selenak: (Equations by Such_Heights)
( Aug. 26th, 2014 07:28 pm)
In which Charlie turns out to be the American Guttenberg, which is a lame joke only Germans understand.

Also we get both history and present day parallels galore )
Consider me mightily pleased Breaking Bad cleaned the slate at the Emmys. All very deserved, except for the fact they didn't even nominate Dean Norris and that was unfair because Hank was such a key part to the last season. But what really makes me squee is that Moira Whalley-Beckett won for her fantastic script for Ozymandias. I was afraid they'd give the Emmy to the finale, Felina, for sentimental reasons (last episode, written by the show creator), but as Vince Gilligan himself stated before either episode was even broadcast, Oyzmandias is unquestioningly the best episode of the season and one of the best Breaking Bad episodes ever.

And of course I'm very happy about Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul getting a leading team of actors win. No offense to anyone else nominated. But that was such a great final run and the acting so sublime. Who knows whether they'll ever get such good tv roles again?
You know the Companion of ages past Clara should now urgently meet? Peri, in her early days with the Sixth Doctor.

Read more... )
I did see Zeppelins, and some of the most spectacularly beautiful parts of the Bodensee, which is where Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet. I mean:

 photo SAM_3835_zps0b17ade7.jpg

More below the cut )
selenak: (Science Buddies by Mayoroftardtown)
( Aug. 22nd, 2014 11:05 am)
I won't be able to watch Peter Capaldi's first Doctor Who episode in real time, after all, and not for a considerable time after (read: Monday), but it's for a good rl cause. Meanwhile, there's multifandom fanfiction:

Marvelverse: Howard Stark usually shows up in one of two ways in MCU fanfiction - either as part of Tony's daddy issues, or, more rarely, in Captain America WWII era fanfiction in pretty much the same capacity as he did in the movie - flirting with Peggy (and/or Steve), but nothing series. This story, by contrast, takes the canon info of Howard having worked on the Manhattan Project and runs with it in this taut exploration of science and responsibility, dealing with history in a way very few Marvel stories do which usually go for window dressing. Short, but every sentence carries a punch. Like this one: He would ask Arnim Zola about it, once. About Poland. Once, and never again. Says it all about post WWII transfer of German scientists (though Zola, as he points out to Steve in the movies, is Swiss) to the US, and all the handwaving that entailed. Here's the story:


A particle, a wave (1068 words) by kvikindi
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Captain America (Movies), Marvel Cinematic Universe
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Characters: Howard Stark
Additional Tags: Manhattan Project, References to Injury of a Child
Summary:

"My father helped defeat Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project."




Highlander: Even shorter - a drabble - but a great character piece about Rebecca and Amanda, and how to survive as an immortal:

those who shine brightest (100 words) by storiesfortravellers
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Highlander: The Series
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Amanda Darieux/Rebecca Horne
Characters: Rebecca Horne, Amanda Darieux
Additional Tags: Pre-Series, Training, Swordfighting, thieves, Mentor/Protégé, Drabble
Summary:

Amanda and Rebecca are practicing their fighting skills when Amanda finds out that Rebecca knows some of her secrets.

The first season is now available on dvd in Germany, and thus I could at last marathon it. I think I have a new show which provides me with entertaining (fictional) spying and shady characters. Given my fandom backstory, if I had to pitch the first season in a sentence I'd say "the Spyrents, Jack and Irina from Alias, if they had both been working for the KGB".

Once upon a time in the 80s )
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
( Aug. 20th, 2014 07:44 am)
It's weird what breaks one's suspension of disbelief. Here I was, starting a novel with a premise that's, well, extremely unlikely, but which I was prepared to accept for the fun of it, to wit, Roger Ascham taking his most famous student, 13 years old Elizabeth Tudor, abroad for a few months, and not only abroad but to the greatest chess tournament of the world, taking place in Constantinople. Where gruesome murders ensue which Ascham has to investigate. Roger Ascham as a detective, barely teenage Elizabeth as his Watson, Constantinople? Sign me on, thought I, what an entertaining premise, to hell with likelihood.

Bug then, on page 23 of Matthew Reilly's The Tournament:

"We were sitting in my study reading Livy's account of the mass Jewish suicide at Masada."


