Vigil's ending explained – all your questions answered

·11-min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Hello, sailors. Sunday evening saw the BBC’s sub-aquatic thriller reach its breathless, waterlogged climax. But did the multiple plot twists give you that sinking feeling?

Help is at hand with our definitive answers to the burning questions from Vigil’s finale…

Who killed Craig Burke and why?

Poor old Steve Arnott. If only he’d worn his lucky waistcoat. A mere eight minutes into the series, Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke (Martin Compston) was found dead in his bunk on HMS Vigil. 

At first, it was thought he died of a heroin overdose. DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) soon deduced that the drugs were planted to conceal the true cause of death – which she initially believed was a delayed brain haemorrhage after Burke hit his head during a fist-fight with Lt Commander Mark Prentice (Adam James). 

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

When she found a mysterious stain on the dead man's fleece, though, Silva realised he'd been poisoned. Galley chef Jackie Hamilton (Anita Vettesse) had been blackmailed into administering a sarin-style nerve agent via Burke's food.

His murder served three purposes. First, it silenced the "mouthy wee guy". Having been converted to the peace camp's cause by his protestor girlfriend Jade Antoniak (Outlander's Lauren Lyle), Burke was compiling a dossier on Navy corruption. He'd also been approached by Russian intelligence operative Peter Ingles (Sam Redford), real name Piotr Vasiliyev, so knew Ingles' identity and that he might well have an asset within Dunloch Naval Base. 

Secondly, it meant the boat surfaced to take on board an investigating detective – which the Russians planned to exploit, but for the presence of a US sub right behind Vigil. Thirdly, it ensured a replacement sonar operator was flown out. That happened to be villainous CPO Matthew Doward (Lorne MacFadyen), the scowling swine. 

Who killed Jade and why?

It was Vigil's own Romeo and Juliet story. Burke had been secretly dating activist Jade, while working together to expose the flaws in Britain's nuclear deterrent. When Jade washed up dead within days of Burke’s demise, it looked like a co-ordinated attack on the whistle-blowing couple.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

What got Jade murdered was that she'd surreptitiously taken a snap of Ingles meeting his asset Doward. Jade didn't realise exactly what she'd got, assuming Ingles was an MI5 spook spying on the protestors. 

Peace camp leader Ben Oakley (Cal MacAninch) set up a meeting between Jade and his pal Peter, who promised he knew what had happened to her boyfriend. Ingles promptly drowned Jade in the loch to protect the identity of his Navy insider.

Having second thoughts at their roadside assignation, Jade's last act had been to text DS Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) the password for the protected files on Burke's USB stick. These were to prove pivotal to cracking the case. The pair didn't die entirely in vain.

Who killed Jackie the chef and why?

We first glimpsed Jackie sobbing as Burke's body was carried through the sub, wracked with guilt that she'd poisoned him. Ingles had persuaded her to kill Burke in exchange for Russia pulling strings to get her son Shaun out of an Indonesian prison, where he was serving a 10-year sentence on drugs charges. 

Silva worked this out when she heard about Shaun's early release. Searching Jackie's bunk, she discovered her bedsheets had the same stains as Burke’s fleece. Sadly, it was too late. She soon found the cook dead in the catering storeroom, poisoned by the same toxin she'd administered to Burke.

Doward had left a threatening note in Jackie's apron pocket: "Bali not a done deal. One last chance. Leave it where instructed or you'll join Burke." Having been sent an encrypted blueprint of the boat's ventilation system by Ingles, Doward wanted her to release the nerve agent where it would claim maximum casualties. 

Jackie couldn't go through with it but, trembly-handed with terror, set it off accidentally. The only person killed was her.

What was treacherous Doward’s plan?

Doward's mission was to force Vigil up to the surface for evacuation of its crew. Russian ships would be standing by to stage a photo opportunity and claim credit. The aim of this PR stunt? To make the UK's nuclear deterrent look compromised and a serious security risk. A convenient excuse for MPs to scrap Trident in the forthcoming funding vote without looking soft on defence.

