Previously on Vikings, “The Departed”
After last week’s two-hour season premiere, this week’s “Homeland” hits the brakes on political intrigue to wrap up the simmering conflicts from the premiere. Beyond the superb battle choreography and Ivar’s epic super villain laughter, this episode is a bit of a letdown, primarily thanks to two confusing timey-wimey moments that had me rewinding to make sure I didn’t miss something, but are simply the writers holding out on the narrative to draw out the plot until next episode.
It also doles out a heavy helping of secondhand embarrassment, from the (perhaps deserved) humiliation of Harald Finehair and Ubbe to Bjorn’s complete download of Ragnar’s infamous twitches. Is Astrid suddenly better, or only just appears to be better when surrounded by Harald’s mess of a capital? Why does Harald mope around his kingdom like the saddest Viking bachelor? If “Homeland” was meant to explain who is in charge and why, it didn’t quite succeed, but it did solidify that certain characters are more enjoyable in one setting/pairing than others. The real winners of the hour are the sound engineers, from grinding backgrounds that crawl up your spine with anxiety to the crunching slush of Saxons stomping over their impaled fellow soldiers, and the makeup department for handing out half a dozen cringe-worthy, believable eye injuries, mostly to the main characters.
Halfdan and Bjorn
In a short scene that could have fit in any of the first four episodes, Bjorn and Halfdan get drunk around the fire, talking about Halfdan’s desires to truly live while he’s alive, unlike Harald. Sinric interrupts to advise Bjorn that he should consider seriously culling his force so they look like traders rather than invaders. Bjorn does some bug-eyed mugging in response, but, where it reads as quirky and charming from Ragnar, it doesn’t work as well with Bjorn. In service of the rise of the Ragnarssons, Bjorn’s lines and screen time has all but disappeared since Season 4A when he had the perfect blend of Lagertha’s steadiness and Ragnar’s mannerisms, so this dead-on Ragnar imitation was a bit out of left field. However, Jasper Pääkkönen’s Halfdan is a very grounding presence, so perhaps he will tone Bjorn back down into the
Rollo Ragnarsson we know and love.
Simply put, Floki is trippin’ balls in Iceland. He wraps his sliced hand in a dirty cloth, and, surprise, it’s infected, like, tomorrow cut-your-hand-off-and-cauterize-it-in-lava infected. Or is it? One minute he’s seeing Freya breathe plague over the land, convincing him that Odin has sent him here to die, and the next he’s waking up with his hand healed. Or not. Or yes. I have no idea. What is real? What are words? Moving on.
Harald and Astrid
Harald and Astrid arrive at his kingdom, and, compared to Kattegat, it looks like the saddest college town in desperate need of a woman’s touch. It’s dirty and sloppy with animal guts on the docks, and Astrid is horrified. Harald, for all his posturing abroad, seems to fold into himself around his people, openly lampooning his own failure with women. When the villagers see Astrid, they’re visibly relieved that their king is not a complete loser after all. But that evening, she embarrasses him repeatedly by showing up late, makes a show of leaving early, throws a fit in her room, and punches him in the face after he nervously kisses her, pining for acceptance. Since when did Harald take no for an answer? Did he sail back to the Upside Down? What’s even stranger is that I suddenly liked Astrid in this environment; while Lagertha’s precision magnifies Astrid’s shortcomings, Harald’s buffoonery makes her look positively regal.
Ragnarssons v. Ecbertssons
The York cathedral is now the Ragnarsson’s seat of power, or, more accurately, Ivar’s, because you knew he was lying last episode, right? He summons a slave girl and play-sadistically asks if she’d be a willing human sacrifice, but she’s not intimidated at all, disrobing and declaring that his infirmities mean he’s been blessed by the gods. Apparently having a willing partner is a real mindblower for Ivar, probably because he’s never tried it before. Whether this woman is Saxon or Norse is unclear, but like everyone else in this tale, her only importance is the effect it has on Ivar who finally buys what literally everyone except his brothers have been telling him his whole life: he is special.
So, when the Saxons skulk into York, Ivar dons his +10 Hood of Glowering and, after watching them impale themselves in his improvised spike pit, hops in Ye Olde Chariot, screaming through the streets til someone clotheslines him, at which point I laughed out loud. But because he was told by AppleCare that he is the second coming, Ivar doesn’t bother getting back on and just lays in the street talking smack for the next 15 minutes while both sides butcher each other in the pouring rain. Not only is this terribly amusing for the viewer, it works. The English are terrified of him, except for Heahmund, who stares through the fray mentally cursing him. Ubbe is stunned by Ivar’s antics, and as soon as the fighting is over, re-re-reminds Ivar that he isn’t the boss, pressing to make peace and negotiate for that farmland like the farming farmers that they are. Do you remember ever seeing Ubbe farm?
Ivar is more keen on killing everyone, so Ubbe drags Hvitserk out for a midnight tête-a-tête with Aethelwulf, Arthur, and Heahmund, which fails. Tricky timewarp editing suddenly jumps to Ubbe with a busted face getting mocked by Ivar, then whips back to the Saxons promising to think it over. Arthur thinks they should, but Heahmund breaks into Ubbe’s tent and proceeds with said face busting, then kicks them out of camp. Thanks to the mysterious editing, we don’t know who initiated this, whether its Aethelwulf having a cross-burnin’, heathen-hatin’ backslide, or Heahmund being an uncontrollable vector full of hubris. I’m guessing the latter.
Ubbe and Hvitserk run home like whipped doggies and Ivar snatches the reins of the Great Heathen Army, which is not only bad for Ubbe but also for the Saxons, because he is crazy. The elder Ragnarssons pack up to head home, but at the last second Hvitserk punks out and stays with Ivar, then dares to put on a tough face as the boat pulls away like it was all his idea and he just can’t believe Ubbe, because Hvitserk is the worst.
Despite his immaturity, Ivar, like his mother, understands the importance of visual impact. He’s completely converted the church into a Norse temple/great hall, and although he didn’t do much of anything in the York battle, his intimidating presence is what the Northmen want. What I don’t understand is why Ubbe lets himself look so pathetic over a broken nose and stands there disappearing into his armor like he borrowed it from Rollo, unable to speak up for himself or plan another round of Spank the Saxons into Submission because he’s so stuck on farming right this very minute. The effect, however, is Farmer Ragnar II going home to add a little gender equity to Lagertha’s court at an opportune time. And if they get together, I’m warning you ahead of time: I might be here for it.
For hints about the upcoming season, download HISTORY’s 3-D audio immersion experience podcasts “Prophecies of the Seer.” And, don’t forget to check out my fellow Vikings geeks at The Wild Hunt, Shield Geeks, and SagaThing.