Livy. Masada. Livy, as in Livius, contemporary of the Emperor Augustus. The mass suicide at Masada, which took place during the Emperor Vespasian's reign. SEVERAL GENERATIONS LATER. My dear Mr. Reilly, thought I, I can buy any number of historical AUs but you have to show me you did your research first. The historian you want is Flavius Josephus, aka Josef Ben Mattias, and that's not really hard to find out. Off with your head!
selenak: (Obsession by Eirena)
( Aug. 19th, 2014 08:45 am)
In which something I hoped for last week happens promptly.

Read more... )
selenak: (VanGogh - Lefaym)
( Aug. 18th, 2014 02:41 pm)
Living near the alps has its benefits. As I have to leave the area again and head for my annual longer stay in Bamberg with the APs, I have to share some photos from the past few weeks from the Tegernsee and its people:


 photo 2014_0811Supermond0001_zpsbd257e33.jpg

More beneath the cut )
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L.A. Confidential has been nominated at the SunnyD Awards ! In the categories: Best Comedy, Best Gen Fic, Best Characterization. Whoever did that: thank you so much! I'm one happy author.

 photo imagejpg1_zpsc97878fa.jpg


And now I have a whole new rec list of stories to check out via the other nominees on the list.
selenak: (Guinevere by Reroutedreams)
( Aug. 16th, 2014 10:36 am)
This film, named after its heroine, got released in Germany two days ago (titled with her complete name, "Dido Elizabeth Belle"), a few months at least after the British release, so I'm not sure whether it's still in AngloAmerican cinemas. If it is, though, or you can watch it on dvd: do so. Especially if you like a) (good) romantic costume drama, and b) movies with social awareness of the times they're set in, not to mention the big one, c)a movie with a black heroine.

These factors are rarely united. Belle is based on someone who actually existed, Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed race girl (black slave mother, white father), who as opposed as most children in her position ended up being raised by her father's white aristocratic family. There isn't much known about her, which gives the script lots of room, but one of the few known circumstances mentioned in every article I had read ahead of watching the movie was that the man who became her guardian, Lord Mansfield, in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice ruled in two important slavery cases which later became credited with paving the way to eventual abolition of slavery in Britain. Mind you, knowing this I was both curious and worried, worried that the movie would be solely his story, with Dido confined to being his motivation and having no agenda or personality of her own.

Which turned out not to be the case. Not only is Dido, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, assuredly the heroine of her own story, but one of the clever things the film does is to use narrative tropes familiar to the viewer from just about every Jane Austen adaption ever - the need to marry for economic reasons, status differences, various ill fitting suitors, hasty judgments, Mr. Right first sparring with the heroine, a cad revealed etc. - , and puts them in the (still) unusual context provided by Dido being who she is. And where she is, which is in between. She's regarded as enough of a family member so that she can't eat with the servants, but not enough to dine with the family if there are guests present. (Shared breakfasts sans guests are okay.) Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) can't imagine anyone worthy of his bloodline proposing to her because of her colour but won't accept anyone of lower status, so has her marked to follow the current elderly maiden aunt (played by Penelope Wilton, great as ever) as a glorified housekeeper. Because her father left her an inheritance, Dido has money, while the white cousin she was raised with, Elizabeth, has been disinherited by her father in favour of his children from a second marriage and thus doesn't get proper offers in the marriage market, either.

The "finding a husband"/"is a husband worth finding?" trope provides just one of the subplots, though. Another is Dido coming to terms with who she is, and forging an identity that's not based solely on her white relations. A visual theme through the film is Dido looking at the pictures in the splendid Kenwood House, which do have the occasional black figure - always in a servant position and somewhere in the background. (Throughout the film, however, the (historical) double portrait of her and Elizabeth is created.) When Elizabeth has her London debut, there is a black servant in the town house, Mabel, and Dido is at first very uneasy with her before steeling herself to ask whether or not Mabel is a slave. When first told there aren't likely to be any marriage prospects and there can't be an official debut for her the way it is for Elizabeth she, in the privacy of her bedroom, claws at her face. But throughout the film, the case of the Zong massacre is running, and Dido's growing identification with the slave victims of said massacre (who were drowned, all 142 of them, so the ship owners could cash in the insurance; the slaves had gotten sick and would have been sold at a lesser price than the insurance that was to be paid) becomes part of the identity she forges. At the end, she claims her mother as well as her father.

