Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major plot spoilers, minor spoilers are still present for The Rig.
The title of this piece was originally going to be “Miniseries review: The Rig,” because all of the marketing that I’d seen for this six-episode Amazon production led me to believe that it would be a one-and-done miniseries or limited series. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have tuned in if I’d have known it would end on a pretty substantial cliffhanger – especially when a continuation of the story hasn’t yet been greenlit. Even going into The Rig’s final moments, I was still anticipating a climax and resolution to its ethereal enviro-mystery. When the series ended I actually wondered if I’d missed an episode, or if there was more to come – but at time of writing, the six episodes currently available on Amazon Prime Video are all there is.
I hope that The Rig will get a second season or at least some kind of conclusion, because there was promise in its story and characters that I’d certainly be happy to pick up and see resolved. But for now, I guess the biggest takeaway from The Rig for me is this: do just a little bit more research before committing to watching something!
I’d seen advertisements for The Rig on Amazon’s homepage and plastered across social media, so at least here in the UK, it seems as though the show has had a decent marketing budget attached to it. The main splash banner on Amazon’s homepage has previously been reserved for Star Trek: Picard (in its first season, at least) and Amazon’s big productions like The Wheel of Time and The Rings of Power, so it certainly felt that the company was pushing its latest endeavour with all it could muster.
If only a few dollars from that marketing budget had been redirected to The Rig’s CGI and visual effects, though, because there were some pretty serious misfires in those departments, especially for a series that seems to be trying to compete at such a high level. Some of the CGI felt decidedly “last-gen,” as if it were something we’d have seen circa 2008. This was noticeable from literally the first second, as The Rig’s opening sequence was entirely animated, and not animated to anywhere near the high standards I’d expect from a corporation with the resources of Amazon.
The opening CGI sequence left a poor first impression, and across the first couple of episodes especially, The Rig was having to work hard to overcome some low-budget visual effects. This extended beyond CGI into the physical space, too. The show’s signature “fog” effect looked decent enough when animated – nothing spectacular, but a step up from some of the other animation work, especially in those first couple of episodes. But when real actors were supposedly walking through the “fog,” I’m afraid the effect looked rather similar to what you’d get from those cheap smoke machines that became popular in discos a few years back. It looked poor – and for such an important part of the series, getting this wrong was, again, something that gave a poor impression.
However, while some CGI sequences remained poor across the entire six episodes, the animation work for the “spore” phenomenon that the crew encountered fared a lot better, and as this element was of particular importance to the story, getting it to look right was important.
The “spores” reminded me more than a little of The Expanse’s protomolecule, if you’re familiar with that sci-fi series (and if you aren’t, you should really check it out as its fantastic!) And this ties into a broader point about The Rig – the series brought to the table a number of elements that we’ve seen in other sci-fi films and franchises. There wasn’t too much originality in the production – which isn’t to say that it was bad by any means, but as the show progressed I definitely found myself noting more and more of these inclusions.
James Cameron’s The Abyss, released in 1989, was definitely a film that I felt The Rig was drawing inspiration from, not only thematically but visually, too. There was also the introduction of a corporate officer who knows more about the phenomenon than he lets on that felt like it had been lifted straight from Alien. And the “it was only trying to communicate” trope that clearly took inspiration from Star Trek. We also have the aforementioned visual effect that was similar to The Expanse… the list goes on! The way in which The Rig pieced these elements together was decent, and the fact that a story, visuals, or other elements of a production aren’t wholly original isn’t to say it’s awful – but it is worth noting how many narrative and design choices echoed other productions in the same mystery/sci-fi/thriller space.
Despite being commissioned by Amazon and made by Amazon Studios for Amazon Prime Video, The Rig felt remarkably similar to dozens or perhaps even hundreds of British television shows that I’ve seen over the years. The cinematography, acting (and some actors, too), the musical score, the aforementioned low-budget VFX… all of it came together to feel very familiar. If I hadn’t known that I was watching The Rig on Amazon Prime Video you could’ve told me this was a show made by the BBC, Sky, or ITV and I’d have believed it, no question!
Part of The Rig’s marketing stated that it’s the first Amazon show to be wholly produced in Scotland – and I guess that explains why it feels so familiar to a British viewer! The director/executive producer, John Strickland, has worked on episodes of popular British shows like Poirot and Line of Duty, and I swear I’ve seen at least half of the cast before – in bit-part roles on shows like Holby City or Doctor Who.
Speaking of the cast, everyone involved did a good job at selling what was an increasingly sci-fi story. The characters all felt grounded and real, and even moments of exposition were delivered in ways that felt natural, informing us about certain characters’ histories and backstories without being too obtrusive. There’s some excellent scriptwriting and characterisation there, and the cast all did well to bring it to screen convincingly. I wouldn’t single out anyone for giving a disappointing performance; everyone on The Rig did a standout job.
