My last weekly show will be Vikings, the first original scripted drama for The History Channel. Jenny is a huge fan of this one, and she’s always telling us some woman from it would make a great Carol Danvers. I’ve only seen one episode so far, so I don’t know about that.
And really, as a cantankerous, old-by-Internet-standards man, I do remember when The History Channel did actual historic programming and not reality shows about men buying and selling other people’s old stuff. At least a historic drama is sort of a step in the right direction.
For the last time…
I gave myself some rules for this project. All shows would be hour long dramas. All would have a reputation for some level of quality. And all of them would be mostly new to me. That means Breaking Bad is out since I’ve seen it already.
Well, like Game of Thrones, this one has a setting where swords and shields were as important to win power and prestige as anything else. As costumed dramas go, that fits the bill. But above all, the thing I chose all five shows for was my own curiosity. I think it isn’t hard to see what a show like Vikings could have in common with Game of Thrones, even if Vikings is going to have to work off a smaller, basic cable budget and other such limitations.
“Rites of Passage”
I have to be honest here…of the five shows, and I watched them in order, this one grabbed me the least. I think it may be due to a single name in the opening credits. That would be producer Michael Hirst.
Hirst was responsible for, among other things, The Tudors. That would be the Showtime series about the life of Henry VIII reduced to a soap opera in which notoriously overweight Henry VIII is played by a skinny, weasel-faced guy I was surprised women found attractive. Said Henry spent a lot of time gettin’ biz-ay with various mistresses and future queens, making alliances, breaking alliances, and shouting at people who just wanted to bask in his presence. I spent a lot of time thinking Henry’s best pal, Charles Brandon the Duke of Suffolk, was being played by a better actor. That guy was Henry Cavil. Draw your own conclusions.
Though it did give Natalie Dormer and that weird smirk she wears all the time a chance to give her Margaery Tyrell character a dry run in her turn as Anne Boleyn, so it had something going for it.
And like The Tudors, Vikings is a joint Canadian/Irish production with a prominent actor in a supporting role to get things rolling. For The Tudors, that was Sam Neill. For Vikings, that would be renowned Scandinavian actor Gabriel Byrne. Yes, I did that on purpose.
I’m going to have to hope this one gets better, because so far I wasn’t overly impressed.
The ingredients are potentially there. We have a viking farmer named Ragnar taking his twelve year old son for a rite of passage, and a chance to see Byrne’s Earl dispense justice. Except the earl isn’t very fair about things, and he is a man of limited vision. Ragnar has some navigation equipment to try raiding the (hopefully) more prosperous West instead of hitting up a broke Russia every year like Earl Haraldson commands yet again. Ragnar has secretly been commissioning a new style of longboat built by his eccentric builder buddy Floki, and his large brother Rollo seems to be in on things when he isn’t trying to make ineffective passes at Ragnar’s wife.
We probably should take a minute to talk about Mrs. Ragnar, Lagertha. A onetime shieldmaiden, we see her at home, getting sweaty with Ragnar, insulting Rollo’s manhood, and killing two attempted rapists while the men are away and her daughter is outside feeding the goats. That last bit struck me as something someone thought would be a good way to show how well this woman can fight when threatened, and to further drive home how badass she is, but it struck me as a convenient plot device to have these two hapless losers show up just to do that in the pilot. Showing is better than telling, obviously, and Ragnar telling their son Bjorn how he got Lagertha to agree to marry him does much the same thing, but c’mon. The minute Ragnar and Bjorn leave, Lagertha gets threatened by rapists?
Now, Ragnar is actually a semi-historic figure who will go on to great things, but what did get my attention was Ragnar’s visions of Odin. Now, if you read your Norse mythology, you know this isn’t always a good thing. Odin would, in some instances, champion various Norse mortal heroes, but at some point, he’d always abandon his chosen and switch sides. Odin always sides with the winner of any battle. Nobody in the real world wins every battle, so the Norse expressed this by showing that Odin would sooner or later abandon every champion. Said champions always knew they were no longer champions when they rode out to battle only to see Odin standing with the other side. Could this be what ultimately happens to Ragnar?
Here’s the thing…unlike the other shows, after one episode, I am not sure how much I care what happens to Ragnar, Lagertha, and the rest. I’m hoping it gets better. And I will continue with this series at least for the time being. In fact, my plans are to watch episode at a time and then do a write up. So, as much as I liked, say, Rome, I won’t allow myself to watch another episode until I have both written up the one I have finished, plus watched a single episode each of Penny Dreadful, The Wire, House of Cards, and Vikings. That’s more or less how I operate on The Simpsons: no new episode until I’ve written up the last one I saw. But this time I need to sit through a few other shows first. Point is, for now at least, I will continue with Vikings, at least until the first season is over. Then I’ll decide if I want to continue.
But I’m openminded. We’ll see if and when it gets better.
Noteworthy Issues: Punisher #4 (July, 2022)
The X-Files “Born Again”
Weekend Trek “Field Of Fire”