Sam Reid plays the idealistic John Davenier who wins her heart by supporting her in this quest. The movie's obligatory cad (interested in Elizabeth until he finds out she doesn't get an inheritance, leering at Dido) reminded me of someone, but I couldn't place him until the credits: it's Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton in Georgian costume. But another attractive quality of the film is that it treats Dido's sisterly, supportive relationship with Elizabeth as equally important to her developing romantic relationship with Mr. Davenier. And, of course, there's the relationship with Lord Mansfield, who loves her like a father - but also has to work through his own bias.

Lastly: kudos to director Amma Assante for including black people other than Dido (and Mabel) in the London crowd scenes. Not a majority, of course, but enough to indicate that the big cities in England had at that point started to acquire (literally) a black and mixed race population.

In conclusion: a really enjoyable movie. And the next time a Daily Mail reader says you can't do British costume dramas and include actors of colour, just point them its way.
In other news, some more reviews:

The Veronica Mars movie: charming fan service. I liked the show, though not so much that I watched the third season after finding the second already only so so. (You can follow the film without having watched the third season, btw.) The movie, which was, after all, financed by fans, doesn't bear examination when it comes to inner logic - as [profile] abigail_n points out here, "the high school detective premise doesn't work very well when your detective is ten years out of high school, and yet Veronica Mars behaves as if the problems that plagued Veronica as a teenager are the same ones that will dog her for the rest of her life" - but it delivers exactly what its backers paid for: Veronica quips, Veronica and Keith are an adorable daughter and father together, Veronica has chemistry with Logan, the rich kids grown-ups are still mean, the Sheriff's department is still corrupt (though Sheriff Lamb has been replaced by his identical if played by another actor brother, also Sheriff Lamb - couldn't they get the actor back?), and not a single potentially unpopular storytelling decision is made. I enjoyed watching, a lot, but I certainly have no urge to watch again.

Manhattan, episode 1.03: I have spoilery things to say. )
selenak: (Claudius by Pixelbee)
( Aug. 12th, 2014 12:52 pm)
From various friends:

Give me a letter and I will hold forth on one of the following topics:

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From
B. Best Sequel Ever
C. Currently Reading
D. Drink of Choice While Reading
E. E-Reader or Physical Books
F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School
G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance
H. Hidden Gem Book
I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life
J. Just Finished
K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read
L. Longest Book You’ve Read
M. Major Book Hangover Because Of
N. Number of Bookcases You Own
O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times
P. Preferred Place to Read
Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You/Gives You Feelings
R. Reading Regret
S. Series You Started and Need to Finish
T. Three Of Your All-Time Favorite Books
U. Unapologetic Fangirl For
W. Worst Bookish Habit
V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other
X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book)
Y. Your Latest Book Purchase
Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late)
Tags:
selenak: (Hyperion by son_of)
( Aug. 11th, 2014 09:21 am)
Merry_Maia pointed me towards the new show Manhattan. I've now watched the first two episodes and am intrigued, if not sold yet. It deals not with the New York City centre but with the atomic bomb project, starring mostly fictional characters (Oppenheimer so far was only in one scene, and he's the only historical figure I've recognized, though with an Hungarian I spent a while wondering whether he was supposed to be Edward Teller - aged up considerably - but then his name was spoken, and it wasn't.)

The creation of the nuclear bomb and the ethics involved in same tend to produce good drama. The best plays dealing with it I know are Copenhagen by Michael Frayn (Bohr and Heisenberg), In der Sache J. Robert Oppenheimer by Heiner Kipphardt (deals actually with the hearings Oppenheimer had to undergo during the McCarthy era, as far as the time frame is concerned, but at its core has the creation of the bomb), and indirectly Die Physiker by Friedrich Dürrematt. Which puts the level rather high. (The creation of the bomb was also used as an allegorical touchstone in Carnivale and in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), in both cases via visions and dreams. But Manhattan seems to be a straightforward historical show, which, like many a historical novel and show, at the same time comments on our present.

