Sunday, March 10, 2013

Vikings "Wrath of Northmen" Review

A bad storm threatens to sink the Vikings' ship halfway through the second episode of Vikings. One of the crew members theorizes the storm's been brought about by Thor's, the Norse god, disapproval with the journey to find new lands where new lands do not exist. They've gone against Earl Haldarson, who of course claims lands do not exist west of their lands. The same crew member feels the god of mischief possessed Ragnar Lothbrok and set them on a course to their untimely demise. The crew member gets a knife to the jugular from Ragnar. Ragnar met with an oracle of the gods. The mission is destined. Meanwhile, a brotherhood of monks pray on a remote island near England. Brother Athelstan sees the approaching ship in his dreams and draws it on a canvas. The Vikings await a new world whereas the monks await the end of the world.

The two groups perceive the world differently. The Holy Book of God, the Bible, is perceived just a book by the Vikings. "Why do you have that," Ragnar asks. Athelstan explains, and ends his explanation with a morsel of the principle that guides him: without the Lord, there is darkness. Ragnar smiles, with a twinkle in his eye, and spares the man's life, telling Rollo the man is worth more alive than dead. Rollo looks around the small church on the small remote island and remarks about its strangeness. Ragnar simply smiles, as Athelstan prays for his life in silence. Their dynamic has terrific potential.

"Wrath of Northmen" moves quickly. In the beginning, the Vikings are weeks away from setting sail; by the end, they've landed on new land, murdered several monks, and took the others as hostages. Haldarson walks around his territory killing men he cannot trust. One man informs him of Ragnar's plans, but he dies after he goes to bed with Haldarson's wife. The man failed the test. The other men killed is the blacksmith who made the anchor for the ship. Haldarson's few scenes showed the audience his brutality and mercilessness. I wonder when he'll get around to threatening Ragnar's family. Ragnar and his wife had a rather unique argument in which she bashed him about the head with a shield while he drunkenly stumbled around avoiding her blows. She felt angry he planned to sail alone. Ragnar reminds her of the small children one of them need care for while the other sails the seas for new lands.

Haldarson's mini-rampage isn't the only source of tension in "Wrath of Northmen." There isn't tension or suspense in the Vikings journey across the sea, because if they died there wouldn't be a series. The remaining seven episodes would consist of Haldarson sitting on his throne, with a smug smile on his face, reminding folk he was right. Rollo and Ragnar threaten to have a break like Owen and Bret in 1994. Rollo's the classic brute. Before sailing, he rapes a woman who just presided over a spiritual ceremony, and he'd kill Athelstan if not for Ragnar literally standing in his way. Ragnar forbids the murder, which Rollo reacts badly, too. Rollo reminds him of the vow of equality. Ragnar stares his brother's in the eyes with the same smile he gives Athelstan. So, yeah, they're going to fight. Rollo's characterization hasn't been good--he lumbers around, growls with his eyes, and commits atrocities like rape as well as attempted rape (of his brother's wife). So, no, he's not a layered character.

Vikings seems poised for more layered storytelling now that Ragnar and Athelstan are on the same ship, and now that the Vikings will be exposed to a completely different culture from the one they left. Lagertha tells her children an old myth about Thor and the serpent Midgard. Athelstan tells a similar story about a beast with seven heads (or something like that--you know, Revelations stuff). The ravaging and pillaging of lands and the slaughter of people aren't as inviting stories as pagan faith meeting religious faith. I didn't know the Vikings were the last pagans on the earth when I wrote my review last week. I'm fascinated by that particular fact and intrigued by how their meeting with Christians in England changed them, or if they were even changed at all. Between the violence, the betrayals, and the slaughters, lays a potentially rich exploration of faith.

"Wrath of Northmen" focuses on the important story threads and fleshes out the main characters a bit more than in "Rites of Passage," as is expected in the episode of the series. The characters didn't get any new sides to them. "Wrath of Northmen" emphasized the consistency of its characters. Initially, I thought there'd be a greater dramatic focus on Haldarson attempting to stop Ragnar from sailing; however, greater tension exists with Ragnar far away from home, with his family more vulnerable without him, etc. "Wrath of Northmen" is had a looming sense or dread that is more prologue than anything. The story's set to really unfold now.

Other Thoughts:

-History made the episode available OnDemand for a week. Thank you, History. I probably won't review any more episodes of Vikings until the finale (if I keep up with Vikings), unless History continues to have First Looks OnDemand.

-The location is still gorgeous. The shot of the misty waterfall is the best of the episode.


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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.