Wednesday, January 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Lagertha and Bjorn Make the Final Preparations for the Coming War in 'Full Moon'

History's Vikings - Episode 5.07 "Full Moon"

Bjorn returns to Kattegat to learn that an attack is to take place during the next full moon. Ivar must decide if he can place his trust in a former enemy on the battlefield.

Vikings is in a very transitional place in its fifth season. Right now, it's all about the rising tension that comes from this war between the vikings. The lines have been drawn. Each side has their own strategy for success. The audience is spending time with both sides and having a clear sense of what's at stake with this war. All of the various stories of the season have now converged towards this one conflict. There are a handful of subplots still going on elsewhere in the narrative - like Floki leading his new settlement and Alfred learning more about Athelstan. But the priority right now is on this growing conflict that pits Ivar and Harald against Lagertha, Ubbe and Bjorn. It's a battle that doesn't occur in "Full Moon." Last week's episode laid out the time frame for this war to start. This season has seen many characters traveling long distances in short periods of time. It's been a narrative that has needed several characters in many different places. Bjorn's journey to the Mediterranean needed to be fulfilled in some way before he had to go back to Kattegat for this war. And now, he has returned and can fight alongside his mother while forming new alliances. Ivar was off conquering England and forging a name for himself. But now, he needs to be back with his people ready to fulfill the revenge he wants for Lagertha killing his mother. Everything has returned to the land that started this entire series. War is coming to Kattegat. It's a very exciting time for the show. The stage is set for the battle. It just won't happen until next week. This week is all about the final preparations being made.

As such, there are a number of really powerful scenes where characters are reflecting upon what they want and just how destructive this conflict will become. There truly is the stakes that this war could destroy Kattegat and the symbol it has always played in this series. This could be a pivotal turning point in the series. The characters are aware of the stakes. They are making their desires known. Most of that is very effective throughout this hour. Lagertha knows that death is near. Bjorn knows he wants to conquer lands but feels the family obligation here. Halfdan has to prove his loyalty to Bjorn and Lagertha. Harald needs to continue being blind to Astrid's true allegiance. Ivar fears that he will be betrayed. Heahmund has to prove that he really is the pillar for being noble. But this hour also features a lot of melodramatic twists that mostly occur in order to stretch this conflict out for another hour of battle preparations. Again, there is some smart strategizing happening in this episode. But there are also some weird details that seem to appear just to set up future conflicts that may or may not be all that important after all of this is over.

More time is spent in Kattegat this week. They are the ones actually formulating a strategy for how to face off with Ivar and Harald's troops. Of course, that's nothing new. The show has frequently operated under a guise of mystery when it comes to Ivar's plans. He's always been played as this brilliant tactician. He's a man whose mind is working so much faster and harder than everyone else. He has strategies that others simply wouldn't think of. But the show is constantly withholding those from the audience. Or it's making it seem a little too miraculous that the strategy actually works. Ivar has been built up this way. It's been very effective so far. He hasn't failed in battle yet. He always manages to win. He has the pompous attitude to match that. But the show never really delves into how Ivar comes up with these plans. He always remains casually amused that the other people in his orbit don't see things the way that he does. He laughs at them and their suggestions but then doesn't talk about his plan. Then, the show cuts to the battle and the vikings all being united with this game plan that suddenly works. It's a reveal that has worked time and time again with Ivar on this show. But now, it's important for the audience to see Lagertha and Bjorn fighting against Ivar. They know how he thinks. They are smart and crafty as well. They understand the risks. But they are choosing where to fight this battle which should be very wise next week. But again, that could all be pointless because Ivar has concocted something that no one else previously knew about. It would still be surprising. It would just be a trick the show has played before.

