Well, since for once I’m actually writing about a show while it is airing, more or less, let’s have a quick post to catch up with what’s going on on Vikings, shall we? In this week’s episode, everyone goes to Paris, while back at home and in Wessex things are getting even more Game-of-Thrones-y in narrative fragmentation terms. I’m not going to write a detailed recap, but the gist is that the invasion force arrives outside Paris, the Franks are holed up on the Ile de la Cite, we get to see some internal Frankish politics with the emperor Charles, his daughter Gisla and military leader Count Odo, Ragnar puts Floki in charge of the attack and Floki gets all inspired to build stuff. Meanwhile in England, Mercia and Wessex keep squabbling and the writers remember Northumbria exists. And back at home Thorunn wants to give up the baby but Aslaug advises her otherwise with what passes for feminism in the middle ages.
Thoughts I thought:
- Man, I really regret all that stuff I said about Cwenthrith being a more complex character and not just all sexy-sexy. Her bullshit “I’m so kinky” seduction scene in this episode was just infuriating. Again, I can kind of see what they’re going for — like, she tries to seduce Aethelwulf because she knows she’s got shit-all else to use against him. And indeed, he gets all tormented by desire but in the end he points out that he has a big army and is not to be messed with and she has nowhere to go. But urrrrgh. I want more scenes with Aslaug being political and magic-y and wise (and somehow to forget that she showed up being all sexy and mysterious too).
- Floki, as written, could be a really irritating character, so much love to Gustaf Skarsgard for selling him as a guy who is crazy and yet still nervous and uncertain a lot of the time. Like, you can see that religion helps give Floki a framework for knowing what to do with the fact that he’s mentally ill. And in a rare piece of above-average dialogue, his big awkward, soul-searching scene with Helga from last season is actually echoed in his lines in this episode: “Floki the boat-builder, Floki the tower … maker” recalls “Floki the boat-builder, Floki the fisherman,” at least to me. And we go back to the thing about Ragnar being a little bit crazy, too — he’s a surfer, not a planner, and the vulnerability this creates is partly why people stay loyal to him. Is the much more put-together Kalf meant to be a contrast?
- I still miss Bjorn’s old haircut.
- I have no idea why the Franks are wearing weird masks other than that I guess it is France so there has to be a man in an iron mask? I am not an expert on Frankia so if this turns out to be an actual thing somebody please tell me.
- I wonder if there is just something about Rollo’s internal thermometer that is a couple of degrees out compared to everyone else’s. In the big last scene where Floki is whipping up the troops into a frenzy, all the leaders are standing up on the ridge thing looking at the city, and Rollo’s got his shirt off again. Who is he, Peter Quincy Taggart? I guess if you spend a lot of time in the early medieval gym, which Rollo clearly does, you want to get your early medieval kit off as much as possible. I’m not gonna lie, though, they actually do a really good job of portraying Rollo as a character who knows that a big part of his social role is to stand around looking hard as shit. It’s just still a bit noticeable.
- Blah blah self-flagellation. In my mind, this is really a 14th-century thing, although I wouldn’t swear there aren’t earlier examples. But the church has spend a long time presenting itself as a timeless unity, so I guess there’s no room to complain when that’s how writers see it.
The theme of this episode for me is the contrast between Kattegatt, Wessex (and Mercia, I guess, whatever) and Paris. That is: in past episodes we have seen that Wessex was a bit of a shock to the Vikings, although of course Ragnar is too cool for school and didn’t show it. In this episode we get to see how dingy and poor Ecbert’s palace looks in comparison to Charles’s. This is some of that historical impressionism that tedious hack from a few posts ago was talking about — regardless of whether the details of the rooms and costumes and things are right (and they don’t appear to be), that comparison is probably about right. Ragnar is a bumpkin compared to Ecbert, who is a bumpkin compared to Charles, who is a bumpkin compared to the Byzantine emperor.
What they’re overplaying is the idea that this is totally alien to the Vikings. Way back in the first season when they arrived in England it was as if they arrived on the moon. Now this is smart screenwriting, I guess — obviously in reality these cultures had long been in contact, but it’s a lot easier to have people find things out in the actual episode than have them talk about stuff in “as you know, Bob” conversations. But it’s still an exaggeration. Denmark and Frankia are right next to each other, and the Franks are mixed up in Danish politics. I think that’s even how we know about the historical King Horik at all, although I may be misremembering. But the show plays up Denmark like it’s a (mountainous, fjord-having) island in the middle of the ocean, with no connections other than the ones Ragnar creates. Easy for simplicity’s sake, I guess.
As always, I find the uniforms in this show silly (see also: Game of Thrones) but I understand why they need to exist.
Next week: a big battle? Hopefully there will be some strategy in it. That’s if I don’t just binge-watch Daredevil instead.