You can consider Viking's 'Paris' episode the pre-game show to a major sporting event. In all the exhausting coverage, both rivals will be covered but so will the minutia. Everyone will be interviewed from the star player to the equipment manager to fill time before the big game. Thus, this episode our fearless Northmen prepare to attack the "impregnable" fortress but are only seen sparingly as we get the lowdown of the drama in Paris and Wessex. Why? Because the invasion doesn't actually happen until next week.
There's an intense staring contest that opens the show between Ragnar and Floki. They're aboard their ships doing some reconnaissance on the river that runs along the French stronghold. There's a lot that went unsaid between them. We don't know so we have to assume Ragnar hasn't confronted Floki about killing Athelstan if he knows he did at all. It's a weird omission that we don't know this by now, but Ragnar has entrusted Floki with running the attack on Paris. He tries to hold a strategy meeting and says little except to ask what's the plan. We see a Floki reignited, who's firing on all cylinders as he constructs apparatuses to scale the walls of Paris. He's back to himself feeling valued again by Ragnar and entrenched in his work. As though high on drugs, he pulls a John Travolta-at-the-Oscars and face-mauls Helga with his hands telling her his deadly deed removed the Christian influence from Ragnar as the gods had planned.
Creator and writer Michael Hirst has done a great job of efficiently moving the story along even if it takes an episode or two to set up the next significant plot point. Here though there are gaps that are glaring. We've gone from Athelstan's murder without consequence to Floki, a death seemingly ignored except for Ragnar and then only slightly, to making landfall at Paris' doorstep and camping with newly introduced figures like Kalf and Erlendur. Now don't get me wrong I don't need to be spoon fed every detail but some transitionary scenes would have been nice.
Nonetheless, the raid takes precedence above all and perhaps that's why Floki the ship maker is extremely vital, so much so that whatever consequences there will be for killing Athelstan will have to wait.
Here's where the story moves to the opponent and a bench player. Emperor Charles of France (Lothaire Bluteau) is a soft, wishy-wash leader who has to be cajoled by his stronger daughter Gisla (Morgane Polanski) to stay in the city and face the threat as his grandfather Charlemagne would have. Charles the Bald is more concerned with optics and legacy that any real leadership. He leaves the strategy of protecting the city from siege to Count Odo (Owen Roe). The same fella who keeps asking to marry Gisla only to be rejected. He hopes to win her hand by fending off the Northmen. Good luck with that.
In Wessex, there's never a dull moment when King Ecbert is involved. Coming off the bench to fill time, Ecbert is twirling his mustache and being generally creepy when not being a dick to Aethelwulf. "Forgive me for my asking, my son, but how is your marriage?" Really? How do you think it's going? An adulterous wife whose been tortured and mutilated could be grounds for a tense union. Not to worry though because Aethelwulf has a great stress reliever in self-whipping. You'd probably have similar issues if your dad came on to your wife too.
Plotwise I understand that Ecbert has plans to overthrow Judith's dad's kingdom and wants to solidify his alliance with crazypants Princess Kwenthrith especially after she had Ecbert's nobles killed. However, it seems these stories could be told more economically and leave more room for our Vikings.
Anyway, Athelwulf is sent to see Princess K and after a...boisterous bath she teases him making him really uncomfortable with her sexually-charged approach. You can feel him sweat. Later she reveals to him she gave birth to a child she named Magnus and claims Ragnar is the father. It doesn't shield her from Ecbert-ordered demands Athelwulf spells out for her. It's necessary table-setting for these Wessex scenes but seemed to take a lot longer than needed.
At the end, Floki proudly displays his fleet of Paris-busters and the scene almost makes up for the dull filling that were the palace dramas. As the Vikings gather, Paris lay further down the river, they chant “Axe time Sword time! Shields are splintered!” in unison with Floki leading the charge. It reminds us that this is why the show is so compelling. The Vikings are prepared to raid with a reinvigorated Floki at his most focused. The tribal chants with torches ablaze frame the scene with a warrior's battle cry leading to goosebumps. Paris won't know what hit them.
Check out scenes from the next episode:
Don't miss a brand new episode of Vikings on Thursday, April 9th at 10/9c on HISTORY.