Vigil episode five recap – back to its best after being all at sea

The penultimate episode of the maritime thriller had more drive, more energy and a sharper focus than we’ve seen in recent weeks, paving the way for a gripping finale

Spoiler alert: this blog is for those watching Vigil on BBC One. Don’t read on unless you have watched episode five.

Action stations at sea and on land: the soggy-bottomed thriller dived towards its denouement with the Russian asset unmasked, and our heroine in deep water. Let’s submerge ourselves in the penultimate episode …

It’s a gas, gas, gas

As we rejoined Trident’s ill-fated tin can HMS Vigil, it was emergency stations yet again, as that tension-building alarm sound is now almost as familiar as Line of Duty’s interview beep. The mystery man in the gas mask was, as suspected, coxswain Elliot Glover (Shaun “on two terrestrial channels at once” Evans), gallantly trying to save DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) from an airborne hazard.

In an all-action opening sequence, it was revealed that chef Jackie Hamilton (Anita Vettesse) had released a nerve agent in the galley stores. Jackie was scared, told Glover to get away and said “Tell Shaun I couldn’t” – referring to her son, for whom she’d struck the deal to have him released from prison. She managed to throw a box over the device before she died, but it was still leaking toxic gas all over the boat’s mid-section.

Silva helped Glover evacuate the missile decks, close down the ventilation, seal the bulkhead doors and contain the threat – for now. Glover stripped off his contaminated clothes (you don’t get that in Endeavour) and showered, that crucial dragon tattoo on display, before a last kiss with medical officer Lt Tiffany Docherty (Anjli Mohindra). Was it going to be his last kiss full stop?

Oakley was exposed

Porter (Reuben Joseph) and Longacre (Rose Leslie).
Porter (Reuben Joseph) and Longacre (Rose Leslie). Photograph: Chris Watt/BBC/World Productions

We had surmised that peace camp leader Ben Oakley (Cal MacAninch) was up to something. Now DS Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) and sidekick DS Porter (Reuben Joseph) followed the trail left by Russian intelligence officer Peter Ingles (Sam Redford) – and discovered he’d attended an ice hockey game with Oakley as his guest.

Police and MI5 raided the camp and searched his caravan. They found Jade’s laptop, from which he had downloaded a photo on to his phone – specifically the covert snap of Ingles and his HMS Vigil asset.

Oakley fled to local MSP Patrick Cruden (Stephen McCole), saying he had photographic proof of a Russian spy within Dunloch naval base. Publishing the snap would create a scandal which would surely drive nukes out of Scotland. Fearing assassination or a Port Havers-style cover-up, Oakley demanded political asylum at a foreign consulate before releasing the photo. We got a fleeting glimpse of Ingles meeting a man in a black hoodie and cap. Cue viewers pressing pause and squinting at the screen.

After Cruden took Oakley to the Chinese consulate, a frustrated Longacre told the well-intentioned politician the truth. Oakley had stolen the photo from Jade and given it to Ingles. This was what got Jade murdered. Cruden, secretly Jade’s father, had inadvertently helped the man who’d killed his daughter. Heartbreaking.

The Britons fought back

Rear Adm Shaw (Stephen Dillane) briefed his officers that the Russians’ plan was to force Vigil up to the surface, where she would be a sitting duck. That was why Jackie had been persuaded to poison CPO Craig Burke (Martin Compston), why someone sabotaged the reactor, and why that same someone was now unleashing deadly gas.

Due to its “snagged” comms lines, Vigil had been out of touch for 12 hours. Shaw sent HMS Audacious and HMS Archer to Vigil’s patrol area to find the missing sub. Trouble was, four Russian ships and two submarines were also moving in, hunting for Vigil. The at-sea deterrent needed to remain active, but as Cmdr Neil Newsome (Paterson Joseph) said: “We can’t receive orders. Nor can we fire. Our enemy has succeeded in knocking out Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Our job is to fight back and restore it.”

Coming into his own, Lt Simon Hadlow (Connor Swindells) said he could set up a DIY decontamination tent and spray bleach through the fire sprinklers to neutralise the nerve agent. They needed to get rid of the device by donning deep-diving suits and flushing it out through the torpedo tubes. Slight snag: suit-wearers would overheat fast and only have 15 minutes max before heatstroke set in. Drama loves a deadline.

