Vikings Season 5 Episode 5 Review: Pride before aFall

Vikings season 5 reached its half way point this week in its 5th episode, ‘The Prisoner’. In this episode, there are consequences to the Saxon’s attack on York, Ivar and Hvitserk make new plans, Floki returns to Kattegat and Björn finds his life under threat in Africa.

‘The Prisoner’ doesn’t pick up exactly where ‘The Plan’ left off. Instead, the Norse wait for King Æthelwulf and Bishop Heahmund to bring more of their forces into York before they pop up from the old Roman sewer tunnels and begin their ambush. Heahmund is still uneasy but it isn’t until he sees more rats above ground that he realises that the rats have been scared out of their nests. Too late he realises that the Heathen Army are luring them into York under false pretences by which point the attack is already underway.

The thread of hubris on the part of the Christians continues in this episode. Though Heahmund had wanted to wait, the siege had never succeeded in starving out the Norse anyway. The Saxon’s, believing that with God on their side, their plan can’t possibly fail march into the city and succumb to superior strategy and planning. Even once the ambush is underway Æthelwulf is reluctant to retreat, despite being unprepared and outnumbered. When he returns to camp he says to Judith ‘I thought at last God had seen fit to be merciful unto us’. The Christians believe to believe that victory will fall onto their laps because of their religious superiority whereas the Norse pagans are able to survive and win because of their shrewd military tactics.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the warrior priest Bishop Heahmund after having been captured by Ivar the Boneless in the fifth episode of History's Vikings' fifth season.

It could be worse. At least they’re not eating you.

The most important outcome of this ambush is that Bishop Heahmund is captured by Ivar. The two have a conversation about their religions, with Heahmund offering to bring Ivar to Christendom and Ivar deciding to bring Heahmund to Kattegat so that he can learn more of the pagans. I’ve been iffy on Heahmund thus far but I enjoyed the dynamic between Heahmund and Ivar. It harkens back to Ragnar and Æthelstan; a Viking sails to England and captures a religious figure and brings him back to his homeland and in doing so they learn more of each other, their cultures and their religions. The main difference being that Ragnar and Æthelstan were much more open to learn from each other than Ivar and Heahmund. There’s little chance of these two ending up as friends as Ragnar and Æthelstan did, but it wouldn’t be the strangest or most ahistorical thing to happen on Vikings.

As Ivar and Hvitserk head to Scandinavia to pledge their support to Harold Finehair, though they intend to double cross him later, Floki arrives in Kattegat. It’s nice that the writers are finally giving Gustaf Skarsgård more to do than run around an empty island. And it’s really starting to feel that everything is just falling apart for Lagertha. Despite having Ubbe at her side, she’s lost her closest adviser, men are rallying behind her enemies and now Floki has arrived to take away her warriors to settle in new lands. There’s a similarity here as well to season one where Ragnar wanted to sail for new lands against the wishes of Earl Haraldson. In this situation though Lagertha has become Earl Haraldson and we all know how that ended last time. Floki isn’t likely to challenge her but her fear of being deposed has caused her to become more and more insular.

Much further south, Björn and Halfdan meet with Emir Ziyadat Allah. Björn begins negotiations with Ziyadat for a trade deal while the Emir supplies them with women (sort of) and drugs. These things turn out to be a distraction while Euphemius is captured, butchered and served up for dinner. Sinric insinuates that Kassia is pulling the strings behind the Emir and that they’re to be next. Turns out that he’s right, as the three of them are captured and prepared to be executed, just as a sandstorm appears on the horizons.

Alexander Ludwig and Frankie McCafferty as Björn and Sinric in the fifth episode of History's Vikings' fifth season.

Vikings: More bothered by betrayal than cannibalism.

While the story is engaging, largely through the charisma and presence of Alexander Lugwig and Jasper Pääkkönen, the cultures and people that they interact are largely underdeveloped and generic. With time, these characters and locations could be explored but the Africa plotline moves at such a fast pace, from meeting the Emir to being betrayed in the space of a couple of scenes, that audiences never really get a chance to become more invested. Remember Vikings spent four seasons allowing viewers to become acquainted with England and its characters. No way they can replicate that in Sicily and Africa in a few episodes.

The question is where does this storyline go from here. There’s no way the show is killing off Björn and Halfdan, who are too important narratively and historically. So, do Björn and company simply escape and never return? Will they come back for revenge? One thing of interest is that Kassia is from the Byzantine Empire and the Emir slaughtered Euphemius because of his supposed contact with the emperor. The Empire is this large, looming presence in the Mediterranean and Middle East and Vikings would be remiss not to explore it. Whether that means Björn and Halfdan working with or against the Byzantine Empire, I don’t know.

So, ends another solid episode of Vikings season 5. If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments below of through social media. And if you hated it, let me hear it anyways. If you enjoyed this article, you can find my reviews of Vikings episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the archives. Or check out my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Furthermore, I have a review of Battle of the Sexes over on moviequotesandmore.com. Or if fiction is more your thing, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, to read for free over on swoonreads.com.

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Star Wars The Last Jedi Review: The Mystery Box Strikes Back.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was always going to have an uphill struggle compared to The Force Awakens. With Episode VII, audiences hadn’t had a proper Star Wars film to sink their teeth into in over a decade and those last films were the prequel trilogy which had left a bad taste in their mouths. So, audiences were desperate for new Star Wars and so long as it was good it would cleanse their palette of the prequels. And The Force Awakens was good, if a little too similar to A New Hope, but that was a flaw that fans could accept, at least for now. But The Last Jedi comes on the heels of that film which began a new generation of Star Wars fandom, and of an extended universe including films such as Rogue One. Suddenly, thanks to Disney, fans are spoiled for Star Wars content in a way they weren’t just a few years ago. To compete and live up to expectations The Last Jedi can’t just be good. To inspire those same fans, to assuage their fears and spark interest in future instalments, The Last Jedi needed to do more than The Force Awakens. It needed to be great.

Unfortunately, The Last Jedi is just good. The film is full of strong premises, such as Poe Dameron learning the burden of leadership isn’t just big showy battles and heroic risk-taking, or Finn sneaking on to The First Order ship to disable their tracking software, or Rey finding Luke Skywalker and learning that the origins of Kylo Ren are much more grey than light or dark. These are all great ideas with promise and potential and some of that is realised largely through the strong acting of the cast. But even stellar performances all around can’t help that in execution a lot of these plotlines don’t really go anywhere and leave the audience empty and dissatisfied.

