Vigil TV Review (Spoilers)
It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed something and with lockdown dragging on I’ve watched quite a bit. Just recently, a friend and I watched the BBC’s big Sunday night submarine drama, Vigil (it was the biggest new drama to air in the UK this year and by the production company behind Line of Duty no less!). So, what did I think? Well, if I’m honest, though it certainly started with a strong pilot episode, it was no Line of Duty. Not by a long shot. And before everyone comes at me, yes, I liked the finale of LOD Series 6 and thought it was pretty much the only way the show was ever going to end (someday I shall blog about Line of Duty, but not this day).
So what was Vigil about? A navy crewmember is murdered aboard HMAS Vigil and because the sub is still in Scottish waters, it becomes a police investigation. DCI Silva (Suranne Jones) is flown out onto the sub and must face off a murderer, PTSD from a nasty watery incident from her past and possible WW3 while her lover, a fellow police officer (Rose Leslie), must investigate another connected murder on land.
The submarine story is rooted in reality via the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons program, a program that is highly contentious in Scotland where the subs are kept offshore in Scottish waters. I follow a couple of Scottish independence blogs here and there out of interest and from what I can gather Trident is part of the argument for independence – why should Scotland host weapons they didn’t ask for and don’t want? Certainly, the two major pro-independence parties, the SNP and the Greens, are anti-Trident. Here then, is an interesting premise for a show. I was hoping for an even-handed, Honourable Woman style look at the case for and against Trident in the guise of a murder mystery conspiracy thriller …
Alas, what I got was something much more boring and unbelievable and well … predictable. Incidentally, it’s the same reason I never liked Bodyguard, which threw away it’s unique, thought-provoking themes halfway through by dispatching Keeley Hawe’s home secretary in favour of a dull Jihadist evil villain plot with bonus Islamaphobia. I don’t watch political thrillers just to be entertained (though certainly, plenty of people watch TV this way and that’s fine). I watch because I want to think, to be educated, to be challenged. That was a bit hard with Vigil when the main story ended up centering on the villainy of the Russians (boo, hiss) and ultimately, a fairly conservative claim that Trident is necessary to protect the UK and its way of life. A claim, I might add, that was never adequately substantiated by evidence within the show itself.
I don’t tend to go in for nationalism, especially when no valid reason for it is really given in the story (the Russian thing felt like a way to specifically not engage with the issues with Trident in favour of positioning the trusty subs against cartoon evil villains in the Russians in a kind of false dichotomy), so this didn’t impress me much. Not to mention, I didn’t buy the way the writer talked about environmentalists and the anti-nuclear peace camp (apparently, the camp agrees with me because they refused to let the BBC film them for the show), nor did I like how the ostensibly SNP MP was depicted. This was a show with an agenda, and it wasn’t one I liked.
Having said that, I can usually handle conservative themes I don’t agree with in a drama and still like it (even if it may not become a fave). I watched all ten series of Spooks and Series 7 also has an ‘it iz alwayz ze Russians’ theme with the trusty spies versus the nation-state enemy and I loved it. Similarly, I’m a shameless Bond fanatic and don’t mind Marvel in moderation. I even gave Dark Knight Rises a decent film score even with its uncomfortable conservative agenda. If the story works thematically, or in terms of character and plot I won’t mind too much. Alas, Vigil’s plot got wilder and wilder by the week, with coincidences and bad decisions galore. Not to mention, a completely implausible escape out of a missile tube at the start of episode six.
In addition, Vigil felt like a show that didn’t know what story it wanted to tell. At first, it sold itself as a political conspiracy thriller (which is how I got sucked in because that’s my jam), then it turned into a kind of Agatha Christie on a submarine concept, then it morphed midway through into a modern day Cold War nation state thriller and then it turned into a blend of horror film with character driven romance. I don’t have a problem as such with any of these genres, but it all got too muddled, especially by the finale.
Finally, the baddies were so obviously telegraphed there wasn’t much suspense for me in the end. I spent all of the finale waiting for an interesting plot twist that never came. Indeed, a whole section of the internet guessed the murderous culprits by about episode two because of the obvious foreshadowing. And then there were the characters. I quite liked Rose Leslie. In fact, she was easily the best part of the show alongside the opening credits, but Suranne Jones (who to be fair, I don’t usually mind) felt fairly oppressive. Her character was constantly stressed, aggressive, put upon and depressed, which while I understand was the script, got a bit wearing particularly on top of the claustrophobia of the submarine setting itself.
In the end I was frustrated, incredulous and more than a little bored by the whole thing, though at least the same sex couple didn’t get fridged and ended up happy. That was something. Still, there’s talk of a Series 2. Dear God, no.