Previously on Vikings, “The Message”
From The Expanse to Vikings episodes like “Revenge,” director Jeff Woolnough is familiar with not only impressive battles but striking visuals, particularly using darkness to dramatic effect. Besides one quandary, “Full Moon” serves a meaty, complicated text at a fireside table and is one of the better transition episodes of the entire series. That quandary is Bjorn’s continually unexplained relationship flakiness and the unfortunate resulting “marriage” scene, which is at least somewhat balanced by his strengthening bond with Lagertha. Minus this fly in the ointment, the excellent thematic work in “Full Moon” is worth reviewing by topic rather than location.
Light vs. Dark
Nearly every scene of “Full Moon” is in darkness, pierced by the changing moon phase, a fire, or a cold beam of sunlight. It is the only episode within memory with a defined time passage, two months, reaffirmed by Astrid’s pregnancy announcement in a rare moment of broad sunlight. Keeping with this dark/light theme, Ivar and Heahmund’s hnefatafl board emerges as a visual, the dark king and his smaller force at the center seek escape from larger forces from many sides, Lagertha and Kattegat vs. Harald’s horde. Keeping neutral ground is Floki’s formerly green Iceland turned gray and smoky, its nature as yet undecided for his pilgrims.
At the epiosode’s close, the hnefatafl board makes a silent reappearance as Lagertha holds a war council. As the disembodied pieces move, the council debates forcing Ivar into a battleground of their choosing, dividing his army between field and fjord. But, Ubbe points out, Ivar is unexpected and may attack directly from the water. The dark king falls.
Expanding the World
In the show’s effort to widen its borders, the Norse culture itself has been a bit neglected, resolved here by the introduction of the Sami—indigenous semi-nomadic peoples previously known as Laplanders. Marked by traditional shawl-like clothing named gàkti, they speak a bit of their language in greeting, and Bjorn’s walk through camp reveals their nomadic lifestyle. Apropos of nothing, Bjorn marries Snaefrid, a princess at least worthy of his rank, but why he never married Torvi, apparently we will never know. One international element remains with Euphemius’ dagger, which Bjorn presents to Guthrum, delivering the punchline “Halfdan and I ate him,” with comedic Ragnar timing. He also alludes to other strange customs as the camera focuses on Halfdan, his face buried enigmatically in his cups.
Despite the Sami’s deserved and faultless introduction, Bjorn’s “marriage” to Snaefrid did not work for me. It starts out well enough with Lagertha asking Svase’s permission for the two to have sex, and Bjorn’s later request for her hand is rather poetic. But then Snaefrid aggressively ties him up and slaps him, going on about the Sami “half castrating” their reindeer by chewing up their balls before straddling him. Did we not learn from the Count “50 Shades of” Odo backlash? Just weird, especially when we are still reeling from his breakup with Torvi.
Faith, or, Fate vs. Free Will
Digging deeper into this season’s exploration of faith, Torvi sees that Bjorn was not her fate. Hvitserk is unsure of Fate’s role in his choosing sides, while Ivar counters Heahmund’s faith in free will that it may only be an illusion. Each naturally asserts that their religious legends, like the Immaculate Conception and Odin fighting the Midgard Serpent, are real; but, comparing the moon to a fickle woman, Ivar perhaps foolishly reveals that he wants to believe in Heahmund’s nobility. It seems that Heahmund senses his weakness, but whether this develops remains to be seen.
Like Ivar, Floki’s disciples want to believe in his neo-democracy, but their faith slips with every step. Now openly heckling his “house that Odin built,” they are angered by the smoking geyser-ridden valley he’s chosen to settle, but Aud points to the useful features surely designed by the gods, like warm water for bathing and bread. While one couple gets busy making the first baby of the new world, Eyvind still believes Floki’s intentions are disingenuous.
Bjorn and Halfdan’s bromance continues as they sail home with Bjorn lamenting that Torvi doesn’t deserve his faithlessness, but Halfdan counters that, thanks to the gods, what people get and what they deserve are never in balance. As for Astrid’s assertion that Fate led to her kidnapping, pregnancy brings complications to her tale, including the fulfillment of the priestess’s admonishment that marriage is an invisible binding cord; whatever this baby’s paternity, which undoubtedly weighs on her mind as she clutches Harald’s arms tearfully, Astrid can never simply go back to Lagertha now.
This discovery makes for one of many beautiful intimate conversations throughout “Full Moon.” As I suspected at the wedding, Peter Franzen and Josefin Asplund have brought their A-game to this plot; Astrid’s mixed emotions and Harald’s gentle elation are moving and relatable. Perhaps the most powerful duet, however, is Lagertha’s fireside admission to Bjorn that she misses her farming life with Ragnar, which Bjorn wisely uses to express his pride in her while reaffirming her commitment to the present conflict, humorously comparing Ivar to Fenrir rending the universe apart at Ragnarok, levity worthy of his father. After so much formality between mother and son, this talk is a relief for viewers craving the original Vikings and for Lagertha and Bjorn’s success as royals and as family.
Among the minor but no less significant duets are Lagertha and Halfdan at dinner. He expresses with saga-esque cleverness that he most enjoyed seeing “nothing” (the desert) and “everything” on his journey, but his charm does not deter her from challenging his supposed blood-sworn loyalty to Bjorn. He remains steadfast, unlike his object, who is staring openly at Snaefrid. In a short but touching scene, Torvi kindly accepts their end and he promises to care for their children, gifting her a Byzantine brooch as she kisses him goodbye and rushes outside, where Ubbe finds her.
The structure of Torvi and Ubbe’s “no” banter and failed attempt at comfort felt like stage direction in the best way. Jordan Patrick Smith continues to pull the most Travis Fimmel-like performance in his understated sounding board for Torvi’s well-earned cynicism. She says they mustn’t try to hold on to things that pass, including children, and tries to give him the brooch for Margrethe. He refuses and kisses her instead, which Margrethe calls him on later, wanting him to stay focused on making them king and queen. Like Ragnar might, he asks only, “Is that what you want?” Telling.
Last but not least is Alfred’s “talk” with Athelstan. Up to this point, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo’s Alfred was certainly enjoyable, but his performance while lecturing the Abbot is a mind-blowingly accurate blend of Athelstan and Ecbert. Upon Alfred’s arrival at Lindisfarne, the Abbot (Bosco Hogan, a Borgias and Tudors alum) explains the Viking invasion and pointedly alludes to “a” monk who returned as an apostate. Alfred defends Athelstan’s memory, saying that we are all angels and devils, and not-so-casually suggests they stop using Latin, something the historical Alfred urged in “Preface to Pastoral Care.” Leaving the man speechless, Alfred retreats to his room and a familiar beam of light focuses on his altar; he believes he can feel his father, so he kneels to pray. To his shock, Athelstan’s voice joins him in the Lord’s Prayer. Back in Kattegat, Ubbe (lead us not into temptation) and Halfdan (but deliver us from evil) contemplate their choices and, at last, the moon shines on Lagertha and Bjorn. Small grace that we are not without Athelstan’s comfort on yet another eve of battle.
I may have cried.