Wednesday, December 6, 2017

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ubbe and Hvitserk Make Major Decisions After an Epic Battle in 'Homeland'

History's Vikings - Episode 5.03 "Homeland"

Celebrations are cut short in the aftermath of the battle at York. Ragnar's sons are pitted against each other as tensions reach an all-time high and each is forced to choose a side.

At the end of the premiere, Heahmund cautioned patience to Aethelwulf before attacking the vikings' hold of York. They had their strategy in place. They knew that part of the structure protecting the city was crumbling and that the vikings didn't seem to be protecting it. He said that they should monitor it for a few days to confirm that it is the best entry point into the city. It was played as a moment that proved him to be a brilliant tactician who could make this war with the vikings more interesting. And now, the battle in York has arrived. This strategy is ultimately revealed to be a trap that proves that Ivar really is working so much smarter than anyone else in this war. As such, this makes Heahmund's suggestion at the end of the premiere feel more like a plot complication than something that would naturally happen in the story. The show needed an explanation for why the English didn't attack right away. The premiere had already exhausted its two hour running time of story. It needed to delay this battle until "Homeland." But the stalling technique it came up with also served as a way to introduce Heahmund's abilities in battle into the story. He still comes across as this holier than thou character who uses religion in order to justify his brutal tactics on the battlefield. He's constantly asking for forgiveness as he heads into battle. That's a trait that could become annoying over the course of the series. So, this opening moment doesn't make Heahmund seem smart. However, "Homeland" does a solid job in explaining why this is a conflict between Heahmund and Ivar. They are the ones with the same ideologies. As such, it's fascinating to see them be the driving forces of this conflict.

Plus, this hour doesn't waste too much time before getting to this major battle. The English have their way into the city. The vikings are expecting them to attack shortly. They even know that their defenses are weak in this portion of the city. They are using that to their advantage. So while they aren't using the walls as protection to keep the English out, they are still using the buildings as ways to trap the English inside the city. Once again, it proves how Ivar is miraculously smarter than everyone else when it comes to battle strategy. It doesn't even spend a lot of time propping up this big idea that Ivar has for how to fight this battle. No time is spent establishing the vikings discovering this crumbling structure and planning on trapping the English forces within their own city. And yet, there's also the overwhelming sense that that's about to occur. Again, it feels like the vikings are working on such a higher level in terms of strategy. The English decide to attack the city at dawn. They attack even though there is mist compromising their vision and rain pouring down. Those don't seem like fighting conditions that anyone would desire to have. So again, it doesn't make Heahmund and Aethelwulf seem like worthy opponents for Ivar. The show just loves the imagery of Ivar being invincible even when he is surrounded by the enemy.

Of course, it is also valid to ask if the show is enjoying the viciousness on display within Ivar too much? He's a character who enjoys violence. He grows so impatient just watching this battle from up in his tower. He wants to be down on the ground. He wants to be a part of the action. He wants to be killing English soldiers just like his fellow vikings. He sees that as him proving himself to be every much a viking as his brothers. He has a brilliant mind for strategy. But it is also bogged down by these crippling thoughts and struggles with his own identity. He's constantly paranoid and feeling like he needs to prove himself. Ubbe and Hvitserk say the right things in claiming Ivar is their equal. But they are inherently looking down at him. Part of that is because Ivar is their younger brother. Part of it is his disease. Part of it is this conflict being less personal to Ubbe and Hvitserk because they didn't know their father all that well. They are trying to hold up his ideals of wanting to farm England and build a successful viking colony in this country. Meanwhile, Ivar is all about the violence. He gets knocked off of his horse immediately on the battlefield. It feels like a moment that will be a true reality check to him. But the show continues to prop him up as this man who is seemingly untouchable. Even when he's surrounded by the enemy, they are too afraid to attack the shrieking viking that's sitting before them. Even in the chaos of the battle, an arrow to the leg doesn't affect him in the slightest.

