reviews

Review: ‘Vikings,’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Excellence’

Can you believe it, guys? Can you believe that an entire week has gone by since our last coming together in celebration of a vaguely melodramatic but insanely addicting television show about Vikings and guyliner? Can you? I can’t. I’m trying to figure out where the hours went, because I could have sworn it was just Friday yesterday and now it’s Friday tomorrow. This must be how Floki feels after eating Floki mushrooms. Hell, this must be how Floki feels even without the mushrooms. Trippy.

Anyway, are we ready to see where the Scandinavian road has taken us?

Sure, but first off – can we get a brief recap of all the things that happened in the last episode?

Why not? Last episode was the first episode of the season, meaning that at least half of it was donated to the cause of wrapping up loose ends and trying to fill season one plot holes with some sort of gravelly substance. Rollo (Clive Standen) tried to defy his brother’s power to get his own limelight, failed, and moped for the rest of the episode after narrowly escaping public execution. Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) found out about the very pregnant Aslaug when she appeared at their home ready to pop, leading Lagertha to ragequit the relationship, leaving the homestead at the end of the episode with a tearful Bjorn (Nathan O’Toole) tucked under her arm. All the while, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) has united the surrounding powers around the idea of traveling to the vast, wealthy lands of the west.

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We start this episode with a time jump. Exciting! I’ve always wondered what the future looked like, it’s a lot dirtier than I thought it’d be. It’s also very…grey. It’s like the exact opposite of CSI: Miami.

Four years later, we see Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) talking to a precocious looking toddler, pregnant, draped in fur, and looking happy. He’s not the only Ragnar-Goddess baby and Ragnar has a veritable Gaggle of Boys now. Better than that, though, we get a glimpse of a long-haired Athelstan (George Blagden) after long last. HE LIVES, HE LIVES!

What, did you think he died or something?

After he got roughly seven letters of screen time last week, I was honestly starting to think that he was banished to the land of Forgotten Subplots. There is no worse place for a character that actually deserves to be in the show. He’s even begun to learn the native language, spouting sassiness at Floki after he addresses him as priest.

Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Helga (Maude Hirst) are amused by his seeming total Vikingness and warm themselves by the bonfire, just like it warms my heart to know that even after four Viking years that crazy bananas couple is still together and seemingly going strong. That probably means either Helga or Floki will die before the season is over – ugh, I’ll light the mourning candles now. As it so happens, Floki has been building the boats for Ragnar’s next raid summertime raid; there has been tension mounting in the village due to the lack of success the past few years of non-raiding, going so far as the citizens comparing Ragnar to the (sorta-kinda) dearly departed, All-Talk-No-Raid Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne). That’s reasonably silly, Aslaug AND Lagertha had much better taste in makeup than First Lady Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) ever did.

To put their minds at ease, Ragnar announces their upcoming raid of the west. King Horik (Donal Logue) and Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr) are joining them on the raid, because not only will the extra manpower be useful, but it be a huge point of tension that oozes future wartime plot rife with betrayal. Hey, while they’re over there exploring and pillaging, they might as well stay longer and really soak up the exotic atmosphere. Ragnar also cups the shoulder of his son with Aslaug and notes how they’ve been working to replace the men they’ve lost over the years. If he’s referencing Bjorn, this just got really. weird.

Yeah, that’s pretty weird, but Ragnar’s end game is to have a lot of sons so his genetics are spread all over the world like wildflowers and allergies.

Weirder? Ragnar gets semi-threatening with Siggy and tells her that they all have to work together to get the boat on the road. Ocean. Whatever. Of course, she’s the social part of the Rollo situation, considering he has still exiled himself from much of civilization in an extreme case of Hot Topic Emo. You know, if Hot Topic Emos were hulking men drunk off their senses and passed out on some straw in the middle of the street. My! How the mighty have fallen.

