Vigil Episode 4 Review: Who’s Been Russian Around Committing Sa-boat-age?!

There’s a traitor on board HMS Vigil! Will DCI Silva get out of this packed spy story alive? Spoilers.

Vigil Episode 4 Rose Leslie Suranne Jones
Photo: BBC/World Pictures

Warning: this review contains Vigil spoilers.

The Russians! We’ve been expecting you. After all, where would a Second Cold War submarine thriller be without a Piotr or a Fyodor? Sunk, probably. Forget the blackmail and bad blood theories: new intelligence suggests that Jade and Craig were murdered by Soviets because they’d stumbled onto Russia’s top secret plan for HMS Vigil

What plan, you ask? Judging by the spies’ interest in Vigil’s ventilation system, it’s either to subtly undermine Western democracy by messing with the boat’s air-con settings, or to suffocate the crew in a tragic ‘accident’ that pushes the UK into voting against renewing its nuclear deterrent. Or perhaps that pushes them into voting for it? Look, I’m not a Russian spy, I don’t know how they think. (Piotr, I think they bought that. See you on the bridge at midnight.) 

That’s right: the British Navy’s zero tolerance policy on Russian spies is working about as well as the one it has on drugs, bullying and murder. There’s a traitor in Vigil’s midst and they’re causing no end of trouble. By the looks of things, they bribed cook Jackie to poison Craig Burke in exchange for her son’s release from Indonesian prison. Then they jimmied a lock to a thing to force a nuclear reactor shutdown, for reasons unknown. Then, when cook Jackie came under suspicion, they poisoned her, and finally, they sabotaged the boat’s communications wire so that no more coded messages could pass from DS Longacre and DCI Silva, threatening their scheme.  

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Having reached the bit where the cook turns up dead and somebody cuts the phone lines, Vigil’s murder mystery plot is sticking close to its Agatha Christie roots. If things continue in this direction, Silva’s got two episodes to think up a reason to gather all 137 surviving crew members in one room for a finger-pointing monologue in which she reveals that the Coxswain is actually the secret lovechild of Captain Newsome and did it all for the inheritance. 

Atmosphere-wise, episode four didn’t feel at all Agatha Christie. Director Isabelle Sieb served up a kind of submarine sandwich – a noir gloom investigation filled with a lustrous romance in the flashbacks sketching out Silva and Longacre’s relationship. The cold, dark, and tense world of the case was spliced with the hand-held, intimate glow of their love affair. The source of that glow was largely Rose Leslie, who’s proving a floodlight in this sombre world. Those scenes not only provided much-needed variety for Silva’s character and gave us something to cheer on – with Longacre now working against the clock to both unveil the traitor and save the woman she loves – they also showcased just how great Leslie is on screen. From tackling Russian agents to the ground to chatting up hotties at the  cup-a-soup machine, she can do it all. More lead roles for her please. 

And more stuff about spy codes hidden in pictures of halibut too, plus more flashing light, klaxon-blaring bits, in which all the the back’afties (great name for a submarine-based male voice choir, btw) run around looking grave and the Captain has to pull a little curtain around himself like he’s trying something on in a Debenhams changing room. That was an exciting opening scene, from the red joystick that launches the nuclear missiles to the torpedo tubes opening up to fulfil the firing orders. Good job it was just a drill for Craig Burke’s sake; still stored in one of those tubes, that wee corpse would be halfway to Iceland by now.

Silva should be cut some slack. Her response to waking up mid an act of nuclear warfare while cold turkeying from her meds and with a possible concussion was relatively sedate. (I’ve certainly done worse after falling asleep and missing my stop on the last train.) First the Captain called her unfit and then Glover called her deranged. So far, she’s anything but, having sniffed out most of a mystery under the most hostile conditions. Both men though, may well have a vested interest in everyone thinking Silva a lunatic, considering her bullshit-detection success rate. 

It’s now imperative that Vigil’s traitor is uncovered (Captain Newsome? The Coxswain? Kiely? Hadlow? CPO Doward, on whom the camera kept teasingly lingering?), before the Russian asset enacts their scheme and everybody carks it. In that secret thumb drive video, Craig Burke said he could think of at least 20 different ways to kill Vigil’s crew. Just blow them sky high, Guy / Poison their scran, Stan / Smash in their heads, Fred / Stop ‘em from breathing, Stephen… With just two episodes remaining, Longacre and Silva – last seen being tackled to the ground by what looked like the Coxswain in a gas mask – need to shake a leg, Greg.

Vigil continues on Sunday the 26th of September at 9pm on BBC One. 

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