I’m always intrigued by the titles chosen for the episodes of VIKINGS. This week it’s HOMELAND, and the episode seems to explore what that means to various characters in this 10th century saga.
We begin with Floki who, looking younger without all his eyeliner and facepaint, has been swept by his gods to a new home.
He stands atop a plateau surveying this new world. By the end of the episode, having witnessed two visions (and we recall that he has seen visions in previous seasons) and having discovered that his infected hand has, miraculously healed, he comes to believe that he is living among the gods. Which is what he suspected last episode. Now, has that really been confirmed? Is he dead? Is his hand really healed? Is he hallucinating? How is he keeping himself alive? How much time has passed since he landed? Ten minutes? Ten days? There is a kind of alternate, heightened reality to his experience, and the many unanswered questions made me feel like I was in that bizarre reality, too. What he is experiencing is beautiful, but troubling.
Harald Finehair conveys Astrid to her new homeland, but she is stiff and disgusted rather than impressed.
He showers her with a nice pied-a-terre, (guarded, unfortunately by what appears to be a troll), a new gown, jewelry, servants and a feast. After dinner, believing that he’s softened her up he makes his move on her and she responds by breaking his nose. We hold our breaths, anticipating tit for tat, but Harald is playing the long game with Astrid. He’d better be careful. He may end up the loser because his brother isn’t there to watch his back. I’m not certain which of them is going to win this game. Harald does become king of Norway, historically, so maybe they make a pact after 10 or so episodes of sparring.
Speaking of Halfdan, he’s hanging with Bjorn in somebody’s homeland – we’re not sure whose; someplace south. These two are trying to bond, but they’re interrupted by one of their crew members who comments that they should pretend to be traders, not raiders. His suggestion that Bjorn should get rid of all but three ships leaves both Bjorn and Halfdan scratching their heads. Vikings were, of course, savvy traders, explorers and settlers as well as raiders. They journeyed east as far as Uzbekistan, west to North America and south through the Mediterranean. But since this is an adventure series, I doubt that we’ll see Bjorn do much trading or settling.
Ubba, though, wants to settle although first there’s the little matter of holding on to the land he believes (erroneously) he’s been granted in the face of Anglo-Saxon opposition. Viewers who love a good battle should have been pleased with the fight at York. We knew, even if the Saxons didn’t, that those ruined Roman walls were just a ruse to lure them into a trap. They are driven into volleys of arrows, sent tumbling into spiked pits, or doused with oil and set on fire. Young Æthelred takes an arrow in the shoulder. I think we see him later on, but I can’t be sure. I have trouble telling the æthelings apart. I wish one of them would grow a mustache.
The Viking victory leads to a showdown, of course, between Ivar and his brothers. So, okay, let’s talk about Ivar. He has a scene with a pretty slave girl who tells him that he is destined for greatness, that his infirmity means he is favored by the gods. These are almost exactly the words that Ragnar once said to him, and Ivar is suitably thunderstruck by them. He looks almost lit from within. It’s Ivar who stage-manages the Viking defense of York. He watches the slaughter from a high window, and now he’s looking like a malevolent minor deity until he suddenly appears zinging through the narrow streets in his little chariot. I cheered when he fell (sorry), but although flattened Ivar took out a Saxon who threatened him and, convinced of his own invulnerability, challenged the Saxons around him, laughing, his face all bloody. For a time both Saxons and Danes were thunderstruck by the sight of him, and when the battle raged on, around him Ivar continued to laugh, delighted at the mayhem.
There is an interesting moment, though, in the midst of the battle chaos when Bishop Heahmund comes face to face with Ivar. Heahmund is calling on his God, and Ivar is laughing demonically. And this seemed to me a defining moment, if we can find one, between Ivar and Heahmund, and probably between Ivar and everyone else. Heahmund and the Saxon leaders are fighting to hold on to something. Ubba is fighting to gain something. Ivar is fighting for the sheer pleasure of creating mayhem. He’s not actually even fighting. He looks like a berserker, but he is merely sitting there, howling in rapture at the chaos he’s unleashed.
He is really quite, quite terrifying.
Ivar wins the battle of the brothers, and Ubba, despite his victory at York, goes back to the Viking homeland, defeated. For now, anyway.
Photos of VIKINGS © The History Channel