That’s actually really sad. Sure, Rollo tried to fight his brother and ignite a war in the Scandinavian countryside and then was forced to stay in the city by Siggy out of some weird, vaguely Gods-related principle, but to be a lowly drunkard out in the cold is really unpleasant all the same. Additionally, excessive mead can’t be good for his six pack.

 Don’t worry, Siggy has his back. Sure, we don’t know about her ulterior motives or end goals, but when she pours that bucket of icy cold water over Rollo in exasperated frustration, I was relieved.

We flash back to the Viking feast going on indoors, with Ragnar openly hitting on the young blonde who brings them their food. Aslaug looks uncomfortable, knowing that her now-husband has a type and reminds him that she’s eating for two and tells the girl to “be careful who you choose to be familiar with.” I guess that’s Viking talk for “I’m providing you with a basket of boys to carry on your lineage and you want to run around with a pretty little 16 year old in front of me? lol Ragnar, no.” Ragnar seems decidedly put out, but Aslaug lays down the pregnant woman law and has me respecting her a lot more.

Uh. Pot meet kettle. In case she conveniently forgot, she was the other woman in the initial relationship.

Yes, I know. I know, but when Ragnar pulls out the “you’re just being a hysterical jealous woman because of your pregnant condition, see? I really love you. Totally. Because I just said it. That makes it true!” card, I’m choosing to give her the benefit of the doubt for feel of my eyes rolling out of my skull. She doesn’t buy it, either. She has the gift of foresight and prophecy; it’s pretty inopportune for Ragnar to forget that he’s bedded and wedded a seeress. She also pulls some Grade A Passive Aggression, telling him that the son she will bare him will have the mark of the serpent in his eye because he’s treating her badly. Spooky.

ASLAUG, it’s not like he was a shining beacon of faithfulness and fidelity before he put a ring on it. Is this a case of trying to ~fix a bad boy?

I think it’s more a groupie getting married to her favorite rock star and then getting angry that he won’t stop seeing other groupies. Only she’s a princess, so it’s sort of like if Mick Jagger got together with Kate Middleton and her getting angry that he won’t stop sleeping with Lindsay Lohans.

I’m so sorry for that imagery.

No you’re not.

 Not at all, actually.

Troubled by this, Ragnar visits the Seer (John Kavanagh). He just wants to check again that his sons will be just fine and insanely successful, without serpentine eyes. You know, the normal things. The Seer assures him that they will be spoken of as long as humans can speak; one will marry the daughter of a renowned king and will discover and sail across the seas, leading them to have more fame and acclaim than Ragnar could ever have. Ragnar seems happy about this, then inquiring as to the state of Bjorn – surely, if his Aslaug children are destined to such a glorious fate, surely he will, too.

The Seer grins in his black lipstick, calmly stating that he was the son that he had previously spoken of. This leads me on two different paths of thought: one) what does that mean for the kids he has with Aslaug? two) ALL HAIL TEAM LAGERTHA/BJORN!

Not that I have any time to explore either path, because we’ve cut to Siggy telling Rollo that he’s a disgrace; with the way he’s looking now (a Gollum shade of peachy grey), I have to agree. Calmly, she tells him that she’s lost everything – her sons, her husband, her best friend forever (or maybe I just love the image of she and Lagertha eating Ben & Jerry’s Viking Flavor Edition and talking about their man troubles), her beloved daughter – there is no way she’s going to lose him. He has to get his shit together, because he is going to go with his brother on the summer raid whether he and his boozy addiction and propensity for moping like it or not. She sees it as an opportunity for Rollo to regain pride and strength, telling him that “[he] will look better if [he has] something to believe in.”

That’s legit. Siggy should be a motivational speaker for recent graduates.

I’d agree to that, too…except for the part where she tells him to talk to his brother and beg for forgiveness or kill himself and live with his misery in hell for all eternity. That’s a little extreme. That said! It seems to have stirred the fire in his loins, because he grabs a molten hot blade, burns the shit out of his hand, and goes to see his brother.

