Vikings S5E10: Moments of Vision
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
– Moments of Vision, Thomas Hardy
Oh, fucking hell.
Last week, I was all but done with this show. I really was. And I want to make it clear that, no matter how enjoyable I found this episode, I still stand by all my criticisms of the last half-dozen or so: the women characters have been too often underserved, the conflicts have been repetitive, and the show, as a whole, seems to have bowed to bigger TV trends around sex and violence that have only served to undermine the quiet, downbeat wit and intelligence it displayed in earlier seasons.
But damn it all if this episode, the midseason finale, entitled Moments of Vision, was a blinder. One of my biggest problems with this season so far has been how little risk the show seems to have been willing to take, and how low-reward it has felt as a result. But this episode was big, bold, and yes, flawed – but those high stakes made for some high payout, and I’m good with that for now.
The structure of the episode was my favourite thing about it, with a number of characters getting relevant flashbacks and/or fantasy sequences in the midst of one of this season’s more visually pleasing battle sequences (Lagertha smacking a bunch of people with a severed head was, uh, certainly something I’ve never seen before and is therefore worthy of some credit?). And it allowed us a look into The Brothers Underserved, aka, Halfdan and Hvitserk.
I really think Hvitserk is one of those characters who is just teetering on the brink of being superb; once in a while, like in his flashbacks in this episode where he shares a terse conversation with Ivar, there are flashes of his inner conflict, well-performed by Marcos Ilso, that tantalise me with the function he could perform to this show – a spiky, snarky, sour sidenote to undercut Ivar whenever he gets the chance. Having someone important to Ivar undercutting him like he did in this episode brings out an unsettled side to Alex Hogh’s performance that has been lacking the last few weeks. Here’s hoping they actually start making an effort with him in the back half of the next season. I mean, they won’t, but a recapper can dream.
Anyway, the best part of the episode, for me, came in the form of Halfdan’s plot. Not only was it just phenomenally well-directed, courtesy of Daniel Grou, but it really felt earned in a way that not much else has this season. The moments he shares with Bjorn (I ship it, by the way) at the start of the episode, as he reflects on the way that Bjorn drew out in him a desire to be more than he could be with his brother, is a worthy end to his well-crafted background arc. And, when he comes face-to-face with Halfdan on the battlefield and dies at his hand, clutching a handful of the sand of the desert he explored with Bjorn, it’s a genuinely powerful moment. Halfdan dies on a Viking battlefield because it is what he has always known, a fate he has resigned himself too, but his heart remains elsewhere, adventuring, as he always wanted. It’s the scene that most evidently ties in with the Hardy poem from which this episode takes it’s name, and the notions it touches on – trapped by his brother’s ambition, he looked back on a life that was more foul than fair, but still found something good to hang on to. I’ve loved Jasper Paakonen’s performance this season and am genuinely sad to see him go, but I have my fingers firmly crossed that someone else picks up on the deft depth he gave this character and puts him in something else soon.
Lagertha gets the biggest moment of the episode, though, and perhaps the best mini-arc of this forty minutes. Before the battle, she shares a kiss with Heahmund and declares herself ready to die. But it’s not her who dies on the battlefield – no, it’s Astrid, in a twist I genuinely did not see coming. Some more sublime direction has everyone else around them drop away to nothingness as Astrid begs Lagertha to kill her to save her from baring the child of the rape she endured several episodes before (and that plot is still mostly garbage, to be very clear). Lagertha does as she asks, and the moments that follow, as she sinks to the ground to cradle a dying Astrid in her arms, made me realize that I actually was pretty invested in that plot after all (even if it was another entry into the Dead Lesbians canon) . Lagertha has been cursed to watch everyone she loves die, and oftentimes wind up being the one delivering the killing blow, and I really hope the show explores this and the devastating effect it has clearly had on her in more depth. She finishes up this midseason white-haired and traumatised by what she’s done and seen, and this is a Lagertha who could actually lay claim to some of the depth she’s been lacking in recent episodes.
And there was just a bunch of great miscellaneous stuff in Moments of Vision too: Rollo is back (also, come on, Vikings – having him visibly aged up with a grey beard and wrinkles while having Katheryn Winnick still looking twenty-six is just some fucking bollocks), Ivar is used as the spice of this episode and not the meat with great effect, Heahmund doesn’t get to say enough to ruin his scenes (though JRM continues to try his hardest, with performance choices that continue to beggar belief). There’s that long tracking shot of Bjorn’s lover running through the forest amidst a cavalcade of violence and death, and then the reflection of that, later in the episode, with the camera panning across mounds of mutilated bodies before Bjorn comes across her corpse. There’s the Floki plot, which ties in thematically with the cycles of pointless violence this episode explores while offering some fabulously handsome cinematography into the bargain. Even Margherette was better than usual, as she seems to have lost her mind and gained a personality in the process. It’s not a perfect episode, but it’s pretty fucking close. And for, that – and it shocks me to say this, after how badly I’ve hated so much of this season – Vikings has pulled me back in once more.
I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?
That’s all for my Vikings recaps – you can read them all from the start here, and check out my other recaps for American Crime Story, Riverdale, and Carrie if you want more of that recappin’ goodness. And, as ever, if you enjoyed my work and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon!