Previously on Vikings, “The Profit and the Loss”
After last week’s foggy, smoky episode of doom and gloom and losing touch with the crazy genius we once knew, Ragnar strikes upon a truly Ragnar-esque idea. At that point, “Portage” is filled with light streaming through every window, revealing plot after plot. Not a fan of 50 Shades of Odo, Yidu the Dealer, or Kwenthrith (How dare you!)? Problem solved. The time for unholy bastards and pretenders to the crown is up. Not even the Finehairs had much to say once Ragnar and Floki put their dream team back together again. Their hero worship echoed what was in most viewers’ heads: insane and beautiful.
While we did not have a full-scale battle to keep us agape, the engineering of portage was jaw-dropping, both literally and figuratively moving the story out of the mire and into action once more. Stunning, stunning production.
The Magic of Ragnar
Harald snipes about Ragnar’s failure to the wrong person’s earhole: Lagertha. She might feel dejected, but she’s not trying to hear some pretty boy diss her ex. Ragnar twitches as Bjorn agrees privately, but audibly. As the entire fleet silently drifts through the Cliffs of Insanity, Ragnar has a moment: they’ll haul the boats up the cliffs, carry them over the hills (portage), and then plunk them back up stream. The stroke of mad genius brings Floki’s engineering skills back into the fold…
“I can do it for you. Everything I do, Ragnar, is for you.”
My man! Ragnar points. It even puts the awe back in awesome for the Hairdo brothers. But as the boats heave up the cliffs, Torvi’s unease grows and she imagines Erlendur shooting Bjorn in the neck. Too public? Don’t be so sure.
Yidu tries to quit her drug-dealing ways, throwing in blackmail for spice, and calls him on lying to her about freedom and all of his people. In response, Ragnar simply drowns her right there in the muddy water. Is… is that it for Yidu’s storyline? Realizing Ubbe and Hvitserk were watching, he unsuccessfully tries to distract them in a mockery of his moment with them before last battle, offering no explanation, then skulks away like he just pulled a prank. Shameful.
Contrasting this awkwardness, Floki passionately wishes the recovering Helga farewell. For once in a long while, he seems completely focused on her.
Yidu’s end, and, honestly, entire story, was the low point for me. I’m not certain what her story accomplished, other than pulling Ragnar down a notch in everyone’s eyes so that we paid more attention to his sons. This non-historical, medically-incorrect addiction to betelnut was an annoyance, particularly in the face of characters mixed in from other time periods (the Finehairs). Yidu always seemed suspicious but never clarified her intentions, other than to manipulation. Wasted time, with the additional shame of it being a rare POC character who could have had much more influence on the plot, or even escaped now that she is back in Frankia. The actress, in fact, felt that Yidu was committing suicide, having resigned herself to fate, which is even worse. Why?! She could just leave.
The only thematic positive in this episode for her is to contrast the other “free” women in that she refuses the play the game, so she dies, whereas Judith turns to the darkness while Aslaug maintains the ambivalent middle ground. Again, while this works as a device, it is problematic on many levels.
Free Love isn’t Free
Sigurd tires of Harbard’s presence, wishing Ragnar was home, but Harbard professes to loving everyone. He loves everyone so much that he loves two women at a time, right in front of Sigurd and Aslaug, throwing her into a Queen-sized tizzy. He’s only freeing the women of their devils and fears, taking their troubles on himself in a holy way to emulate the gods and alleviate the sins of the world, ok? Is that so wrong?
“I will always be with you, little one. Always. But do not try to possess me, hmm? Because possession is the opposite of love.”
He leaves Sigurd with a token for Ivar and exits, hands stretched open like Odin on Yggdrasil.
Harbard isn’t everyone’s favorite character, but I enjoyed Aslaug’s mega-tantrum and his relgio-babble, which fails to clarify his status as deity in a way that would only make sense to the Northmen and their god-as-man-as-god fluidity. With death’s door swinging shut, Harbard, or shall we say Rig, finished spreading the love through Kattegat. It is interesting that this brush with holiness inspired not faith in Odin for Sigurd, but in his father, whose image tarnished considerably for Ubbe and Hvitserk.