Photo credit: World Productions - BBC
Photo credit: World Productions - BBC

When Burke's murder failed to do the trick due to the American sub covertly shadowing Vigil, Doward came on board to finish the job. First he sabotaged the reactor, forcing an emergency shutdown. Then he deliberately set the sub on a collision course with an oil tanker. Finally, he pressurised poor Jackie to release the toxin, while trying to silence Silva, Prentice and coxswain Elliot Glover (Shaun Evans), who'd twigged he was the spy. 

When none of these plans worked, Doward's last desperate measure was to flood the boat as a distraction, evade capture and take the pesky Silva hostage at knifepoint. He told Commander Neil Newsome (Paterson Joseph) to surface and rendezvous with the Russian vessels rapidly closing in. However, heroics from the crew saw him overpowered and arrested. Take that, traitor.

Doward presumed that if he co-operated, MI5 would extradite him in a spy swap to save the embarrassment of a trial. What he didn't realise was that officially, he didn't exist. His capture could be hushed up and he'd be "put in a cage where you shit in a bucket". 

Listen carefully and you might hear the world's tiniest violin.

Who was Ben Oakley working for?

Oakley, like his name, was shady. He genuinely wanted to force nukes out of Scotland but he was weak and got in way too deep. He was feeding anti-Trident intel to MP Patrick Cruden (Stephen McCole), who'd boasted he had "friends within the peace camp". 

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Oakley also forged a relationship with Ingles, who'd first approached him by saying he wanted Russia to demilitarise, so would help out the activists. Thrilled by proximity to power, Oakley naively believed him. 

When Jade showed Oakley her surreptitious snap, he sold her out by warning Ingles. The Russian told him to delete it from Jade's laptop and set up a meeting "just to talk". Oakley claimed he tried to stop Ingles drowning her but as Longacre pointed out, he hadn’t attempted to resuscitate Jade or call an ambulance. Instead he helped cover up her killing, scared of being caught as an accessory.

As police closed in, Oakley fled to Cruden. Having covertly downloaded Jade's pic to his phone, he thought going public with proof of a Navy spy would create enough scandal to see Trident scrapped. Fearing assassination by the Russians, Oakley asked Cruden to arrange asylum at the Chinese consulate. Before he could get there, Longacre arrested him for conspiracy to murder. Ingles might have had diplomatic immunity but at least some justice was done for Jade.

What were the Russians and Americans up to?

Russia's GRU military intelligence agency tasked its Dunloch operative Ingles with infiltrating the peace camp and recruiting assets on-board HMS Vigil. First he approached Burke, on Oakley's recommendation, but was turned down flat. Burke wanted to blow the whistle, not spy for the enemy. Ingles then recruited Jackie to take out Burke in exchange for her son's freedom, and Doward to sabotage Vigil in any way he could.

The Russian strategy was to publicly stage an embarrassing evacuation of Vigil, influencing the vote on Trident's future and hoodwinking Britain into abandoning its "Continuous At-Sea Deterrent" after 50 years. 

American involvement wasn't quite so key but, distrustful of its old ally after events in Port Havers, the US Navy suspected there was a Russian asset on board HMS Vigil. They sent a Los Angeles-class submarine to shadow the British boat and work out what the Russians were planning. After the US sub accidentally snagged the Mhairi Finnea's nets and dragged the trawler down, it seemed to make itself scarce. 

However, a US battleship happened to be on hand when Rear Admiral Shaw (Stephen Dillane) asked for American assistance in dispersing the Russian vessels converging on Vigil, so they clearly hadn't gone far. 

Were Walsh, Hadlow, Prentice and Glover goodies or baddies?

The short answer is they were all good men who made mistakes. Let's take them in turn. 

