Thursday, April 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ragnar & Floki Plan Their Upcoming Attack While King Ecbert Tries to Keep His Control in Mercia in 'Paris'

History's Vikings - Episode 3.07 "Paris"

The appearance of the Vikings fleet causes panic among the population of Paris. King Charles, urged by his daughter Gisela, announces in Court he will remain in the city. The defense of Paris is in the hands of its Commander, Count Odo, who hopes that a heroic victory against the Vikings will gain him Gisela's hand in marriage. The Vikings establish camp downriver from the city and plan their attack.

At times, it's been a tad difficult to tell what Vikings has been building towards this season. The main conflict of the early episodes was the shaky alliance between the Vikings and the English forces at Wessex. Both sides were transparent in their desire to work together in order to achieve their goals. But all of that was quickly cast aside as soon as Ragnar led his warriors back to Kattegat and King Ecbert and Aethelwulf slaughtered everyone at the vikings' settlement. That was a gruesome sequence. And yet, the vikings really haven't had time to react to that devastation. They are in Kattegat preparing for their next raid in a little place called Paris. That's the location for the grand action pieces of the final half of the season. Things are still happening throughout England. And yet, I remain a little lost on how all of these plots are going to tie together in a meaningful way by the end of the season.

King Ecbert and the English forces have no stakes in the vikings' attack on Paris. This episode could easily be seen as a transitional set piece for the season. The Viking fleet sails up the river surrounding Paris ready to attack. And yet, there is much surveilling of the environment and of the various leaders figuring out what the best coarse of action is. That's apparent on both sides of this upcoming conflict. Ragnar, Floki, Rollo and Lagertha are planning their strategy on how to attack the city that Athelstan believed was impregnable. Inside Paris' walls, the audience is introduced to their rulers. A lot of it is expositional. These are new characters who are about to face peril and the audience needs some understanding of who they are before this grand conflict begins. It's simply a necessary part of the narrative.

So the show introduces its latest ruler with greater ambitions in Lothaire Bluteau's Emperor Charles. He appears to be the same archetype as Ragnar and Ecbert. And yet, he's not as strongly a visionary as the other two are. He's relying heavily on the leader of his armies, Count Odo, to make sure that the city is protected from the northmen invaders. He's not the one coming up with the strategy. He's simply power hungry with the desire to take over a larger portion of the region from his brothers once his grandfather dies. It's a lot of details that are just thrown at the audience. His daughter appears to be his closest confidante. She seems to be the one to tell him what to do. That's intriguing. But she's also caught up in some new love story with Count Odo who hopes to win her hand after achieving victory in battle with the northmen.

Meanwhile, back in England, Ecbert and Aethelwulf are struggling to keep their stranglehold on Mercia while plotting a move for control in Northumbia. Ecbert has a vision of being the king of all of England. That's a hefty ambition considering he can't even control his puppet in Mercia as well as the looming threat that Ragnar will someday return for vengeance against him. And yet, Ecbert is largely transfixed with the idea of power and what Athelstan is up to with the Vikings. He truly did build a connection and friendship with Athelstan when he stayed at court with him. It's going to be so tragic when Ecbert learns that Athelstan is dead. He's holding Athelstan up as a symbol of religious importance. To him, it's okay to kiss his son's wife because she has a connection to Athelstan that he wants to keep a part of him. It's weird and largely just giving the characters something to do for the week.

The true highlight of the episode comes in the aftermath of Athelstan's death within Ragnar and Floki's friendship. The divide between the two was a concept the show tried doing in the second season that never made any sense. Floki's betrayal never felt real so it was expected when it was ultimately revealed that he was always working with Ragnar and just trying to fool Horik. This season the show has tried it again and placed some actual weight to it. Floki is a deeply personal and religious man. He believes in the gods with all his heart. Ragnar is open to the world around him. That's what makes him an effective leader. He recognizes that the world around him doesn't have the same beliefs and doesn't let that hinder how he conducts business. To Floki though, his religion is everything. When someone turns their back on the gods, devastation occurs. Floki believes the vikings had no right settling in Wessex or fighting for King Ecbert's cause. That only brought about death. Ragnar was wrong to trust Ecbert as much as he did. Ecbert is a worthy adversary for the show and Ragnar to have. And yet, it's also indicative of Ragnar embracing outside ideologies. That is the most destructive thing that Floki can understand happening.

Floki believes killing Athelstan was the thing he needed to do in order to save Ragnar. And yet, it has also propelled Ragnar into further embracing the views that Athelstan held. Ragnar thinks Floki did all of this because he was neglecting him as a friend. Putting Floki in charge of this upcoming battle is Ragnar trying to say that he trusts Floki and believes in him. Ragnar doesn't say anything in the grand strategy meeting. He lets Floki take over and he's happy to go with the plan that Rollo and Lagertha have suggested. Floki is fueled with passion. He believes he's now a vessel for the gods' will. He's slowly getting more demented and crazy. He feels the rush of this power flowing through him and that could become destructive rather quickly. With Ragnar not leading the siege on Paris, it doesn't guarantee the vikings being successful. Or it could prove that Ragnar is not the reason why the vikings have been finding so much success in recent years. It really could go either way. That unpredictable quality is what's so enticing about the main story right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Paris" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Kelly Makin.
  • Porunn tries handing her daughter off to Aslaug because she feels she can't raise an effective viking warrior because of the way she looks. Aslaug declines the offer. And really, you know Porrun is desperate if she's asking Aslaug - whose children almost drowned earlier this season - to look after another child!
  • The possible love entanglement of Bjorn and Torvi just seems too unnecessary and drives most of its narrative forward through personal melodrama.
  • Kwenthrith is faced with the choice of killing Aethelwulf and dealing with the wrath of Ecbert or signing the agreement that keeps her country a part of Wessex control. She loves the power of her position and won't serve as a puppet so easily. And yet, Ecbert is a very dangerous man to have as an enemy. She can't count on her small army or the vikings to protect her.
  • Also, Kwenthrith is certain that the child she just gave birth to is Ragnar's son. If true, that could be a new connection that pulls him into the world of Christianity and England.
  • How did Floki build all of those walls to help the vikings storm Paris so quickly?