Wednesday, December 7, 2016

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ragnar and Bjorn Set Sail on Their Journeys to England and the Mediterranean in 'The Vision'

History's Vikings - Episode 4.12 "The Vision"

The Kattegat locals chide Ragnar that the gods have deserted him as he struggles to crew his voyage to Wessex. Bjorn prepares to fulfill his dream of exploring the Mediterranean.

Vikings is splitting off into a couple of directions in "The Vision." It was the path laid out for the characters in last week's premiere. These opening episodes have succeeded because of their intimate focus on viking life in Kattegat. The narrative hasn't jumped away to show what life is like in England or France following the time jump. That can all be expected shortly this season as Ragnar plans his return to England while Bjorn has to go through France in order to get to the Mediterranean. But these first two episodes of the season are still largely just plot setup. It's fascinating plot setup though. The simplification of the narrative works following Ragnar's massive defeat at Paris. And now, the show is depicting how the vikings have changed and are moving forward because of that. Ragnar struggles to find any men willing to go with him to England while Bjorn is able to take a huge crusade on his upcoming expedition. It's a lot of interesting work. It will probably be awhile before the show is centered around one place again. But Kattegat should remain an important part of the story as well with Ubbe and Sigurd staying behind to protect it and Lagertha possibly playing a bigger role in its future. It's an exciting time for the show right now.

Of course, it's all just a crushing reality for Ragnar. He lost at Paris and deserted his kingdom for years. His return hasn't been celebrated by many. Ivar is his only son willing to sail with him to England. He is eager to learn from his father. The vikings have largely decided that the gods have abandoned Ragnar. They bestowed him with so much success and wealth. But they turned on him in Paris. And now, he can no longer be trusted to lead any mission. One failure is all it takes for this community to turn their backs on him. Ragnar is still technically king of Kattegat. But he isn't treated or acts like a king when he's around his people. He's still just adjusting to how the world has changed in his absence. There are some things he is appreciative of. But the people who just outright hate him is even more overwhelming. This isn't the world he expected to return to. He thought he could still inspire some people to follow him into battle. Ivar desperately wants the chance to be seen as a man to his father instead of the cripple he is known as to the rest of the world. But Ragnar and Ivar aren't really that inspirational as the leaders of this latest raid into England.

Ragnar has always known how to turn public information into his favor. He has known how to use the latest details to get the vikings to rally behind him. He knows the community hates him because they found out the settlement in Wessex was destroyed. He tries to inspire people into action by saying his raid is an act of revenge against King Ecbert. He wants to venture to England once more to get the vengeance he never thought to get all of those years ago when he first found out. But now, more people know that Ragnar wasn't as great as they believed him to be. He was a man just like them. The gods gave him a ton of success and fame. But now, they've turned their backs on him. It's hard to get the people to change their minds now. They don't see Ragnar as a leader who can win in battle. Ragnar has had a lifetime upon his throne. He hasn't had to deal with this kind of problem in a long time. He's no longer the young man trying to convince his earl that there is land to sail to in the west. Now, the vikings know the world is much larger than they previously thought. They no longer need Ragnar's vision. His sons are already looking beyond what Ragnar is capable of seeing. He's being usurped by his own children which is a hard reality for him to grasp. Ragnar literally has to bribe people just to go to England with him once more. It's in that moment where it seems Ragnar has fully gone into madness over his current situation.

It's in that moment though that he goes to see Aslaug for the first time since his return. He has purposefully avoided her. Everyone in the family knows it. She doesn't demand that he see her. She has made her peace with her husband leaving her and abandoning his kingdom. All that Kattegat has become is because of her and her sons. Those are her own achievements. And yet, her existence is still plagued with doubts over whether she ever loved Ragnar. Now, it's her sons who are questioning her motives. She wants them to find women to breed with and continue the legacy of this clan while they bring up Harbard yet again. She has had to answer to those questions for a long time. They are still defining her life all these years later. Ragnar is the only one who really shows her any appreciation and compassion. It's always unclear how Ragnar will react in any given situation. That's still true now. He thanks Aslaug for not turning his sons against him. She could have poisoned their minds. She didn't. She let his actions speak for themselves and let the boys come up with their own opinions of their father. Ubbe, Hvitserk and Sigurd don't want anything to do with him. To them, Ragnar is an embarrassment to this community. To Ivar though, Ragnar is still someone worth learning from. That insight could prove important during the next stage of their upcoming journey together.

