project Cirein, a top-secret operation designed to eliminate the microbial force that had been transforming Pictor’s oilfields back into organic matter. (Cirein, in a nice touch, is the name of a mythological Scottish sea monster.)
Coake had caused the explosion on Kinloch Charlie by using the drilling platform not to extract oil, but inject poison gas into the ocean bed in order to kill the Ancestor. Pictor wanted it dead because it threatened their business productivity, and they wrongly saw it as an enemy that was trying to kill them. That was the purpose of the unlisted containers on board the Bravo – they were filled with the poison gas that was to be used to fight the Ancestor. Coake set off the same process on the Bravo, but was stopped from completing it by Harish and co.’s quick thinking.
The Wave and the Next Great Dying
Rose and the others theorised that Earth was about to face the next “Great Dying”, an event that ended the Palaeozoic Era over 250 million years ago, almost making all life on Earth extinct. That process appeared to begin again in the series finale after the final circle closed.
The Sixth Extinction started with a repeat of the “Storegga Slide”, a series of undersea landslides at the Norwegian continental shelf that led to a gigantic tsunami in the North Atlantic Ocean in approx. 6000 BCE. A collapse on the ocean floor leads to a similar tsunami here, which threatens to hit the mainland in The Rig’s closing moments and to transform Northern Europe forever.
Baz’s Sacrifice and the Cliffhanger Ending
In the final moments of the finale, Magnus tried to convince Baz to join the rest of the survivors (Rose, Fulmer, Easter, Harish, Coake, Cat, Heather, Colin and Hutton) on the Pictor helicopters that were automatically summoned when Coake’s pre-arranged timer ran out. Baz though, refused to come, saying that the Ancestor needed proof that humanity was willing to make sacrifices. Baz sacrificed himself for the sake of the planet, and was last seen walking into a wall of light just before the tsunami struck the Kinloch Bravo. That means he may well have survived the wave, owing to the Ancestor’s regenerative powers and overall sci-fi weirdness.
Season 1 ended on a major cliffhanger, as the tsunami crashed over the platform and moved towards the mainland, where Cat’s wife Kacey watched it approach. The Kinloch survivors minus Baz flew above the wave, but instead of heading towards the beach, went in the direction of a mystery destination known only by Coake.
Unanswered Questions For Series 2
The Rig creator David Macpherson’s agent website stated earlier this week that “the team is currently developing series two”, a line which has since been removed from the copy. That doesn’t mean a second series is officially confirmed or not, but if Prime Video pushes ahead, then we can expect the sci-fi story of Baz, the Ancestor, the Sixth Extinction and Pictor’s cover-up to go global.
Baz’s fate is one of the major questions to be answered in a potential next instalment, along with that of fellow infectee Fulmer, and possibly Magnus (whose hand wound caused by his keepsake arrowhead could also have let the microbes into his bloodstream). Given the Ancestor’s many sci-fi attributes too, we’d have to ask whether exposure to it could have affected Cat’s pregnancy in some way? Will the organism spread as Coake fears, andcrucially, will humanity learn to collaborate with it instead of compete?
The Rig is available to stream on Prime Video.