". . . 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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Vikings - Season 3 - History Channel - If Any, Only Minor SPOILERS

The History Channel's original scripted, long-form drama, Vikings, has four more episodes before season 3 closes.  It was recently announced there is going to be a season 4. Thus the series is a significant success, since there was no idea at season 1 there would be another one, much less at least two more seasons. Vikings was my favorite television watching from its first episode all the way through the end of season 2. But the intensity of my involvement in third season has been muted in comparison to the past ones, so much less that my assessment has been through these first 6 episodes has been, "wait and see."

The reasons for being less involved with the episodes this season aren't so easy to winkle out. There have been some fine scenes in each episode, but no story-line or relationship possessed the kind of tension that hooked season 2's viewers as when all around Ragnar his people were allying with King Horik to betray him. This was revealed to be one of Ragnar's cunning long plays, which was laid as an entirely plausible trap of King Horik. The conclusion contained one of the most beautifully choreographed scenes of judgment and execution sickening violence in the history of television.

These final scenes came after episode 7, "Blood Eagle" that held us breathless through the  the punishment-execution of Jarl Borg, who also had betrayed Ragnar. Even more, Ragnar emotes a flawless soliloquy to his dead daughter Gyda, one of the victims of the plague in Kattegat while he was away in Wessex. Interwoven in these arcs are the arrival a pregnant Aslaug, among the consequences of which are, wife en titre, Lagertha, divorced Ragnar and left Kattegat, returning just in time as an earl in her own right with fighting men to help out his next invasion-- and much more, as well as new characters, such as King Ecbert of Wessex, who are interesting in their own right. We never faltered from our full investment in these characters and their fates (with the exception of the fully historically preposterous character, Mercian princess Kwenthrith, an unbalanced nympho who acts out in public).

But not this year.

King Ecbert relaxing without his crown in order to better hangout with the two who have caught his attention in a net of curiosity as curiosities,  Athelstan the former monk who is now a viking warrior and Ragnar's favorite counselor, and Lagertha, who is a farmer, an earl, a warrior and divorced wife, who killed another unsatisfactory husband -- also very beautiful and intelligent.
Part of the problem is the core group is divided. The female characters we know best, Aslaug, now Ragnar's wife, and dropping sons seemingly every year, are left in Kattegat with the characterless children. Everyone else goes to Wessex, including warrior-farmer Lagertha and her want-to-be imitator, the former slave girl -- who manages the seemingly impossible of being less interesting as a free woman than as a slave -- , now carrying Ragnar's oldest son's child, and a passel of farmers. There's a lot of negotiation in various languages about the land promised Ragnar's farmers by King Ecbert. Christian Saxons are appalled by the eating habits of pagan vikings, while Princess Kwenthrith acts equally appallingly to the eyes of pagans. She gets way too much screen time in the first episodes -- and worse, the Nords can't have any of the land until they kill all her -- and King Ecbert's -- enemies.

The most interesting thing that happens is King Ecbert is fascinated by Lagertha, who takes it all in canny, sensible stride.  Ecbert is as intrigued by her as he is with Athelstan, another one who keeps Ragnar's back.

Siggy, who has proven herself in o so many ways a most valuable asset to Ragnar's family and kingdom even though she was the former ruler's wife.
While back in Kattegat, despite Siggy's best efforts Aslaug is having an attack of petulance, makes bad choices -- or god-driven choices or is bewitched by a charlatan under the guise of an avatar of Odin -- which have very bad consequences. Further than that one cannot go, without spoilers.

Aslaug and one of her many sons.
The problem is viewers aren't invested emotionally in Aslaug, partly because her character has played her spoiled upper class card so often -- and she took splendid Lagertha's place -- so Aslaug's welfare matters little to us, beyond their effect upon Ragnar and the other characters for whom we do care. She pops out sons, unlike Lagertha whose loss of her final pregnancy seems to have made her infertile. Yet these sons, who are in the sagas very important, are without personality, unlike Bjorn and Gyda as Lagertha and Ragnar's children in the first season.

Floki, even more antic this season, melding into -- unbalanced?

So far, in these first 6 of the 10 episodes, season three's predominate theme has been to dramatize what it is for people, whether Christian or pagan, who inhabit a time in which the gods are real to everyone. Even the title of this last episode

Athelstan, once a monk, then a slave and farmer, then a warrior and a viking, crucifiction victim and counselor to kings
underscores this theme: "Born Again." This season has gone to great pains to show the depths of intolerance possessed by people holding different religions, and how quickly and effectively this intolerance can be harnessed by the power elite and even others for objectives and goals that have nothing ultimately to do with religion. But when the intolerance is harnessed for the purposes of authentic religious convictions, it's even worse. Yet, this fact of religious intolerance employed for power and conquest,

Another god's man, the Seer of Kattegat
or genuine belief played upon by charlatans (see: for perhaps a charlatan's exploitation episodes 2 and 3, "The Wanderer" and Warrior's Fate) hasn't managed engaged our imaginations in the way court and hall political intrigues have done.

With three very big deaths in this season already, things are such a mess for Ragnar in both Kattegat and Wessex that I'm as impatient as he is to go on a vacation to war in Frankia. Next week -- "Paris".  The season is beginning to shake out now, finally, maybe.

1 comment:

Foxessa said...

I gotta say, I'm really glad everybody's getting out of dodge where nothing is comfortable now and going to Frankia.

It feels as though finally this season's religious conflict domination has shaken out and Big Stuff is going to happen.

Yes, the loss of such an old warrior - companion as Torstein is a Big Thing, as is the death of Siggy, Aslaug's seeking solace with another man than Ragnar, Ragnar refusing to help Lagertha get back Hedeby -- and then allying with the usurper, the Wessex massacre, Ragnar killing the messenger of the massacre, Athelstan's son being born, the murder of Athelstan -- and by the hand of previously trusted best friend and ally Floki -- these are all Really Big Things. But nobody's able to process any of it yet.

What we've got are big political and personal messes in Wessex and Kattegat, so I know! Let's go a-viking and forget our troubles in blood and plunder.