WWII has in the AngloAmerican world the reputation of being the last "good" war, with a clear cut war aim, an enemy with whom compromise was impossible. (If you're German, of course, there was nothing good about it, and the "what did you do during the war?" question that the baby boomer generation asked had completely different reasons and implications.) But the use of nuclear weapons at the very end never quit fit into that pop culture image, so it's not surprising pop culture tends to treated it more as a flash forward to the ambiguities to come. Speaking of flash forwards: Manhattan the show has Lisa, played by Olivia Williams, who is a scientist herself (albeit with a different specialty, she's a botanist) and married to our leading man, maverick physicist Frank, deduce there is something fishy about the order not to grow any vegetables in the camp despite the soil being suitable for some. This immediately associates radiation poisoning for a current day audience, but I'm not sure whether the army was even that careful back then. They certainly weren't in the 1950s. There's a notorious memo, re: above ground nuclear testing, wherein a part of the population at risk is regarded as expendable.

Never mind, though. The show tries to balance recreating the mindset of the era with awareness of all that's to come. So you have Frank putting the numbers of American soldiers dying each day on the drawing board and repeatedly pointing out that if they don't create "the gadget", German scientists will (since he doesn't have the benefit of historical hindsight and knowing the German project was way behind the American one). But you also have a young scientist, Charlie, torn and not sure about the ethics of it all, and asking "what about the next war" and what will happen when Stalin et al aquire the bomb as well. And you have yet another young scientist falling foul of security due to a gaffe, with terrible consequences for him. Richard Schiff plays his interrogator, and those scenes are very much post 9/11, post Abu Ghraib scenes aware and problematizing the use of what the CIA still insists on euphemistically calling "enhanced interrogation techniques" these days and what the rest of the world calls "torture" by the side the target audience thinks of as "ours".

(There were of course actual spies in the Manhattan project, but this character isn't one. I'll be interested whether the show will present "enhanced interrogation techniques" as less awful when it's an actual spy, but I'm cautiously optimistic and think not.)

The way the various characters are presented include some clichés; when Frank's team was referred to as a "team of misfits" in actual dialogue I had to roll my eyes, and wouldn't you know it, there is a rival team headed by a smug corporate scientist which is far better equipped etc.. (It's been years since I've read a relevant book, but wasn't in actuality the encouragement of exchanging ideas, information and material between scientists something that made Oppenheimer a good scientific manager of the whole project?) But for all that Frank's immediately recognizable as the "obsessed driven genius with nonexistant social skills" type, he's not prettied up, if that makes sense. He's not quipping sarcastic one liners to endear himself to the audience, and when he's being a jerk to people, the narrative actually takes their pov. The ethical dilemma he's presented with in the first episode and the choice he makes has immediate awful consequences. Also, he comes with the most interesting female character as a wife, who is played by the fabulous Olivia Williams, as mentioned. And she does get the one liners. They also have a nearly adult daughter, which means we have another entry in the "being married, a mother and over 40 does not render a female character dull to non existent" categories.

Lastly: episode 2 had two members of Frank's team drawing in Charlie into doing the maths on the gravity of the planet Krypton. And everyone based their calculations on Superman's ability to jump (he couldn't fly back then.) This is geeky fanservice, and it is the best.

In conclusion: I'll definitely keep watching.
selenak: (Shadows - Saava)
( Aug. 8th, 2014 06:20 am)
Babylon 5 movie reboot?? My first instinctive reaction was a massive DO NOT WANT. Not because I can envision the roles only played by the original actors, btw. I mean, right now I can't imagine anyone matching Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas and Stephen Furst as Londo, G'Kar and Vir, but do I know every actor ever? No, I don't. And I've often been pleasantly surprised by actors rising to occasions and alternate interpretations, etc.

