Vinland Saga Season 2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Vinland Saga (TV 2) ?
Community score: 4.6
“For Lost Love” takes all of the table setting that last week's episode of Vinland Saga was so concerned with and immediately begins paying it off in ways that are both very relevant to the overarching plot and deeply resonant with the story's larger thematic concerns. In other words, the episode is a textbook example of what we here in the business refer to as “good writing.” Vinland Saga hasn't had a single miss since this second season started, so it isn't like there was any reason to assume that the series would suddenly lose its way now.
Here's a perfect instance of the show demonstrating that “good writing” that I've been going on and on about all season: The vast majority of “For Lost Love” is centered on Olmar and Thorgil, two of the shittiest characters in all of Vinland Saga—though they are shitty by design. Olmar has already proven to be a weak and ineffectual bully, but this week the tables are turned, as the show sees a half-dozen of Wulf's soldiers mercilessly dunk on the guy for his embarrassing failure to slice through a pig and earn a place among Canute's forces. The show plays up its already exaggerated facial expressions to turn the scene into an almost nightmarish cavalcade of cruel laughter on the soldiers' part and impotent despair on Olmar's. You don't exactly feel bad for the guy—he hasn't suddenly begun to suck less since we were first introduced to him—but you can't help but at least empathize with him. The worst day of his life is being brought down even further by a gang of idiots, and given the society he has grown up in, Olmar's only recourse to regain his honor is to challenge the men to a duel, which is a spectacularly bad idea considering how bad Olmar is at pretty much everything he tries to do.
Enter Thorgil, who perfectly embodies the toxic and self-destructive form of medieval masculinity that once nearly consumed Thorfinn entirely. He echoes the sentiments of Ketil's mercenaries when he tells Olmar that a duel with his enemies isn't just required to salvage Olmar's honor but also to preserve his life. Thorgil says he cannot let Olmar live with such shame if he does not intend to respond to his ridiculers in kind, and you instantly understand that Thorgil is not the kind of man to speak in metaphor. Either Olmar “proves” that he is a man by striking down the people who wronged him, or he dies. Of course, this whole charade is a trumped-up pretense to bait Olmar into committing murder so Ketil can be punished and have his land requisitioned by Canute's army. Still, it speaks to the strength and confidence of Vinland Saga's storytelling that it allows this fight and its foregone conclusions to occupy almost the entirety of the episode's runtime because it matters that we see the consequences of all this violent posturing.
Between Wulf blinding his own man with a coin straight to the eye, Olmar's traumatizing “victory” deathblow, and the absurd amount of carnage that Thorgil wreaks as merely a matter of due course, this entire episode stands as a kind of manifesto against the sort of violent spectacle that so many stories, including the previous season of Vinland Saga, will romanticize and exploit for cheap thrills. The violence on display throughout this episode is equal parts absurd and grotesque, but even when the show goes to the shocked reactions of bystanders like Ketil for a blackly comic punctuation mark to pace out all of the death-dealing, none of the fighting is ever fun, or exciting.
By the end of the episode, nothing has been gained, and everyone's lives are markedly worse. Ketil is a fugitive whose land is at risk of being swallowed up by Canute's inhuman ambition, Olmar has been traumatized by his repeated failures to live up to the standards of violence and vengeance that repeatedly get foisted upon him, and poor Thorfinn and Einar will probably have one or two fresh roadblocks to encounter on their road, now. The only person happy with how things have turned out is Thorgil, and if Vinland Saga has been clear about any of the lessons it has been trying to teach, it is that nobody should ever want to be like Thorgil.
Vinland Saga Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.
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