There are going to be spoilers ahead, so if you’ve yet to watch the film, go do that first. And for the record I do think this film is worth seeing, at least once, but don’t expect to be blown away. Anyway, as an example of this premise vs. execution, let’s look at Poe Dameron. Poe begins the film in a big space battle with a dreadnought. He takes out the ships surface cannons and then calls in bombers to take down the ship proper. And while this does happen it costs a lot of casualties, with many of the bombers being blown up before they can release their cargo. And even when the Resistance/New Republic escape they find that the First Order can now track them through lightspeed, so they lost a lot of good soldiers and still didn’t actually shake the First Order off their tail.

Oscar Isaac as the heroic daredevil pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi.

If anyone winds up being related to Jyn Erso, it’ll be Poe.

For this Poe is demoted and although there’s a new plan to escape, he’s basically shut out of it. Poe, believing that the leaders don’t have a plan, hatches a daring scheme of his own where Finn and their new engineer friend Rose sneak off to find a codebreaker and sneak into the First Order command vessel and disarm the tracking software while Poe mutinies and warpspeeds away when they can’t be tracked. However, it turns out the leaders do have a plan, one that involves sneaking away under the radar and a plan that is later revealed to the First Order by the codebreaker. So, everything would have gone off without a hitch had Poe, Finn and Rose not tried to do anything.

The problem with this plot is that it relies on none of the characters talking or communicating with one another. Had Admiral Holdo simply explained the plan to Poe he at least wouldn’t have felt the need to do something to ensure the survival of the Resistance. Had Poe brought his scheme to Holdo perhaps she could have been able to provide support. It’s like one of those will they-won’t they plots from sitcoms where two characters don’t know how the other feels because they just won’t talk to each other. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch.

Episode VIII also wastes several plots that had been set up from the previous episode. Usually sequels develop or expand on threads from the first film but here The Last Jedi mostly ignores or drops a lot of the storylines, such as who is Snoke and Rey’s lineage. Now, honestly, I’m fine with Rey’s parents being junk traders who sold her for money (though it raises the question of why she’s not in servitude in The Force Awakens); it turns the Darth Vader reveal from Empire Strikes Back on its head and subverts expectations. But the fact that it comes along with so many other questions being ignored, like why Luke left a map if he didn’t want to be found, or wrapped up without ceremony, such as Captain Phasma’s swift exit, means that the mystery around Rey gets lost under all the other disappointment.

Adam Driver as the conflicted former protege of Luke Skywalker who turned to the dark side, Kylo Ren, in Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi.

He certainly has inherited Anakin’s inability to handle rejection.

For this I actually don’t blame Rian Johnson, although I’ll get to why he doesn’t get off scot free in a moment. I blame J. J. Abrams. This is not the first project where Abrams has basically set up a bunch of questions and mysteries without any idea how it all plays out and then left it up to someone else to come up with the answers. And when those mysteries are legion and hyped up, it’s difficult to avoid disappointment. And I’m not just gleaming this from his works, Abrams has talked about this at TED where he discusses mystery being more important than knowledge and infinite possibilities. That’s where Abrams is coming from when he’s writing and producing these shows and films and again it always falls to someone else to make sense of these mysteries for some kind of pay off and at a certain point people realise that you can’t explain all these mysteries without two and a half hours of scrolling text so in the interest of a comprehensible narrative some mysteries have to be jettisoned. Does knowing that make me any happier about how it was done? No. It was still underwhelming and dissatisfying, but I suppose at least I know why it was underwhelming and dissatisfying.

As I said though, Rian Johnson doesn’t get off that easy. There are pacing and tone issues which are absolutely his doing. Star Wars has always had comedy. It’s interweaving of westerns and dramas and comedies and science fiction and a whole slew of other genres is part of what makes it so unique and special in the hearts of fans. But the comedy in The Last Jedi feels like a parody of itself. Like the transmission call that Poe makes to General Hux in the beginning of the movie where he keeps pretending to be on hold and not able to hear Hux’s tirade and insults sounds like something Seth McFarlane would do on Family Guy rather than part of an actual Star Wars script. Furthermore, the Canto Bight section lasts far too long and is bogged down with a ‘the source of all war is greed’ message. When it all comes together what we get is a film that’s still several rewrites away from release.

So, this has been a bit of a long one, but necessary because to really get into why The Last Jedi is how it is, it takes a bit of dissecting. The take away is that hardcore fans will be disappointed, but Episode VIII will more than suffice for a winter outing this Christmas. Conversely, if you thought it was great and that I’m out of my mind, hit me up on the comments or social media with your opinions. If you enjoyed this review and want to read more from me, I’m currently doing a serial review of Vikings season 5, or you can find other film reviews in the archives. Hit the follow button to subscribe and keep up to date with new content on his blog. And since it is winter, why not curl up by the fire with my own novel, Carrion Youth, which you can read for free at swoonreads.com.

Vikings Season 5 Episode 4 review: Gang Aft A-gley

This week’s episode, the fourth of the season, of Vikings is entitled ‘The Plan’ and unsurprisingly everyone has a plan. Heahmund and Æthelwulf choose to lay siege to the city of York after their initial frontal assault failed, Ubbe returns to Kattegat and makes a pact with Lagertha, Astrid makes her own choice regarding Harold Finehair and Björn arrives in the Mediterranean. Of these stories, it’s the Saxon’s plan and Björn’s plotting in Sicily that take up most of the run time but mostly this episode is just setting up events to come.

Clearly Æthelwulf reads this blog because he questions Heahmund over the same issues that I raised about letting Ubbe and Hvitserk go free last week. Heahmund is too grounded in his faith to give any ground, figuratively or literally, to the pagan Norsemen, and instead claims to have had a vision in which they starve the heathen army out of York. Æthelwulf seems initially reluctant given their weakened forces but eventually goes along with the plan. Later, when it seems that the Norsemen have sailed away, Æthelwulf pulls rank and decides to enter the city, bolstered with re-enforcements from Northumbria.

The dissension between Æthelwulf and Heahmund is interesting, though not surprising given the previous defeat. It’s particularly noteworthy because Æthelwulf rightly accuses Heahmund of being less humble than he seems and reminding the bishop of his status. Notably, this scene comes on the heels of the Northumbrian lord swearing fealty to Æthelwulf as Bretwalda, so it could be that having others in his command has made Æthelwulf realise how Heahmund treats him. When Æthelwulf chooses to advance on York Heahmund does not ask him to reconsider. He simply says ‘no’. You don’t just say ‘no’ to your king. I’m curious as to how this plot will progress. Will there be a struggle between God and king as to who Heahmund serves much like Henry VIII? Will Æthelwulf simply have to put Heahmund in his place? Or will Æthelwulf’s unwillingness to listen be his own downfall?

