Before I get to the pros and cons of having another episode with everyone hanging around Kattegat, there’s something that has been bugging me. When Floki inevitably dies (whether he’s killed off by the show or not, he has to die at some point), who is going to build the boats? We never see anyone else being interested in construction, leading me to believe that it’s only Floki who is allowed too. If I were Bjorn, or whoever is actually leading Kattegat, I would have Floki train a bunch of mad apprentices since raids are dangerous and I don’t think he’s got accidents insurance.
Rant over, at least that particular one, now to The Vision. Only two episodes into its second half and season four is looking bloated again. Season one and two are the shows best because there was the feeling of enough story to fit the short run of episodes. Season three was a little different, does anyone remember episode two when all the Vikings were high and Rollo cut a guy’s leg off for a laugh? Season four, with its twenty episode order is spending much more time on plots than they need to, giving it that bloated feeling that nothing very much has happened. That criticism can be thrown at much of The Vision, thankfully the shows brilliant cast can help us manoeuvre these troubled waters.
The Vision might just be the most Viking of Vikings episodes in a long while. There are visions, a grand piss-up in honour of an oncoming journey, a hypnotically shot sacrifice, and boats, lots of boats. This episode is the real first chapter of the shows new era, making The Outsider a prologue of sorts. The problem is that this system doesn’t show much forward momentum, it’s still just setting up Bjorn’s future meeting with Rollo, and Ragnar’s revenge on Eggbert. Both of these future meetings is what we want but alas, Vikings has to wring every detail out of father and sons leaving their home for the seemingly unknown.
It’s frustrating, especially with all the expository dialogue reminding you who everyone is, whose ally is who, and who are enemies. This is the kind of hand-holding that Vikings fans don’t need, we know what’s going on. Simplistic dialogue is nothing new to showrunner Michael Hirst: since day one he has represented the Vikings as generally straightforward people, those who say what they feel, which means when they are hiding something it is a lot more potent. It’s with the English and French rulers that Hirst can flex his flowery language muscles, which makes a good contrast between the Vikings and their enemies. Yet with The Vision, because we are still just with the Vikings, it can get tiresome. So thank the gods that he has a brilliant cast that can sell this stuff, most of the time.
Which is why, when Travis Fimmel finally leaves the show, he will be sorely missed. The Vision is a masterclass from Fimmel, getting to play Ragnar at his lowest ebb. Still king of Kattegat, in name only, he is spat on by former friends, his magnetic presence goes unnoticed by the townspeople, and he can only muster up the old and tired men for his return to England, and then only by bribing them with treasures from past voyages. The scene in which he gives these riches away is heart-breaking: his sons trying to stop their father from making a fool of himself, with Ragnar repeatedly saying that it doesn’t matter. He’s right, the gold never mattered to him, the fame never really mattered either, that’s why he seems like he has found some sort of peace as he throws his gold into the crowd, like he has got back to some semblance of himself before he left the farm.
The fame does matter to his sons, and The Vision does great work in separating the different traits that Ragnar has passed onto Bjorn and Ivar, the other sons are still thinly drawn at this point: Ubbe is honourable, Sigrid is a dick, and the other one is merely the other one at this point. Bjorn is the most like hopw the legends describe Ragnar than Ragnar himself. He doesn’t have the same singular personality of his father, he’s a born leader, a man who can inspire people like his father, but without the tainted image. Ivar continues to be a fascinating presence. Again, despite the over exposition, Ivar is a layered character who is both a monster and a man. The environment, and the culture that he was brought up in has been suffocating to him: his disability, coupled with his mother’s fears for him, and his brothers leaving him out has caused him to become both bitter and ambitious. He’s canny, he can be ferocious, but also manipulative: he speaks in a lighter tone to his mother in order to appeal to her love for her child. But he is more than all of this, he is an adventurer who is scared of adventure, and he can provoke powerful sympathy from the audience and those around him. Take the end scene, a fantastic montage of disaster. Ivar’s fear, the physical effort of Ragnar, who is trying his best not to look to resigned to their watery deaths, ties him to the mast, the image of Ivar screaming as the chaos goes on around him is seriously effective. Shame it’s just a move to get us excited about next week.
That’s the problem with The Vision, that it should be called The Promise, as it promises much of what’s to come: Bjorn and Rollo, Ragnar and Ivar in England (because they aren’t dead, not that anyone actually fell for that), and Lagertha taking back Kattegat.
7/10 Vikings is finally on the boat again, let’s hope they make it to their potential return to form, rather than capsizing like Ragnar and Ivar.