Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vikings "Trial" Review

"Do the gods exist?" Haraldson asks the oracle near the end of the episode. The oracle sees difficulties head for the chieftain. Ragnar Lothbrook is coming for him in the visions. Haraldson remarks that the gods treated him well in his life. The oracle, with his black ink lips and shriveled face smiles unworldly at him as if he's in touch with the darkness, the truth, that things are imagined. The oracle smiles unworldly at him because the gods haven't treat Haraldson well, though Haraldson thinks otherwise until he's reminded of the loss of his two sons. So much of the Vikings lifestyle is predicated on the idea of gods intervening in their lives on their behalf, for good. If something bad happens, it is because of the god of mischief Loki. Haraldson's question is terrible for him to ask.

Ragnar sits atop a hill, covered in a blanket, staring into the distance. Athelstan theorizes he's preparing for a task. Ragnar's preparing to kill the earl. The oracle sees Ragnar's intent in the signs. The final minutes of the episode recalled to mind Ragnar's line to Athelstan about God. Athelstan thanks Him for his life. Ragnar smiles and reminds him that God did not save his life. King Aelle, his soldiers, and the English people thought they were protected by the Lord but nothing could stop the Vikings from taking expensive things and slaughtering the army as Aelle's men tried to protect their land. Athelstan has a moment of despair in the Lothbrok home. During the night, he finds his Bible and holds it in his hands while he whispers a prayer to the Lord, asking for some sign he has not been abandoned. Athelstan wonders why God would let his brothers be murdered, wonders why he's in the North, and wonders whether or not what's happened is part of God's plan for him. He seeks comfort and assurance, and the purpose he possessed in the monastery. Neither man finds the assurance he wants.

The religious element of Vikings has been written excellently so far. The exploration of God and gods and how people are united and divided by it, as well as how people need their God and gods to give their life purpose just as its always been and always will be, is a striking theme in what's been a consistently thoughtful series. Ragnar compliments Athelstan's Christianity in a scene after his return home. It's notable that Ragnar doesn't slaughter the church. Athelstan's influence on him changed his approach, seemingly. Ragnar instructed the priest and congregants not to resist. The men take what they want without resistance, and no one gets hurt (except for the priest who protested the removal of the crucifix). Christian iconography is meaningless to the Vikings. Floki drinks from the blood of Christ and spits it out. The Christians are aghast. Theft of the crucifix is a step too far, and the priest dies for his faith and in defense of it (literally).

Ragnar's honorable and noble. He honors Athelstan's faith, and he honors his wife. Kunut tries to rape Lagertha, but she kills him before he's able to--he'd already raped a Saxon woman. Ragnar assumes responsibility for the murder to protect his wife. Haraldson uses Rollo to convict Ragnar. Vikings moves fast, so Ragnar's put to trial and set free in one scene. This is the opposite of present day court proceedings. Rollo's role as the witness is well written because it plays on the audience's expectations and subverts them--the most basic and effective writing tool. I thought Rollo would betray his brother. Rollo stands up for him, though he tells Lagertha he stood up for him for her. Haraldson promised him power. Rollo chose differently. There is more to the character after all.

Besides the narrative and the thematics, "Trial" is really good because of its action pieces. Vikings didn't premiere with big battle fireworks. "Trial" has the first significant battle of the series. King Aelle sends his men to kill the Vikings when they return to their ship. The Vikings are well-organized, and they overwhelm the English soldiers. One of the commanders reports back to Aelle that the men speak a strange tongue and that the lone name he heard and understood was Ragnar. The Vikings win the battle, but they lose a man in combat. Ragnar intends to avenge the fallen man's death, which means they will return to the shores of Aelle's kingdom. The war abroad is but one war. Haraldson sends men to kill Ragnar's men--that's why the oracle sees bad things in the signs for Haraldson.

I'm consistently impressed with Vikings each week. Johan Renck's direction is top-notch. The battle scene was terrific. Michael Hirst has crafted a brooding, meditative, yet visceral and intense world. Vikings has weaknesses. The pacing is sometimes too quick. Rollo didn't get decent characterization until tonight. Kunut's turn as violent rapist seemed inconsistent with his behavior in "Wrath of Northmen." Overall, though, Vikings continues to be a surprising treat. The quality goes up with each episode. Its building to something great.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.