Amazon UK TV review: Vikings Season 3, Episode 4
Sex and insubordination5
Ivan Radford | On 15, Mar 2015
“I have taken some of his pains upon myself,” says Harbard halfway though Episode 4 of Vikings Season 3, as he helps Ragnar and Aslaug’s son, Ivar. It only adds to the weight behind that pressing question: who on earth is he? No mere mortal would have the ability to heal a child.
The arrival of Kevin Durand’s mysterious wanderer seemed to suggest an unexpected turn toward the mythical for the series. Durand sells it with a smile.
“Who are you?” Siggy asks him outright. “You know,” he says. When quizzed about being a god, he adds: “Who would not wish for such a thing?”
The boundary between gods and men, legend and reality, has always lingered in the background of Vikings: Ragnar, after all, believes himself to be descended from none other than Odin. Sitting alongside that is the duty humans have to the gods: one of sacrifice and blood.
Lothbrok’s sky-high vision for his children and their legacy is nothing if not god-like. Floki, though, continues his opposition to the vikings’ alliance with the English. “My ambitions for our people have never changed,” insists Ragnar, when Floki reprises his oft-heard complaints about the sacrifice made by the Norsemen – an argument that’s getting a little stale and one-note by now.
Elsewhere, Ragnar behaves in a wonderfully ungodly way, as Princess Kwenthrith treats his battlefield injury by climbing on top of him and urinating. It’s a brief moment of giggle-inducing silliness, as the Viking leader doesn’t know where to look. The Princess and the pee, though, is only the start of her meddling with fluids, as a celebration dinner is held. Here, we see in full the contrast – and similarity – between King Ragnar and King Ecbert, who, let us not forget, has his own ambitions worthy of a blonde deity.
“You and I, we understand each other,” says Linus Roache’s repellant ruler. “Do you think you are a good man?” asks Ragnar. “Yes,” comes the reply. “I think so. Are you?” Ragnar delivers his trademark smirk. “Yes. I think so.”
The sacrifice for these men comes from other people – and neither are above a corrupt dispatch or two. When a death arrives at the ceremony, therefore, it’s perhaps no surprise to anyone. Even Rollo is brilliantly blase about the whole affair.
Earnestness, as has been true for Season 3 so far, is more likely to be found in the bedroom, whether that’s the imperious Lagertha standing up to Ecbert, Bjorn and his battle-scarred partner, Porunn, or Athelstan and Judith committing the sin they’ve been tip-toeing around for weeks. It’s a second unfortunate step in an otherwise excellent episode: Athelstan’s dilemma has always been fascinating because it is a spiritual one not a sexual one. Actually turning his urges from the cognitive to the carnal is a move towards soap opera rather than subtle character drama. The same feeling stems from Earl Kalf’s threatened overthrow of Lagertha’s rule in her village: something that, in the face of Ecbert, Ragnar and the rest of them, seems increasingly trivial and irrelevant.
Kattegat, on the other hand, has never felt more crucial: Harbard’s apparent connection to the dying children last week, accompanied by his wooing of Princess Aslaug, is even more menacing when you consider that he might not be immortal after all; this is the kind of men, perhaps, that the suspicious Siggy has been dealing with ever since Season 1, when she was hitched to Gabriel Byne’s Earl Haraldson. Their exchanges culminate in a heart-stopping set piece that sees Siggy sprint across a frozen lake; a flash of colour against a cool landscape that, thanks to Jessalyn Gilsig’s always-impressive supporting role, is as eye-catching as it is breathtaking.
“I have taken some of his pains upon myself,” Harbard says, soothing the suffering Ivar. The realisation that sacrifices are required for such god-like acts is where Episode 4 finds its tragic strength: a sacrifice that is all the more meaningful when it is made by an individual rather than through someone else. Myth or man, legends can live on; but at what cost?
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