Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review: Vikings Season 3 Premier ("Mercenary")

I rarely do reviews around here, preferring to limit my posts to one of the following: new content for the game table, updates any of the various gaming projects with which I'm involved, informative pieces for RPG self-publishers, cool old RPG-related stuff that might otherwise go unnoticed, or historic looks at really old old-school art. So think of today as more of an exception, rather than an introduction.

For a couple of years now, I've been a fan of the History Channel's series Vikings, but really as more of an extension of the Barbarians documentary series. But this as I watched "Mercenary", the season 3 premier episode of Vikings (which my DVR recorded a couple of days ago), I sat there feeling like the show has sort of lost my attention (and has me considering canceling my series record settings on my DVR). It took me most of the episode to figure out why, and when I did, it turns out it's really pretty obvious... more and more the series seems to be over-saturating my retinas with panoramic landscape shots and extended battle scenes. This shouldn't surprise me; after all, it's the visual heart and soul of almost every History Channel documentary ever made on this subject matter. What it lacks (IMHO) is the director's sense of what's happening in the scene.

Compare Vikings to something like Breaking Bad. In Breaking Bad, as a general rule of thumb, every scene thoughtfully explores what's happening below the surface in that scene, and visually constructs the scene to support the emotion of that scene. In Vikings, more and more I'm getting the feeling that the composition of the shots is more important than what's happening in the scene; what I end up getting is a melange of unemotional panoramic shots showcasing the water or the mountains, or what's being loaded onto the boats, rather than what is happening between characters or with individual characters. And when I do get a close-up, it's really just a way of launching into the scene, and has nothing to do what's going on with the characters in the scene.

In TV fiction, I want engaging characters and storytelling (dialog, direction, cinematography) that support that. Maybe if I was getting some informative historical narration over the imagery, I'd feel like I was getting more out of it.

To quote Marlene from Seinfeld, "It just didn't make it for me. It's just so much fluff."


  1. Aslaug feels unloved and abandoned by Ragnar. There were plenty of scenes which focused on her face so you could feel her fear. Ragnar feels caught up in events that he has no real interest in. "I did not seek power." "Since when was all this about what makes me happy?" he asks. Athelstan is caught between two religions, and there was the very poignant scene where he was hesitant to take up the cross again. Bjorn is going to be a father and is freaked out because his girl is too much like his mom. You missed the characterization which the episode develops. It is a lean show; it depends on terse dialog, beautiful visuals, and character development that extends throughout the seasons. It is a lot like the Icelandic sagas, in fact.

    1. I haven't given up on it yet. It may just be that it's felt like so long between seasons that I have to redevelop my sensibility for it. And I do understand what you mean about it being like the sagas. The Poetic Edda is nothing if it's not terse.