Vikings, Season 2, Episode 6, “Unforgiven”
Written by Michael Hirst
Directed by Jeff Woolnough
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on History
Vikings is one of the few shows, in my mind, that cleverly draws upon its oft-times anachronistic soundtrack and cinematic angles in order to construct a narrative that mimics the headspace of its primary cast; and in doing so, draws the viewer further into its milieu. All in it all, it intends — either consciously or subconsciously — to parcel up modern-day moralistic questions with uncommon antique stories, and make the pair more compelling in this juxtaposition.
In particular, Hirst pays his dues to the women — and his interest in discussing role of Viking women and what power they might possess has never been clearer than in tonight’s episode. For example: the episode opens with Siggy, who kneels before the Seer and begs him help restore her to her former position. For the most part, she’s played the role of an instigator this season, as opposed to acting as a proper interlocutor in the show’s narrative; and it’s a damn shame, given how she’s oft-described as the consummate survivor. (Or in other words, she’s precisely Rollo’s type of girl; prickly and rather driven.) There’s another little moment in which a petrified-looking serving girl slops water or wine all over Bjorn’s meal, and Ludwig does a lovely job of selling Bjorn’s growing awareness of the potential pretty women now pose. Unfortunately, what follows — Bjorn’s quizzing her as to whether she has, quote unquote, a boyfriend, despite her reluctance to engage with him, and his later decisions — is more indicative of the troubles women have faced: they, by virtue of their gender, owe certain debts to men, or are expected to benefit from their coupling with certain men. There is no immediate safety or promises of future security for women — or for that matter, men with more overtly feminine qualities, such as Athelstan — no matter how they rank.
Still, no better discussion of status and the command of power could be found than in Lagertha’s decision to return to her drooling, drunkard embarrassment husband. This decision’s no doubt rung in as contentious with some viewers; a cheap way of ushering her off in order to avoid further soapy romantic choices. The foundations of her decision beyond this are made no clearer tonight ; and and although it’s pleasing to see that the show has no intention of letting Lagertha simply disappear from Ragnar’s universe altogether, as her historical counterpart does, the possibility that she’ll come to command her own estate poses new problems — how do the writers intend to bridge the gap of isolation or accurately answer the question of empowerment here?
Which leads us right back to the matter of the long-wronged, resentful Siggy.
Slowly, the story’s beginning to cobble all its disparate, dislocated parts, plots, and characters together. Siggy, long sidelined, intends to play into this thickening stew of a plot. Jessalyn Gilsig, who’s been poorly served by the writing crew up until now, breathes a fresh sort of gumption and unwavering dedication into Siggy’s ambition of restoring her own left, no matter how ill-fated her conspiring with Horik seems set to be. Much of the fault in this odd power couple can be ascribed to Horik, whose attempts at deviousness and duplicity feel rather vacant. In his first appearance on the show, the king himself appeared largely uninspired, static, and stick-like in among all these other fleshed-out characters. The consensus still stands — it’s good old Ecbert Ragnar ought to fear more, as opposed to this domestic threat.
Speaking of Ragnar; the show’s rapidly unravelling his intentions. Once again, he’s reminded of his initial aims — perhaps, as the show likes to imply, his primary, ongoing aims — of colonising further territories. But he’s thrown for a loop with this reminder though; such plans impel a need for him to not take vengeance against Jarl Borg, as Borg’s ships are needed. His alliance with King Horik disbanded (as the above paragraph would imply), all that quiet inner steadiness and untraceable, impossible longings of his veer towards violent intentions I can’t quite predict. (Yes, Jarl Borg gets his just desserts in spectacular fashion — but I’m quite, quite certain that Ragnar’s unbowed appearance at the end of this episode can’t spell out anything good for his enemies in their entirety.) Not even steel-eyed Rollo — who’s blossomed into something of a role model for Bjorn and, thankfully, a right-hand man for his brother — nor the just-interesting Aslaug seem capable of dissuading him or reading his mind; but perhaps, isn’t this the point? Ragnar’s served as the show’s pilot light and compass for the show’s about-pivots, but to truly know the map he’s laying out would strip away some of the mystery and momentum.
And as for me, I’d quite happily say that the anchoring of this mystery — and the promise that this mystery will not devolve into superstitious mush, but remain faithful (enough) to those old mythological battles we’re learning about — coupled with the consistent evolution of characters the show aims for — bar Aslaug, of course — could just explain why Vikings has been secured for a third season.
That, and it’s simply just too damn good at getting its hooks in you.
– Viv Mah