Suranne Jones Excels In “Vigil” Season Two — But Its Romance (and Politics) Fall Flat

This review contains minor spoilers for Vigil season two.

For decades now, in the same way that the coal industry is always in search for “clean coal,” the military industrial complex has been invested in the search for a “cleaner war.” They recognized that mounting casualties translate into declining public support for a military intervention and because less intervention would impact their bottom line, they focused their efforts on reducing casualties. Initially, that meant investment in technology that produced better and safer gear — from the armor that soldiers wear to the tanks and humvees used on the battlefield — but as technology has evolved, the focus has shifted. With the advent and sophistication of drone technology, the military industrial complex could launch a war while (theoretically) minimizing casualties.

“You can operate them from the field or from the other side of the world. They can fly a foot off the ground or at 5,000 meters,” British Air Vice Marshal Marcus Grainger touts in the new season of Vigil, while showcasing the capabilities of the latest line of drone technology. “They are going to change the way we fight.”

But there are always consequences to change, which the new season of Vigil lays bare in its opening minutes. With a team of soldiers having successfully demonstrated drone technology for prospective buyers from the fictional nation of Wudyan, Grainger orders the pilots — most of whom are thousands of miles away — to switch to autopilot to bring the drones back to their launchpads. But then something goes awry: One drone is taken over and launches an attack on the Scottish demonstration site. In the end, there are seven confirmed fatalities.

“They were only here as props. Imagine being killed for that,” the lone on-site drone operator laments.

Because the demonstration takes place on Scottish soil, the police service call their best investigator, DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones), to find out who’s responsible for the drone attack. Silva recruits her Detective Sargent, Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie), in the effort, however begrudgingly: Kirsten is pregnant with their first child together. Much like in the first season, the investigation proceeds at a dizzying pace. Everyone seemingly operates without regard to how suspicious their behavior makes them look so the audience is left guessing throughout the series. Season one’s submarine setting meant the suspect pool was fixed, while season two exposes us to the open air, across two countries, and countless potential killers. One suspect is pursued, interrogated, and released, just as another makes themselves known. It is frenetic.

Suranne Jones stands on an airfield with a backpack and a phone

Jones excels as Amy Silva. In the first series, her performance is beautifully restrained by necessity. Being aboard the HMS Vigil resurfaces her past trauma and she spends the series grappling with that and the investigation. But in the show’s second season, we get to see the full range of Jones and DCI Silva’s capabilities and it’s enthralling to watch. She is confident but not cocky, assertive but not cruel. She never rushes to judgment — even as everyone else around her does — and conducts her investigation methodically. She bristles beneath the military’s chain of command and dismisses their attempts to obstruct her investigation. I love that Suranne Jones is being typecast as a woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Leslie also impresses as Kirsten Longacre but, admittedly, I found her aspects of her story wanting. Two things, in particular, stand out. First, the show relied too much on putting Kirsten in dangerous situations — or, to be more precise, putting a pregnant character in dangerous situations — to create tension. It loses its effect and becomes almost implausible as the series continues. More concerning, however, is — and I’ll try not to spoil too much — an interaction DI Longacre has with a suspect later in the series. Pressed to get information, Longacre resorts to underhanded tactics, but the show doesn’t spend nearly enough time grappling with how our view of Kirsten should change in that moment.

“I thought I was a decent person,” Kirsten laments on the phone to Amy.

I’ve always preferred British thrillers to American procedurals, in part because of their willingness to confront hard truths and to complicate the narrative around policing. But in this instance, Vigil falls short.

For Vigil‘s first season, Amy and Kirsten spent most of their time apart; estranged but quietly trying to find their way back to each other through coded messages. The couple — who have reunited and are also raising Amy’s stepdaughter — spend more time together this season but not by much. After chasing down leads as a team, they’re separated again: Amy leaves to chase down suspects in Wudyan, while Kirsten remains in Scotland to conduct a parallel investigation. They communicate regularly, both about the case and Kirsten’s pregnancy, but you miss the intimacy that proximity brings.

Vigil season two: Suranne Jones and Rose Leslie stand next to each other in the woods

To an extent, that’s to be expected. Historically, procedurals have not afforded their characters the opportunity to have really flushed out personal lives. And, certainly, the abbreviated run of British series makes focusing on the personal lives of the characters even more challenging. But, perhaps, the time has come to expect more from your average procedural. Even within the confines of a “case of the week” procedural, NCIS: Hawai’i finds time to develop the relationship between Kate and Lucy fully. They’ve established a new bar when it comes to representation and other procedurals, like Vigil, would do well to meet it.


Vigil season two is now streaming on Peacock.

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 410 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. This season of Vigil definitely wasn’t as good as the first – it’s difficult to beat the tense atmosphere of being trapped on a submarine. I also missed the flashbacks from the first season. I didn’t think we’d get another season of this show though, so I enjoyed seeing Suranne Jones and Rose Leslie teaming back up again. Thanks for the review Natalie!

  2. This season could’ve used one more episode, at the least. The end was bursting at the seams with all the plot that needed wrapping up, leaving no time for some huge character points like Kirsten’s treatment of the suspect or an action Amy took in an abandoned office building.

    Still, it was good to see them again, even if their romance took a backseat to the goings on.

  3. I enjoyed Vigil 2 and thought the time jump worked well for Amy and Kirsten’s relationship, albeit with Rose’s real life pregnancy influencing story choices. I didn’t see “pregnant character in danger” so much as both of them navigating a complicated situation of being driven in their dangerous jobs while wanting to keep each other safe. And Kirsten, in all her choices including with Firas – her priority was always going to be to help Amy, which she acknowledges more than once. I found it an interesting tension for them to work through without involving the usual cheating storyline or someone dying. Also Amy doing her best to help the two men forced to hide their relationship, Sam and Callum, was an interesting subplot too.

    • Agree with all of this.

      I actually found the plot more tightly written than the first season and when it comes to Amy and Kirsten, Suranne and Rose worked miracles with their phone call scenes. I wouldn’t mind a third series but if this is all we get, I’m satisfied. Although I would’ve liked to see the baby…

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