So who here didn’t think Vikings was going to be the TV-equivalent of that movie about Jon Snow saving Pompeii? Anyone? No one? Exactly. Post over.
Not really! It’s just beginning. Webster’s defines strong female friendship as “we can find no matches for ‘strong female friendships’ on dictionary.com.” Wow. Really makes you think. Really makes you think about Vikings.
Coming in with Pompeii-level expectations, I started off pleasantly surprised with the series. But I’ve since set aside my condescension, and now just think it’s a legitimately good show. It does the sensationalist shit you’d expect (mushroom trips! human sacrifice! weird sex stuff! heavy eyeliner!) but manages to somehow never feel too dumb, or too exploitative. It occasionally gives you a real sense of the characters’ otherness (which I always want from historical-ish shows). This achievement is due largely to the main guy, whose performance is at turns cryptic & fey & funny & super fucking hot.
I think Vikings depicts religiosity better than any show on TV right now. And look, maybe I should aim some of this praise directly at the History Channel? Like, maybe the reason the show is so deft with the cultural stuff is that it comes from a network that wants to educate its audience? But then I remember that History Channel was home to both a mermaid documentary and 5 million torture porn documentaries about Nazism, and I think, maybe not. Maybe the History Channel just lucked out with these particular showmakers. Showmakers? That sounds made up. Oh no wait, it sounds like homemakers, which is the unsexy way of saying housewife. Moving on.
Anyway, the luck o’the shoemakers. Speaking of luck—Viking religion! Fortune and favor! A lot of shows/movies depict polytheistic people from the way-way-back as cartoonish, insincere, or alien. Rarely do we see sympathetic portraits of your average devotee. But Vikings shows us a spectrum of naturalized believers, including zealots (F’loki!) and laymen, and presents them with as much sensitivity and dimension as it lends to the Christian characters. I’m into it.
Speaking of the Christians, remember when Alzalstan (?) got crucified? (I’m taking a stance now on never looking up the spelling of a TV character’s name. I’m maintaining the oral tradition here, MUCH LIKE THE VIKINGS!) That scene felt a little off to me, but it fed my bloodlust, and furthermore got me thinking about crucifixions on the small screen. This, of course, led me to Xena: Warrior Princess.
Xena is the show to end all shows for me. It nestled its way into my limbic system at a tender age, and now all watchable things are, to some extent, in dialogue with Xena. Oh yeah, Don Draper, you’re feeling melancholic about the death of your one-time fling? Xena felt that way too, after she drunkenly killed 40,000 Japanese people. Olivia Pope is rising to another challenge? So did Xena, when she had to kill all the gods from all the religions in the world (except former sex-partner gods). The show just has a lot to offer.
One of these offerings is the loveliest crucifixion you’ve ever seen. Let’s all take a moment to meditate on these events: while hallucinating, dancing, and drinking blood with the northern Amazons, Xena has a vision of her death, in which she’s crucified in the snow beside her lover/best friend/favorite person Gabrielle. The audience is shown glimpses of the vision over the course of about 22 episodes, and then it happens. It’s just so beautiful. The blue filter, the hennaed hands, the reflective circle of Roman shields, the intense lesbian love, the snow, the artfully-draped bandage outfits.
It’s a spectacle worthy of a religion. Maybe someone start one? Who’s feeling confident today?
But yeah, Vikings is great. The braids alone. I think someone (perhaps the only contributor to this site who once ran a blog called “The Daily Braid”) should write a post on the hairstyles going on in this show. Ragnar’s faux-hawk alone deserves its own holy place.