The invasion of Paris provided a riveting multi-episode kick to the third season of “Vikings,” a series that has put History on the map creatively speaking more than any of its other scripted productions. Beyond escaping into the barbarity of the Norseman, this period drama from creator Michael Hirst has engaged in a fascinating look at clashing cultures – the Christian Europeans versus the polytheistic pagans – that carries with it a relevance that goes beyond just the tribal jockeying and abundant swordplay.
Parts of the finale, frankly (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), felt a trifle anticlimactic, although some of that has to do with the fact the two episodes leading up to it were such break-the-piggy-bank affairs, with the Vikings — lead by their plotting leader Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) — mounting a furious assault on the city, only to have their forces repelled in a protracted and grisly battle. Bloodied but undaunted, the invaders waged a second attack despite the serious injury Ragnar had suffered, weakening the French forces until they sought a truce, thanks in part to the uselessness of their feckless King.
Ragnar’s near-death experience was too drawn out – especially since there was little suspense as to whether he was actually going to succumb to his wounds. Then again, when you’re spitting up blood in the eighth century, one is to be forgiven for assuming the prognosis isn’t good.
In terms of advancing the story, that interlude served an obvious purpose, allowing Ragnar’s lieutenants to bid him farewell, potentially shifting the dynamics between Ragnar and his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and the daft, mercurial Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), who in a fit of rage and jealousy had murdered Ragnar’s confidante, the captured monk Athelstan (George Blagden). Ragnar’s closing line to Floki – that he knew what happened – certainly set the stage for a showdown during the season to come.
Remarkably, “Vikings” has managed to suck in an audience savoring the machinations surrounding these characters without offering anyone who comes across as completely pure or uncorrupted. That includes the savagery exhibited by the likes of King Ecbert (Linus Roache), who betrayed the Viking settlers who had taken up residence on his lands.
Granted, portraying the brutality and debauchery of the times has produced occasional excesses, and the finale probably could have done without a sadomasochistic encounter that added little to the story. Yes, they’re French, but this felt more like a gratuitous homage to “Fifty Shades of Grey” than anything else.
Nevertheless, such criticisms amount to quibbles given the density of the world Hirst has created, from the sweeping locales (lensed in Ireland) to the choreography and strategy displayed in the battle sequences, with the siege of Paris representing a creative highlight on the latter front.
Hirst has entered into a development deal with A+E Studios, the production arm for History’s corporate parent, and based on the flair he has brought to this project (which easily eclipses his last foray into historical drama, “The Tudors”), it’s not hard to understand why the network would be eager to secure his future services. For now, though, no one should be in too much of a hurry to move on to that next adventure, given all the lusty energy and fight “Vikings” appears to have left in it.