Vikings glides across the space of years with an eerie sort of grace – something that could surely be attributed to the considerate lushness in the shots selected. All the same, the four-year lap tonight’s episode makes is a considerable length of time to scan over and as such, some of Aslaug and Ragnar’s conviction to one another and the family they’ve grown occasionally feels like a mock-up of a relationship. To his credit, Travis Fimmel’s uncanny ability to live in a scene prevents each tender moment or threatening one from sliding into melodrama. He pronounces each line as if it sits on the tip of his tongue: with a low, curmurring warmth that invites strangers – such as the serving girl who briefly speaks with him – to lean closer, to invest in this blue-eyed leader, to understand he has a wealth of untapped potential and ambition which he’ll soon unleash.
“The world is changing and we must change with it,” he says to his men, as he outlines his plans to go West once again. Turning his attention to Aslaug, “For everyone’s sake.”
Herein lies the fundamental difference between Ragnar’s relationship with Lajertha, as compared to Aslaug: the two play at the political games of royal couples, as opposed to displays of prowess on the battlefield. Aslaug refuses to simply let the aforementioned serving girl slide off back into the crowd without any admonishment for her having invited Ragnar’s attentions, and similarly, does not fall back into the old pattern of seduction and submission Ragnar attempts to invoke. Convinced that she’s more seer than princess alone, she rolls over to face him and prophesies this: that their son will be born with the “image of the snake in his eye.” Lore tells us that one of Ragnar’s sons (Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye) bears the names; as such, this development of Aslaug’s capabilities bears watching. That aside, I’ll confess myself more on the side of the man than the woman in this dispute – and it’s in no small part thanks to Fimmel’s endearingly candid tossing of himself back onto the bed, and similarly playful addressing of Aslaug’s pregnant belly.
By and by, it dawns upon me that the most fascinating construction in Vikings remains the lead character himself, Ragnar Lothbrok, for the sheer, self-aware fluidity with which he moves from conflict to conflict, player to player; save for that one brief, tender moment in which he addressed his daughter last week, he lacks the time to bear witness to personal dramas or brewing conflicts, given his own, far-reaching interests. As he’s grown, his calculations too have deepened and while we’ve long been aware that the realm our Vikings exist in is a pitiless one, it’s rare to see a show that tracks its lead’s modulations of morality so steadfastly.
In the scene that follows hard after the domestic dispute previously mentioned, Ragnar visits a seer in the hopes of prying into his sons’ future. He’s entirely bathed in darkness, the dim algae-green light that’s occasionally cast upon his face only lending him a sickly air; the seer too, remains little other than a gaping maw beneath a cloth hood. Little about this encounter would bode well for any who’d simply dropped in upon the show for a moment, as much of the cinematic conceit speaks of villainy or misgivings. An undercurrent of dread and desire permeates both this scene and the following one in which Rollo – now a stringy-haired drunkard – features; both brothers remain intrinsically linked by the concept of blood and the old ideals of fealty and fame which ran strong in their era. Ragnar’s previous predilection for modernity be damned- it’s nice to see him return to more esoteric roots.
Clive Standen’s reappearance as Rollo – drunken, grey-faced, and bowed over with a heartbreaking weight I’d not anticipated would be so effective – is almost necessitated by the intrinsic tie between the brothers and it’s in Ragnar’s acceptance of Rollo that the heart of tonight’s episode sits. Not all the expected reparations have been made, though; while Rollo’s entitled to bill himself as Ragnar’s brother once more, he has no place upon Ragnar’s raid. Standen seems to relish the anti-hero ground he’s treading and he does it with enviable care- Rollo’s rejection of a possible uprising with Borg is one of the episode’s finer reversals.
For the most part, Vikings struggles with the weight of domestic disputes and the occasional stasis the cast is forced into, or the need to exacerbate the bloodiness and brutality of war, with the end result being dramatic but weightless, forcing the show into a precarious teetering between the mundane and the laughably inane. The much anticipated reunion of the brothers, then – and Ragnar and Horik’s later slickly-paced assault upon England – are both sheer delights in comparison to the previously ham-handed work in “Brother’s War”.
“Invasion”, in its entirety, unfolds with a steadier, more sure-footed commitment to the darker grounds it treads, and may mark a return to form for the series.