Spoiler alert: this blog is for those watching Vigil on BBC One. Don’t read on unless you have watched episode three.
The morally murky submarine drama – AKA Line of Boaty, AKA 20,000 Leads Under the Sea – reached its midway mark, with MI5 and the pesky Pentagon making their presence felt.
Were we any closer to learning who poisoned Able Seaman Steve Arnott and drowned his girlfriend? Let’s plunge into the third slice of soggy sleuthing …
After the murders of “wee gobshite” CPO Craig Burke (Martin Compston) and activist Jade Antoniak (Lauren Lyle), DS Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) was investigating a coordinated attack on the whistle-blowing couple.
Running the number plate of the car that collected Jade from Kirkmouth police station took the dogged detective into the heart of Holyrood politics – first to the spin doctor Mark Hill (Oliver Lansley; never trust a smooth Sassenach in a Scotland-set drama) and then his boss, the MSP Patrick Cruden (Stephen McCole).
They were paying Jade a grand a month and had a history of late-night phone calls. This wasn’t, as Longacre assumed, due to an affair or a spying arrangement. Jade was Cruden’s long-lost daughter from “a fling back in his CND days”. What’s more, she was convinced MI5 had spies in the peace camp. Her laptop had been stolen and she was being followed.
Longacre rapidly realised she was being tailed, too. After a tense three-minute chase by a black SUV (TV shorthand for sinister), she confronted her pursuers in a multi-storey car park. They were MI5 agents, who told her: “You need to come with us.” Uh-oh. I’m guessing it’s not for flat whites and carrot cake.
Now that police had access to the password-protected files on Burke’s USB stick, evidence began to point towards HMS Vigil’s previous mission to the fictional Port Havers base in Florida. In a “party boat” incident, 15 submariners were arrested for being drunk, disorderly and drugged-up. Strong echoes of the real-life Royal Navy kicking nine sailors off a nuclear sub after a drugs and sex scandal in 2017. That vessel’s name? HMS Vigilant. Ahem.
Back in BBC drama-land, the navy falsified negative urine tests, but Burke got himself privately tested and proved positive for LSD, contradicting the official results. He claimed he had been spiked by a shipmate.
Longacre met a former Vigil crew member who told her to “look at Davies”. Two contractors from Davies Marine Services were found drowned in the harbour the morning after Vigil’s crew went wild. Clearly, a cover-up had taken place.
American connections kept coming. Wreckage recovered from the sunk trawler proved it wasn’t the Russians but rather a US navy sub that brought down the Mhairi Finnea. “We’re not at war with the US,” raged Rear Adm Shaw (Stephen Dillane). “So why was a Los Angeles-class submarine covertly tracking Vigil? It’s a staggering act of hostility from a supposed ally.”
MI5 spooks admitted there was still considerable transatlantic tension over Port Haversgate. Surely there’s more to this than diplomatic differences.
Onboard the sub of secrets, DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) was on the trail of Burke’s poisoner. She looked aghast when orders arrived that her stay had been extended from three days (a minibreak) to three weeks (a veritable sabbatical). Not only had she not packed enough all-black clothes, but she will run out of antidepressants. Can Silva batten down her personal demons enough to complete her investigation?
During a panic attack, she flashed back to losing custody of her daughter, Poppy, in the wake of their tragic car crash. The eight-year-old went to live with the parents of her drowned partner, Iain, and they wouldn’t give her access.
Brow furrowed and breathing erratic, Silva began to question who she could trust. She learned that Cmdr Neil Newsome (Paterson Joseph) knew about Burke’s intel-gathering and “shitlist” of grievances. Even the friendly coxswain, Elliot Glover (Shaun Evans), wasn’t being as helpful as usual. But he had his reasons …
Among Burke’s files were illicit photos of medical officer Lt Tiffany Docherty (Anjli Mohindra) in bed with an unidentified man. He had a distinctive dragon tattoo on his upper arm – a detail that Longacre clumsily communicated to Silva by referencing her favourite Stieg Larsson novel (it wasn’t The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest).
Docherty had access to pharmaceuticals and a motive to kill Burke, who was undermining the drug tests she had overseen. Surely the ship’s doctor hadn’t poisoned him? She admitted to cheating the tests, but claimed it was to protect her friends’ careers.
When Silva spotted Glover’s tattoo on a family photo, she put two and two together. Glover and Docherty were secretly sleeping together. Burke had stolen the bedroom pics from his phone. Silva and Glover’s faintly flirtatious friendship suddenly turned frostier than a Hebridean winter.
Gary Walsh (Daniel Portman), the engineer facing discharge after trying to frame Burke for heroin addiction, became a loose cannon on deck. He got drunk, stole a gun and held it to his head before Silva talked him down. More real world resonances, this time of the fatal shooting aboard HMS Astute in 2011.
After she won his trust, Walsh told all about Port Havers. Ross Harmison, a junior mechanic, got drunk and high during shore leave. While he slept it off, the sub’s reactor overheated, pressurised pipes cracked and two local contractors in the turbine room were “cooked alive”. A Fukushima-style disaster was only narrowly averted.
Harmison was transferred to the Middle East and the official story was that the Americans drowned. Newsome was complicit and Burke somehow found out. Reason enough for murder?
With Lt Cmdr Mark Prentice (Adam James) confined to quarters and the politician seemingly benign, the finger seems to point higher up the command chain.
Newsome looks increasingly implicated after growling at Walsh: “Keep your mouth shut about Port Havers or discharge will be the least of your problems.” Shaw was also acting shady, muttering into the phone: “We have a situation up here that needs to be contained.”
It’s a recurring theme that the navy’s four Vanguard-class nuclear subs are falling apart, but it’s being hushed up. Is the conspiracy at the heart of the drama that the UK’s nuclear deterrent isn’t fit for purpose?
Meanwhile, those looking decidedly shifty at Burke’s memorial service included pub fighter Lt Simon Hadlow (Connor Swindells), Burke’s replacement, CPO Matthew Doward (Lorne MacFadyen), lippy sonar operator CPO Tara Kierly (Lois Chimimba) and the galley chef, Jackie Hamilton (Anita Vettesse), who had “taken it badly” because “her son’s been in a bad place lately”. More to come there, I’d wager.
“Recon vessel” meant a reconnaissance ship searching for wreckage. “ASW” stands for anti-submarine warfare, while “anechoic tiles” are applied to the outer hull of military craft to dampen noise.
There have been social media complaints – and a few in my inbox – about Vigil’s inaudible dialogue. Some viewers have taken to watching with subtitles. Let me know how intelligible you are finding the series.
Vigil now turns for home and enters its final three episodes. See you back here at 10pm next Sunday to drill down into episode four. In the meantime, crewmates, please leave your thoughts and theories down below.