Vigil (BBC One) concluded in nightmarishly claustrophobic style. Not content with sticking half of the cast on a large metal tube under water, it trapped noted hater-of-small-spaces DCI Amy Silva in a tiny metal tube under water, filled the tube with water, drained it of water, only for the larger metal tube to start filling with water, and honestly, after half an hour of tension like that, I needed a lie down, in a very big, wide, airy open space.
Vigil has given us six solid weeks of credulity-testing twists and turns, but it has never relented, and buckling up for the hour has been a large part of the fun. It is television from the Bodyguard school, expertly ramping up the stress until it becomes relentless, then adding another shocker into the mix, just because it can. Yes, it is far-fetched (at least, you must hope it is): HMS Vigil is the kind of submarine where a crew member could accidentally sit on the “launch nukes” button and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But it has been thrilling.
The finale did everything it needed to do. Of course the Russian asset was Doward; the sonar operator who was brand new, apparently failed to notice a massive tanker passing over the submarine, and looked very shifty indeed. He also appeared to become, in the tradition of all monstrous screen villains, briefly unkillable, like a T-1000 made of sinister glances, headphones and pure gall. Luckily for Silva, Prentice had, by chance, already flushed the tube before he came to rescue her (thank heavens for the “cancel tube flood cycle” button), eventually saving her life by tracking her increasingly tepid morse code and hauling her out of there.
Here, the show pivoted to all-out horror spectacular, and I loved the Alien/slasher sequence, as surprisingly nasty and horrible as it turned out to be. Suranne Jones makes an excellent Sigourney Weaver-type action hero and I hope there is more of this kind of thing for her in future. She had to thwart a bloodied Doward staggering around in a gas mask waving a knife, after having only recently lost consciousness and almost dying. She ran around trying not to breathe in bleach, probably wishing she’d been given a safety-on-board laminate when she arrived, or at the very least, a map.
While this cat-and-mouse game played out, Doward’s earlier sabotage began to sink the boat quicker than you can say, did someone pull out the plug? Naturally, this gave the rest of the crew a squeaky-bum time limit of 10 minutes to fix it, or else the entire crew would be done for. In the end, teamwork won the day, though Silva’s ability to deliver the news of a beloved crew member’s death by loudly charging the suspect with his murder suggests she may need some tactfulness training.
Throughout, Vigil has been a rich and sometimes sickly meal. Just one of its anxiety-inducing scenarios would be enough for most dramas, but this had international conflict, political intrigue, claustrophobic horror, psychological trauma, murder,cops, romance and nerve agents thrown in and set to various clock-ticking countdowns. When the story inevitably moved back to land, it became more sober, wrapping up loose ends, rather sentimentally and unexpectedly saving a life, and resolving the love story between Silva and DS Longacre. (I note that the “chatty bath for two” cliche that haunts on-screen same-sex romances still held strong here.) By the time everyone was safe and sound, Russia had been accused without technically being accused, and nuclear disarmament was dismissed as impossibly tricky, it was hard to deny that they’d earned a bit of soppiness.
But soppiness was never Vigil’s forte. This was big, brash television, designed to thrill, excite and terrify. To paraphrase the ad hoc eulogy given by Cmdr Newsome: it did its job. It did it well.