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Moe Dunford appear as Bishop Heahmund and King Æthelwulf of Wessex in the fifth season of History's Vikings.

And I bet we’ll never see those dirty pagans ever again.

The latter seems likely, at least in the short term. While the Saxon’s siege York and attack any hunting parties preventing any new food entering the city, Ivar exacts his own plan. Much like the battle last week, Ivar uses tricks and sleights of hand to manipulate the Saxons. This involves mimicking the burning of bodies to deceive Æthelwulf and Heahmund into believing that the Norsemen are starving and burning the bodies of their dead. Their ships then sail off leaving York dishevelled and overrun by animals. But Heahmund notices that something is off and…that’s where the episode ends. But Ivar has thus far been one step ahead of the Saxons at every turn and I don’t expect next week to be much different.

Over in the Mediterranean, Sinric, Björn’s guide, convinces him to sail towards Sicily rather than Rome. There, Björn meets with Euphemius who claims to rule the entire island and has abducted Kassia, a Byzantine abbess. However, through Sinric, Björn learns that Euphemius is in fact an under-lord to a Muslim Emir in Africa. Björn wishes to meet this Emir but Euphemius refuses until Kassia demands that he fulfil a promise by taking her to meet him.

Björn’s scenes in Sicily are reminiscent of early Vikings episodes. While with Ivar, we know the Saxons are their enemies, here we don’t yet know who can be trusted and who might betray them. In the early episodes we knew the Vikings were there to raid Northumbria but we didn’t know how Aelle would react; would he buy off the Vikings or attempt to ambush them? When he tries to ambush them he learn that Aelle is not a man of his word and can’t be trusted. It’s cool to see the characters in new environments and new locations but more so it’s engaging to see them interact with new characters who we don’t know. There’s definitely something shifty about Euphemius but question of whether he or Kassia can be trusted hangs over the story which makes the narrative infinitely more compelling to watch.

Alexander Ludwig as Björn Ironside in 'The Plan', the fourth episode of the fifth season of History's Vikings.

Imagine if they hadn’t introduced themselves as traders.

Less compelling are the other storylines. I continue to be underwhelmed and wanting by the storylines of Lagertha and Finehair. As I mentioned in the premiere review, it’s obvious the these storylines are building towards something, and Lagertha’s pact with Ubbe and Harold’s marriage to Astrid are both important events, but there are much more interesting things going on in the world of Vikings. Instead of being invested I just spend these scenes waiting for the story to get back to England or Italy. Thankfully these scenes are short.

In other news, Floki, having not died, decides he can’t keep the land of the gods, or Iceland as we know it, all to himself. So he plans to sail off and bring others there so they can create a settlement, free of any outside religious influences. Part of me finds this story dull too but another part of me can’t wait to see Floki’s face when the first Christian missionary arrives on his shores.

All in all another solid episode from this season of Vikings, again proving that it can be consistently entertaining without Ragnar Lothbrok. If you miss the days of Ragnar or what a theory for Ivar’s plan, gimme a shout in the comments below or on social media. If you enjoyed this review, check out the reviews of Vikings season 5 episodes 1,2 and 3. Also check out my review of Jumanji: Welcome to the JungleAnd if you’re still found wanting after that, check out my novel, Carrion Youth, which you can read for free over on swoonreads.com.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle review

If you go to the cinema to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle expecting more than a fun, light-hearted action adventure then you’re in for some disappointment. Not that any of that is bad; Jumanji is what it is (silly and undemanding) but when you scratch beneath the surface there’s nothing else really there. If you want something deeper wait for Darkest Hour in January or if you just want your action adventure to have more substance Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi is in cinemas. If you’re alright with switching off and forgetting about all the stress of Christmas shopping and cooking and family, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle might just be what you need.

The story follows four teens who, for various reasons, get detention. Part of their detention involves cleaning out an old basement where they find an old game console and decide to try it out. Booting up the game causes the four to be sucked into the game and take on the role of their avatars, who are all much different than their real life counterparts. The Jewish gamer-geek, becomes Dwanye Johnson, or Doctor Bravestone, an adventurer with smouldering intensity as a skill and literally no weaknesses. The red-headed academia obsessed girl becomes Karen Gillian, playing Ruby Roundhouse whose description is simply ‘killer of men’. The tall, strong football player winds up being Kevin Hart, aka ‘Moose’ Finbar, a short Zoologist who carries all of Bravestone’s weapons. And finally, the social media driven, Instagram model girl winds up being Shelly Oberon, an overweight, middle-aged guy.

Dwanye Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillian and Jack Black star as the video game character avatars in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The graphics in his game are amazing.

Much of the humour of the film is derived from obvious fact that none of the avatars are like their real-life counterparts. Bravestone, meant to be the most courageous of the group, is still scared of birds and squirrels. Ruby still can’t flirt and finds her state of undress uncomfortable. Finbar, use to being fast and physically intimidating has to adjust to being slow and weak in battle. Oberon, on the other hand has the novelty of being a woman in a man’s body, alternating between lamenting the loss of her looks and aweing at using a penis to urinate.

You might expect that the students learn to more fully embody their characters, gaining the courage or social abilities that they can translate into the real world, but actually its their real-life skills that end up helping them more than their character’s skills. For instance, Finbar makes use of his knowledge of football tactics to set up a bait and switch play in order to complete their mission. In the case of Bravestone, it’s his intimate knowledge of gaming that allows him to navigate the game, understanding when he’s talking to NPC’s and the game’s levelled structure.

One of the main aspects of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle that I liked was that it drew on a lot of video game tropes such as having multiple lives or story driven events only being directed at the main character, but it was never particularly derisive of those tropes. Too often when films and television reference video games, it’s done with a mocking tone where the comedy is at the expense of gamers who are made to feel sad and pathetic for investing time in these worlds. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a more affectionate portrayal, drawing comedy from showing how respawning might actually look or the fact that if when players have multiple lives to spare, they’re generally more reckless until they hit their last life.

It’s unfortunate though that these tropes and understanding of video game staples couldn’t have been influential in the narrative in a more sustained fashion. The characters skills and weaknesses are all given their moment to shine, including Hart accidentally eating cake and exploding, or Ruby Roundhouse having to navigate a cluster of snakes because her weakness is venom. But outside of specific instances, their strengths and weaknesses don’t feature much into the plot. In fairness, that’s a fairly accurate video game allusion, given the fact that most players find a few good moves they’re comfortable with and only end up using special moves or features when an obstacle requires their use. But regardless of it’s accuracy, it’s also a clunky game mechanic and it feels even more awkward when translated to film.

