Vikings Recaps S5E3: Homeland

by thethreepennyguignol

Vikings is setting itself up for a stonker of a fifth season. I have to admit it – I’ve been so wary of committing to the belief that the show is actually back on track, but this episode, Homeland, proved that Vikings still has a firm grip on so many of the things that make it great, while at the same time striking out into some enticing new territory. And I like it. Well, most of it, but we’ll get to that.

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Cannot be overstated: Vikings has THE BEST fight scenes on TV.

After last week’s capture of York by the Vikings, the Saxons must strike back – and they do. At the center of this weeks episode was a battle sequence, and really, any Vikings episode that focuses in on a fight scene is going to be a good one. Not only does Vikings lay claim to some of the best, most brutal, and most bloody brilliant fight scenes on TV, but it uses them for actual character development in a way I never see other shows pulling off in the same manner: Hvitserk barely gets a line in this episode, but in ten seconds of a shot of him ploughing his way through the Saxon troops attempting to reclaim York with that gleeful look on his face, it’s clear that here – at war, in battle – is where he feels most at home, informing his decision at the end of the episode to stay and fight alongside Ivar instead of returning to Kattegat with Ubbe. Hvitserk is still one of the most comically underserved members of a main cast I’ve ever seen, but this is at least something – and something handled with a deftness I enjoy.

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I mean, yeah, this scene was an Emmy push for Alex Hogh and the show barely made any bones about it, but it was pretty damn great so.

Speaking of Ivar, this is a great episode for Alex Hogh, too – after being knocked off his high horse (literally) during battle, he taunts a horde of Saxon troops, drenched from head to toe in blood and shrieking like something that can’t be too far removed from the literal demons of their Christian faith. Alex Hogh manages to delve into some of the more nuanced edges of Ivar’s masculinity here, as he engages sexually with a woman and seems to gain from it the confidence to, uh, go on a murderous rampage, chase his own brother and final voice of reason out of town, and take control of the Great Army. He’s made his headquarters the gutted Christian church, bastardising the house of faith for his own purposes, and it’s so deliciously him that you can’t help but get on board. Ivar is a weird character who doesn’t always work, but there’s no-one like him on television right now so I’ll take it. Ubbe is quieter this week, but watchful, often appearing in the blurred-out background of beautifully framed shots with his brothers to underline his uncertainty over the direction their campaign is taking, eventually heading back to Kattegat alone to set up some potentially neat conflict with Lagertha on his return.

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I haven’t mentioned him in these reviews yet, so consider this me acknowledging the existence of Alfred, Athelstan’s son as raised by Athelwulf and Judith. His skin is very clear, I guess.

Moe Dunford and Johnathan Rhys Meyers join forces to try and reclaim York, failing despite their best efforts, and I’m starting to actually believe that maybe Athelwulf will turn into a worthy successor for his father, Ecbert – his clear-headed compassion for his sons and relative decency is missing from Meyers’ man of God, and they make a good team, especially when it comes to the battlefield.

Elsewhere, in misc. plotlines. Floki is wandering around what I’m told is Iceland oozing pus and seeing visions and generally feeling like a tacked-on, if entertaining, short for this otherwise cohesive episode. Bjorn and Halfdan also get a little touch-in scene which actually works pretty nicely, as the two of them find companionship and common ground in the fact that they both want to live a life unfettered by the pursuit power but fulfilled to the fullest.

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I’m the world’s biggest Moe Dunford fan. Granted, I’m the only one, but still.

But you know what’s missing here? The fucking women. Maybe it’s just because my period started today, but I’ve been seriously irritated at how badly Vikings has been underserving it’s women characters in the last few episodes. This week, all we got were a few check-ins with Astrid, who’s trapped in The Worst Plot In Living Memory, aka the King Harald storyline, as she wears a pretty dress and punches Harald in the nose. Oh, sorry – we do get a slave girl stripping naked while the camera moves around her body like a panting dog to make sure we get those healthy tits-and-ass shots to serve Ivar’s plot. Fuck’s sake, what is this, Game of Thrones?

One of the reasons I came to Vikings a few years ago was because I heard the women characters were brilliant, and I wasn’t disappointing – from Siggy, Helga, Slaugy, and Lagertha to Judith, Kwenthrith and Gisla, Vikings used to have an abundance of women in it’s main cast, to the point where there existence didn’t feel like the show making a point as it did a mission statement: women were part and parcel of the world of Vikings, as warriors, wives, mothers, schemers, political movers, and more, and anyone who didn’t like it was an idiot missing out on some fantastic, compelling characters in the process. But now, of the above, Judith and Lagertha remain, and even they have been seriously downgraded compared to their appearances in earlier seasons, with Judith basically getting to pat her son’s face before he went off to war in this week’s episode while Lagertha didn’t get so much as a scene – and considering her erstwhile love was kidnapped last week, I would have liked them to at least touch base.

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When you add to this the fridging of Helga at the end of series 4 to make way for Floki to have some unfettered adventures this season, and the random-ass nudity from a female character we never hear from again to serve a man’s plot, it’s just…it’s just not good. I expect better from Vikings. That’s half the reason I came to this show, half the reason I stuck around – one of the best scenes of last season surrounded Slaugy and Lagertha’s simmering confrontation over the exchange of power in Kattegat, and now all we get week to week is Astrid accessorizing Harald’s plot? Nah. Honestly, considering they sidestepped a commitment to historical accuracy regarding Ragnar’s children as soon as Sigurd was killed off, the show could have made Hvitserk a woman without functionally changing much about his character, and it could have given an interesting, fresh dynamic between Ubbe and Ivar. But no: we’re left with Astrid and, while I like Josefin Aplund well enough, it’s poor substitute for how great the women characters once were. There’s plenty of time for them to turn this around, and I fucking hope they do soon, because…yikes. This is not a show I thought would throw in such fanservicey nudity for no good reason, and I’m dissapointed that they are.

Maybe it’s unfair to tag that on to an episode which I otherwise thought was pretty great, but I needed to get it out there. I really hope Vikings carries on with the otherwise strong Ubbe/Ivar plotline, and I don’t even mind the odd diversions into Floki-land, as beautifully-shot and well-acted as they are. But I really hope the show steps up it’s get with regards to Lagertha and company back in Kattegat, and I hope they get there soon.

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