2 out of 5
Created by: Tom Edge
I’ve been a fan of Suranne Jones ever since becoming addicted to Scott & Bailey, and then witnessing her comedy chops in A Touch of Cloth. I’ve been intrigued to see Rose Leslie again since her role in The Good Fight, in which she turned a somewhat obnoxious character into something more endearing and then devious, if all while affecting a fried American accent. Vigil provides both of these actors an intriguing premise to flex their procedural cop show skills, with Jones a DCI involving a murder case aboard a submarine – which cannot surface for the investigation except to take her on as a passenger – and Leslie a DSI on dry land, putting the pieces of a related conspiracy together, but it is some painful dramaturgy when it fleshes out either character’s background in flashbacks, and is also rife with the kind of frustrating interactions in which people say exactly the “right” kinds of things to just create TV tension, while not feeling remotely realistic at all. Our writers also chose a rather baffling way in to the story, trying to forefront a crazy spectacle – our titular submarine, Vigil, seems to have snagged a fishing boat on the surface, dragging it, and its crew, underwater – which is very confusingly tied to events in a way that’s not addressed until several episodes in.
But this idea is sound: that Britain’s nuclear deterrant submarine must stay on constant submerged patrol, and has very limited communications for security reasons; a crewmember dies from – we’re told – an overdose, and is still subject to rules of routine investigation, hence needing to call on a solo officer who can go and close the case. The Navy wants this over and done so they can get back to business, of course, but the assigned DCI – Amy Silva – rather immediately identifies all not being what it seems, unlocking spiraling events below and above water. I mean, that’s solid! A built-in locked room mystery with enforced isolation of the lead, and being able to “cheat” a bit with the on-land investigation adding the background. There’s some immediate bullshit in that Silva is claustrophobic due to a past tragedy rather exactly triggered by the submarine – surely she was the right choice for this job – but okay, fine, TV’s gotta TV, we’ll allow that. Unfortunately, the flashes of fear Silva experiences are shot and written with an extreme veneer of sappiness, and then the show starts to double-down by tying Jones and Leslie together in a similarly sappy fashion; any moment the show switches over to flashback, tension and immersion and quality all dip or disappear.
When the actual case is in motion, though, it’s good stuff, and our show’s writers apply the excessiveness of the flashbacks to crafting continual hijinx aboard the Vigil for Silva to tackle, making sure we’re not just wandering down limited sub hallways the whole time.