Suranne Jones in Vigil

Vigil episode 1 recap: 7 big questions we have after that shocking series premiere

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Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode one of BBC One’s Vigil, so do not read on unless you are fully up to date with the crime thriller…    

Vigil, starring Gentleman Jack’s Suranne Jones, Game Of ThronesRose Leslie, and Line Of Duty’s Martin Compston, premiered on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 29 August. And it quickly proved itself to be an absolute bank holiday weekend treat.

Tense, gritty, and deliciously complex, the series premiere served up the kind of brutal murder mystery that seasoned crime drama fans were positively dying to sink their teeth into. The kind that, let’s face it, bites back when you’re least expecting it – especially as it defied all expectations. 

Why? Well, because it was none other than Compton’s character, Craig Burke, who was found dead on a submarine within the first 15 minutes. 

Yes, really.

The drama all kicked off when a fishing trawler went from bobbing merrily on the waters of Barra Head, Scotland, to being dragged into the depths by some mysterious force – dooming its terrified crew to an unpleasant watery grave. 

Burke, listening in to the incident via the HMS Vigil’s sonar, insisted that the submarine go up to the surface and do something, anything to help. Captain Newsome (Paterson Joseph), however, disagreed and when Burke vehemently pushed the point, demanded the rebellious naval officer be removed from the bridge.

A wee while later, Burke was found dead in his bunk, having suffered a cardiac arrest. The heroin residue around his nostrils suggested an overdose, but when DCI Amy Silva (Jones) was sent aboard to investigate, she quickly discovered that Burke’s death was no accident. Rather, it was a case of (say it with me) murder most foul – and she has just three days, surrounded by increasingly hostile naval officers, to prove it.

Martin Compston in BBC thriller Vigil
Martin Compston takes on the role of Craig Burke in Vigil.

Throw in the fact that DS Kirsten Longacre (Leslie) has stumbled across a massive conspiracy at the onshore naval base where Burke was stationed, and… well, it’s safe to say that the first episode of Vigil has left us with a lot of questions. 

Here, this writer does her best to unravel them all.

So, who killed Craig Burke?

The navy insists that Burke died of a heroin overdose, but they refuse to allow his body to be returned to the surface and examined by a proper coroner.

Thankfully, DCI Silva insists upon seeing the body herself (which has been unceremoniously shoved in a torpedo tube for safekeeping), and soon discovers the late Burke has a head injury, bruising around the jaw, and absolutely zero heroin powder inside his nostrils (so no, he didn’t snort it). 

“This boat is a crime scene,” announces DCI Silva, much to Captain Newsome’s horror. In fact, he responds by informing her that if she dares utter the word “murder” outside of his quarters, he will have her confined to her quarters for the rest of her stay on the HMS Vigil. Hmm. 

At this point, everyone’s a suspect. Newsome is behaving incredibly suspiciously, for starters, as is Elliot Glover (Shaun Evans), aka the coxswain who was originally ordered to discipline Burke after his transgression. Then there’s Lieutenant Commander Mark Prentice (Adam James), who is adamant that nobody aboard the sub be allowed to talk to DCI Silva without a senior officer present.

The most shifty thing of all, though? Well, for now it’s Hadlow (Connor Swindells), the chief engineering officer on HMS Vigil. He was, after all, the last person to be seen with Burke when he was alive – and the first person to stumble across his body. 

Throw in the fact that DCI Silva has found several bloodstains in the very same spot that Hadlow and Burke were seen together, and things aren’t looking all that rosy for the former. 

Is Jade telling the truth about Burke?

We first meet Jade (Lauren Lyle) when she poses as a car crash victim in the middle of the road – something which, naturally, infuriates DCI Silva and DS Longacre. Later, though, she’s found snooping around the naval base where the late Burke was stationed, clutching his key card in hand.

At first, the strong-willed protester claims (weakly, we might add) that Burke had borrowed a book from her and she went to get it back from him. After a little gentle probing from DS Longacre, though, she admits: “He was my boyfriend.”

When she hears that the Navy is insisting her late lover died of a heroin overdose, though, her hard act fades and she dissolves into shocked tears. 