Alex Wolff, Ser'Darius Blain, Morgan Turner and Madison Iseman star as the teens who get sucked into the video game world in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

When you should be working but spend all day playing video games

And if it weren’t for the fact that this film is called Jumanji, that’d be it; A fun, if inconsequential film with some of the best use of video game conventions since Scott Pilgrim Verses The World. That it is called Jumanji means that this film gets compared to the 1995 Jumanji starring Robin Williams. The name connection means that audiences inherently track this film’s quality against that of its predecessor. Furthermore, the death of Williams has made it sort of sacrilege to recreate his work, especially considering that Williams was the best thing in Jumanji and without him it probably wouldn’t be so fondly remembered. Which is strange because the original Jumanji was little more than an enjoyable, family friendly film. It’s a pity that this movie is likely to get trashed by some critics simply because it doesn’t live up to the nostalgia of its prequel.

If you enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle too or if you thought it was too soon after the death of Robin Williams, fire me a comment and let me know. Also you may notice that this blog is a little early this week but that’s because there’s a Vikings episode 4 review coming in the usual Sunday slot so watch out for that. To get notified when posts hit this blog subscribe to this site or follow me on social media. In the meantime you can read up on my previous Vikings episode reviews and hundreds of other reviews in the archives. And if you’re still thirsty for literature after all that, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, to read for free over on Swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Vikings Season 5 Episode 3 Review: It’s a Trap

This week on Vikings, Ivar sets a trap, Ubbe makes a bad decision, Hvitserk chooses a side and the battle of York doesn’t quite go to plan for Æthelwulf and Heahmund. This was a fun and gruesome episode featuring more action than we’ve seen in premiere episodes. It was a nice change of pace. Vikings likes to have its character stare off introspectively or talk about their ambitious so when a large chunk of time is devoted a battle you know it’s a big deal. And the battle of York was very important as it was the Great Heathen Army’s first defence against a Saxon attack (previously the Vikings had been the aggressors) and an opportunity for numerous characters to prove themselves.

Pre-battle the Saxon forces are informed that the Vikings still haven’t rebuilt the old Roman walls around York, and decide to move forward on using this as a means of attack. The over-reliance on the walls as a weakness seemed sure to backfire though and it had been constantly mentioned over the past few episodes by Heahmund and not at all by Ivar or the others. That, along with the decision to wait rather than immediately take advantage, left viewers expecting that the Ivar knew about the walls and was planning a trap.

What wasn’t quite anticipated was just how brutal the trap would be. The expectation was that maybe the Vikings would lead the army into an enclosed space and then surround them, effectively both flanking and bottle-necking the Saxon army. Instead a series of well placed spike pits and oil drops led to the Saxons practically killing themselves and having to step over the dead to even retreat. This was a great tactic because not only did they physically reduce the size of the army they’re fighting with minimal effort but it also has a demoralising effect to have to step on their brothers-in-laws. These are people they’ve likely fought with and trusted to have their backs and now they have to make a choice of self-preservation over that loyalty and camaraderie. The effect is that when the Vikings finally meet the Saxons head on, they’re fighting a smaller, traumatised army.

Alex Høgh's Ivar taunts the Saxon army at the Battle of York in season 5 episode 3 of History's Vikings.

Ivar is the life of the party.

Of course, Ivar, bloodsoaked and laughing is also pretty demoralising to any army. It’s a testament to Alex Høgh’s acting that he can convincingly play sympathetic in one episode and utterly demented in another. And with this victory, Ivar wins over most of the Great Heathen Army, cementing himself as the de facto leader. It helps that Ubbe’s argument that he saved Ivar’s life is rather flimsy. In fact the army was going to run to Ivar’s side when Ubbe postponed them for…reasons? It doesn’t seem like Ubbe to genuinely consider leaving his brother to the mercy of the Saxons, especially not so publicly, but it appears that he must have been conflicted at least because there’s no other reason, least one I can see, for Ubbe to wait.

Of course, Ubbe is particularly sore because Ivar’s rise contradicts his own status as the eldest brother. They argue over their next move but Ubbe doesn’t trust Ivar and leaves to propose peace to the Saxons against Ivar’s suggestion. Given that Ivar is waiting for them when they return, this seems like another case of Ivar setting a trap. It’s likely that he could have stopped his brothers when they were leaving but choose to let them go because he knew that if they failed it would only serve to make his case look better.

And fail it does. Ubbe and Hvitserk get roughed up, their men killed and sent back to York with no peace and no land. Though its framed oddly within the show with the narrative jumping back and forth in time to reveal what actually happened at the Saxon camp while the brothers are being admonished by Ivar upon their return. It’s a strange deviation from linear storytelling and a pointless one since it adds nothing to the plot and is more confusing than attention grabbing.

Jordan Patrick Smith's Ubbe watches as his brother Hvitserk joins Ivar in season 5 episode 3 of History's Vikings.

Battered, humbled and alone.

Speaking of failure, the Saxons made a mistake of beating up Ubbe and Hvitserk and letting them go. I’m not suggesting that Æthelwulf should have accepted their demands, although he did seem to consider it (I did like Alfred suggesting that advocating giving them the land to farm given that the real life Alfred is famous for creating distinct boundaries between Wessex and the Danelaw.). Why wouldn’t they just capture Ubbe and/or Hvitserk and hold them for ransom? Ivar, for all his pomp, does care for his brothers and it would also have made Ivar look weak to his army if he didn’t want to leave York to save his brothers. As it is, Heahmund and Æthelwulf have only succeeded in further aggravating an enemy they just failed to beat in battle.

Ubbe poses the question that Ragnar would hate Ivar for breaking up his family, to which Ivar disagrees. Ragnar certainly had a remarkable love for his family (or at least his sons). But he didn’t always show it in traditional ways and it would certainly be like Ragnar to put results ahead of irritating his family. This is the same man who on more than one occasion fought his brother on the battle field. But it’s also the man who opted to choose non-aggression with Ecbert in favour of land that this people could farm. Ragnar was at many times both a farmer and a warrior and an adventurer, whereas his sons seem to represent different aspects of their father. So, Ubbe and Ivar are both right.