But the show is still lingering in the beats of Ivar bashing in the head of an English soldier over and over again as well as him screaming his own name at the army that stands before him. He believes himself to be the most special person in this entire country. That's the thought that enters his mind before the battle even starts. A slave encourages these thoughts and gets her freedom as a result. She isn't afraid of Ivar even though he's meant to be the most terrifying figure on the show right now. Plus, he's the new lead character of Vikings. That's a difficult line for the show to walk though. It needs to play true to the violence of the story and the character without making it seem too self-indulgent. In this episode, there is a lot of violence on display during this battle. And yet, violence has always been a part of this show. This hour doesn't spend a lot of time explaining the specifics of the traps. But it still feels like the show plays fair with the reveals of traps and fires waiting around every corner. It's a thrilling sequence to watch. One that does eventually end with Ivar and Heahmund essentially getting into a screaming match. But one that is also a proud victory for the vikings. The English are forced to retreat. And yet, the story proves that the vikings suffer the most crucial losses during this episode. The English don't lose anyone of major consequence. Sure, Aethelred gets an arrow in the shoulder. But nothing is really made of that. It's the viking side that sees a major change up in its leadership following this battle.

Again, it should come as no surprise that Ivar works his way into becoming the leader of the vikings in England. He's the one encouraging their violent impulses and desire to keep fighting and raiding instead of farming. He views that way of life as inferior and not a good use of anyone's time. He sees Ubbe and Hvitserk as silly for entertaining the notion of establishing peace with the English following this battle. And yet, they ride into the English camp regardless. They are making their play for the power of this community. It's just a play that doesn't work out for them in the end. It proves that violence only responds to violence in this corner of the world at the moment. Ubbe and Hvitserk have arrived with talks of peace. Heahmund doesn't genuinely consider the deal at all. He claims to be a man of profound faith. But he's not proceeding with peace on his mind. He's ready to strike. Again, that may be because he's aware that the vikings are divided and that the most vicious of them - Ivar - doesn't seem to be a part of this deal at all. Of course, none of that is really dramatized in the story. Instead, it's more important that Heahmund beats Ubbe and Hvitserk up in this camp in order to send a message. They will never hand over any of their land to the vikings. He's bound and determined to wage this war with Ivar. Meanwhile, Ivar is able to use this as an excuse to rally the vikings around him. Ubbe and Hvitserk return beaten and defeated. Ivar sends them packing back to Kattegat if they won't fall in line behind them. It's a fate that Ubbe is perfectly fine with in the end. He sees Ivar as betraying everything that Ragnar wanted for the future of their people. But Ubbe is out all alone on a boat in this belief. He leaves as Hvitserk decides to follow Ivar. It's an action that is pretty destructive to the sibling dynamics. But it could also be quite unifying for the cause in England as well. Now, Ivar can focus on how to defeat the English without having to fight his brothers every step of the way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Homeland" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Steve Saint Leger.
  • This is the first battle that Alfred and Aethelred have participated in. It means that Aethelwulf is a little distracted in trying to protect them. Again, there is only so much he can do. But there's also no way that either of these characters were going to die here. It's just important to note that both of them are becoming more important for the English side of this conflict - especially Alfred.
  • The vikings still don't know that the deal they made with Ecbert isn't valid because he was no longer king at that point. That still seems like it's going to be important somehow this season even though those desires to farm this land basically leave alongside Ubbe. But Aethelwulf at least thinks about making the deal real in order to put an end to this war. That is until Heahmund makes the decision for him.
  • Lagertha isn't seen at all this week. But the action does cut away to Norway to see what's going on with Harald and Astrid. He has kidnapped her with the intention of making her his queen. She's welcomed to this community as such. And yet, she isn't giving in to these desires yet. It still may happen. But right now, it's so satisfying to watch as she punches him in the face when he enters her room following the feast.
  • Bjorn and Halfdan are seen briefly as well. Halfdan needs to explain to Bjorn why he chose to sail with him instead of returning home with his brother. He basically says that he wants to live instead of rule. That's understandable. It does enough to establish this as a relationship of importance. Of course, Bjorn is then cautioned that he should perhaps ask the majority of his army to sail home in order for him to explore more without needing to raid.
  • The premiere needed to end with Floki finding something on his grand adventure at sea. It did with him discovering this new land with beautiful mountains and waterfalls. This episode needed to end with him finding new purpose in this land. It's still a lot of him wandering around on the verge of death and hallucinating visions of the gods. Those are effective as well. He believes he's meant to die here. But that's not the case just yet.