“He wasn’t an addict,” she insists. “He wasn’t an addict. I spent weekends with him, when we were together, every single second… if that’s what they’re saying, then it’s the Navy that killed him.”

Vigil on BBC One
Jade eventually tells DS Longacre the truth about her relationship with Burke.

According to Jade, the Navy killed Burke to cover up what really happened to Mhairi Finnea – aka the missing trawler we saw at the beginning of the episode.

“This is what the Navy do,” she adds, with all the confidence of a seasoned conspiracy theorist. 

Curiouser and curiouser, eh?

What are DCI Silva’s flashbacks all about?

DCI Silva is, quite clearly, a troubled woman. She’s taking medication for anxiety and depression, she’s incredibly panicky in confined spaces, and clearly has a phobia of water, too (making her the worst possible choice for conducting a murder investigation aboard a submarine, but hey ho).  

We get a few flashbacks in this episode, which show our hero in happier times as she embarks on a road trip with an unidentified man and child. Which suggests that this picture-perfect memory ends in death and despair.

And what is the nature of DCI Silva and DS Longacre’s relationship?

Look, can we just admit that there is chemistry between these two? They’re incredibly comfortable in one another’s company, they have a lot of shared history (hell, they manage to communicate their suspicions about the Navy via a bevy of cosy memories), and Longacre moves into Silva’s flat to look after the cat while she’s away.

Throw in that flashback of the pair curled up together on a couch, stroking one another’s arms as Longacre teaches Silva some Morse code, and you have a recipe for something much deeper than a strictly professional relationship.

What really happened to the Mhairi Finnea?

When DCI Silva confronts him about it, Newsome denies that it was the HMS Vigil that hit and dragged that unfortunate trawler underwater. Instead, he says another submarine did it. Which, considering this is a supposedly secret submarine containing nuclear missiles, is no small thing.

“Our mission is all about staying hidden,” he says urgently. “If we’ve been successfully shadowed by an enemy submarine then that is the singlemost frightening thing…”

“But we’re not at war,” counters DCI Silva. 

“That is an illusion,” he snaps back. “We have always been at war.”

Now, some people on Twitter have decided – based entirely upon the fact that this series is set in Scotland – that it’s not actually an enemy submarine, but the Loch Ness Monster. 

Clearly, though, something or someone is lurking in the waters around Barra Head. We just need to figure out what. Or who. 

Is DCI Silva going to make it off this submarine alive?

Look, I don’t want to be negative about this, but DCI Silva’s tenacious attitude and determination to unravel this conspiracy is clearly not going down well with the HMS Vigil’s crew. At all.

 “She’s clever,” they say of her at one point. “Once she starts talking to people, it’ll be difficult to keep her on a short lead.”

Surely, if they’re happy to dress Burke up like an overdose victim, they’d be willing to do the same to our hero? Especially as she’s openly admitted to struggling with her mental health? And especially as she’s brought her own medication aboard?

I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but it’s best to be realistic about these things. If they can kill of Compston in the first 15 minutes, nobody aboard this submarine is safe. Plus, everyone seems shady as hell; at times, this underwater thriller feels more like a horror movie than a crime drama, make no mistake about it.

What on earth is on Burke’s secret memory stick?

As the episode ends, DS Longacre is attempting to flee the naval base with a memory stick she found hidden in a chair leg inside Burke’s quarters. When she sticks it into her laptop (why bother leaving and checking the evidence when you can do it on the go, eh?), she finds a locked folder filled with files…. and a video, from Burke himself.

“They’ve left me dead, under two miles of water, but here I am,” he tells her from beyond the grave. “And I’ve got things to tell you.”

Considering Burke’s intimate relationship with a known protester, and his defiance aboard the HMS Vigil, it’s safe to assume we have a whistleblower on our hands. Too bad, then, that DS Longacre quickly finds her car surrounded by armed officers and angry-looking guard dogs.

Will she be able to get Burke’s message off the base and to safety? We guess we’ll have to wait until the next episode to find out.

The next episode of Vigil will air Bank Holiday Monday 30 August, 9pm on BBC One. 

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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