". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, March 7, 2014

Vikings - "Invasion" - Season 2, Ep. 2

The second episode takes place four years after the events in the first episode.

In this episode, Athelstan, Ragnar's captive Christian priest, wins an arm ring.

This is one of the reasons Vikings is such a pleasurable watch. That the enslaved Christian priest from the first series was turning himself into a Norseman was not surprising, and certainly plausible, considering how young he was when captured.  But that he would / could turn himself into a fighting man good enough for the shield wall, and to win a ring -- it is believable in the way it is played, yet it was a surprise.

Some were disappointed with the first episode of this season because there was a sole scene of battle, and it was very much done behind the shield wall. Instead of limbs and heads flying everywhere and sprays of blood -- though there were buckets of blood -- there wasn't enough of it. They called the domestic and political scenes boring and unnecessary.

These complaintants are on the other end of the fan spectrum from those who want only romance-sex-domestic scenes. Fans, who demand only their idea of the "good parts" in entertainment, spoil the whole kettle. For a stew to be good to excellent, it needs a variety of ingredients, in proper proportion. If there's a single ingredient -- why bother cooking or writing? With a single element the narrative lacks a story. What there is instead is repetition, the same thing again and again, without a narrative arc, without conflict, tension and surprise. That's the structure, such as it is. of porn.

On the other hand, surely in the Hall, when the troubadors sang in the softer 12th and 13th centuries, a contingent at least of the knights got very tired of the Guinevere, Arthur and Lancelot courtly love triangle -- let's get back to a fight!

The battle in the second episode, "Invasion," ( this time a fleet of Norsemen sailed to invade England, with the idea of perhaps staying a while rather than doing a hit and sail home) was outstanding, partly due to its staging.  Whether or not it was authentic, that's for people who know a great deal about military history to judge. But it looked like a realistic depiction of how a shield wall can function defensively and offensively, and even do both simultaneously, especially when surrounded by forces on all sides.  When the wall opens and the melee begins -- such a close entanglement of fighting men and weapons, so close that distinguishing friend and foe isn't hard, but avoiding striking your friends seems almost impossible. The action looked like early European manuscript illustrations of such battles: all participants locked together, heaving, swaying in one bristling mass over bloody ground, stabbing, thrusting and hacking.

The second reason this battle was so impressive is that important things happened during it, beyond winning or losing. It was a very hard battle for both sides. Ragnar and King Horrick's forces were up against equals, King Ecbert's battle-hardened soldiers, with good armor and weapons. More than once it looked as though the Norsemen would succumb. One of the reasons Ragnar and Horrick's side prevailed was at a crucial moment, Athelstan, the former priest, hurled himself out of the wall to King Horrick's assistance. In another he took out a soldier about to end Ragnar. Athelston well earned his arm ring (awarded for battle courage and effectiveness).

In the four years since Lagertha left Ragnar, and his son Bjorn chose to go with his mother, the two seem to have disappeared. Ragnar wishes his son Bjorn was here to go raiding with him.  Aslaug's little boys are too young. Still, Ragnar continually remarks that fathers are jealous of sons' strength and fame, even as the father's own fame begins to be forgotten and his strength droops.

Hopefully these missing characters will return in future episodes. For one thing, Lagertha is too interesting and finely done to jettison.

Though in these four years Princess Aslaug has presented Ragnar with two sons, and has another one on the way, it's her turn to be afflicted with Ragnar's roving eyes, which appear to be lighting even upon serving wenches, barely above the station of a slave -- or out of childhood.  It's difficult to sympathize with Aslaug, since, unlike Lagertha, she's uninteresting.

The suspicions about Eorl Haroldson's widow, Siggy and what her agenda may be don't go away.  Last season, while Ragnar was far away, covorting with Aslaug, Lagertha lost the child she was carrying. Did Siggy have something to do with the miscarriage? Siggy, partnered with Ragnar's less than loyal brother, Rollo, asked Lagertha for her friendship, which open-hearted Lagertha gave.  Yet, made widow, losing her status, Siggy isn't necessarily wishing the best for Ragnar, and by extension, his children. This time it's Aslaug, the ruler's consort, who reached out in friendship to deposed Siggy. Can any good come of this?  But, Aslaug, more sophisticated than the straight-forward, straight-seeing, straight-talking common-born Lagertha, will surely have her own agenda.

Ragnar, surrounded by all these women whom he insults and humiliates at will, should perhaps reconsider his behaviors. More than one of them can use battle weapons and at least one of them has a deep understanding not only of politics but of herbs, potions and poisons.

Now we are waiting to see what romanized, blonde, well-bathed and groomed King Ecbert of Wessex will do.

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