Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Vikings "Dispossessed"

Non Spoiler Review:
Dispossessed brings the raiders home with their slaves and bounty, but they are received with mixed reactions. Athelstan learns more of his new foreign home, but proves a valuable resource for Ragnar.

Vikings continues to deliver another compelling episode, and my earlier critiques about the monk were answered with some fleshing out of his character. The series doesn't sit on its heels for very long. A second voyage is commissioned and the crew gets back on the sea for a different encounter that is sure to have some serious consequences.

My only critique is the glazing over of the passage of time (or the lack thereof). It's still unclear how long the sea voyage took. I'm guessing only a couple of days. But the time spent back home is equally vague—mere days or weeks? Given some of the decisions Ragnar makes, it does affect the plot, so I hope we get some further explanation.

Spoilers Now!
Bjorn is greeted by Haraldson's henchman Svein, who arrives at their farm asking where his father is. Lagertha explains he's gone fishing. However, he must take someone back to the Earl in case Ragnar has not gone fishing. Seeing she's holding an axe, he thinks better of taking Bjorn, and instead tells another boy in the village to come with him. 

The ship approaches home, and Ragnar speaks with Athelstan, learning they had indeed reached England. Athelstan is more eager to explain he's there because he's receiving God's judgement. Ragnar points out he spared his life, but doesn't really know why yet. One of the other captured monks has died so they throw him overboard. 

The boat is met by a multitude, and Ragnar is saluted for being right about the land and plunder to the west. He finds Knut among them, who advises him Haraldson has summoned them. In the great hall the treasures are displayed and Ragnar explains it was all ripe for the taking, with the priests putting up no fight. To sail there would benefit them all. 

Haraldson asks how he found the place when all before had failed. Ragnar explains they were more fortunate than others, with Thor on their side. The Earl reminds him all their bounty belongs to him by right. Ragnar protests that he and his crew are entitled to some reward, but the Earl counters they should not expect payment if they took their treasure so easily. Haraldson allows the men to each take one thing from the hall, and the world can see how magnanimous he is, especially since Ragnar disobeyed him in the first place.

To the surprise of all, Ragnar chooses Athelstan for his slave, but Haraldson grants it. Afterwards Rollo wants to know why his brother gave everything away so easily and wishes he had never put his faith in him. Ragnar reminds him the Earl is looking for an excuse to kill them. Rollo reveals he took a bag full of coins in addition to his treasure. Ragnar is furious with him for doing something so stupid and advises him to spend it all on whores so the Earl certainly finds out he stole from him.

Siggy and Haraldson delight in their new found treasures. She congratulates him for displaying his power and authority, but it's apparent the Earl is impotent when it comes to his wife.

Ragnar returns to his village to greet his daughter and son. Lagertha is pleased to see him but asks about the treasure he promised. Though the Earl took it all, he found the land he sought, and he introduces the priest to his family as proof. The strange man proves to be a subject of interest for the two children who poke and prod him while Ragnar and Lagertha enjoy their reunion.

As Athelstan prays in the night, Ragnar and Lagertha ask him to join them in a threesome, but he confesses he's taken vows of celibacy. That prompts Lagertha to attempt some seduction but Athelstan protests his God would know and continues praying. Later, Athelstan realizes his hair is growing back, so takes a knife to shave the top of his head. He makes a bloody mess of it, prompting laughs at his strange customs.

Haraldson still has his captive boy from the village, and he's helping to dig a secluded pit in the woods. The Earl muses his own son would be his age had he lived. Once it's deep enough they bury the looted treasures. The boy asks why, and he's reminded that Odin promised they would receive their bounty in the next life, though it requires a guardian to care for it in this life and the next. Haraldson and his henchman kill the boy and bury him with the gold and silver.

