Previously on Vikings, “The Last Ship”
Vikings – S4E11 – “The Outsider” | Starring: Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgård, Alexander Ludwig, Alyssa Sutherland, John Kavanagh, Alex Høgh, Marco Ilsø, David Lindström, Jordan Patrick Smith, Josefin Asplund, Maude Hirst, Ida Nielsen, Georgia Hirst
Season 4a ended with a shocking time jump that left Ragnar’s youngest sons as teenagers, Bjorn preparing for the Mediterranean, and Aslaug managing Kattegat after Ragnar abandoned it for seclusion. Ragnar returns to suspicion, challenging his sons individually to take the throne from him.
If you were uncomfortable with the fast forward and hoping for a more definitive post-Paris resolution, I’m not sure you’ll feel much better after this traditionally slow premiere. Focused on setup, dialogue, and characterization, mainly for the historical rivalry between the Ragnarssons and this “new” older Ragnar, it provides little new information about the rest of the old stalwarts and only a cameo from Aslaug. Two highlights stand above the others—Floki’s granted wish for a renewal of Ragnar’s love, and Ivar and Ragnar’s amusing affinity as they fall into a surprising but satisfying lockstep at the last moment. While sweet, Ragnar’s apology to Lagertha felt a bit rehashed, but was probably necessary after her coffin-side confession of eternal love was left twisting in the wind when he “rose from the dead.”
Although it was nice to see Bjorn and Torvi’s happy family and Lagertha training, it felt a bit too obvious of a re-introduction. Worse, the boys’ individual but sequential seduction of their slave Margrethe was a bit confusing, especially keeping Sigurd and Hvitserk straight, and once again we go back to the well of the slave girl providing an ironic crucial boost of self-worth for the Ragnar-stand in, Ivar, when he can’t perform sexually, a nod to the debate over the true nature of the historical Ivar’s affliction. Finally, Ragnar’s questionable self-hanging was most startling. An imitation of Odin’s own death, his attempts to gain wisdom or provoke a sign from the gods hit an extreme peak, not long after he struggled to conceal his doubts from Floki regarding either his worthiness for Valhalla or its very existence, a line he has been riding for over a decade now.
The premiere’s largest success is in believably aging up the old cast. While Travis Fimmel is only 37, Ragnar feels much older, painfully shuffling from wilding out in battle over the years and limiting his already-muted mannerisms. As Astrid, Josefin Asplund, 25, underlines his and Katheryn Winnick’s maturity by contrast in both her lines and more modernized fashions, while Alexander Ludwig, 24, manages to play Bjorn at least a decade older. Likewise, Floki and Helga seem very much the reliable old friends with perhaps a few more battles left in them, and the Seer is positively fossilized.
All in all, it is nice to be back in Kattegat, listening to the soothing rhythms of lyrical accents and smiling at the gentle jokes between old friends, but there is not yet much substance to predict the season’s promise. While the season overview does look incredible, I wish there had been more traction in the premiere, especially after the aborted resolution of this season’s first half.
At the center of town, Ragnar smiles when Ubbe steps forward to tentatively accept his father’s challenge, but eventually Ragnar steps past his sword to embrace him, changing the tone of their reunion. Once in private, Bjorn reveals that he knows of the Wessex settlement’s failure and Magnus’ existence, to which Ragnar laughs dubiously, inviting them to England. Bjorn declines in favor of his planned raid on the Mediterranean with King Harald and Halfdan. The other boys defer to protect Kattegat, but Ivar doesn’t buy their excuse and mocks them at dinner while sexually harassing the slave girl and grinning at the perpetually drunk Aslaug.
Looking craggier than ever, the Seer tells Bjorn that Ragnar had no choice but to return, despite the endless calamity, death, and despair he brings. Burdened, Bjorn goes home to Torvi and their growing family. She questions his hesitation to avenge the settlement, but, to Bjorn, Ragnar’s concerns are no longer foremost.