It’s a really awkward confrontation. Ragnar asks where he’s been loafing around –

He didn’t notice that scraggly looking new drunk on the street looks suspiciously like his brother after four years?

 We’ve already covered that Ragnar’s powers of observation are so-so at best.

Rollo tells him that he’s been around, cursing the gods, cursing himself, you know…the normal things you do after you kill one of your friends and try to kill your brother in an attempt to overthrow power. You really do get the sense that Rollo’s been waiting for death to come knocking, even if he wouldn’t honorably end up in Valhalla after his actions. His entire life is a sad trombone noise.

Long story short and some semi-poorly acted emotions later, Ragnar tells him that he’ll think on it.

And now, in preparation for the upcoming raid, Athelstan is learning to fight with the best of them and Ragnar is personally training him.

Is it weird that I’m sad that his conflict with his inner Viking and Christianity is being shelved and/or being written off as totally figured out? That was a highlight of last year.

Ah, young grasshoppa – the season is yet young. There will definitely be inner conflict for our friend, because Ragnar intends to take him on the raid in hopes that he will become useful. I can only imagine this ending very poorly for Athelstan, so far I just don’t buy that he’s a meat and potatoes Viking through and through. At least Ragnar references Athelstan’s different “god.”

Sidenote: both in this episode and the last, Ragnar has carried around baby goats. This is either some kind of symbolism or a deliberate attempt to get Tumblr really excited about the season. I can’t figure out which.

ragnarlovesbabygoats.tumblr.com – there’s a possibility that only 20% of the contents would be workplace inappropriate.

 After four years, King Horik arrives to prepare for the coming expedition and is reintroduced to Aslaug. Apparently word does not get around the Scandinavian water cooler, because he’s totally shocked that she’s there and has born Ragnar three boys with another on the way. Also, King Horik meets again with Jarl Borg and he’s not surprised to see him there, ready to plunder whatever lies westward. It’s an awkward reunion, but things get a little more awkward when Rollo walks into the room with a look that says, “hey, Jarl Borg! Remember me? Yeah, you ruined my life.” In a sad twist, Ragnar has announced that he has accepted Rollo back into his life but he will not be joining the raid parade.

You can practically hear his despondent heart break, leaving the room accepting the verdict.

Womp womp.

We’re then introduced to the dining festivities, complete with Rollo pouting into his slab of bread, King Horik making idle chatter with Aslaug, and Ragnar talking to King Horik’s teenage sons (he has a son “about [their] age,” anyway). The charming dinner was interrupted by King Horik telling Ragnar that he doesn’t want Jarl Borg raiding with them for the same reason Ragnar doesn’t want Rollo raiding with them: there’s a lack of trust. However, where there’s a will to get Rollo on that ship, there is a way, and Siggy’s eye contact with King Horik indicates that she’s about to pull some bedsheet strings to make it happen. Say what you want about her, she’s determined.

The next day, King Horik’s fleet arrives and the kind king leaves Ragnar with the duty of telling Jarl Borg that he will not be raiding with them. Man, King Horik is the worst friend ever. Jarl Borg takes the news as fantastically as you’d expect (read: poorly) and we are then taken to a dimly lit chamber with Siggy telling the Good King that she knows a lot of the dirty details of the city and is privy to a lot of secrets Ragnar keeps.  She knows his strengths and his weaknesses.

King Horik asks her why he would need to know his weaknesses.

Really, King Horik? Really? You have no idea why you’d like to know the secrets of one of the most powerful men in all the land? I find it really hard to believe that their trust goes that deep.

Siggy, knowing she has him wrapped around her finger, informs him that knowing the secrets of his allies makes him safer and the bond stronger. He wants to know how he can truly trust her. And then they have sex. That’s pretty much like forging a trust contract, right? Okay, I admit, they cut away before the clothes came off, but if they don’t have sex and instead exchange trustworthy goats with each other, I will eat my left baby toe.

