Previously on Vikings, “The Prisoner”
Following two big mid-season winners, “The Message” begins the descent towards the inevitable late season conflict, a transitional tale with more quick hits for Bjorn and the Saxons while the bulk of the hour focuses on Ivar and Harald combining forces and smaller vectors set in motion by their unconventional partnership as well as the clash between Floki’s mission and Lagertha’s justice. To set the stage for this world-rending battle, “The Message” reminds us of Lagertha’s deep, steady roots in the relative equality and superstition of the Old Norse culture that she and Ragnar built in Kattegat; despite the tenuous situation with war on the horizon, she extends Floki a line of credit to speculate on yet another potential future settlement, an escape outlet for her landlocked peoples. In contrast, series writer Michael Hirst pulls in previous threads of the rising patriarchal leanings in Harald’s growing conglomeration of zealous wannabe kings building towards a more Anglo-like fiefdom/taxation-based government, mistrustful men who expect more than they are offered for deals that soon fall apart with people they know little about.
“The Message” has two beautiful performative moments and one visually unique moment, but the rest feels somewhat uneven. For its brevity, Arthur’s prayer to Ecbert is as touching and powerful as Lagertha’s goodbye to Floki, and I’ve never seen anything quite like Heahmund’s glowing spit prayer. Then comes the questions. Where did Bjorn et al get the desert clothing during their escape? Does Ivar really think nobody can see through his rather obvious multiple ruses? Is evil laughter a character trait? Are bug eyes? Why does Vikings bother getting our hopes up that Astrid has any sense or can defend herself when its just going to toss in another unnecessary rape scene that can only end in even worse consequences for her being there in the first place?
Ifriqiya. Unsurprisingly, the Viking crew hulks out, even Sinric, and escape on camel through the sandstorm, another potentially rich plot turned stamp on a passport. At least nobody picked up an orphan to hug into a murderous rampage.
Essex. Aethelwulf leads the Saxon survivors back to Essex’s ruins, giving Aethelred time to train in the yard while Alfred swears a holy oath to unify England for Ecbert, preparing by undertaking a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne to understand his father, telling his mother he can no longer accept this silent denial of half of himself. Though brief, their story establishes the conflicting royal schools of thought and interests—Aethelred is eldest and a warrior, with Aethelwulf’s blessing, but Alfred has a sacred mission and his mother’s blessing, both very needed leaders in this period of upheaval.
Whether Astrid married Harald Finehair for her own ambitions or other reasons is left up in the air through her frolicking in the woods with him and Ivar’s arrival. The long view of Harald’s great hall is much more promising than the first, unless Astrid is responsible for the whale-rib theme interior decorating. With Heahmund in tow, Ivar proposes supporting Harald’s defeat of Kattegat if he’ll install Ivar as a “king” until his death, at which time it defaults back to Harald. People who are happy with and/or believe the terms of this proposal: zero, especially Hvitserk, who seems dumber than usual when he wonders why Ivar would lie to Harald.
But, this stop marks a shift in Harald’s character, who looks quite kingly and settled next to Ivar, more boyish here than ever, wobbling through the streets to hack up a shark with Heahmund’s ANANYZAPATA sword, lie that his priority is avenging Aslaug’s death, and tease Harald for marrying Lagertha’s lover. He clearly thinks he is smart, but at a dinner sealing their agreement, Harald gives a pointed toast condemning to death any person who breaks their agreement. As he breaks into his signature “My mother told me…“ song, awkward glances pass ’round, Astrid especially.
After aggressively quoting the 23rd Psalm at Harald, Heahmund must decide if he will fight along Ivar or die, Ivar reasoning that it’s just more dead heathens. Ivar admits jealousy of his skills, wanting to learn along side him in battle. Alex Hough really shines in moments like these where he sets aside his Ivar the Boneless persona, countered by a fantastically spitty performance from Jonathan Rhys Meyers beseeching God to deliver him from prison. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Instead, Heahmund is paraded through japing citizens and kills the first bully at knife point to confirm his answer.
At last some insight into Astrid’s intentions. She enlists a seemingly discreet whaler and his family crew, offering to trade treasure for delivering “the message,” a warning to Lagertha. Not only is Astrid obvious as hell, she makes a big mistake in her choice: he wants sex, not just for him, but his entire crew. Despite a scene featuring her sharpening a vicious knife and a momentary hope that she’ll see the deal going sour, kill him, and start over, she immediately falls prey with a child witnessing the whole thing. Between the distinctive stolen treasure, witness, and handful of potential rapist traitors, her doom is near certain. Needless to say, this is another rape scene for this season, and, as @SagaThing pointed out, propositions of this nature are not in the Sagas, so I question why it even went that direction, much less that far, from a writing standpoint, especially since most of the main women in Vikings now have sex as constant major plot points in their narratives. I imagine words like “desperate measures,” “disadvantage,” and “dangerous gamble” as part of this justification; nevertheless, I remain skeptical.
As Floki’s followers secretly load their boats, a volley of arrows from Lagertha’s army interrupts. All that stuff I said about Guthrum? That’s why they bought it, but, surprise, he was working for his very proud mom and step-grandma the whole time. Floki is resigned to his death, and Lagertha questions why they would selfishly leave at such a time but ultimately allows them to follow their Fates. Lagertha warns them of Floki’s trickster nature, but he forswears it, blessing her in farewell. They’ve barely left the beach before Margrethe is in Ubbe’s ear about Lagertha’s illusory power like the Patriarchy Powderpuff she is. I would call her Lady MacBeth again, but that is insulting to Shakespeare.
The smarter crew is on the boat; Kjetill praises Lagertha as a great woman for letting them go, while Aud explains it is her womanly nature that allows the decision. Men, she says, must exercise their power immediately or fear looking weak, but due to gestation, women understand power grows and wait (speaking of Message…). Lagertha is willing to let them go to see if Floki is right, a whisper of lingering faith. But once in Iceland, grumbling quickly sets in as Floki drives them into the barren inland. He preaches that they will curse the land and him, but in the end, will thank him. The “believe me” and “yuge” is silent.
Surprisingly, the whaler delivers Astrid’s message and Lagertha muses that they must be great friends for Astrid to trust him. Are we talking about the same Astrid, and is your Obviously Lying Scum radar off? Regardless, she puts the gears of war in motion, setting Ubbe in charge of the army (is that a good idea?) and calling Margrethe on the carpet for her insolence, swearing to cut out her tongue and re-enslave her if she continues; blabbing about the gods is all well and good in peace, but with war at hand, loose lips sink ships and their shipbuilder just left for Iceland. In response, Margrethe is defiant in the way of teens who have never really experienced true life consequences, and she has GOT to go.