Wednesday, January 4, 2017

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ivar Plots His Revenge Against Lagertha While Bjorn Explores the Spanish Coast in 'Crossings'

History's Vikings - Episode 4.16 "Crossings"

Bjorn's fleet sails onward and launches a surprising attack. Back in Kattegat, Lagertha continues in her quest for power.

Vikings has created a power vacuum for itself. Ragnar's death was a very significant moment on the show last week. It signaled the end of an era for the show. No matter what was happening, Ragnar was the central focus of the series. Travis Fimmel was able to carry that responsibility and burden in some fantastic ways. Of course, other characters have been able to carry their own stories completely separate from Ragnar. As the series has evolved, the world has grown and the ensemble has increased. Both Linus Roache's King Ecbert and Katheryn Winnick's Lagertha have proven able to carry their own stories for a long time without interacting with Ragnar. So, there is no reason to be concerned about the future of the series without Ragnar. It should just be interesting to see which characters step up in his absence. His sons have been on the rise lately - with Bjorn sailing to the Mediterranean, Ubbe and Sigurd dealing with the death of their mother and Ivar sailing to England with his father. This season of the show has covered a lot of storytelling ground already. The sons have proven themselves capable of stepping up and carrying the show. Now, it's become a series about their own struggles to hold or maintain power. The older generation is dying off. Both Ragnar and Aslaug have been killed this season, with several other characters marked for death as well. It should be interesting to see if the next generation will be able to uphold their legacy while forging their own paths forward.

Of course, "Crossings" largely feels like the show readjusting into a normal storytelling mode by juggling a couple of different narratives. The last two episodes have been very focused on Ragnar's adventures in England with Ecbert and Aelle. It was a very powerful story. It rightly took the focus for those episodes. It was fascinating to watch Ragnar struggle with his mortality and faith. And now, news of his death has to travel throughout the world. The characters need to react to it and plot their next moves. This is a very contemplative hour. It does have one solid and unique action set piece in Bjorn's travels. But the hour is largely focused on setting up new plots that will become important for the next stage of the season. Lagertha is wondering just how long she'll be able to hold power in Kattegat. Ivar wants to seek revenge for the deaths of both of his parents. Ubbe wants the same thing but knows he needs to be more methodical and wait for the time to be right. Bjorn is finding his footing as a leader as he sails to unknown territory. Harald and Halfdan continue to plot to be the kings of the vikings and what that means for their partnership with Bjorn. And finally, Floki is adrift without purpose and Helga is hoping to fill that void with a new child.

It's fascinating to see the series pick up the Mediterranean adventures of Bjorn and company again. That group of characters hasn't been seen in awhile - not since they added Rollo to their journey. And now, they have made progress on their journey. They've sailed to Spanish territory. It's a new world for the show to explore. It opens the door to numerous possibilities. Namely, it's a chance to explore a new religion and new group of people. The vikings raid like they typical do. They need to find a port city in order to replenish their flesh water and food supplies. But now, they are walking into a new world and don't fully know what to expect. Rollo has a few more answers than they do. He knows that these people aren't Christian. They instead worship a God called Allah. It's fascinating to watch the vikings go through this new world. Of course, it's horrifying as well. It's a venture filled with death and implied raping. The vikings take dozens of women as slaves. The show never glosses over the realities of the viking way of life. But it's interesting to see this raid through the eyes of Floki. He has always been a very religious man. He doesn't like it whenever anyone questions the Gods' plans. But here, he's the one drawn to the temple. He's the one who notices that the people aren't praying to anything but are just as devout as he is. He recognizes this as a place of worship and gets his fellow warriors to leave without hurting any of the people. It's a strange character shift for Floki but an interesting one as well. Of course, it's soon overshadowed by Helga kidnapping a child hoping to replace the one she lost. That story probably won't end well. But the complications for the future are still very tantalizing.