However, and this is crucial: I really don't think the B5 concept is suitable for a movie. At all. Star Trek movies are tricky enough and rarely succeed because the movies all insist on a conventional "let's defeat the big bad" plot which was never what anyone watched the tv shows for. But what made B5 so innovative back in the day and what really remains key to its greatness was that it really was a five years novel developing on screen. Long before shows like The Wire did it. B5 was the arc show to end all arc shows. And you were expected to keep up. When, in season 3, a two parter like War Without End revealed some key plot points, you were expected to remember the episode Babylon Squared from season 1 where these were first set up as well as all the other developments since then that had taken place. There was no "last time on Babylon 5" to help you out. What made B5 great was the character developing over years; what made it unique were the Londo and G'Kar arcs. And you can't do those in two hours. You just can't. Sheridan? Sure. Delenn? You'd probably lose the changing relationship to Neroon and the entirety of Lennier beyond "loyal sidekick", but you could do Delenn in two hours, too. You could simplify the Shadow War into: "Earth officer, veteran from war, rebels against Earth going fascist and teams up with ambassador from former enemy to fight against creepy spider aliens". But that was never what B5 was about to me. (And loses the "Vorlons and Shadows are both rotten" that distinguishes the Shadow War storyline from its obvious LotR precedent and just about every good versus evil fantasy war ever.)

I know I'm a hopeless Centauriphile, but surely you don't have to be to regard Londo's arc as the absolute key to the show? And again: Londo and G'Kar going from arch enemies to friends in a subplot (because a movie is bound to focus on the human characters) in two hours just can't be done with anything like the same emotional weight, let alone G'Kar going from crafty ruthless ambassador/former guerilla fighter to enlightened sage, Londo going from comic relief with melancholic moments to villain to anti hero to hero. And Vir! A movie probably would end up giving him only a sentence or two, and thus there would not be the heartbreaking loveable everyman (everyCentauri?) hero whose conscience and loyalty are so important.

Also: the B5 tv movies aren't exactly confidence inspiring when it comes to JMS and B5 film scripts. (Otoh, JMS can write a standalone movie script per se - I liked the one for Angelina Jolie as a mother who is given a child not her son.) They're not as bad as some fans would have it, but they certainly, none of them, reach the level of the show at its best. An episode like The Coming of Shadows justly won the Hugo. Even the best of the B5 tv movies, In the Beginning, wouldn't have had a shot. (Not least because In the Beginning really relies on you knowing the show for the emotional pay off.)

In conclusion: DO NOT WANT. Would rather JMS writes something not B5, something new, to amaze and astonish.
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Because fannish life sometimes loves me, I've just found out that Bryan Cranston's stage performance as LBJ will be filmed for tv. Exceeeeeellent news for us overseas fans.

Due to the Big Finish offerings this last week, I've sampled a lot more audios. Among the most memorable ones:

Spare Parts (Fifth Doctor & Nyssa): one of the most famous ones, by Marc Platt; an origin tale for the Cybermen (original Mondas version) in the mode of Genesis of the Daleks (i.e. Doctor experiences critical point of development of already established antagonist, becomes involved with local population who have no idea of their fate). Most Five adventures I've listened to until now tended to be more optimistic than their tv counterparts, but this one has the Fifth Doctor in very familiar tv horrified-by-ghastly-goings-on-without-being-able-to-stop-them mode. Though on tv the Mondasians would have been less or not likeable at all, whereas here they are, which makes what happens to them extra tragic.

Protect and Survive (Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex): part of the lead up to the events from Gods and Monsters and Afterlife, but also a self-contained story that really went under my skin. It was produced while Sylvester McCoy was busy filming The Hobbit, so it has minimal Doctor participation (though what there is of him is crucial, and it wouldn't work without that part), making a virtue of necessity. Ace and Hex are - due to circumstances that get gradually revealed to them and the audience - trapped in the most ghastly time loop possible. Because, like Ace, I was a teenager in the 1980s, the scenario in question, i.e. a nuclear war does happen and the survivors slowly die of radiation sickness, is intimately familiar. I don't think anyone who grew up after 1989 can understand how very real that possibility was and how it was part of your subconscious and your dreams/nightmares. Including the official info material of what to do just in case (and knowing that actually, these tips are pointless), which is used to great effect here. Mind you: this is not a "big" war story but a very intimate one - just four people (Ace, Hex, and two guest characters) plus the Doctor in absentia (he's missing at the start of the story, and only present in flashback in the third part, though that flashback not only explains what's been going on but packs the biggest emotional wallop re: the Doctor's terrifying side when dealing with enemies since I first saw what happened to the Family (of Blood) at the end of the episode of that name. It's one of the sharpest examinations of the ethics of such actions in Doctor Who, and yet also shows exactly why they happened. The acting by Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier is top notch and makes you empathize with Ace and Hex to the nth degree.