Ragnar sneaks up playfully on Helga and admires Floki’s latest creation, the ideal boat, a bit jealous of Bjorn. Over a meal, Floki reminds Ragnar that he’d known of the Wessex failure but kept silent, because he loves Ragnar, Helga finishes, and always has. He stays the night with them, waking to find forgiveness and affection in the air. When he worries aloud that they might not see each other again, Floki looks happily toward spending their eternity in Valhalla together, but Ragnar seems uncertain.
“Watch over my family. And take care of Helga. You don’t deserve her… I love you.”
Floki’s face, hearing those words, is magic. The sky glows behind him as he shouts it back triumphantly. All is well in the Viking world once more. I’m not crying! You’re crying!
Lagertha trains on the countryside with her female lover, Astrid, in a nice display of Kathryn Winnick’s martial arts skills, admitting she is not yet “ready.” After leaving Floki, Ragnar travels to Hedeby next. Astrid greets him in the hall, a lifelong groupie thanks to her wet nurse’s tales. He flirts a bit as is his way, and Lagertha surprises them, completely embodying her Athena role now, dressed in green with an owl on her arm. He invites her to England, but first apologizes for not telling her of the settlement’s destruction… and for everything else. With a tear, she declares him essentially a failure. He wishes he’d never left their farm, begging forgiveness for all of his faults.
“No regrets,” she repeats, kissing him goodbye, “and yet, every regret.”
Echoing most of the Vikings fanbase, Astrid muses that she is jealous of Lagertha and loves Ragnar, but not more than she loves Lagertha because she’s… Lagertha, of course. Who doesn’t feel that way?
Ever conflicted, Lagertha bids Ragnar farewell, maybe forever, or at least Vikings wants us to think it is.
Ivar, having dragged himself all over half of Kattegat, spies each of his brothers in turn having sex with Margrethe, the slave girl. Angry and jealous, he turns an impressive fighting practice session between the brothers into a personal grudge match, then eventually decides he wants her too. Hvitserk laughs, saying they’ll just bring her to him, but Ubbe thinks asking her would be better, even though she can’t really turn him down as a son of Ragnar. They deliver him to a candlelit cabin and she agrees, but it doesn’t go well—due to his disabilities, he can’t finish or satisfy her. Humiliated he starts to strangle her so his brothers won’t know, but she turns the tables with reverse psychology, saying lots of men can have sex and children, but not everyone can be Ragnar’s son and find the greatness she knows he has. Girl, I guess. He sobs, agonizing over this new limitation, but the message sinks in.
History note: Ubbe and Ivar shoot their target-practice animal in the eye, a reference to the Saga of Ragnar in which Ivar the Boneless shoots the sacred cow Síbilja in both eyes simultaneously and then is thrown onto her, gaining supernatural powers to compel his army upon her death.
Later the boys again debate Ragnar’s invitation. Sigurd declares that nobody loves Ragnar, even the gods, and Ubbe weakly agrees. Ivar snorts that they’re all bastards and don’t deserve him.
Ragnar rides up to a large, distinct tree, his horse huffing disapprovingly. He tosses a rope over a ranch, climbs the horse, and hangs himself, ravens gathering, one on his shoulder. But the rope falls. Disgusted, he flops on the ground as only Ragnar can.
Back in the great hall, Ivar drags himself onto Aslaug’s throne, offering Ragnar the other, saying Aslaug kept anyone from sitting on it all this time. But Ivar did in secret, stroking his anger over Ragnar’s abandonment but wanting him back, conflicted as Lagertha. Ragnar, sensing the weak moment, quips that perhaps he will explain himself in England, inspiring a light argument between them:
When we get to England?
That is what I said.
What use is a cripple on such a journey?
Oh, then don’t come.
Don’t tell me what to do.
No, not unless you ask me like you asked my brothers.
Of course I’ll come.
The men retire back to the thrones in mirror smirks, not unlike the one shared between Ragnar and Ecbert before the betrayal. It seems all of Ragnar’s mischievousness ended up in one son.
Vikings S4E11 = 7/10