Hurrah, less soppy stuff!

There were a tad too many flashbacks for some viewers’ liking last week. Happily, there were fewer this time, though we still saw Silva and her ex Longacre having a bath together in Amy’s fancy free-standing tub, foreshadowing the episode’s cliffhanger climax.

Back in the present day, it was the birthday of Silva’s daughter Poppy (Orla Russell), so Kirsten drove to her grandparents’ house with a gift (snakes and ladders and a bar of chocolate, textbook). Over an awkward cuppa, the parents of Amy’s drowned partner grilled Kirsten. It turned out that Amy had mentioned applying for joint custody of Poppy – but failed either to inform Kirsten, or admit they had since split up.

Meanwhile, just to ramp up the emotional stakes, Silva was leaving a note for Poppy in the event of the worst happening. Little did she realise what that might involve.

One giant leap for Silva

Double act Silva and Glover, now best buddies again, suited up to assess the crime scene and dispose of the device, because obviously what you want in such a scenario is a civilian with anxiety and claustrophobia issues. Yet it turned out to be Glover who got in trouble.

Searching Jackie’s body, Silva found the note in her apron pocket: “Bali not a done deal. One last chance. Leave it where instructed or you’ll join Burke”. Someone on the boat was blackmailing her to do their bidding – first with her son’s freedom, then the threat of death.

Glover failed to notice that he’d snagged his suit and torn a hole in the leg. He bagged up the device but was fading fast. His nose began to bleed. He’d been exposed. It was left to Amy to courageously haul the crashing coxswain to safety, then take the device to “the bomb shop” herself.

Russian asset unmasked – and Amy was next

Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) in Vigil.
Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) in Vigil. Photograph: Screengrab/BBC/World Productions

Silva mused aloud about the mystery traitor: “Why did they need Jackie? What if they weren’t on the boat in the first place? What if Jackie’s job was to kill Craig Burke so his replacement would be flown out? Doward’s done all of this.”

Yes, we had grown increasingly suspicious of CPO Matthew Doward (Lorne MacFadyen), always looking shifty in the background and popping up when you least expect him. So it proved again. A crewman with hazmat-training was assigned to assist Silva in flushing out the toxic device. It happened to be duplicitous Doward.

First he snatched the note he’d written to Jackie. “Not that, it’s evidence!” protested Silva, ever the detective. Then he knocked her out cold. When Silva regained consciousness, she was trapped in the torpedo tube, which Doward began to fill with seawater. Flashbacks to that car crash trauma. As she cried vainly for help, struggling to keep her head above the rapidly rising water, the credits rolled. Gulp. I’ll be holding my breath all week.

A sharper focus

Some commenters have lost patience with Vigil in the past fortnight, frustrated by its narrative contrivances and labyrinthine twists. This penultimate instalment, to my mind, represented a return to form. The conspiracy plot came into sharper focus and felt pleasingly old school.

The crew came together to fight the new threat. With Silva back in her investigative element on the sub and Longacre rampaging around on land, it had pace, purpose and driving momentum. The dive-suit sequence brought to mind Chernobyl or even The Salisbury Poisonings – with a dollop of sci-fi space drama for good measure. It was all left tantalisingly poised and hopefully won back a few doubters.

Submarine-speak decoded

We repeatedly glimpsed the “EAB” (emergency air breather) in the showers, which might yet prove significant. Toilets being known as “the head” derives from sailing ships where the sailors’ loo was located at the head or bow of the vessel.

Notes and observations

  • The fictional ice hockey team was called Glasgow Hurricanes – a cunning combo of real-life sides Glasgow Clan and Inverness Hurricanes.

  • There was a minor kerfuffle after last week’s episode over a continuity error which saw Newsome suddenly gain a stripe on his rank slides, accidentally promoting him to captain. His shoulders were under extra scrutiny this week.

  • The drugs to treat poisoning, which Docherty said weren’t carried onboard, were atropine and pralidoxime.

  • I enjoyed reinstated Lt Cmdr Mark Prentice (Adam James) greeting news of Glover’s affair with: “Well, coxswain, welcome to the fuck-ups club.”

Stand by your bunks as Vigil sails towards its tense finale. See you back here at 10pm next Sunday for one last deep-dive. In the meantime, leave your thoughts and theories down below …


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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