Ragnar gets Athelstan drunk and asks him about England and its ruler. The monk explains there are four kingdoms with four kings and they landed in Northumbria, whose king is Aelle, a great and powerful man. Before he came they had no need to protect their monastery. Ragnar asks why his god needs silver and gold. He assumes he's a greedy god like Loki. Christians give their riches to the church to save their souls, the priest replies. Ragnar asks to learn some of his language, so Athelstan agrees. 

Returning to the village, Ragnar and Athelstan see the other captured monks hung up dead. Ragnar visits Haraldson to ask to sail west again, revealing Athelstan has told a great deal about the countries to the west, as well as a large town near to his temple. Athelstan is horrified that's why he was asked for the information and protests he was lying. That proves it's worth a visit to Haraldson and Ragnar. He has nothing to lose as Ragnar reminds him he's more expendable than the Earl. Haraldson sanctions the raid on the condition that Knut goes with him to keep an eye on his interests. Haraldson wants Knut to find out how Ragnar is navigating the sea.

As they leave Athelstan prays for his fallen comrades and Ragnar cuts his bonds, telling him he can run away if he wishes. The priest follows him home. This time Ragnar asks Lagertha if she's coming along. He's putting the priest in charge of the farm while they're away, which infuriates Bjorn. Ragnar regards Athelstan as a responsible person, though Lagertha warns him that if any harm befalls her children she'll tear his lungs from his body.

The next day the boat sets sail. Knut spies on Floki and Ragnar as they chart their course. Rollo sees him and nearly strangles him, warning him that their war band lives and dies together. If he can't trust the men on either side of him then he's already a dead man. Knut admits he made a mistake by not coming along before and fears Odin will judge him harshly if he doesn't come this time. 

On the coast of Northumbria the ship is spotted, and as the party comes ashore they're met by an equal number of soldiers. In English, Ragnar explains they are traders. The other man says he is the sheriff and can take them to meet the king to discuss commerce. Rollo warns his brother it's a trap and Eric suggests they kill them. The Sheriff sees them arguing, and asks why they won't come with them. Ragnar says they will come, but Rollo refuses. Ragnar confesses to the sheriff that Rollo doesn't trust him, so as a sign of good faith the man gives Rollo his badge of office to hold.

Floki spies a cross around a soldier's neck and tears it off. That prompts swords to be drawn, and before the sheriff can stop them his men attack. The vikings slaughter the Northumbrians, but one man manages to flee on horseback as his countrymen are cut down. 

The Verdict:
Dispossessed continues a string of compelling episodes as the series continually improves. And while moving at a brisk pace, it took enough of a break to flesh out the character of Athelstan as he was integrated into the Lothbrok household. He's certainly fortunate to have hooked up with Ragnar, who sees the value in his knowledge but is not above exploiting it. After seeing what's happened to his brothers Athelstan opts to keep his lot with Ragnar, which earns him the trust to care for the family and the farm.

As for historical accuracy, I can't speak to the cultural openness expressed by Ragnar and Lagertha. Their polytheist ways no doubt afford them a much more accepting world view than Christianity. A threesome is one thing, but I do wonder how realistic is was that Ragnar would put someone he's known for barely a week in charge of his farm (and potentially his children should they both die). I guess he sees that the devote Athelstan would feel responsible to look after them.

That raises a criticism I mentioned above—how much time has passed between sea voyages? I'm guessing a week at most, but if that's the case I question if Ragnar could pick up enough of the language to strike up a conversation with the Northumbrian sheriff. Unless I missed something and a much longer stretch of time passed, it didn't feel plausible at all.

I also wasn't clear as to Ragnar's intent once they disembarked in Northumbria. Was he thinking on getting an audience with the king himself once that option was raised, or did he see it as a potential trap like his brother? It looked like things would have proceeded more smoothly had Floki not intervened, so it will be interesting to see where the repercussions fall once events settle back down. 

It's difficult to judge the northmen, as it was hard to tell if the Northumbrians were being genuine either. The switch to subtitles (used successfully here and there whenever encountering a foreigner in the last few episodes) were especially effective in sharing the confusion of the two cultures with the viewer.

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