Vikings S5E8: The Joke

by thethreepennyguignol

So, we’re back again for another episode of Vikings and, once more, I put off sitting down to watch this week’s episode way, way longer than I had to. It’s not that I actively hate the show now or anything, but I sort of nothing it. It features no sincerely compelling character arcs, no plots I can’t wait to see the conclusion to, nothing that really excites me any more. But I made a commitment, dammit, and I’ll see it through even if that means having to sit through Alexander Ludwig’s overly enthusiastic rap hands in the process.

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I mean, in all fairness, The Joke (which, by this point, is certainly at the expense of the viewers) was better than last week’s episode. In a weird twist of fortune, the only plot that really entirely worked for me this week was the one between Harald and Halfdan: for all that the show has failed to give either of them a truly compelling or consistent arc, it has cemented without fail their intense bond as brothers, which made the scenes they shared as they both tried to talk each other out of the inevitable confrontation they were staring down the barrel of. Jasper Paakkonnen and Peter Franzen do have solid chemistry and, for one actual entire scene. their stories came together in a mutually satisfying fashion. It’s not nearly enough to justify the utter bollocks we’ve had to sit through, especially with the Halfdan plot, in the process, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

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Dammit, even at it’s worst this show still looks amazing.

Which isn’t a lot, quite honestly. The rest of the episode was patchy at best – often not outright bad, but oftentimes pretty damn boring and occasionally inexplicable. Ivar has a functional storyline that’s really there to drive conflict and heighten the alleged “tension” over whether or not the two sides will clash, and which one they will win if they do, but it really comes across as dilly-dallying which makes little sense given Ivar’s usual passionate and overzealous belief in himself, and it takes away from an otherwise satisfying scene as the various characters on each side of the divide verbally joust with their counterparts.

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Because there’s never any real doubt about if these armies will clash. Vikings didn’t spend this much time on build-up (or that much cash on extras) not to do anything with it. And, as I’ve always said, Vikings is at it’s best when it’s exorcising the plot demons through battle sequences. It’s a vast, bloody, brutal brawl in which Alexander Ludwig (who I have to admit I have come around to after wobbling on him last season – there’s something about his utter commitment to his deeply weird performance that I find very watchable, despite it’s obvious flaws) kills someone with a single backhand. But even those were sullied this week, as the show kept cutting away to comical amounts of violence that had nothing to do with our leading characters; I know some people love all the gore they can get and I’m happy to see real effects taking precedence over CGI, but here they just served to break the tension in an otherwise-thrilling battle scene. Like much of the rest of this season, Vikings is making a point to show us what it can do rather than asking whether or not we need to see it.

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No-one major dies in this battle, which is a disappointment as it now seems set in stone that they’re saving their major deaths for the midseason send-off; it’s this kind of obvious plot contrivance that eventually caused the once-excellent The Walking Dead to crumple in on itself, as all tension was sapped from scenes with major characters in peril because you know they weren’t going to off them unless they could trail it for weeks ahead of the proverbial axe-drop. Vikings has crumbled in to so many big TV tropes these days (the casually tossed-in rape, the female nudity, the maniacal antihero leading man) that I shouldn’t be surprised to see this one represented to, but still: ugh.

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But there are other stories going on besides the main battle at the centre of The Joke: over in FlokiLand (in a segment I’m not going to refer to as EdgeSpotting, thanks to the inclusion of the surprisingly alright Adam Copeland), Gustaf Skarsgard is stalking around looking less and less like the kind of guy you should trust with your future and causing dissent in the ranks in the process; again, these check-ins feel like a perfunctory hand-wave at the depth this show once hand rather than an attempt to maintain it, but hey, at least it looked great? Tragically, Margherette continues to exist in a plot too agonizingly boring and annoying to go into, but at least Ubbe is at last free from her boring, boring claws for the time being. Alfred has returned from visiting the Monk Dunfords (ech, I tried), and has some thoughts on how his father should ensure the safety of the church against future Vikings raids in segments that, again, feel necessary and bored to be there.

At the end of the episode, Lagertha (a good episode for Katheryn Winnick this week, by the way, not least because she’s so exceptional with the battle scenes) rescues an injured Heahmund from the battlefield and orders that he be taken back to the camp. When she’s asked why, she admits that she doesn’t know, but that “the Gods will make it clear”. And honestly, I can’t think of a better summation of this season so far: it never seems to quite know what it’s doing or where it’s going, but trusts that our faith will carry us through. And lately, I just don’t think that’s going to be enough.

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