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VIKINGS Review (S3E1): 'Mercenary'

Vikings returned for season 3 with some familiar themes and launched some new plotlines that will have some significant consequences from this point forward. It all begins with the new King Ragnar overlooking his “kingdom” atop a frozen mountain with his son Bjorn. “What do you see?” he asks his son. “Power.” The young warrior is not wrong. After dispatching the sleazy King Horik (a wonderful Donal Logue who now patrols the streets of Gotham with a constipated-faced Jim Gordon) last season, Ragnar ascended from simple farmer to warrior king. A wiser, older Ragnar knows that with great power..well, you know the rest.

“Power is always dangerous,” he says. “It attracts the worst and corrupts the best. I never asked for power.” Yet, he never lacked confidence or bravery in attaining it. Whether by circumstance or by design, Ragnar had to challenge the crowns of many in power to achieve his goals. Once it was about exploring new lands and plundering its fortunes. Now he wants to claim the fertile lands he was promised by King Ecbert. A return to simplicity? Back to farming, raising crops and attending to his gaggle of kids? Perhaps, but life for the Norsemen is never easy. Just ask Floki and Thorstein.

“Name me one family that is happy,” says Floki. The one with the doting wife and beautiful  daughter. Can you blame him for such madness?! “I feel trapped in all this happiness,” he continues, “trapped, Helga!”  Gustaf Skarsgärd as Floki plays the wildcard perfectly with an unpredictability that borders on controlled chaos. He’s just as restless as the young Bjorn. Stability and happiness can sustain them only so long until they plan their next raid. The winter has turned them complacent and it was time to travel to Wessex and see the good but swarthy King Ecbert. With two baby mamas in Kattegat, no one is more eager to skip town than Thorstein who’d rather battle an army of Saxons than deal with the drama at home. “Why don’t you marry both of them?” he’s asked, “they hate each other…they want to kill each other. Or me!” 

Bjorn has a different set of issues. Thorunn (or Porunn if you will) has trained hard to be a capable shield maiden and she’s more than ready and willing to get a taste of battle. Bjorn suspects she’s pregnant and would rather she’d stay in Kattegat than travel to Wessex. If we’ve learned anything from strong women like Lagertha, Thorunn will not be denied.

Speaking of Lagertha, her visit to the Seer goes about as creepy and ominous as you’d expect. Not sure how many times he’s had good news to report. Nonetheless, she asks when she will die. Magic 8-ball says ‘cannot predict now.’ Her question about ever bearing children again is a little more definite. “I cannot see another child,” he says, “No matter how far I look.” A ‘no’ would have sufficed but it’s the other things he says that are a little more troubling.

“I see a harvest celebrated in blood. I see a trickster whose weapon cleaves you. I see a city made of marble, and a burning broiling ocean.”

Bummer. Some worrisome news indeed but Lagertha doesn’t flinch and prepares to join Ragnar onto to Wessex. On the way out she confers with her Hollister-model second-in-command, Kalf, and flirty dialogue ensues:

Lagertha: I have received another offer of marriage. He has a good turf cutting business. At least I’ll be warm all winter. Why don’t you offer to marry me, Kalf?

Kalf: People would assume that I’d sough the marriage out of ambition. It would do neither of us any good.

Clearly, Kalf is a moron because how could you not marry the baddest woman in all the land. Anyway, there’s some dissension among Lagertha’s ranks as Einar is none too pleased with her rule and would prefer to throwback to a time when there was a King installed. You know like the belligerent a-hole they had previously. Look for Einar and Kalf to try and overthrow Lagertha but my money is on her. This could be foreshadowing the “trickster” who “cleaves” her that the Seer spoke of.

“How is Boneless?” asks Ragnar. Aslaug, with three young boys already, is burdened with a growing family, and a husband who’s ready to leave them for some time. “Do you love him?” she asks. “Of course I love him,” he says as she continues. “Do you love me?” Ummm….

Once in Wessex, King Ecbert plans to break up the party with Ragnar and his men to attack Mercia on behalf of the disposed Princess Kewnthrith along with his son Aethelwulf. The King, Lagertha and Athelstan will move forward on preparing the colony on the land he promised. Aethelwulf's wife has an eye on Athelstan which could produce some sort of love triangle but let's hope not. 

Ecbert himself seems taken by Lagertha and basically makes it known by staring at her and riding along with her. Creepy urge to hurl aside, the coupling could be a powerful combination. 

The battle to defeat the Princess' uncle and brother goes pretty much by the numbers. Vikings overwhelm their opponent despite being outnumbered and a costly tactical error by Mercian commanders enable Ragnar and company to scatter and slaughter the enemy. Well, enemy is a strong word considering the raid was part of a deal made with Ecbert that explains the episode's title, Mercenary.

The Princess was extremely satisfied with the outcome she viewed the battle from offshore. She must have eyesight like a hawk to discern what was going on from her location. She is also seemingly smitten with Ragnar. Another plotline to watch for this season. 

While Vikings has always thrilled with action and shaky alliances, this season is off to a good but mostly dull start. The premiere basically set the table for the season with some stereotypical man-woes, a potential love triangle, King Ecbert on the make, a baby on the way for Bjorn, and a Princess determined to regain her crown with maybe Ragnar in tow.

It's quite a lot of storylines to tackle in one episode and as evidenced by the last two seasons there's no doubt it'll straighten itself out over the course of the season.


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