Let me know what you thought of Homeland in the comments below or hit me up through social media. To be notified and keep up to date with new content on this blog weekly, hit the follow button to subscribe. If you liked what you read and can’t wait  there are hundreds of reviews and editorials in the archives to keep you busy. And if that still isn’t enough for you, you can find my own novel, Carrion Youth, online to read at swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

Vikings Season 5 premiere: Proving History Can be as Entertaining as Myth

The biggest question going into Vikings Season 5 was whether the show would be capable of standing on its own without Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar Lothbrok. To those who know their history, and their mythology, it was an inevitable question. Ragnar was always going to have to die and his sons, with the Great Heathen Army at their backs, would invade England for revenge. But the question wasn’t whether it would happen but rather could any of the existing characters step up to match the enigmatic charisma that Fimmel brought to the character of Ragnar.

Ragnar was a larger than life character, capable of amazing feats and driving others to exemplary deeds, which was fitting for the semi-mythical character of history. With his death the show has passed from legend to the historical, with characters such as Ivar the Boneless, Harald Finehair and Æthelwulf all having existed in real life. (That’s not to say by the way that the show is now historically accurate. Rather that the story is now grounded in traditional historical sources rather the mythical tales of Ragnar Lothbrok. For example, Ivar’s conquest of York historically took place prior the death King Ælla and it was actually Æthelwulf’s son Æthelred who reigned at the time of the Viking invasion of Northumbria.) So, the big headline over Viking’s season 5 was undoubtedly whether it could be as entertaining without it’s big name draw?

In this humble reviewer’s opinion, the answer is yes. Vikings season 5 premiered with two entertaining episodes, drawing on the inward struggles of the Ragnarsson brothers to unite against the Anglo-Saxons. Just as there is the meta-question of whether the show can survive without Ragnar, inward there is the question of who can lead the Great Heathen Army, with Ubbe and Ivar both vying for the spot. This is where the episodes are at their strongest. The underlying tension gives every conversation between the brothers a sense of competitiveness with life or death stakes. When Ivar suggests taking York rather than East Anglia, it’s a point to Ivar. When Ubbe remembers to attack on a Saint Day, it’s a point to Ubbe.

Gustaf Skarsgård's Floki consoles Ivar, played by Alex Høgh Andersen in the season 5 double bill premiere of History's Vikings.

“I know you’re sad but I gotta go see a volcano”

It’s also interesting to see Ivar showing genuine remorse over the death of Sigurd. Ivar has always been depicted as the darkest, most ruthless of the sons of Ragnar, seemingly having paired the violent instincts of his father with the coldness of his mother, peppered richly with pagan devotion instilled in him by Floki. This emotion is the first time we’ve seen the character upset about another person. He certainly seems grief stricken in a way that he wasn’t by the death of his parents, although it’s possible that’s because the only person to take revenge against is himself.

Scenes with Æthelwulf and Judith living as churls in the English countryside were also interesting. Having been reduced to poverty has made the pair surprisingly amicable, especially considering how tumultuous their relationship had been in previous seasons. Though it seems unlikely to remain that way, as Judith glanced a few times at Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s Bishop Heahmund and we all know that she has a thing for holy men. Speaking of holy men, Æthelstan appears to his son, Alfred, in a fever dream and directs the West Saxons to join Heahmund’s army outside of York, setting up a large battle to come.

Despite some strong character drama, Vikings felt weakest when it was focused on Harald Finehair, Bishop Heahmund and, dare I say it, Floki. Floki is easily the most whimsical character in the series and it’s a joy to watch Gustaf Skarsgård in the role but his singular adventure to Iceland just felt like an unnecessary distraction from the main plot, as if the writers have a checklist of historical events they want to tick off. Unnecessary is also a criticism I would levy towards Heahmund. The pious but lustful character who deals with their sin by self-flagellation is an over-used characterisation and Æthelstan was already a much more complex and interesting take on the holy man. That’s not to suggest that there can never be any more religious characters in Vikings, but there should be more depth to the character. Heahmund could easily have been replaced with Æthelwulf, a character who has already been shown to be pious and has also dealt with his sin with self-flagellation. This characterisation is so over-done that Vikings has already used it twice. Still, it’s early days for season five so there’s still time for Heahmund to turn out to be deeper and more interesting than he appears here.

Moe Dunford as Æthelwulf and Jennie Jacques as Judith arrive in the camp of Bishop Heahmund, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in the season 5 double bill premiere of History's Vikings.

It’s bring your wife to war day.

As for Harald Finehair, the problem is just fatigue. This plot of his to become King of all Norway has been going on since the early episodes of season four and despite a time-skip in episode 10 he has made frustratingly little traction on his goal. At this point it doesn’t really seem to matter if he marries Astrid; there are much more interesting things going on in the world of Vikings, such as Björn’s excursion to the Mediterranean. It seems inevitable that the plotting will come down to a battle and that Harald will likely win some of the lands from Lagertha and possibly even kill her, but it’s just being so drawn out with not a lot really happening in the meantime.

Overall though this has been a good premiere and that’s exactly what it needed to be. Season five had to start strong to show that, yes, the series can survive without Ragnar and can produce the same quality drama and entertainment and it absolutely did that. Now that the series has made that clear, it can get on with the story and perhaps produce some truly great episodes to rival those from seasons past. If I were to give a prediction for the season ahead, I’d say we’ll see the death of Æthelwulf and possibly another time-skip to allow Alfred to age-up.

What were your thoughts and opinions of Vikings season five premiere? Got any predictions of your own? Fire them my way in the comments below or hit me up through social media which you can find to the right of this article. Also to the right you can find the follow button, which will allow you to be notified and kept up to date with new content on this blog weekly. If you liked what you read and can’t wait that long there are hundreds of reviews and editorials in the archives to keep you busy. And if that still isn’t enough for you, you can find my own novel, Carrion Youth, online to read at swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

The Punisher Review: Draws out the punishment to a poignant, visceral conclusion.

While everyone has been talking about Justice League, and not necessarily for the reasons that Warner Bros or DC wanted, Marvel’s The Punisher series arrived on Netflix largely unnoticed. I suppose WB and DC could chalk that up as a win, but on the other hand, I’m not sure The Punisher was ever going to garner much fanfare. This is a spin-off of a side character from Marvel’s Defenders’ lead in project, Daredevil, itself a b-project from the main Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are a lot of degrees of separation there so I’m not sure The Punisher was ever expected to be a huge release for Marvel.

That said, the character was very well liked in Daredevil. Frank Castle was interesting and largely faithful to the comic book character on which he is based, with actor Jon Bernthal bringing an honest, down-to-earth charisma to the character. Within the story, The Punisher was a worthy foil to Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. While Daredevil wanted to do good and help the people of Hell’s Kitchen, he struggled with the morality of how he himself should treat the criminals he fought. Elektra’s view point was that she enjoyed killing, and while she could use it for good she didn’t seem to care much one way or the other, so long as there was a good fight. Castle’s view was that criminals deserved to die. Within Daredevil season 2, these three perspectives created the consistent theme of morality and responsibility of superheroes in the modern world.