There were some great moments involving practical makeup – particularly in one gory moment after a character suffered a fall. The way bruises, broken bones, and gaping wounds were constructed felt visceral and realistic, and at a moment where the story was only just beginning to take off, the shock value these simple practical effects had shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Rig didn’t take long to get going – and in a series that only has six episodes, I guess that’s fair enough. My only point of criticism on this side of things would be that it felt as if at least some of the characters went from normal life to “panic mode” in a heartbeat – instead of a degradation in the crew’s mood from happy to irritable to angry and depressed taking a slower course. It felt as if The Rig got started, introduced us to its big storyline, and then the members of the crew who were going to get angry just snapped immediately, largely remaining in that state for the rest of the series. There was scope, I felt, to show how the effect of a disaster and being isolated with no field of vision or communications could slowly wear people down – and while The Rig tried to pay lip service to that at a couple of points, it didn’t really work convincingly.
That being said, there were some great character moments in all of the episodes that really showed off the tension and stresses that the worsening situation was putting people under. While I would have liked this to have been built up a bit more slowly, at the same time it’s worth saying that this wasn’t really what The Rig was all about, and considering the main thrust of the narrative was elsewhere, I guess it’s fair to say that this side of things was handled about as well as it could’ve been within the show’s time constraints.
The Rig had a clear environmentalist message – one about climate change, the dangers of unchecked oil exploration, and the responsibility humankind has en masse for the damage to the atmosphere and natural world. But rather than allowing its sci-fi, rather ethereal story about ancient microorganisms to stand on its own as a metaphor, someone involved in The Rig’s production clearly insisted on inserting some rather clumsy dialogue to make this environmental message incredibly obvious and in-your-face.
For me, as someone who’s a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise, I think sci-fi like this works best when subtlety is the order of the day; when the analogy is given space to speak for itself without the script punching viewers in the face with the same message over and over. The Rig comes across, in these moments, as a show that doesn’t trust the intelligence of its own audience; its producers and writers want to make their environmentalist message clear, so they keep repeating it. Rather than trusting what was a well-constructed metaphor to make that point, The Rig drops these clumsy, awkward exchanges of dialogue in a desperate attempt to make things obvious. And I just found that to be unnecessary and a little disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a series with a moral and a message, and The Rig clearly has one. Climate change and the environment are causes that we definitely need to care about, pay attention to, and find solutions to out here in the real world, and although The Rig was never going to be high-brow “art” or a series that would change opinions and sway huge numbers of folks to its cause, it had a point to make and its metaphor about “the earth fighting back” against humanity’s destructiveness was a good one. Not a wholly original point, perhaps, but a decent one nevertheless.
But what the series didn’t need to do was constantly hammer that message home by other means – the metaphor at its heart was strong enough on its own to get that message across. We didn’t need half the cast to spout anti-oil, anti-fossil fuels, or pro-climate lines – especially pretty clunky, hammy ones – in order to get the message. The Rig had a point – but the way in which it went overboard ended up rather detracting from it.
One thing I admired about The Rig’s story is the way in which it blended some very ancient-feeling legends of the sea with modern science and technology to create its core mystery. For as long as humans have been sailing, there have been legends of strange phenomena out at sea, and The Rig seemed to take some of these as a starting point, combined with our lack of knowledge of the ocean floor in general, and weave them into its sci-fi mystery. The way in which it was done was clever, and it came to screen well.
There was a strong anti-corporate message in The Rig, particularly one that went after big oil corporations. Though Pictor, the corporation in the show, is fictional, it’s clearly based on real-world corporations like Shell, BP, and others, and The Rig doesn’t hold back when it comes to criticising the way in which these massive corporations are managed and their impact on the environment. As we got into the final couple of episodes, the inclusion of a secretive character from “head office,” the fact that they were unwilling to share what they knew – and how long they’d known about some of the problems affecting the Kinloch Bravo rig – really leant into this “corporate dystopia” angle, and I think that worked pretty well.
So let’s wrap things up and I’ll share my thoughts on The Rig as a whole.
Overall, I felt that The Rig was an interesting series. Its core mystery certainly captured and held my attention, and even as its story descended from something semi-plausible into outright sci-fi, I was content to go along for the ride. I wouldn’t have climbed on board, however, if I’d realised that it was going to end on such an abrupt cliffhanger – and with no second season having been greenlit at time of writing, I fear the ending to this interesting story may never be told. All we can do is watch this space and hope that Amazon decides to go ahead with the next chapter!
On the technical side of things, though, I felt The Rig was let down by some pretty poor visual effects, both animated and practical, especially in its first couple of episodes. For a series that relies heavily on these things to set up its mysteries and narratives, the way in which some of them came across on screen wasn’t spectacular, and I’ve come to expect better from Amazon Prime Video in that respect.
So that was The Rig. An interesting series that I hope gets a continuation. If a second season, a film, or some other conclusion is in the offing, I daresay I’ll check it out. The Rig hadn’t been on my radar at all until I saw advertising for it on social media and Amazon’s homepage, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable enough six-hour series with a good cast.
The Rig is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video. The Rig is the copyright of Amazon Studios and Amazon Prime Video. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.