TV Recap: Vikings, ‘Mercenary’

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Mercenary Plot Summary:

Ragnar (Travis Fimmel), now king after killing Horik (Donal Logue), returns to Wessex to claim the land King Ecbert (Linus Roache) promised him in their treaty. Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) returns with him hoping to farm the land. When they arrive, Ecbert explains that they must help Princess Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey) defeat her warring family if they wish to do so. As Lagertha brings her people to settle, Ragar and his men agree to fight.

Vikings began its third season Thursday night, yet what thing most people say when I mention I watch the series is — ‘Never heard of it.’ For those of you in the same boat, here’s a breakdown. As the History Channel’s first scripted series, the show operates as a grittier, more grounded version of Game of Thrones. It tells the story of a group of, well, vikings, led by Ragnar Lothbrok (Fimmel), a man who started the series as a simple farmer and is now king.

Photo Credit: History Channel
Photo Credit: History Channel

Vikings always has had a very scattershot storytelling style. Characters say and do things for seemingly inexplicable reasons. These reasons often become clear at the end of the season, when all the seemingly disparate plot threads finally come together. Season 3’s premiere definitely set the show on that same track. “Mercenary” was very much a set up episode. It laid the groundwork for all of the major relationships and conflicts, while giving each of them very little attention or depth. The episode’s unifying characteristic, though, was power — both the struggle to acquire it and the difficulty of maintaining it.

The episode began with Lagertha visiting The Seer (a plot device I can’t believe the show still relies on). Like other characters before her, Lagertha is there because she was having a bit of an existential crisis. As usual, The Seer was less than helpful and delivered the following news: Lagertha would never bear another child and that some “trickster” would injure her. While we already knew about that first point from Ragnar’s visits to the seer, the meaning of the second wasn’t clear until later in the episode. While Lagertha’s handsome, young second-in-command initially seemed trustworthy (she even proposed to him in a roundabout way), his final scene in the episode revealed that he’s plotting against her to take the title of Earl Ingstad for himself.

To that I say: why?

Lagertha is, by far, the best thing about this show. I understand her position in this society is precarious because of her gender and the way she came to power (she tricked a guy into decapitating her husband) — but when is she going to catch a break? Granted, Ragnar has faced exactly the same type of threats to his power, but he’s always been luckier than Lagertha. I wouldn’t be surprised if she lost her title by season’s end, which is a shame because it was one of the best twists of last season. Maybe she’s destined for bigger and better things now that King Ecbert suddenly seems interested in her. While it’s probably just as much about power as genuine sexual attraction, it would be one hell of a twist if she ended up as some kind of English queen. Ragnar is already kicking himself for leaving her, but he’d really lose it if that happened. Then again, he’s got enough to worry about.

Photo Credit: History Channel
Photo Credit: History Channel

Ragnar’s ambition has always been the plot’s driving force, but he’s never really sought out power. He has always been a somewhat reluctant leader — a genius with a daring mind who only stepped into power when there was no other option. He was clearly uncomfortable with the demands of being king in the premiere. At one point, his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) asks him if he’s finally happy now that they’re in Wessex.  Ragnar responds, “Since when does any of this have anything to do with my happiness?” He clearly longs for the days when he was just a simple farmer and raider, married to Lagertha and making plans. That’s not his life now, but perhaps it’s not totally lost. That early Ragnar, the one with the crazy look in his eye who seemed capable of anything made a brief appearance right at the end of the episode.

While he clearly wasn’t pleased to be fighting Kwethrith’s battle, he came alive in a way we haven’t seen in awhile. He reminds us he’s a military mastermind by realizing exactly where to attack in order to deal the most damage. But he also what a formidable warrior he is. He hacked through one soldier after another with seemingly little fear of death and Kwenthrith (an awful character who needs to be taken out immediately) was right to be in awe. It was, by far, the most exciting part of the episode and the only thing in it that made me excited about this season.

The show’s creator, Michael Hirst, has said that the vikings will make it all the way to Paris this season and the premiere proved that world building is the name of the game. While there will probably be lots of religious confusion, political upheaval, and probably a hallucination or two between then and now, last night’s final battle suggests that when Ragnar finally does storm Paris, it’s going to be awesome.

Rating: 6/10

Vikings airs Thursday nights on The History Channel.

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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.