Sunday, March 17, 2013

'Vikings' Review - 1.03 Dispossessed

        On the newest episode of History's Vikings, Ragnar and his crew raid the monastery for all its treasures and take a few monks to be sold as slaves; and, unable to ignore the riches this unsanctioned journey has returned, Earl Haraldson has no choice but to agree to let these warriors undertake a second trip out.

        Vikings - as History's first ongoing scripted effort - had the potential of reinvented the wheel of how storytelling is done through the medium of television. And while the series hasn't really done anything to elevate to the top of the pantheon of acclaimed cable dramas, it spins its wheels very firmly, efficiently and resoundingly - a feat not easily accomplished by these types of epic worldly pieces.
        Ragnar Lodbrok - played wonderfully by Travis Fimmel - is a revolutionary and a character ahead of his time in terms of his actions and his thinking. He chose to explore to the west because he knew in his head that there was land there. He searched for a why to navigate the waters and succeeded with the new boat and the sundial. He chose to spare the life of Athelstan the Priest - played by new series regular George Blagden - because he seems him as a smart man able to assist him in getting to understand the ways of these lands to the West. The rest of the vikings community laugh at him with his decision to keep only Athelstan from the raid but he sees the acquisition as a learning experience. Because of the knowledge he manipulates out of him, he knows of where to strike in England and convinces the cynical Earl to grant the voyage back there. Similarily, he - rather quickly doesn't he? - learns the language of the Englishman to better strategize how to attack once there. His attempts to broker a journey deeper into the heart of the country end with the ruthlessness of the rest of his viking comrades bursting into battle right away. But Ragnar is still trying to look at the bigger picture of how to get the best riches from this land while everyone else is simply in tunnel vision and looking at what's in the moment.
         But Vikings is as much a piece about family units as it is about this community of soldiers going out on raids and terrorizing the people of the world. Ragnar and Lagertha welcome Athelstan into their home not as a slave to do their work but as a scholarly man with a different perspective on the world. They don't understand what he stands for - and their children openly laugh at him - but they do somewhat respect him. Ragnar does give him the choice of whether to stay with him or run away and Athelstan chooses to stay. Ragnar, unfortunately, is the only "friend" he has in this new world. If he doesn't stick with him, then he most likely will be the next body hanging dead in the public square. Thusly, Ragnar allows him to watch over the farm and the kids while he and Lagertha go out on the next raid.
        Gabriel Byrne is the name actor to bring a sense of legitimacy to the whole proceedings and he plays his role of Earl Haraldson devilishly well - despite the character mostly being a one-note villain. He extends out his power very forcefully - taking the majority of the treasures from the raid and killing the innocent to protect said treasure. However, his scenes with wife Siggy - a terrific Jessalyn Gilsig - are the most telling into the depths of this relationship and their familial bonds. Siggy is this sort of Lady MacBeth figure - a type Gilsig has portrayed before but does so wonderfully - always there with a voice in Earl's head telling he did the right thing. Elsewhere, this dynamic could be viewed as her character only existed to say words of validation to her husband. But here, there is a palpable level of respect and intrigue to dig deeper into how and why these two souls have demanded and achieved such power in their lives.

So what did everyone think of the episode? Has History's first ongoing scripted venture been a success for you? What are everyone's views on the use of subtitles here? Share your thoughts in the comments.