It gets better!

Jarl Borg, with giant balls of steel, goes to talk to Rollo about the same stuff he did before in an attempt to take over the world. Rollo tells him he wants to find himself while they’re raiding, Jarl Borg laughs, and then Rollo does something that for once shows that he has a spine: he punches Jarl Borg square in the face. It. Was. Awesome.

And a lot less disturbing than watching King Horik and Siggy doing the nasty. On the one hand, TOTALLY CALLED IT, on the other, eeeewwww ew ew.

Yeah, between that and the Mick Jagger reference you made earlier, I might have to do some mental bleaching after this episode.

 Shudder.

Do you hear that? In the distance? It’s raiding time! It’s crazy how absolutely insane the timeline in this show is. Think about it, twenty minutes ago the ground was covered in inches of snow. Now? Baby deer and raid season. We see Ragnar saying goodbye to his family and telling them that he loves them. Before we know it, they’ve set sail with a pissed Rollo watching them leave, black cloak billowing in the breeze. What happened to finding yourself, Rollo?

Maybe he just needs some punches of color in his wardrobe? A shimmering blue or sensitive lavender would do wonders for his self-image.

Speaking of blue! The ship is slightly lost in the middle of a body of water; despite Aslaug’s assurances that she has foreseen them arriving safely, it appears that they have somehow strayed from course. Because of this, tensions are very high. Made worse by insane CGI-created weather that reminds me of that awful movie Poseidon (2005).  The weather is so fierce that they nearly rammed their ships headlong into a bunch of rocks. Luckily, they navigated around it in the nick of time.

Back at the homestead, Aslaug has called Siggy in for little girl talk. Aslaug admits that she hasn’t really tried to be friends with Siggy (the tiers of awkwardness are innumerable), but nowadays the boys are gone and because they’re family, they can totally be friends now. The former princess tells her that she knows Siggy desires to be back in a position of power and doesn’t begrudge her for it, but tells her that they shouldn’t be enemies in the interim – they also agree that things would be better if women openly ruled everything.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Siggy and Aslaug will differ between Siggy and Lagertha’s friendship.

I agree!

If only the boys (and shieldmaidens) were faring as well. The storm has calmed and the sky is a hazy shade of pink, which is definitely an omen in and of itself. They have lost track of a large portion of the fleet, filling Ragnar with a mixture of rage and confusion. The tension is soon cut when they find land, docking and making their way onto the sandy beach. It’s quiet. Too quiet and from the brush we see a helmet-clad dude rustling in the leaves, only to take off on horseback after taking a gander at the imposing forces that arrived on their shoreline.

As they make their way into the wilderness, there still hasn’t been a sign of immediate threats to their safety allowing them to set up camp. We can see what they can’t, so we know by the shaky camera angles and the weaponry through the ferns that their fishing sesh is about to be rudely interrupted. BAM, ARROWS! ARROWS EVERYWHERE! Already, there have been a few casualties and they are surrounded.

After a few inspiring words from King Horik, the fight begins. There are eight remaining episodes in the season, so we know our Vikings win, but it’s pretty cool to see a battle break out so quickly in the season (plus more shieldmaidens! Even if their including multiple shots of their flaxen braids whipping in the wind is pure fanservice, I approve wholeheartedly). Even Athelstan gets in on the bloody action!

Again, I know him killing people was a work in progress and inevitable, but I was not ready to see him take an axe and lay into enemies.

Well. To say he fought would be a little bit of an overstatement, because it was 80% shield flailing, but he gets a gold star for trying. He also drives an axe into someone’s lower spine and Ragnar beheads a dude to get some of the survivors to talk. To whom? To Athelstan, of course! As he’s not scarred about killing anyone at all, he’s the perfect translator for the situation.