The Punisher Netflix series largely continues this theme with Frank Castle himself struggling with his identity and role in the world, especially now that his mission of revenge for his family has been fulfilled. The completion of that mission doesn’t seem to have soothed Castle’s loss any, but it doesn’t seem that he expected it to, which is interesting. Castle understands that he has to live with his grief and anger. Killing the men responsible wasn’t about elevating that; it was just what they deserved. And that’s a very understandable and relatable stance. Every day people experience loss and grief and want justice. Regularly families of victims appear in interviews decrying short sentences for murderers or rapists. It’s quite easy to see how one could go from that to taking things into their own hands.

Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle takes aim in Marvel-Netflix's The Punisher, reprising his role from the Daredevil series.

Given proper intel, this series would have been over by episode 2.

Of course, Frank Castle isn’t just any one. He’s an ex-soldier, specially trained and highly capable, so when he takes things into his own hands, not only can he get the job done, but he is targeted and efficient. For all that the theme of this show is thought-provoking and relevant, it’s action scenes also stand out as being well choreographed and visceral. Honestly, the last 3-4 episodes have some of the most brutal and engaging fight scenes that I’ve seen in a long time. Viewers knew that The Punisher was going to be violent so there was a danger that the action could have fallen flat of expectations but The Punisher more than delivered on that front.

The story follows Frank Castle after he has dealt with the criminals who killed his wife and kids. That is until he is approached by a hacker known as Micro who seeks to enlist Castle’s help to clear his name. Micro also reveals that the death of Castle’s wife and children may go deeper and might be connected to some illegal military operations that Castle was a part of during his time as a soldier. They hatch a plan to uncover the names of those in charge and bring them to justice, which initially means murder but evolves into having the perpetrators apprehended by Homeland. This doesn’t go to plan in a number of ways and most of the people wind up dead anyways.

Though it sounds somewhat complicated the narrative is rather straight-forward. The main hitch in the plan which takes up most of the first hand of the season is that Castle and Micro don’t know the real name of the man in charge, only knowing him as Agent Orange. There are some run-ins with the law and government, who obviously don’t agree with Castle taking it upon himself to dole out his particular violent flavour brand of justice, and some missions to procure weapons and ammunitions as well some family drama as Castle has to keep showing up at Micro’s home to help his wife and children. They’re interesting scenes and necessary (because The Punisher needs guns) but they do feel like they’re drawing out the central question because once Castle and Micro find out who Agent Orange is the plot kicks up a gear and begins moving rapidly towards the end. There’s the sense that this could easily have been an eight episode season rather than thirteen, without losing a lot of story or character development.

Lewis Wilson, played by Daniel Webber, is a veteran who crosses paths with Frank Castle after he feels betrayed and abandoned by his government when he returns home from war.

The Punisher highlights the very real tragedy of those traumatised by the wars they survived.

Sometimes a slow build can be effective in building anticipation for the viewer. The b-story in The Punisher does make good use of this build up, dealing with the character Lewis Wilson, another soldier attempting to reintegrate himself into society. Wilson becomes disillusioned with the government and how his experiences at war are unacknowledged. He struggles to find work or even sleep in a normal bed. This disillusionment becomes manifested in violence, with Wilson utilising terrorism to make a point to the government. It’s a heavy side story that draws The Punisher into the discussion of gun crime, gun control and the treatment of veterans, but where it becomes particularly interesting is in the comparison of Wilson and Castle.

In much the same way The Punisher was a foil to Daredevil, Wilson acts as foil to Castle. They are both soldiers, felt betrayed and angry who decide to use their skills to take the justice they were denied. Castle argues that he would never hurt innocents and not with bombs but is that any different that Daredevil admonishing Castle for using guns rather than allowing the system to obtain justice? At certain points they all become shades of grey with one simply being slightly darker than the other. Wilson also is depicted sympathetically rather than outright evil, so while the viewer may agree with Castle that Wilson is a coward, it’s hard not to feel bad for the kid who just couldn’t find a place for himself outside of war.

Following on from weak outing by Iron Fist and Defenders failing to meet expectations, The Punisher is a return to form for the Netflix-Marvel partnership. Part of The Punisher’s strength is its message and the fact that it has something to say for itself. But that can be subjective. So let me know in the comments below or on social media whether you found The Punisher to be challenging or if it was unpersuasive. As ever you can also follow this blog here or on social media profiles to keep up to date with new content that I publish regularly. If you enjoyed this review the archives are full of similar reviews, editorials and opinion pieces for you to catch up with. And lastly, if you enjoy reading fiction as much as reviews, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, over on swoonreads.com.

Justice League Review: Using CGI to cover up that you don’t know who Batman is.

This weekend, DC’s biggest heroes came together in Justice League. By Saturday though, it was clear that Justice League had underperformed at the box office. And while I’d like to say that turn of events is surprising, I can’t. Justice League is not bad per say, it’s just fine. It’s enjoyable for what it is, especially if you’re capable of putting up with the CGI and strangely written characters. But for many, those issues won’t be easy to overlook.

First, though, let’s look at what Justice League did well. The characters of The Flash and Cyborg are both very entertaining and engaging. They undergo a small amount of development in Justice League but it left me far more fantasticated and hyped for their solo movies than I had been before this outing. I especially enjoyed the banter between the two when they were digging. It was also great to see the characters being proactive and actually trying to get a head of Steppenwolf, rather than being caught off guard and reacting, as superheroes have a tendency to do.

And that’s about it, honestly. The fight scenes were decent but the CGI was very distracting. Steppenwolf looked like he’d stepped out of a cut scene from Injustice or Dragon Age and as a result all of his fights ended up looking like a video game sequence. If the whole film was computerised in that way and was classified as an animation, that might be acceptable but as it is, with Steppenwolf looking so different from everyone else in the film, it’s just strange and disorientating.

Ciarán Hinds, known for his role in Game of Thrones as Mance Rayder, takes on the role of Steppenwolf in the DC superhero team up movie, Justice League.

From old gods to new gods.

Steppenwolf as a villain is fairly one note and there’s nothing particularly challenging about him. He’s strong, sure, and he’s got a big axe but the biggest obstacle for the Justice League is dealing with Steppenwolf without Superman. Following the events of Batman Vs. Superman, I don’t think anyone was fooled into believing that Superman would stay dead. Even in the comics, Superman was eventually resurrected from his death at the hands of Doomsday. But I don’t think anyone expected him to return in Justice League. Because, spoiler, he does.

