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Vigil - Episode 1 - Review

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Vigil is the hit new show that is from the same production company as Line of Duty and Bodyguard, and it very much wants youto know that it’s from the same production company as Line of Duty and Bodyguard. Debuting last night on BBC One with episodes airing tonight before moving to its weekly Sunday timeslot, Vigil pulled us right back into a power play between the police and the navy, with the heavy shadow of nuclear warheads like Trident keeping this far-fetched drama grounded in reality. There are few better premises for a mystery than keeping every character in a centralised location on board a submarine in the middle of the ocean – and Vigil promises a feast of tension and suspense in the next few weeks. Appointment television hasn’t been this good since Line of Duty.

Speaking of Line of Duty, Martin Compston, the sheer balls on Vigil to do that to one of the actors from the UK’s most popular crime show of the year (regardless of your thoughts on how it ended), in the first ten minutes, represents unmatched confidence that the writers have in their drama and pull out all of the twists to keep you hooked. This is a show that you won’t want to read up spoilers on (so if you’re reading this without watching the pilot first, what are you doing? Go and watch it now.), this is a show designed to keep you guessing and Vigil offered no easy way out. Compston’s Chief Petty Officer Burke, mere seconds after he’s introduced – standing up for intervention on a trawler that ends up capsizing, costing the lives of everyone on board – but his Commander and the crew remains steadfast in their policy of zero intervention.

We later find out this is because HMS Vigil is one of the nuclear deterrents that the UK must keep in active waters; and if the enemy becomes aware of their location, then the UK loses their first line of defence. One thing this show is sure to trigger is a debate around why countries still need nuclear arsenals – and Vigil gives sides to both arguments in its premiere. But Burke is relieved of his watch and winds up dead, and because this happened in UK waters rather than international waters, where the navy would have dealt with this situation internally, DCI Amy Silva (misspelled Silver by the navy in an on-the-nose link to Treasure Island - too similiar to be an accidential coincidence), played by the wonderful Surrane Jones, is called into investigate as she’s believed to be the best available. But Amy has demons of her own – she has a traumatic past linked to claustrophobia which we later find out because she was involved in a car crash that lead to the death of her husband and child, and she’s thrust into a world where the navy point blank refuse to cooperate on her investigation. One thing that I’m a bit weary of perhaps given its recent exposure in many dramas is the reliance on a traumatic past to add weight to the characters that has some relation to the plot in the present day – Mare of Easttown put Mare through a similar plot device a few months ago. Now Vigil does the same with Silva. It’s powerful when used correctly, but requires a delicate hand to pull off. “How are you in confined spaces?” Rear Admiral Shaw (Stephen Dillane) asks, a bit too knowingly smug. We’ll see how Vigil handles it.

Commander Neil Newsome (Paterson Joseph) is refusing to play ball, saying that he’ll only answer to his superiors which include the Prime Minister. Silva that if she so much as hints as to the fact it might be murder, she’ll be confined to her quarters for the three days that she’s on HMS Vigil. Even three days isn’t an ideal situation for her – if the navy were cooperating, the ship would be pulled ashore. Even the walking, talking HR department CPO Elliot Glover (Shaun Evans), tells the Commander everything that she’s been doing after giving her a rundown on life in a submarine. The balance gender roles on board is virtually non-existent - 140 men and 8 women make up the crew of HMS Vigil. It’s an environment where everyone looks out for their own, and dropping Silva into this world is not something the navy will be too keen to cooperate with, closing ranks around their dead colleague in a bid to prevent a scandal which they desperately don’t need. Protest groups are forming around the navy base and we learn that Burke was secretly dating one of their number who flew herself in front of Silva’s car on the way to the base – Jade Antoniak (Lauren Lyle), who has some interesting revelations about Burke that give Silva the heads up that something is dodgy. But letting Jade go too early without asking more questions may prove to be a mistake – and it probably won’t be long before we get another confrontation between the pair.

Jade is quick to tip off Longacre (Rose Leslie) that something is amiss. Longacre is more perosonally connected with Silva than first apparent - in addition to being Silva’s confident on land who she was also once romantically involved with her, giving the pair a past connection that allows them to employ coded shorthand to avoid the navy's oversight and give the police an ability to keep some secrets. Silva asks Longacre to stay at her flat while she’s gone and look after a beloved cat, but Longacre has more to do than just sit by the side-lines. Longacre does some digging of her own that could wind her in trouble with the naval officers on land after finding a USB stick in a hollow chair leg, finding a self-filmed video of Burke claiming corruption aboard the ship. Burke knows a million different ways to kill a navy officer on board the ship and make it look like an accident. And now – he’s one of the victims.

Peace is an illusion. We’ve always been at war,” Newsome says in a glooming statement that gives Silva immediate cause for concern. These guys are clear Hawks – despite their intention of remaining in the shadows. The second they’re given the order to use nuclear warheads they will use them without hesitation. Newsome also offers a frightening prospect after the trawler was pulled down by a boat: “If we’ve been successfully shadowed by an enemy boat, that is the single most frightening development in submarine warfare in my lifetime.” There could be a hostile vessel out there right under their noses – and they have absolutely no idea where it is, or if it knows their location.

And now things turn south. Silva is forced into a red-alert situation when alarms start ringing throughout the ship. The reactor has crashed and the ship is in a severe case of systems failure. In terms of cliffhangers, Vigil’s best decision was making us only wait until Monday to find out what happens next in order to keep the events of yesterday’s episode fresh on our minds going in. The script from Lovesick’s Tom Edge is nail bitingly tense with the shadow of Jed Mercurio tropes lying heavy over its premiere, but thankfully this is better than BBC’s other Mercurio-influenced prestige crime drama starring James Nesbitt, Bloodlands, which ended on a whimper rather than a bang. But speaking of Nesbitt, Compston’s appearance here is very reminiscent of Nesbitt’s brief cameo in Line of Duty – won’t mean much to those who don’t watch UK crime dramas regularly, and will have no impact on the bearing of the plot - but for those who do – it’s a massive easter egg.

Early predictions: the cook definitely knows more than what she’s letting on and was smart enough to keep in the background. It feels too early though to be dropping this amount of hints in her direction with much of the storyline to play, but then again, nobody is exactly innocent and there are a number of suspects. What’s more is that there’s nowhere to run for them – their best hope is making sure Silva never finds out what they did, if indeed, it was a murder and not an overdose. Which of course – it was a murder. There’s too much evidence to suggest otherwise.

The cast is fascinating – Gentlemen Jack, Maya Rindell and Steve Arnott all in the same show means you know they’ll give it their all. And buckle up – we could be in for a very exciting few weeks. Blockbuster UK prestige television is back, a perfect sunday night pairing with BBC Two's calmer Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing half an hour before – it never really went away. I love that the UK gets The North Water from the 10th too, it looks like maritime season is full steam ahead. Mercifully at least - Vigil looks better than the last submarine thing I saw, the Gerard Butler star vehicle that was Hunter Killer.

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