Friday, March 7, 2014

"Brother's War" on VIKINGS

Article first published as "Brother's War" on VIKINGS on

History's VIKINGS begins its second season this week with "Brother's War." Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) faces much upheaval as members of his own family turn away from him. But at least his career as a raider is going well, as both King Horik (Donal Logue) and Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr), both powerful leaders themselves, get on board with Ragnar's plan to sail to new lands.

I have to wonder how good a leader Ragnar will end up being. He can inspire loyalty in his friends and foes, to be sure, but has a major blind spot when it comes to family. He refuses to even consider that his brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), might betray him until Rollo shows up with an army. Ragnare doesn't believe his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), is leaving him, even after he catches her packing and she says she's going, until she rides away. His son, Bjorn (Nathan O'Toole), is disgusted by Ragnar's treatment of Lagertha and chooses to go with his mother. If Ragnar can't get his relations in line, what hope does he have with anyone else?

It is a bit odd that no one seems to question Ragnar regarding these desertions. The other vikings all still trust him and follow him. Could it be that, in this time and place, the culture is so different from our current frame of reference that this doesn't matter? I mean, if a political leader these days had falling outs with his family, it would impact his or her career. For Ragnar, this doesn't seem to be the case at all. He doesn't fight their leaving, and I guess because no one sees him losing something he wants to hang onto, he doesn't come across as pathetic.

Not that Ragnar doesn't have a few things going for him. For one, he has been very successful with his missions, winning soldiers because he keeps bringing his men wealth. For another, he seems to have won the heart of the beautiful Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), who hails from legendary stock, and is now carrying his baby. Aslaug even seems willing to share Ragnar, though Lagertha will have no part of it. So Ragnar isn't without strength.

There are moments, though, when he truly shines. Witnessing Ragnar's goodbye to his little girl, who died while he was away, is heartbreaking. Unlike in other moments, it doesn't make Ragnar soft to show emotion, finding power in his feelings. The aforementioned blind spot comes from a place of great love, and Ragnar will use that love to drive him forward. 

I guess one thing that bothers me a bit about Vikings is that the character of Ragnar seems a little unrealistic and half-formed. Is he a warrior of legend, or someone who has a rocky personal life? It's not that he can't be both, it's just that Rangar's faults are weaknesses that it's hard to understand his fellows looking past, so it makes the character seem poorly constructed.

Rollo has a similar issue, first turning on Ragnar, then begging his forgiveness. He's willing to die for his sins, but also ready to serve again. Some characters briefly complain about Rollo's pardon, and since Ragnar is not the one who gives it, the sentence being commuted by The Lawgiver (Morgan C. Jones), one is left wondering why Rollo isn't executed and how he can be accepted back into the group?

Unless both of these are just a matter of a race of people living by such different laws and codes that it's hard for a modern mindset to understand. I admit finding many of the motivations and attitudes of the players strange, and that contribute to an overall lack of comprehension. Ragnar couldn't act like this today, but maybe, for the vikings of old, his behavior is perfectly acceptable.

The installment itself is pretty good. I like the battle scenes, appropriately long and action-packed, with real, deadly consequences. The sets and costumes still look cool, and the pacing is quick enough. I'm interested to see how things will play out. Even when I don't think some of the characters are developed well enough, the narrative is still intriguing and entertaining.

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on History.

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