Of course, Superman was resurrected. He’s the biggest name in DC. But he’s also a cop out. There was an opportunity here to have the team come together and utilise individual skills to beat a singular enemy who had confounded them separately. That’s sort of the point of these team up films, that there’s an enemy that the heroes can’t beat alone. Instead of figuring out a way to do it themselves, the Justice League’s go to plan is to bring back Superman. And it works, because Superman promptly curb-stomps Steppenwolf and makes the rest of the heroes look like chumps. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a complaint that Superman is too strong and therefore boring. This is a criticism that Zack Synder doesn’t know how to utilise the Justice League without Superman.

What’s particularly baffling is that Batman is the one who suggests using the ancient, alien technology to resurrect Superman. The guy with a moral code so strong he won’t carry a gun; who refuses to kill his evil clown nemesis despite the crippling of one side kick and the brutal murder of another. This suggestion is more likely to come from the lips of Mr. Freeze and the type of thing Batman would stop. And while I’m aware that in the comics that Batman did look into resurrection with the intention of perhaps bringing back Jason Todd I find it hard to believe, knowing what we know about Batman’s ethics, that he would go through with it.

Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot appear as The Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman in Warner Bros/DC superhero team up movie, Justice League.

“What if he’s at peace?” “He’ll get over it.” – An actual line from Batman in Justice League.

One might argue, however, that this Batman is somewhat jaded and willing to go to more extreme measures in his old age. But beyond the morality, the choice to resurrect Superman is the least interesting choice possible. I’d have much rather seen the team devise a plan to beat Steppenwolf without the Man of Steel. Batman is also known as being the most proactive of superheroes, devising plans and contingencies for almost all events and outcomes. As it is, Batman basically rolls over and says, “whelp, guess we need Superman”.

Finally, there’s the humour issue. The dark and gritty nature of Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman has hung over all of DC’s projects. Some have accused DC of lightening the tone to match Marvel but I would point the finger at Deadpool rather than the MCU. Following the release of the 18 rated Deadpool, Suicide Squad went through a number of edits and changes that it was reported were intended to lighten the tone of the film. The result was very choppy and not particularly entertaining. Following the inclusion of Joss Whedon to the Justice League writing squad, many expected the same fate for Justice League.

I’m happy to report that Justice League doesn’t seem to suffer from overediting or a lack of focus. So, I suppose you can count that among the good parts of the film. There’s also much more humour in this script than in any of Synder’s previous films, and it’s so predominant that it’s clear that it couldn’t have been added in the eleventh hour by Whedon. But it’s also a little awkward. Those previous films were so dark and now the characters are cracking wise while a god-like being smacks them around and threatens to destroy the Earth. It’s like, why weren’t they like this before? Ezra Miller has gone on record that Zack always intended for the ‘Justice League to rise out of the darkness’. And the collective response of the internet was ‘sure you did, Zack.’

I wish I could say Justice League was better. It’s okay, maybe good at a stretch, but nowhere near as good as it should or could have been. If you thought Justice League was a masterpiece hit me up with a comment, and then perhaps see a doctor for a MRI. You can also contact me through social media, where you might also want to follow me if you’ve enjoyed what you read here and want to keep up with new content on this blog. You can also keep up to date by subscribing to the site itself by hitting the button at the side. And, don’t forget to check out my own novel, Carrion Youth, over at Swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Thor: Ragnarok; The End of the World as They Know It

While in Copenhagen recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Thor: Ragnarok at Empire Bio in Nørrebro. It was a lovely cinema, styled in a way that is immediately appealing to lovers of cinema and cinematography and you can find it in a very lively area of Copenhagen. It’s merely steps away from Assistens Kirkegaard and a brief walk over the bridge will find you at the Torvehallerne food market. Or do what I did; take in the riverside while dining on delicious smørrebrød at the popular basement restaurant, Café 22.

Capping off my afternoon in Copenhagen was Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the god of thunder in Thor: Ragnarok. The film picks up after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: The Dark World and Doctor Strange with Thor investigating the disturbing rumours in the nine realms, most concerning Ragnarok. After taking steps to prevent the end of the world, Thor returns to Asgard to find Loki masquerading as their father and that their father’s actual whereabouts are unknown. Their search takes them to Norway and to the revelation that Odin is dying and that upon his death their sister Hela will be released upon the nine realms.

Hela. portrayed here by Cate Blanchett, stops Mjölnir in its tracks in Marvel's superhero action adventure, Thor Ragnarok

When your sibling takes your things and won’t give them back.

If that all sounds like some deep and heavy material, then fear not because Taika Waititi takes a page out of Guardians of the Galaxy, delivering Thor’s struggles with lightness and comedy. Mending the supernatural with science fiction could have been a badly thumped together puzzle but Waititi manages to fit the pieces together in a way that not only makes for an enjoyable interplanetary romp but also ties it seamlessly with what has come before. That’s no easy feat considering that Thor: Ragnarok is a successor to no less than three previous Marvel films and also has to do a little bit of set management for the upcoming Infinity War.

In prior movies, much of the comedy derived from Thor’s ignorance and fish out of water naivety, such as walking into a pet store and asking for a horse or losing his hammer and needing to use the London underground. Thor: Ragnarok does a great job of switching that up, utilising Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson and Mark Ruffalo to bring the laughs. In fact, the comedy dynamic between Thor and the Hulk is a stand out of unlikely pairings that works. Though thankfully, Waititi also knows when not to labour a point, bringing back Bruce Banner just before The Hulk’s childish antics becoming tiring.

Thor: Ragnarok lives up to its name though. It’s more than a comedic affair, it’s a pivotal moment of change for the character. Without spoiling any major events, it’s no understatement to say that Cate Blanchett’s Hela’s affects Thor in a way that we haven’t really seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. True to her title, the god of death, she reaps destruction wherever she goes, and it takes some severe action from Thor to combat his sister and not without personal loss and consequence. This goes much further than Tony Stark’s PTS from the first Avenger’s film or the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Winter Soldier. The only change so far that even comes close if the division of the team in Civil War but the changes in here are one a much more personal level.

