Wednesday, November 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ragnar Tries to Recruit His Sons for a New Mission in 'The Outsider'

History's Vikings - Episode 4.11 "The Outsider"

Ragnar has returned to Kattegat and there are secrets to be revealed. He makes plans to return to Wessex to right past wrongs but finds that those who were once his closest allies now have plans of their own. Even the Lothbrok sons refuse to join their father's mission - except one.

The fourth season of Vikings has already been remarkably strong. The first three seasons of the show were about the spectacular rise of Ragnar Lothbrok amongst the viking people. He became a king known for exploring new lands with his brilliant mind. He's been such a fascinating character to watch over the years because it's never clear what exactly he's thinking in any given moment. He could be playing a game that the rest of the world isn't even aware of yet or he could just be making it up as he goes along. For those first three seasons, he was always right. No matter how broken down or defeated he became, he was always able to eventually rise up victoriously. This season was different though. This year was the fall of Ragnar Lothbrok. The first half of the season was about his kingdom of soldiers following him into battle at Paris once more. He was no longer the leader that they all admired and respected though. His mind became warped which led to a crucial defeat. The midseason finale was the best episode of the series so far because it showed the true consequences of this loss in battle. The viking world is forever changed because of the defeat in Paris. Ragnar disappeared for years. The story jumps ahead in time to his return as a broken man who is no longer able to inspire anyone into battle with him.

The question still persists of how long Ragnar will remain the lead character on the show. The jump in time means that all of his sons have become men and capable viking warriors. They are still the ruling family of Kattegat. Under Aslaug's leadership, the town has become a major trading post in the region. The viking world has changed so much in Ragnar's absence. He returns as the most hated man in the world. The entire city knows of his deceits and lies. And yet, no one steps up to face him in battle. That's the only way that someone new can be crowned king. His sons have all been deeply betrayed by him. They have all thought about killing him. The opening scene of "The Outsider" is a straight continuation of where things left off in the spring. Ragnar is provoking his sons into battle. He's screaming at them wanting to know who thinks they should be king. Ubbe does step forward. But Ragnar does not fight him. He instead embraces his son. He returned to Kattegat to see what became of his sons in his absence. And now, he sees that they are brave warriors willing to fight against him. That battle doesn't actually occur. But no one in this world is all that welcoming to Ragnar either.

"The Outsider" is essentially about Ragnar once again meeting with all of his friends and family to see who will follow him on his next journey. When he was king, vikings came from all over ready to be led into battle by him. After Paris, no one trusts his vision. He's an aging warrior who no longer has a grasp on the viking culture. That foresight now befalls his sons. Bjorn is already planning his own voyage into the unknown. He's following in his father's footsteps by discovering countries that haven't been found yet. He wants to sail and explore the Mediterranean Sea. It's clear that he and Aslaug stepped up to rule in Ragnar's absence. The Mediterranean journey is what everyone is committed to doing. No one is interested in sailing to England once more with Ragnar. He's doing so because of his own unfinished business with King Ecbert. The vikings understandably have vengeance against the English as well. The settlement was destroyed as soon as they left. Family members have been killed for years and no one knew except Ragnar and Floki. That personal betrayal from them keeps anyone from lining up to go with Ragnar on this journey.

Not even Floki will accompany Ragnar to England once more. Despite everything that has happened between the two of them, they still have so much respect and love for each other. This was a tough season for Floki. He was severely punished by Ragnar for what he did to Athelstan. But now, that tension has gone. They've been bonded together in battle. But time has healed their wounds as well. Ragnar went to Floki when he first needed boats to sail to England. And now, he needs to do the same. Floki has continued to improve his designs. But all of his ships are going with Bjorn to the Mediterranean. He has nothing for Ragnar. He had to keep on living his life in Kattegat when Ragnar disappeared. And yet, it's interesting to watch the two of them meet again now. Helga informs Ragnar that Floki would do anything for him because he loves him. He believes that they are destined to be together in Valhalla sharing stories of their great adventures. He's the only character who still does love Ragnar. He can't join him on this journey because of Bjorn but Floki would still risk everything just to travel and fight with Ragnar once more.

The same cannot be said for Lagertha. Ragnar reaches out to her as well to see if she wants revenge in England. And yet, it's clear right away that she has her own plans. She hasn't needed Ragnar in a long time. She has always followed him into battle. She trusted him as a leader without any doubts. But now, she has raised her own kingdom and has her own agenda to service. This premiere only teases her plot to an extent. It's shrouded in secrecy. It's more important that she now has a female lover named Astrid. She's a new spark of energy who catches Ragnar's eye as well. But other than that, Lagertha is preparing for what's next - whatever that may be. Ragnar appearing again is a blast from her past. He is the one person in this world who really makes her question all of her decisions. At one point she says, "No regrets. And yet, every regret." These two have such a complicated history. Lagertha is proud of the life she has built for herself. But she clearly loves Ragnar as well and does think about what their lives would have been like if they stayed together. That kiss is such a surprising moment. It doesn't lead to anything more. It's just a way for Lagertha to show Ragnar just how powerful she now is. But it's such an intense moment nevertheless.

So in the end, no one wants to join Ragnar in his voyage to England. Whatever he had as a leader is now gone. The vikings have moved beyond him. They have different goals for their lives now. Ragnar is so defeated that he tries killing himself. He's so isolated and lost without his loyal following that he feels he has nothing more to give to this world. He returned to Kattegat for a reason. And now, he has seen what he wanted and has been unable to inspire anyone to join him on one last mission. The only person who genuinely seems interested in Ragnar is his youngest son, Ivar. He's the only one willing to go to England with him. And yet, he is the only person that Ragnar doesn't ask. When Ragnar returned to Kattegat, he asked all of his sons with Aslaug to battle him to become king except for Ivar. He recognized Ivar right away but didn't see him as capable of battle. This hour proves that Ivar should be feared just as much as the rest of his viking brothers. Of course, Ivar has always been played as special. Yes, he received more affection from his mother. But even as a child, the show has been more interested in his antics than those of his brothers. And now, he is proving himself to be capable as a viking warrior. He may not be able to move his legs. But he knows how to use a bow and arrow as well as a sword. In the end, Ragnar is sitting all alone on his throne to a kingdom that no longer needs or appreciates him. Ivar is still interested in his father's power and legacy. He's willing to learn from him. That will be interesting journey but one that should create some fantastic narrative stakes this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Outsider" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Daniel Grou.
  • This hour also spends quite a bit of time trying to introduce the now grown sons of Ragnar and their relationship to one another. Ivar is the most important. So much of this story is seen through his eyes. But it's also just fun to see the four of them practicing and fighting against each other as well.
  • Of course, it's weird watching Ivar continue to spy on people as they have sex. And now, he's doing so to his own brothers as they all share the same woman. He wants her but is unable to have her in that way. It's suppose to build some kind of sympathy for him but largely seems like an explanation for how he won't be as distracted by beautiful women as his brothers may be.
  • Aslaug is the only person from his past that Ragnar doesn't talk with after returning to Kattegat. He reaches out to his sons and the other warriors he loves. That's because he needs something from them. He needs people to join his mission. With Aslaug, it would have to be personal to talk with her again.
  • The glimpses into life in England and Paris have become important parts of the overall narrative over the years. They aren't always necessary but it's nice to see what those characters are up to. And yet, this return needed to be all about the vikings and the different journeys they are all on right now.
  • Between Ragnar and Ivar sailing to England, Bjorn leading an epic voyage to the Mediterranan and whatever Lagertha is planning, this is going to be one busy season for the characters. It should also be exciting to see who succeeds and fails with these large goals.