It’s hard these days to isolate your characters enough for high drama to play out. You have to rely on uncharged mobile phones, social media refuseniks or go big like The Terror or The North Water did and put your people in ye olde times and a ship and/or polar wasteland. The Rig (Prime Video) does it by putting the protagonists on a North Sea oil rig and having all the comms knocked out by an unknown but rapidly encroaching and possibly supernatural force. As Alwyn, the sage of the crew (Mark Bonnar – so still and unsettling an actor that he amounts almost to a supernatural force himself) puts it: “If you keep punching the Earth, it’s going to punch back.”
The men are looking forward to being helicoptered home at the end of their latest stint – all but young Baz (Calvin Demba), who has been bumped for clever comms person Fulmer (Martin Compston) because the Company wants the latter back for a special meeting. The Us and Them divide is further deepened by rumours that the Company is looking to trim fat and all their jobs are in danger. But their transportation back to shore is diverted at the last minute to help with an incident on another rig and soon trouble is breaking out all over. And that’s before anyone finds out that Fulmer is crossing the Them/Us divide on the regular with the Company’s representative Rose (Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire, looking uncomfortable in a so far underwritten role.).
A sudden, inexplicable fog rolls in. The rig starts to shake. Modules shut down (or possibly go into overdrive – this was the jargon-heavy portion demanded of any thriller set in a little-known industry and you are not required to understand it. It’s the equivalent of a flashing red button labelled ‘Jeopardy!’ filling the screen and I wouldn’t be without it). Safety kit is donned, open staircases are perilously wreathed in fog. There is nearly a gas leak and nearly a fire! There are definitely flames coming from a nearby rig. That can’t be good. On important-looking screens, things spike that shouldn’t spike and flatline that shouldn’t flatline and even Mark Bonnar looks nearly perturbed. “Out here,” he tells Rose, “things that can’t happen happen all the time.”
Nevertheless, Rose wants the crew to keep working and trust that the system can take it. But the boss, Magnus, is firm. “It’s not your call, Rose!” he says. “We stick to procedures or people die!” Rose would clearly like to sacrifice as many workers as it takes to meet the quarterly production targets (all Companies are heartless, of course, but oil companies do beat all) but Magnus is played by Iain Glen so he wins.
Things take a turn for the much worse when Baz climbs laboriously up a comms tower in the fog to repair the radio connections and – one dead seagull and some sinister sounds later – descends less laboriously but near-fatally, smooshing himself to bits as he hits the deck from a great height.
Things become spookier and spookier as all the rigs in the sector stop working, ash starts to fall and we end with Baz’s near-corpse reanimating to tell his stunned but frankly not concerned enough colleagues: “It’s already started.” Dum-dum-daaaah!
Alongside the supernatural element, the story traces the psychological impact of unwilling confinement and lack of contact with the outside world on the men. Hutton (Owen Teale) – a mixture of genuine grievances and love of shit-stirring – uses the instability to challenge Magnus’s authority (yes, even though he’s Iain Glen!) and foment mutiny, while others cleave more tightly to routine and repression.
The writer David MacPherson’s father worked on an offshore platform for years and MacPherson himself has been involved with organisations working to mitigate the climate crisis since his MA in environmental studies. Eco-consciousness suffuses the story (“We’re fossils digging fossils”) without demonising those who look to polluting industries for work. It’s a modern take on an old narrative form, and if there’s nothing as earthshaking dramatically speaking as whatever the Big Bad is managing as it comes for our crew, the need to know what’s what – including Glen’s Secret Sorrow and the role Mark Addy, who has yet to turn up unless I’ve failed to spot him under all the safety gear, is going to play – and the faith that it won’t all descend into a Lost-style debacle will keep you going until the end.