We find out that they are not King Aelle’s men (remember him, do ya’ do ya’ do ya’?), they are in Wessex, King Ecbert is the man who rules and he’s basically the Wessex Ragnar. King Ecbert, chillin’ in his private bath in his jewelry, is troubled by the news. Aaaaand that’s the note we end on.

Huh.

That’s pretty much how I feel about this episode, too.

Do you have an arbitrary rating prepared?

Yeah. I’ll give this one eight out of fifteen Awkward Back Tattoos (I mean really, Siggy? REALLY?). For some reason, this episode didn’t grab me as much as others have. While I am liking Aslaug more for actually having some sort of personality, the raiding wasn’t my favorite part of last season so the additional focus to that aspect is probably going to affect my interest at times, AND there was not nearly enough Lagertha and Bjorn-y goodness. Next week promises a LOT of action that will help develop a lot of the building story lines, so while this episode was a little slow, I’m going to believe that it’s for a greater cause.

What did you guys think of the episode? Too much Rollo? Too little sex? Wondering what exactly a serpent eye consists of? Discuss below!

 

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9 thoughts on “Review: ‘Vikings,’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Excellence’

  1. Well… Where to begin? First I can’t overemphasize enough (redundant) how much I dislike the dumbing down of Ragnar. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Brother Rollo? Where you been hiding for four bloody years???? C’mon. First season’s Ragnar knew everything and everyone. Resting on his laurels, I say, and his wolf pack of Assie sons.
    The real Ragnar would have stood up to King Horik because the real Ragnar would have known that dissing Earl Jarl meant disaster.
    I mean, look at this from Earl Jarl’s POV. What does Ragnar think he’s been doing for the past four years? Twiddling his thumbs, Ragnar-style? No, he’s been spending all his resources on this great raid.
    Yes, pot calling the kettle black– it is a well known fact that if a man cheats on his first wife he’s likely to cheat on his second wife. Suck it up, Aslaug. I knew Lagertha. You ain’t no Lagertha. Aslaug just went down a couple pegs in my estimation. She’s acting like a damn princess when in truth the Vikings were a very democratic people. Lagertha knew this and she made wise decisions. Aslaug is mere fecund arm candy and aside from the kids she produces, Ragnar seems pretty tired of her. I wish Siggy could safely smack her a good one, the way Rollo found his cojones and sucker punched Jarl. Altho like I said, I have some sympathy for the Earl and I think King Horik isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. The real Ragnar wouldn’t hook his wagon (raiding vessel) to Horik’s star.
    I am loving Athelstan. Loving him. Yup. Wessex. That’s the way it happened, cookie. Can’t wait for Ecbert to meet Ragnar. Although I do believe the Vikings, yes, because they are Vikings, would have posted sentries. See? Thanks to Aslaug Ragnar has lost mega IQ points. Guess it was Lagertha made him smart.
    I speculating something great will happen with Rollo.
    I can’t wait to see Lagertha. Up yours, Aslaug!
    Bjorn- oughta been smashing!

    • Exactly. Ragnar’s lack of foresight is really troubling. Jarl Borg would OBVIOUSLY be pissed that he was uninvited to the party and CONVENIENTLY he’s leaving the area with all of their resources and war-ready men, is he really so self-interested that he couldn’t see how freaking dumb the whole situation is? That, and when did Ragnar become King Horik’s puppet? The whole situation was incredibly irritating, Season One Ragnar would have seen through the smoke and haze that both the King and Jarl are creating.

      I think King Horik is a lot more manipulative than we give him credit for, though.

      Next episode we’re getting Queen Lagertha and Not-So-Baby-Bjorn back! I’m SO EXCITED. This series is so dull without them!

  2. This was a slow episode. So the Lothbrok son’s are starting to appear. With Ubbe and Hvitserk already born and Sigurd Snake-In-the-Eye on the way. Maybe ivar will be along a little later in the season then. Hvitserk is interesting, there’s not a whole lot written about him and there is speculation that he’s the same person as ‘Halfdan Ragnarson’ who along with Ubbe and Ivar is mentioned as having lead the Great Heathen Army.

