by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
The Rig is, undoubtedly, one of the worst television series I’ve ever seen. And I mean that wholeheartedly. But it has no right to be. The first half of the series is directed by the man behind Line of Duty and Bodyguard. The series sees the likes of Iain Glen, Emily Hampshire, Owen Teale and Mark Addy, all giving pretty stellar performances. And more than that, it’s got the financial behemoth of Amazon behind it, letting effects budgets soar to new heights on its streaming arm of Prime Video.
So why is it so awful? Right out the gate, The Rig promises tired cliché after cliché, to the point of laughter. As my mother and I nestled in for three consecutive nights, watching the chaos unfold on the screen, we could accurately predict near every beat that was waiting around the corner. And neither of us are film studies students.
The Rig centres around an oil rig, the Kinloch Bravo, stationed in the North Sea, under the watchful eye of Magnus Macmillan (Glen). Instantly, we sense the uneasiness between Magnus – who puts the crew before anything else – and Rose Mason (Hampshire), who works for Pictor – the company overseeing the rig and its drilling operation. Instantly, I’m taken back to Deepwater Horizon, and how worn out the trope of worker V tech giant is. Predictably, Hampshire‘s character does everything by the book. She’s a young, pedantic sort, trusting in science and operating manuals. Magnus has years of experience, and doesn’t care for profits winning over all. You get the picture.
The Rig is a supernatural thriller, which is a bit of an oddity on TV and mainstream streaming services these days. Throughout the show’s six-episode run, we get glimpses of some ancient thing in the depths, waking up, plotting vengeance or some kind of payback for years of human intervention. But, without giving away too many spoilers, there’s no beautifully sculpted, Lovecraftian climax lying in wait for us. We chase whispers, and little more.
But it’s not just that. It’s how woefully predictable the whole thing plays out, too. It hits every convention of the genres it flits between. There’s some of Doctor Who’s ‘Water of Mars’ special in a particular death scene. The all-too-obvious mutiny and isolation of Crimson Tide, and basically everything that ever happens in John Carpenter’s The Thing. There are the characters you hate, like Hutton (Teale) who stands out as one of the most infuriating oil rig workers ever birthed. Straight away, he’s talking back to managers, questioning orders and vocally sharing his cynicism of anything besides himself. We get it. Is he going to square up against Magnus at some point? Naturally. Does he object to how things are run? All the time. Is he even particularly good at his job? Not really.
The archetypes are blindingly obvious, to the point that I question how a show this predictable and worn-out could have made it this far – especially with such a worthy cast, and the might of Amazon behind it. It makes no sense that a show like The Rig is as painful to sit through as it is. It’s even worse, given that for the most part, my mother and I were hooked. The ending of the fourth episode left us genuinely howling for more. But nothing from the episodes prior could prepare us for the tidal wave which closes out the series. All of the action and resolution takes place in the final ten minutes – plotholes are littered about without subtlety or care – and the environmentalist message of, ‘Let’s stop killing our planet, eh?’ gets forced down our throat without veil.
The Rig suffers another trope, one that befalls many a supernatural/otherworldly thriller. And that’s that, in the end, the real enemy turns out to be us. It’s an interesting take, and one which – for the most part – I agree with in today’s profit-driven society. But if you hand me plotlines of ancient ruins at the bottom of the sea, infected human hosts and maddening visions, for God’s sake, give me a tentacle or two.
Ultimately, The Rig collapses in on the weight of its own self-aggrandisement. It likes to think it’s a clever, well-written and well-characterised piece of television for a smog-choked 2023. It strives to not only be a piece of entertaining horror, but also a statement on the times we live in. A sign of things to come. In reality, it’s none of those things, and the sooner you realise that, the less time you’ll waste in the long run. I believe that the emerging genre of ‘eco-thriller’ can be executed with precision, poignancy and power. The Rig is no such example of that.