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Vikings, Ep. 2.01, “Brother’s War” disappoints with leaden, soapy script

Vikings, Ep. 2.01, “Brother’s War” disappoints with leaden, soapy script

Vikings S02E01 promo image

Vikings, Season 2, Episode 1, “Brother’s War”
Written by Michael Hirst
Directed by Ciarán Donnelly
Airs Thursdays at 10pm (ET) on History

In the return of the History Channel’s Vikings, viewers will expect to be reacquainted with all the savagery and remorselessness of writer-creator Hirst’s compelling universe. Pitiably, the second season’s first offering, “Brother’s War”, is a patchwork of the first season’s dramatic elements, and one that’s shot through with lead-footed dialogue. In it, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) remains where he was last left, the newly appointed leader of his people, despite opposition from his Loki-esque brother, Rollo (Clive Standen).  Considering this complex relationship, Rollo’s surrender to Ragnar on the battlefield (and his later release by virtue of some anticipated divine plan) feels unwieldy, the narrative buckling under the need to save an intriguing character from an anticipatable fate. The title of the episode’s a little a bit of a misnomer then; tonight’s focus is upon Ragnar’s ongoing connection to the sea,  and all the ties that come with it: personal, spiritual, and fortuitous.

The former of these arcs consumes the majority of the episode, and threatens to overwhelm Fimmel and co’s gravitas with its soapy shtick. Katheryn Winnick, usually so good as Ragnar’s steely wife Lagertha, has the unfortunate burden of carrying some of tonight’s sillier dialogue. In turn, the show gifts them with a very pregnant Aslaug’s arrival. While one would expect that Ragnar — who for the most part, remains level-headed — would seek out the most appropriate response of fulfilling the promise made to his best friend and lover, while ensuring that Aslaug’s dignity is kept, his taking Aslaug as a second wife plays as a repugnant compromise in the eyes of the audience. So it’s apt then that Lagertha leaves — and with her, goes the tenuous equilibrium Ragnar’s previously existed in.

For the most part, there remains something particularly lush about Vikings‘ cinematography and shot-choices, something befitting the unforgiving terrain upon which the series is shot. Near-half of the show’s shots are composed with a slow-moving, unsteadily-fixed sense of immediacy, wherein the camera approaches its subjects as if they might bolt. The other half of the shots roll loosely across the village or the landscape, in the hopes of conveying the blockbuster-worthy magnitude of the stakes in these characters’ world. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, yet it’s the latter of these two that highlight the greatest issues of tonight’s episode.

Vikings, in its run so far, acts as a fictionalised reconstruction of a time the details of which we slaver for; fictionalised, yet the attention previously paid to rendering the minutiae was immaculate. While this interest isn’t lost, the show’s turn towards accentuating the salacious, and underscoring these operatic movements with hammy dialogue, fails to score points here. That aside, there’s plenty of fodder in the situations set up for the show to gnaw on in the following episodes and given its bouncing from strength to strength, there’s every chance that there is a string of stronger entries to follow this initial misstep.

Vivienne Mah