In the past, I’ve criticised the Thor series for not quite balancing the comedy and drama quite right. The aforementioned train ride in Thor: Dark World is one instance where I felt the comedy was mistimed and just didn’t fit the dire mood of the battle. In Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi does a better job of finding the balance between comedy and drama, although there are a couple of instances where I do think that it just toes the line, but Waititi always pulls back before going too far. In any other series, a third film with a third director would be cause for concern and possibly a sign of a franchise struggling to find its footing. However, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Taylor and Taika Waititi have all brought their own touch and flair, and dare I say that Waititi’s hand on the wheel has been the best so far.

This image released by Marvel Studios shows Chris Hemsworth, left, and the Hulk in a scene from, "Thor: Ragnarok." (Marvel Studios via AP)

The new dynamic duo

Acting skill on show here is equally strong. Jeff Goldblum is himself and even if you don’t like the actor, you’ll find the Grandmaster fun to ridicule. Most notable though are the strong female additions in Tessa Thompson and Cate Blanchett, who turn what could be one-note characters into interesting, capable women with conflicting ideals. It’s a pity that Blanchett isn’t given more to do but she uses her time on screen well. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is the stand out, acting as foil to both Thor and Hela and carrying a lot of trauma. And it’s nice to see Idris Elba’s Heimdall being given more to do that stand around with a sword in hand  and look threatening.

Did you enjoy Thor Ragnarok or was it a step in the wrong direction? If you’ve got an opinion you’d like to share, you can comment below or hit me up on twitter, tumblr or your preferred social media app. If you enjoyed this review you can check out other posts in the archive. If you want to keep up to date with more editorials and reviews then hit the follow button or follow this blog, again on your preferred social media profile. Finally, check out my own original fiction, Carrion Youth, over on Swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

 

Gunpowder Episode 1 Review: A Weighted Beginning

If you’re jonsing for a Kit Harington fix and you’ve already binge watched Game of Thrones, and you’ve even sunk so low as to watch Pompeii, well, the BBC has you covered. Last night saw the premiere of Gunpowder, a three-part series dramatizing the infamous gunpowder plot where papal loyalists sought to bring down parliament and end Catholic prosecution in England. Here, Kit Harington plays Robert Catesby, one of the principle instigators of the gunpowder plot.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the gunpowder plot was all about Guy Fawkes. Readers from Britain will at least know of the plot if, at least, only because of Bonfire Night. Furthermore, the accompanying nursery rhyme (remember, remember the 5th of November) makes no mention of anyone other than Guy Fawkes. However, Guy Fawkes was only one of a number of people involved in the plot to blow up the House of Lords. It was Robert Catesby who devised the plan.

Catesby was described as ‘a good-looking man, about six feet tall, athletic and a good swordsman’, so Harington is a good fit, even if he is only 5’ 8”. And in fact, Catesby and John Wright, among others, had already used their good swordsmanship during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in Essex’s rebellion, though that had nothing to do with Catholic emancipation. It was just a group of disgruntled subjects and it was quickly quashed. For his part Catesby was fined and released.

Kit Harington plays Robert Catesby, the man who devised the infamous gunpowder plot, in BBC's historical drama about the scheme, Gunpowder.

Jon Snow trades Longclaw for a nice hat and a gun.

Gunpowder takes place after Catesby’s involvement in Essex’s rebellion, after Queen Elizabeth has died and the kingdom passed to James Stuart. Many had hoped that James would be more sympathetic towards Catholics than Elizabeth had been, and although Gunpowder does depict the King was being unwilling to be unnecessarily cruel in their pursuit of Catholics, Catholics were still being arrested and tried for treason for their faith during his reign. Disillusioned, Catesby begins to see violence as the best answer to their problems.

This first episode puts a personal spin on the story, showing Catesby and his relatives involved in a secret mass, at which point Sir William Wade, played by Shaun Dooley, descends upon the house. Some quick efforts are made to hide the priests and a long, intense scene brings the viewer to the edge of their seat waiting to know if they’ll be found. Eventually one priests is found and one of the women gives themselves up to protect the others.

What follows is a scene as gruesome as anything we might have seen in Game of Thrones. The woman is crushed under weights in a torture act known as ‘peine forte et dure’. The priest is hung, drawn and quartered. And as horrendous as these executions are, these were the penalties applied to criminals charged with treason in the 1600s. Even if some of the characters are fictitious (there’s nothing historically to suggest that any single execution prompted Catesby’s destructive rebellion), the series is being extremely accurate in its depiction of how Catholics were prosecuted.

After the fairly violent first half, the latter portion of the first episode involves more intrigue and family drama, most notably with Mark Gatiss’s Sir Robert Cecil manipulating and blackmailing others to a – convince the King to place harsher laws on Catholics, and b – to infiltrate a group of Catholics in Flanders. The first is successful but the second results in an alleyway stabbing by none other than Guy Fawkes. The second plot doesn’t really seem to have had any importance other than give us a dramatic introduction to the other character whose name people are likely to know.

Kit Harington, Liv Tayler and Sian Webber play Robert Catesby, Anne Vaux and Lady Dorothy Dibdale in BBC's historical drama about the gunpowder plot of 1605, Gunpowder.

Remember, remember, it’s not all about Guy Fawkes.

Given that the gunpowder plot took about a year between conception to execution, and that the show is likely to portray the literal executions afterwards, this first episode moved extremely slowly. I like court intrigue and bloody executions as much as the next guy (hung, drawn and quartered has nothing on the blood eagle) but by the end of this episode, which marks one third of this series, Catesby had only just shared the idea to blow up the House of Lords. If this were a ten episode series then sure, they could take their time with the nuance of the story and character motivations, but as it is, they’re packing a lot of the actual planning and recruitment into the next episode, as well as the execution and reveal into the finale. Not to mention that the intended date of destruction was changed because of a plague.

As it is, it’s an enjoyable, although for historical drama I’ll still stick with Victoria or Vikings. But the story is compelling, and it isn’t a part of history that gets a lot of attention outside of bonfires and fireworks. The acting is solid all around and I’m looking forward to Harington being more charismatic and inspiring when it comes to gather new members for the plot. But part of me just can’t be bothered getting invested when it’s only three episodes long. It feels like it’s just not substantial enough for me to sink my teeth into, though honestly it’s an issue I have with a lot of British, so it’s not unique to Gunpowder.

What did you think of Gunpowder? Did it satisfy that craving for Kit Harington? Or does it need more shirtless scenes? Fire me a comment and let me know your thoughts. The comment box or my social media profiles are all open, so send me your thoughts. Or if you are looking for more Kit Harington you can find my Game of Thrones reviews in the archives. If you like what you see you can follow this blog to keep up to date with new content, or follow me on the various media accounts. Or, if desperate for original fiction, check out my novel, Carrion Youth, over on Swoonreads.