Engineer Gary Walsh (Daniel Portman) blamed Burke for the suicide of his brother Dougie after he was dishonourably discharged for bullying. He tried to frame Burke for bringing heroin on board but Prentice saw through it, confiscated the drugs and put Walsh on report. 

Photo credit: World Productions - BBC
Photo credit: World Productions - BBC

Fearing for his career, Walsh got drunk and stole a gun. However, he ultimately came good by spotting that the control-panel padlocks had been picked and fixing that crucial comms wire. 

Walsh's boss Lt Simon Hadlow (Connor Swindells) was a close pal of Dougie's, so helped Walsh beat up Burke during a pub scrap. He witnessed the missile-deck fight between Burke and Prentice, then covered for the submarine's second-in-command out of loyalty. 

Hadlow also made amends, rigging up bleach sprinklers to decontaminate toxic areas (he’d clearly paid attention during chemistry lessons at Moordale High) and later helping to overpower Doward.  

Prentice might have been pompous but was a decent guy at heart. After he and Burke fought, he went back to apologise and found Burke dead. Believing he'd accidentally caused it, Prentice panicked, hid Burke's bloodstained fleece and planted the confiscated drugs to look like an overdose. 

Despite this, he won Silva's trust and rescued her from the missile hatch, valiantly (and fatally) fighting Doward to allow Amy's escape. 

Finally came coxswain Glover. His questionable actions were either to protect crewmates or hide his affair with medic Lt Tiffany Docherty (Anjli Mohindra). Glover formed an effective investigative duo with Silva. He later saved her from the nerve agent but was exposed himself. He made a full recovery before being reunited with his wife and daughter in hospital. 

Silva promised skipper Newsome that her police report would omit incriminating details on these four, protecting Prentice's posthumous reputation and allowing others to continue their Navy careers. As the series began, tensions and divisions were rife among Vigil's crew. What they went through brought them back together. Walsh, Hadlow and CPO Tara Kierly (Lois Chimimba) all refused medical evacuation, determined to stay and complete their patrol. 

What was the significance of Port Havers?

The Florida incident turned out to be one of many red herrings, only tangentially connected to the main case. 

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

At Port Havers naval base, the Vigil crew went ashore and cut loose, with 15 submariners arrested for being drunk, disorderly and high on drugs. While mechanic Ross Harmison slept it off, the sub's reactor overheated and two civilian contractors were burnt alive. A full nuclear meltdown was only narrowly averted and it was all hushed up. Harmison was hastily transferred to the Middle East. The official story was that the Americans drowned.

The main significance of Port Havers was that it created tensions between the UK and US Navy, while giving Burke something incendiary for his whistle-blowing dossier and those complicit in the cover-up something to lose.

Why didn’t politician Patrick Cruden expose the spy scandal?

Local MP (and secretly Jade's father) Cruden was, like his informant Oakley, determined to drive nuclear weapons out of Scotland. If the story broke that Russia had embedded a spy on a UK submarine, Cruden reasoned, there was no way his fellow MPs would approve new warheads. 

However, battle-hardened campaigner Rear Admiral Shaw pointed out that going public wouldn’t just humiliate Britain but could torpedo Cruden's own career. He reminded "Holyrood's golden boy" that he'd held onto evidence for political gain, rather than handing it straight over to security services. 

Navy officers were killed in the interim, which wouldn't play well with the public. Cruden was outflanked but lived to fight another day.

What will happen to the UK’s nuclear deterrent?

Parliament would shortly be voting on funding for the Trident programme. As the series concluded, this thread was left dangling.

Naturally, Navy top brass did their best to ensure the deterrent remained active. They covered up events on HMS Vigil and blamed the Mhairi Finnea's sinking on a Russian sub operating illegally in British territorial waters. Shaw spun this as evidence of Russian aggression, explaining that future warfare would be fought under the sea. For "peacekeeping", we'd need state-of-the-art military hardware. 

Which way would the vote go? Perhaps we'll find out for certain if there's a second series. Hint, hint.

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