Both Ragnar and Bjorn take off on their respective voyages during "The Vision." The stark differences between the ways they leave Kattegat just shows how much things have changed in Ragnar's absence. When Bjorn takes off for the Mediterranean, he does so with many viking warriors coming to the city to join him. King Harald and Halfdan return to be a part of this mission. Bjorn has the ships and the respect of the community. He departs with a full on celebration. The entire community makes sure to bless this voyage not knowing if it will be a success or not. Bjorn has a well thought out plan that includes sending a message to Rollo. He knows the world he is about to enter and is prepared for whatever may happen. He has become the leader his father once was. Seeing that stirs something up in Ragnar. He's grateful that Bjorn spares some ships for him. But he doesn't join in on any of the festivities. He's focused on his own mission. It's a distraction from the kind of success that Bjorn may have out there waiting for him to discover. He could become the new hero of the vikings. That's a legacy Ragnar doesn't want to leave. So, he's rather aloof when it comes to Bjorn's mission.

But at least Bjorn's journey to the Mediterranean is a joyous and rousing moment. Ragnar and his motley crew's sendoff is only notable when it comes to Ivar debuting his new crutches. It's not a moment that inspires a whole lot of confidence. And yet, Ivar wants to be a part of this mission. He's the only one too. Aslaug allows him to go despite the vision of impending doom that she sees. Again, mysticism hasn't always been the show at its best or most useful. It's largely just a way for the show's imagery to be even more potent. But it's enough for Aslaug to be worried for her son on this mission. Plus, it doesn't take long for her vision to become a reality. This isn't a simple trip across the ocean. Instead, it's one filled with peril. It seemingly ends in disaster before it ever gets started. This is something Ragnar wanted to do - not for revenge but out of guilt. He believes there is still something he must do in England with King Ecbert. This is also the first time where he's truly looking out for Ivar. He's proud that Ivar comes with him but he also sees him as a problem to worry about and nothing more. Ivar doesn't want to be seen as a cripple. And yet, he's afraid of the water. Ragnar does his best to protect Ivar during a storm. But the ships still capsize into the water. The luck is no longer on Ragnar's side. It seems destined for him to encounter problems all along the way. Ragnar and Ivar will more than likely survive this storm. But it should be very interesting to see what kind of raiding party they will still have and what life in England is like for them to deal with.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Vision" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Daniel Grou.
  • A showdown between Lagertha and Aslaug may be on the horizon. During the celebration for Bjorn, Lagertha makes it a point to intimidate Aslaug. It's suppose to make her doubt her hold on this kingdom. It's important that Lagertha chooses not to go with either Ragnar or Bjorn. So, is she paying a takeover of Kattegat or something?
  • When King Harald was first introduced, he said that he wanted to be king of all of Norway. That immediately set up a future conflict between him and Ragnar. And now, it's revealed he has conquered even more of the country. He's still raiding with Bjorn. But his ambition could make that partnership more tenuous.
  • Apparently, Sigurd is in love with the slave girl that Ivar tried sleeping with last week. She is scared of Ivar while his brothers only laugh at him and not take his threats seriously. She has the right reaction. But now that Ivar is gone and Sigurd has stayed, perhaps things will be easier for her.
  • Hvitserk goes on Bjorn's voyage. Ubbe and Sigurd stay in Kattegat. Ivar sails with Ragnar. Separating the brothers like this could be a very good thing in helping them develop individual and distinct personalities. Right now, Ivar stands out and the other three are of the same collective mentality.
  • It's been a long time since Aslaug has had a vision like that one, right? It has been important for her before. The mysticism has made her a bit more opaque. But if anything could re-trigger this ability it would be the potential loss of the son she loves the most.