Well that was...unsatisfying, and nothing that I would ever consider a denouement. What is the point, I wonder, of making television on such a scale that the time between seasons is so lengthy that you've forgotten most of what came before and lost your attachment to the characters, and worse still are unable to produce enough episodes in each season to adequately tell your story? I'm asking that specifically here because this show seems a better exemplar of these ills than most, but I feel it's a question requiring a serious and existential answer from most of the major production companies in operation today. A decade ago it seemed as though we had entered a Golden Age of visual storytelling and I remember shows like Breaking Bad, Fringe and the original Vikings leaving me awestruck with the mastery they routinely put on display. Much of what has followed has felt like an immature and vainglorious attempt to surpass it, and the results have been flailing and ineffective all too often. The true masters of this work show their genius best in their ability to captivate you with stories that don't require year-long shooting schedules per season and many more months in post, but rather in letting the cast supply that indispensable magic simply by giving them a story that can't help but ignite the passions of those who watch as well as perform it.
Alright, enough with the existential rhapsodizing, let's talk Season Two of Vikings: Valhalla. This season wasn't a total loss, though at times it felt like it was determined to be so. I thought the character of Miriam was exquisitely written and far too underutilized, considering that the actress portraying her really made the rest of a very female-heavy cast look like amateur hour by comparison. Both Freydis and Queen Emma were perpetually stuck in two dimensions, and any depth that they had fought for in the first season was completely squandered. As fond as I am of David Oakes' acting here, I spent the entire season wishing they'd never wasted a single moment of screentime on the events in London.
They either needed 13-14 episodes to tell both stories (or all three, if you want to consider the events in Jomsborg and London as independent, which is reasonable, too) in full, or they needed to realize that the only thing they had working was the story of Leif, Harald, Miriam and Eleana on their hero's journey down the Dnieper. Not only were all of their best actors working just in that subplot, but it even had the benefit of great timing, had they only seized the opportunity to highlight that much of that storyline was spent in Russia and the Ukraine, sharing a physical space with most of the weightiest global events that have been occurring for the past year! So too was the Kurya character completely overlooked, though his final episode left no doubt in my mind that his story could have been intensely compelling exactly as written, had they only chosen to explore it more.
The best thing they did was to allow this episode's climax to perfectly summarize the desperate and unfocused grasping for meaning that pervaded the season as a whole. It was equal parts overwrought, unconvincing and nonsensical as we watched two of the series' greatest warriors make one tactical error after another, then quickly grow tired of the entire charade. Ultimately, they arrive at a conclusion that did nothing to advance the story, while still managing to remove one of the more pivotal and well-acted characters they had available from season one and had him linger so long on-screen after being run through that I kept expecting Monty Python-esque animations to join him as he groped, unsuccessfully, for some last words less banal than the fate they'd chosen for him!
All that being said, I will no doubt continue watching if a third season is made, though I'll lose a lot of the remaining respect I have for Netflix if they do so without finding more capable showrunners to do so. To fail to do so would be all the missing proof I've needed to conclude that they've jumped the shark. God save these poor Vikings; life at those latitudes in the Middle Ages was brutal enough without the need to curse all their voyages here to take place upon the Sea of Mismanagement.