The Wild Boar
As the bells of Paris chime happily, Emperor Charles offers Odo a reward. He replies only that Rollo’s time is up, that this wasn’t for Paris but a personal vendetta, so he should arrest Rollo and let Gisla get over it. Roland agrees that Rollo is a “wild boar.” For once, Charles doesn’t go nap.
At a private dinner, Charles thanks Rollo, but Rollo reminds him that Ragnar isn’t dead or defeated, picking up the little danger signs, or perhaps loyalty tests, right away. Paris still needs Rollo, especially now that Gisla is pregnant.
“How strange, life is,” Charles muses, drinking to them.
Therese tempts Odo back into her web with an idea to whip him this time. But his laughing at her womanly flogging turns ugly when Roland steps out of the shadows to take over. Like a son to you? She’s like a sister to me! In fact, she IS my sister! The NotLannisters whip Odo to death, leaving his torn body hanging by his own shackles, with the blessing of the Emperor. Charles then bestows the realm’s care on Rollo, who accepts the iron glove gracefully as Gisla, looking slightly Norse herself, commends her father for making the right choice, quite aware of the choices he pondered. Now there is the Gisla from last season.
Therese, on the other hand, gets back on the ho stroll, purring at Charles:
“I think you carry a terrible burden, and you carry it alone.”
In an episode where all of the old dogs perform a winning trick, even Charles proved he still had a streak of cunning as he eliminated his competition in a viciously appropriate, embarrassing, and therefore satisfying way. Isn’t life strange?
Ecbert leads the army back to great fanfare. Kwenthrith giddily believes she’s queen again and announces that she and Aethelwulf’s babe-in-womb will head back to Mercia. Ecbert also ponders how strange life is before rolling up the old map and rolling out the sealed documents naming him as king, leaving her nowhere. Werfurth wrangles her out as she screams he’s a monster.
She confesses her situation to Judith and asks for help escaping. Like Yidu to Ragnar, Judith calls Ecbert out on his lies, but Ecbert confesses readily to that and more: his love for her. It seems that he has replaced God with the “holy” touch of Judith, by way of Athelstan.
“Don’t forsake me,” he calls after her, like Jesus calling from the cross. Except, you know… Evil Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, Kwenthrith and Magnus are apprehended immediately, because escape is not conducive to Ecbert’s Home for Bastard Sons. But, hellcats can’t be contained. She bids Magnus a sad goodnight/goodbye, steals down the hall like a dark angel, stabs Werfurth, and wakes Ecbert with a knife to the neck. If only she could’ve been born a man, she crazy-laughs. Judith stabs her from behind, a mortal wound for her and for Aethelwulf’s child, and Kwenthrith chokes sympathetically that Judith has now killed twice over.
Interestingly, although Ecbert managed 95% of the Mercian coup, it was Judith acting in her “free” agency that completed the transaction, transforming from Blessed Judith to Lady MacBeth. Stunned and serious, Ecbert watches this new Judith as a tear slips down her face.
“Look what you have made me become.”
As we enter the final arc of the half season, keep in mind… Ragnar still has a pouch of drugs; Therese has leeched onto Charles; Halfling babies are growing in Kattegat; Erlendur is Erlenduring; and the Finehair brothers are circling.
The final two episodes will be bloody indeed. Stay buckled in, Vikings.
Thank the gods Ragnar finally had a moment of clarity so that we can enjoy his character again after the strange addiction storyline put a damper on him for the last few episodes. “Portage” was technically very impressive with the machines hauling boats up the cliffs and human brawn rolling them down the mountain in a fantastic display of Viking stubbornness and ingenuity. If it was wrong to smile that Odo and Yidu were offed, I don’t want to be right. But Amy Bailey is a favorite of mine after her role on Dominion and I must applaud her embodiment of Kwenthrith, with all of its regal extremes and tragic end. Overall, a juicy episode with few missteps, all in the Yidu section.