Plus, it's simply a great moment when Bjorn, Rollo, Hvitserk, Harald and Halfdan look out to the Mediterranean Sea. This is the world Bjorn wanted to explore. He got that map of the Roman empire and made new plans for the vikings. He set out to explore a world his father could never imagine. He has stepped up as the leader of the vikings. He's filling the void left by Ragnar. That was easy to see from early on this season. Bjorn is now the leader the vikings trust to lead raids. He's the one they trust to explore and conquer new worlds. Ragnar didn't inspire that confidence in the end. And now, Bjorn's vision has paid off. He has made it to the Mediterranean. It's a victory to him. It's a triumph over his father. He did what the mighty Ragnar could not. So, it's particularly devastating when it's in that moment that he and Hvitserk learn that their father has died. Again, the mystical elements of this show have never been that great. Apparently, all of the sons of Ragnar receive a vision from Odin telling them of their father's death. It's confirmation when all they had before was skepticism. It's a rousing and unifying final moment of the hour. It works because it showcases that Ragnar's sons still have their faith. They believe that Ragnar has now entered Valhalla even though he had his doubts that there was anything waiting for him in death. This is what the vikings believe. And now, they'll need to find a way forward knowing that Ragnar is dead and will no longer be able to see or appreciate their accomplishments in this world.

Lagertha loved Ragnar as well. She took back Kattegat and now serves as its queen. But she is also flooded with memories of her home and the life she had with Ragnar. She may be with Astrid now but Ragnar is very much on her mind. She's been the queen of Kattegat before. Ragnar cast her aside when he chose to be with Aslaug. Lagertha finally got her revenge for that betrayal. And now, she receives news that Ragnar has died. She doesn't trust Ivar's word because he didn't see it himself. She chooses to believe that Ragnar could still be alive. She holds onto that until she sees a vision of him late at night. That is soon followed by a visit to the Seer, who confirms her fears that she will one day be killed by a son of Ragnar. She took her time preparing for this moment to take back Kattegat. Now, she has succeeded. She's already putting her plans into motion to make the city better than it was before. She is fortifying Kattegat to protect it from invaders. That's a good idea considering Harald and Halfdan are still planning on conquering all of Norway. Lagertha knows how envious others will be of Kattegat. But her mind is also focused on her death and just how quickly it will come for her.

It's also interesting that Lagertha doesn't want to kill the sons of Ragnar. She kept all of them alive even though they could also be plotting to kill her for revenge. She understands those emotions. She did what she had to do with Aslaug. She understands that the sons of Ragnar will have to do what they do as well. Right now, that threat comes from Ivar. He's way more unpredictable than his brothers. It's an energy that Ragnar admired and told him to use very strategically. One of the best qualities of the show came from the audience never being certain if Ragnar really was a genius or was making it all up as he went along. Ivar has that same energy. It's unfocused right now. He spends a lot of time yelling out in pain because of the deaths of his parents. But he also has the conviction to stand up to Lagertha and challenge her to battle. She may be underestimating him. It's unclear if she doesn't fight him because he's a cripple or because of her own complicated feelings towards Ragnar. It's just important that they don't fight right now. Of course, that battle can only be delayed for so long. Lagertha's days on the show may be numbered. But Ivar may not be the one to ultimately take her down. Ubbe and Sigurd need to be watched as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Crossings" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Ciarán Donnelly.
  • I'm just assuming that the vikings broke into that room housing all of the women and then proceeded to rape them. It wasn't explicitly part of the action. But those are activities Harald and Halfdan enjoy partaking in. They seemed pretty excited to join in once entering the room.
  • King Ecbert is a bit of a broken man following the death of Ragnar. Ragnar was the one man in the whole world who Ecbert viewed as an equal. They understood each other. They were friends even though they were both betraying each other. It was very tragic. And now, Ecbert seems a little lost knowing that Ragnar is dead.
  • Of course, Prince Aethelwulf thinks it's wise to start raising an army to defend England from the viking invaders who will surely arrive after learning of Ragnar's fate. He thinks it was a mistake to let Ivar go. Aethelwulf is smart to plan this considering Ragnar told Ivar to attack Ecbert and not just Aelle.
  • It's interesting that only the sons of Ragnar receive the vision of Odin telling them that Ragnar has died. Lagertha gets confirmation as well but she needs to take the Seer at his word. She reminisces about the bond she shared with Ragnar and the responsibilities she now has. But the bond between him and his sons is even stronger.
  • Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen and Gustaf Skarsgård are now the only series regulars from the first season still alive on the show. Lagertha and Rollo's days seem to be numbered based on their current stories - as does Ecbert's. But if Floki finds new purpose in the Mediterranean raid, he could have renewed energy on the show.