Vikings, Season 2, Episode 8, “Boneless”
Written by Michael Hirst
Directed by Kari Skogland
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on History
Boneless, titled for Ragnar’s latest son, is a stand-out offering from a largely sure-footed series; crammed with glorious portent of battle (and battle scene alike), and flinty farewells backed up against luxuriously shot love scenes. Moreover, all the loose plot-threads are carefully spliced into one another; without any loss of gravitas or mood, too. Is some of this hyperbole?
Possibly — but that’s in the nature of most reviews. The History Channel, however, is touting the final two episodes of the season as the most explosive yet; when all characters and themes will most likely cohere into an impossible-to-ignore ending.
Only Floki, for reasons that have not yet been unravelled, chooses not to sail with Ragnar to battle. A quick parsing of Vikings sites and comment threads reveal the shared opinion that this is merely a long con (as I’ve mentioned in my previous review) to smoke out shadier figures like Siggy and Horik, although his confession that the gods are at play in his decision, too, does little to render the matter less opaque. Still, it’s his elegantly-shot field scene with Helga that stands out to me as the most romantic of the season so far — though in terms of operatic movement alone, Bjorn’s little aside to the clear-eyed Porrun that he will most likely die in battle is oddly touching, given the pair’s recent coupling. Intimate moments also come from Ragnar and Aslaug’s direction, though the brief spell of visible chemistry which they share is founded on harsher, despair-tinged grounds: the birth of their crippled son, and Ragnar’s later decision to spare him from a quick death. (On that note, I’m well aware that there’s a moral taboo to appreciating a shot of a keen-edged blade up against the soft flesh of a baby’s throat, but goddamn it; it’s beautiful.) We’ve not often glimpsed Ragnar at a low point, for most of his conflicts are internalised and then neatly compartmentalised into broody moments; this source of grief and second-guessing of one’s actions, on the other hand, is likely to permeate all his future actions and decisions. It’s intriguing to know that in the ramp up to the war we’ve been promised, Vikings has chosen to focus the bulk of this episode upon relationships.
Meanwhile, Lagertha is the closest we have to a thematic tie between Ecbert’s current derring-do and Ragnar’s world. By which I mean that the authority Winnick brings to a position others would happily contest for her holds and our awareness of the near-abuse she previously underwent before securing this status holds trace amounts or nods to the political pandering and status issues currently present in Ecbert’s world; no matter that Ecbert’s navigating sexual favours and the alliances they could lead to. (Amy Bailey, as Princess Kwenthrith, is relatively well-used here. Can’t say I’m not against her eager advances, can’t say I’m for them.) This aside — and despite my mentions of the show coalescing into a more streamlined narrative — Ecbert has yet to be slotted into any particular role, or function. Most of the stories we’ve had of him serve to highlight his externality to Ragnar; and while this isn’t to say that a clash on the seas won’t draw in the viewers, it’s difficult to regard him as a compelling threat.
But while we’ve got a pocket of time to discuss and appreciate Vikings outside of its plots, let’s discuss the musical consideration with which the show’s been crafted thus far. Insofar as scoring choices go, the team’s got this down to an art: the quiet, ongoing dissonance which hums in the background of this episode swallows up all sense of serenity or sorrow or that could otherwise be inferred from the drawn faces of the women who come to wish their warriors off: we’re not allowed to mourn preliminarily for their losses, nor should we expect the best.
And it resonates.