Originally Posted by dad1153 TV Reviews'Vikings' And 'Da Vinci's Demons': The Return Of Historical Adventures
By Maureen Ryan, HuffingtonPost.com
- Apr. 24, 2013
If there's one thing "Spartacus" taught me, it's not to underestimate shows that feature lots of swordplay, heaving bosoms and the occasional beheading.
Two new entries in the action-adventure genre, "Da Vinci's Demons" and "Vikings," aren't nearly in the league of "Spartacus," which recently ended its run in typically intelligent, ferocious and, of course, bloody fashion. But "Vikings," a hit that has a few interesting ideas lurking under its impressive array of beards, has grown on me, and while I have problems with "Da Vinci's Demons," I also really hope it someday fulfills its potential.
It's quite possible to watch "Vikings" as nothing more than an adventure tale about Norsemen who like to pillage settlements across the sea when they're not fighting amongst themselves. The show has grown more visually and narratively confident over the course of its first season: Its sweeping shots of the Vikings' pre-industrial world and its up-close depiction of the Vikings' hardscrabble settlements pay tribute to both the majestic beauty of their environment and the difficulty of eking out a living a thousand years ago. It's not nearly as complex as "Game of Thrones," but the appeal of an adventure show that features a limited array of conflicts in one or two hardy kingdoms can't be denied.
Speaking of uplifting sights, it was very wise of the producers to add Donal Logue to the cast (he turned up in the April 21 episode, he'll appear in Sunday's season finale and History reps says his character, King Horik, will return in Season 2). The busy actor (who will appear in the second season of "Copper" in June and return to "Sons of Anarchy" this fall) knows exactly how to pitch his performance on "Vikings," which is essentially an adventure soap opera with the occasional human sacrifice. "Vikings'" characters are mostly two-dimensional, at best, but as the energetic, savvy King Horik, Logue (like fellow guest star Gabriel Byrne) gives those two dimensions everything he's got, and in doing so, the actor ratchets up the whole enterprise a few notches.
It'd be easy to use half this review to point out "Sons of Anarchy"-"Vikings" parallels, beyond the Logue connection. Both shows feature sex, violence and power struggles, and both programs tell the stories of subcultures going to war with other armed groups in order to take what they can (also: beards). And it must be noted that "Vikings" lead Travis Fimmel, who plays the increasingly powerful Ragnar Lothbrok, resembles "Sons" star Charlie Hunnam to an almost unnerving degree. Fimmel's ambitious Ragnar is a more limited character, however, though the "Vikings" actor has expanded beyond his usual smirks and sneers to poignantly communicate Ragnar's grief over his wife's miscarriage and to silently convey Ragnar's frustrations regarding other setbacks.
The drama has also intimated that Ragnar has begun to have some doubts about his belief in Thor, Loki and the rest of the Norse gods -- and that's where things get kind of interesting on "Vikings," which explores ideas about faith with a refreshing lack of condescension and judgment. A good chunk of "Vikings" revolves around the experiences of Athelstan (George Blagden), a young monk abducted on a raid in Northumbria who is brought back to Ragnar's home to serve as both slave and confidante. As he learns about the culture of the Vikings, Athelstan sees how their embrace of their glorious future lives in Valhalla makes them almost eager for death (but not so eager that they fail to fight ferociously over plunder, of course).
The subplot about faith makes sense, given that "Vikings" debuted alongside the similarly popular "Bible" miniseries, but the show doesn't just pay lip service to Athelstan and Ragnar's religions: It takes a hard look at how people's beliefs about the afterlife affects their actions while they're alive. The show is ultimately conceived as a escapist story about life and war in the early Middle Ages, but there are very relevant questions reverberating through the heart of it. What is a "good" death, one that will lead to rewards in the afterlife? What havoc can a person wreak on Earth and still earn a reward after death? When is compassion called for, and do the gods -- or God -- care about what happens to individuals? Are people's choices always their own?
I can't believe the characters talk about these things just because the "Vikings" producers don't have the budget to show All Battles, All the Time. The show's actually interested in ideas about how and why cultures and faiths evolve, which gives the whole thing an admirable air of rough-hewn sincerity. Despite some clunky patches and cheeseball moments, "Vikings" has grown in my estimation. You won't find sparkling dialogue here, but you will find a show that's willing to shake up its core cast (something "SOA" is often loathe to do). I won't spoil things if you haven't seen the show, but let's just say that the life expectancy for your average Viking warrior is on the brief side. In any case, as long as the show keeps things moving, treats both monotheism and polytheism thoughtfully and casts good character actors like Byrne and Logue in featured roles, I'll probably keep checking in on the "Sons of Valhalla."http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maureen-ryan/vikings-history_b_3149652.html?utm_hp_ref=tv