March 9, 2013



THE VIKINGS:  Sunday 10PM on History Channel

Previously… on VIKINGS:  Back around the 8th Century AD, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) is the one Viking visionary enough to believe that there are lands to the west even more ripe for conquest (like, for example, England) than those in the east, and he embraces the revolutionary forms of shipbuilding and navigation required to get there, some of them invented by flaky genius Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard).  In order to accomplish his goals, though, he’ll have to tangle with the local nobleman, ruthless Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), as well as his own envious older brother Rollo (Clive Standen), who lusts after Ragnar’s warrior wife Laghertha (Katheryn Winnick).

Episode 2:   Well, that didn’t take long.  By the end of Vikings‘ second hour, Ragnar hasn’t just recruited his crew, built his new ship and taken it out for a spin, he’s traveled all the way to England–thus proving he was right about everything, from navigation to the rich lands in the west–and raided a monastery.  There he even finds a monk by the name of Athelstan who speaks the Nordic tongue (the church likes them to travel and spread the word of the Lord, we’re told), and takes Athelstan back with him as a captive.  So no one can say Vikings lacks for incident.

What it continues to lack is any kind of subtlety.  How vicious are baddies Haraldson and his wife Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig, less tuneful than in Glee)?  They run a sort of bloodthirsty bait and switch on men who dare to cast a lascivious look Siggy’s way, pretending she’s willing to sleep with them and then slaughtering them (although there’s the hint that Siggy is less thrilled by this than the Earl).  A few minutes later, Haraldson has a blacksmith who dared build an anchor for Ragnar’s boat murdered in front of his young daughter.  Meanwhile, Ragnar and Lathertha have a lusty, loving sex-fight, embarrassing their son, after Ragnar says she has to take care of the kids instead of coming with him to burn down monasteries.  (Relevance!)

Vikings isn’t dull, but it’s not very good or involving.  Maybe Athelstan, as the only learned character, will bring some shading to the piece, which would make him the first–everyone in the show so far is utterly black-or-white, heroic or vicious, and not in an interesting way.  The dialogue is so flat (Episode 2, like the pilot, is written by series creator Michael Hirst and directed by Johan Renck) that when the characters stop speaking with subtitles after a few moments that establish historical authenticity and revert to modern-day English, it still sounds like everything they say has been translated from another language.  And with the exception of Byrne, who’s mastered the art of baleful glaring, no one seems like they’re having any fun.  In television, unlike movies, characters are everything–even on intricately plotted shows like Lost or Fringe or Homeland, in the end it’s the characters who keep us coming back.  No one on Vikings is worth a ferry ride to watch, let alone a sail across open seas.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."