Warning: this review contains Vigil spoilers.
“You’ll be on board for three days, finish your paperwork, then they’ll let you off on a raft,” DCI Silva was told. Small hope of that. More like you’ll be on board for three weeks, have zero time for paperwork between the near-misses with passing tankers, nuclear reactor failures and scheming Lieutenant Commanders, and, if you come any closer to the truth, they’ll only let you off as shark chum.
“They” being the person or persons responsible for the fatal poisoning of Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke. That’s right – poison. Silva’s such a good detective that in episode two, she solved Burke’s murder twice. First, she sniffed a trail to engineers Walsh and Hadlow, whose beef with Burke led him to a confrontation with Lt Cdr Prentice (Doctor Foster’s Adam James). Prentice thumped Burke, so when the CPO died hours later, Prentice assumed he’d killed him and invented the heroin story as cover. No sooner had Prentice confessed than Silva worked out that he couldn’t have been the killer; Burke had been poisoned.
It was good fun to watch Silva slice her unyielding way through the hostile crew. Engineer Gary Walsh (Game of Thrones’ Daniel Portman) tested her mettle and her patience in an entertainingly tense scene that ended with him splashing her with his urine sample. She was equal to it all – the provocation and the piss – only falling apart when locked in her cabin and overwhelmed by a Tragic Detective Flashback TM to the accident that killed her fiancé (but not their little girl, which adds another mystery to a growing pile, as she’s clearly not in that flat with Cat the cat).
In any other setting, Vigil’s murder investigation would be fine but unremarkable. What makes it special is, obviously, the submarine, which allows for a life-threatening emergency to occur roughly every 20 minutes. Episode two’s was a smash with a tanker missed only by a Rizla paper’s width. Having come up to periscope depth to burn diesel in lieu of power from the failed nuclear reactor, HMS Vigil found itself on collision course with a tanker that was completely unaware it came close to being torn open like a tin of tuna. Out came the naval lists of three: Dive! Dive! Dive! Go deep! Go deep! Go deep! Brace! Brace! Brace! Shit! Shit! Shit!
There was more extreme tension when, low on battery and unable to run on diesel at depth, the Captain ordered the nuclear reactor to be switched back on. A fiver says he was the one who turned it off in the first place. How else could Paterson Joseph’s character have remained so calm during the reboot despite everyone saying it was fifty-fifty all their eyeballs would melt the instant it was started up again? Either he’s got balls of steel (which you probably need to command four double decker buses and two football pitches’ worth of nuclear submarine) or he knew there was nothing wrong with it in the first place.
The conspiracy is starting to take shape. HMS Vigil is a troubled boat with a troubled Captain. Its equipment is worn out and a replacement is being prepared, but funding is controversial and locals object to Trident’s presence in Scotland. Who would it serve for the boat to malfunction? The Navy, the politicians, Russia? Whose secrets does Burke’s thumb drive contain? And is it likely that Coxswain “no touching rule” Glover (Endeavour’s Shaun Evans) is really as kind and helpful as he appears?
All that, and Rose Leslie’s DC Longacre had her own onshore investigation this time as she tracked down Craig Burke’s girlfriend, who only managed to outlive him by a matter of days. Whoever sent those goons to burgle Longacre is likely the same person as left Jade floating face down in that loch. Leslie’s great as Longacre, as no-nonsense and watchable as Jones is as Silva. The only weak link there is the necessity for clunky message-sending from shore to sea, as Longacre keeps Silva apprised of discoveries we’ve just watched her make. Useful for anybody snoozing at the back perhaps, but frustratingly repetitive for anyone already paying attention.
Submarine aside, the sheer volume of plot in Vigil also makes it remarkable. It gives us all the usual interrogation scenes and drip-fed clues we’re used to, plus constant danger, plus a parallel onshore investigation with its own masked attackers and murder to solve. It’s an abundance, the same joy as not choosing between chips, salad or corn on the cob on the side, but ordering them all at once and pigging out.
Vigil continues on Sunday the 5th of September at 9pm on BBC One.