    Loved that the seer once again predicted Bjorn’s adventures.up and down the Meditereanan (‘the sea that has no tide’) and him eclipsing his father’s fame.

    And unless Siggy’s been spending time with Athelstan it’s more likely she told Rollo to spend and eternity in Hel (one L only). The Viking realm for those who died dishonorable deaths (such as dying of old age, sickness or suicide)

    Not sure what to make of Ragnar’s loss of IQ. But taking most of your fighting force and sailing West while simiultaneously leaving a pissed of Jarl Borg and his boys behind is not exactly a smart move. I wonder if King Horik is manipulating him, if he’s busy with an angry Jarl Borg he won’t become a threat to Horik’s power.

    I guess Rollo and perhaps a certain Norweigian shield-maiden that was missing from this episode will have to save Ragnar’s bacon.

    • I also found this episode a lot slower than usual, but the episodes where they begin to build up tension/create plots tend to be a bit duller than what we’re used to.

      It was interesting to be introduced to his new sons, but I have to agree that I just really loved the part where the seer predicted Bjorn’s badassery. Not only do I really like the spooky seer as a character, Ragnar’s face was so funny when he heard that his legacy would pale in comparison to Bjorn’s.

      Oh! It makes a lot of sense that he’d be going to Hel and not Hell, though the imagery of Siggy having a heart-to-heart about religion with Athelstan is hilarious.

      That part REALLY bothered me. What was Ragnar thinking? Did he really think that Jarl Borg would just lay back and be chill with the fact that he cut him out of the raid party while Ragnar pooled all of his resources and his fight-ready men in boats and sailed away? I really hope he’s not that self-obsessed to think that his town is somehow above being attacked. It was just the stupidest move yet, seriously endangering everything he has worked for.

      I’m not sure, when King Horik told Ragnar to tell Jarl Borg that he didn’t want him involved, all I could think was why can’t he do it himself? Which leads me to believe that King Horik definitely has some weird bizzarro power of manipulation over Ragnar (probably made worse later when he pulls out the secrets that Siggy told him).

      I hope Rollo’s done trying to be bad, he’s such a sad bad guy. However, I am definitely looking forward to he and Lagertha saving Ragnar!

      • I’m calling it now. While the men are gone, Jarl Borg is going to strike at the undefended village! Who can save the women and children and Siggi? You know who… The women! And Rollo maybe if he’s sober.

    • Yeah, Ivar is the nastiest of the nasty. It’s quite interesting. I can’t wait for the return of Ragnar’s brain, i.e., Lagertha.

  3. I enjoyed the episode, but I did miss Lagertha and hope she’s back next week. I’m glad they added something more to Aslaug than just baby-maker, but she still seems pretty one dimensional to me. She was acting very princess- like, too, which I don’t think is going to work in Kattegat. And maybe it’s just me, but i don’t think there is much chemistry between Ragnar and Aslaug. Someone else mentioned he seems tired of her, and I had that impression as well.

    I agree with the above comments about Ragnar. Excluding Jarl Borg like that isn’t good- he’s a powerful jarl with a likely large fighting force that Ragnar just left alone in his homeland after angering him. What *was* Ragnar thinking, doing that? It’s something Earl Haraldson might have done.

    • I agree about Aslaug. While they’re obviously trying to give her more than one personality trait, I’m not totally impress/enamored with her yet. I’m glad they’re evolving her into more than just a babymama, however…she’s still a bit staid and chilly for me. She’s definitely not nearly as captivating as Lagertha (but I have a little bit of a girlcrush on Queen Lagertha, so I’m definitely biased!)

      Yeah…It doesn’t fit in with Ragnar’s character to not have any foresight at all. It was unmistakably stupid for him to not see how the entire situation could possibly turn into a mess. It’s not like Jarl Borg has shied away from violence to get what he wants, you know?

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