All of this basically means that Ivar spends the week developing his relationship with Heahmund even more. They really do seem like the second generation of Ragnar and Athelstan. And yet, there is no confusion about their beliefs. They are two similar people. They are both vicious warriors who believe deeply in their causes. Heahmund is in a fascinating position at the moment because he is choosing to fight in a war where he doesn't care who emerges victorious. He is forging this relationship with Ivar largely because he is the only one who speaks Heahmund's language. Of course, it appears that Hvitserk has picked it up as well. That allows all three to have an intriguing conversation about fate and free will. Heahmund believes he's on a journey from God he doesn't understand yet while still believing in free will. Hvitserk counters with not knowing if free will actually exists. And Ivar finishes the conversation off by saying that it doesn't really matter because they have no way of knowing in this life. They just have to trust that their lives will have meaning because of the choices that they have to make. Right now, he is focused on this upcoming battle. He's ready to kill Lagertha. But he's also making sure that Heahmund is as noble as he proclaims to be. He doesn't want to be surprised by a betrayal. Again, Heahmund is a wild card in this conflict. He could kill any viking in this battle no matter which side they are on. That still scares Ivar. But he's also starting to trust his new friend.

But again, there is just so much melodrama going on back in Kattegat. There is still the lingering question of whether or not Lagertha is still a strong ruler. That question is still solely being driven by Margrethe. She's the only person fanning those flames. But she's whispering in Ubbe's ear about it. She's a little too silly to take seriously though. There's no way that Ubbe could become king of Kattegat if he just allows Ivar to kill Lagertha. The proper line of succession went out the window a long time ago. Now, the ruler will be whomever takes the throne. As such, Margrethe's scheming is empty and doesn't deserve the amount of screen time it has received. Meanwhile, it feels like it should be a bigger deal that Bjorn has decided his marriage to Torvi is over and he is free to marry this new princess Lagertha has invited to Kattegat. Bjorn and Torvi's romance has been important in the past. She is the mother of two of his children after all. But it's never really been a dynamic about love and trust. They have both loved Lagertha much more than each other. That's perfectly fine as well. It was a marriage of convenience. But the show plays it here as more of a marriage of actual love. That's weird. It then contradicts itself by having Ubbe console Torvi in the aftermath by kissing her. Again, that could be something depending on who emerges victorious in this war. Or it could just be a plot beat that distracts the audience and the supporting characters for a little while. But it's not as annoying as this new crush that Bjorn has. It's not abundantly clear who this new king is and where his people come from. It's just a resource Lagertha believes they need in order to win. She mentions that their warriors fight better in the forrest. That should lead to some new and interesting fight choreography later on. But here, it's a story mostly about Bjorn offering himself up for marriage only to be tied up by his bride to be. That mostly showcases that she is a strong and powerful female character as well. It's just pretty blunt about Bjorn once again being out-of-his-depth in a world that he believes he knows. That's been consistent with him. It's just hard to find much excitement or passion through any of it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Full Moon" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Jeff Woolnough.
  • Bjorn and Halfdan are very open with their stories about what happened in the Mediterranean. Halfdan talks about the vast nothingness of the desert and the everything else in the worlds he discovered. And then, Bjorn talks about how they ate Euphemius after he gives his blade to Guthrum. He plays the cannibalism off as a custom of a different world instead of how traumatizing it actually was.
  • Astrid is more than likely pregnant. That's signaled right away when she's staring off into the ocean and then has to throw up. It's clear to the audience and then quickly confirmed when she talks to Harald a moment later. But this is a very traumatizing development because of what happened to her in the previous episode. These side effects have happened quickly. But it's also a baby that will forever remind her of this horrifying time with Harald.
  • The viking settlement of Iceland continues to be one of contempt for Floki's promises. The other vikings are questioning the legitimacy of his claims. They don't see this as the land of the gods. They are convinced a little bit after seeing a geyser. But Floki wonders why the gods haven't revealed themselves to the people like they did with him. Meanwhile, his claims about everyone being equal in this new land is quickly challenged by the thought that he actually wants to be king.
  • It's fascinating to see Alfred go off on this journey to learn more about his father, Athelstan. Of course, it's also the show repeating its own history to a character who wasn't there to experience it. The new generation is learning about what happened in the early years of the show. Alfred is curious for information but no one in England really knows the truth about Athelstan. The greater resource of information would probably come from people like Lagertha, Bjorn or Floki.
  • There are many potential outcomes to this war between the vikings. There are several characters who seem destined to survive - the sons of Ragnar and Heahmund. I would be surprised if any of them died. But everyone else is a distinct possibility. This could be Lagertha's time to die. Everything is aligning itself up for that. But it also wouldn't be surprising to see Ivar be defeated and have to rebuild his position amongst the vikings in his quest for infamy.