Flip Flop (Seventh Doctor and Mel): this one is on one level very clever experimental storytelling - there are four "episodes" like on the usual Big Finish audio adventure, but they form two stories which can be listened to in any order because they're both self contained and completely interlocked, taking place at the same time on two parallel time streams. I have mixed feelings about it, though, not because the production doesn't pull it off - it does, and Bonnie Langford as Mel proves again that with a decent script she can be as good a companion as any -, but because the scenario in one of the two timelines is something that strikes me as an almost perfect fundamentalist right wing dream/nightmare scenario, and as such very ill fitting with Doctor Who (especially not with the Seventh Doctor era). The two different timelines hinge on the arrival of a slug-like species called the Slithegee at a human colony planet, where they occupy one of the moons and ask it should be given to them, since they're refugees. In one scenario, the President grants them the moon; in the other, spoilery stuff happens and an all out war with the Slithegee is the result. The paranoid right wing fantasy scenario is the first one, as the Slithegee proceed to take over the system, accusing any humans resisting the gradual take over of hate speech (that expression gets flung about a lot) and discrimination, and thirty years after their arrival own nine tenths of the planet while the humans live in ghettos, and Christmas is renamed Slimetide in the name of religious toleration etc. In short, it's the dystopia as prophecied by current right wing fanatic complaining of "political correctness gone mad", and the Slithegee are presented as uniformly revolting without any positive quality whatsoever, insisting on being the victims all the time while in actuality outnumbering and oppressing the humans. Just about the only thing which saves it from being anti-immigration propaganda is that the other timeline, where there was war with the Slithegee instead, is an equally dark dystopia, because there the Slithegee were defeated, but the planet became poisoned by the warfare, and the surviving humans have become a fascist dicatorship prone to commit massacres on each other.

Incidentally, while both scenarios are incredibly dark, the tone of the episodes isn't grimdark at all but more Blackadder like; lots of mistaken identity gambits and ridiculing of self important bureaucracies (both of the fascist humans and the Slithegee, depending on the timeline). It makes for a clash of tone and content that's sometimes effective and sometimes just plain weird. But really, the most disturbing thing is the feel of the Slithegee-Takeover-Timeline scenario. So: points of experimenting with the format and exploring the possibilities of time travel/fallout from altering history tropes in a very creative way, but I don't think I could bring myself to listen to it again.
selenak: (Dragon by Roxicons)
( Aug. 4th, 2014 08:57 pm)

The dvds for the first season (consisting of nine episodes) just were released here in Germany, I heard some positive murmurings, and so I decided to go for it. Overall verdict, based on the first season? I liked it, and it improved my opinion of Michael Hirst's writing abilities for historical subjects, hitherto something of a mixed affair. (I will never, ever, forgive him for the line "my queen rules with her heart, not with her head", spoken about Elizabeth Tudor of all the queens. And The Tudors were, well, mixed, and for every Natalie Dormer rendering Anne Boleyn's actual last words, there was a howler like the miraculously thin staying Henry.)  Of course, he's got the advantage of working in a time where myths and history are mixed in favour of the myths anyway in Vikings, and Ragnar Lodbrok, while a saga hero, is far less known than any of the Tudors on a global level, which means no preconceptions on the part of the audience.

But it's more than that which endeared this first season to me. Basically the only thing I knew in advance about the show was that there was a Saxon monk named Athelstan in it who got captured by the Vikings, and I had assumed Hirst would go for the obvious and make him the pov character. But no. Athelstan only shows up in the second episode, at a point where all the other main characters are already established, and while he sticks around for the rest of the season, he's only one of several supporting characters, and about the only occasions where I'd say the narrative uses him as the pov character is when human sacrifices become a plot point. Instead of using Athelstan as the audience pov, the show emerges its audience into the world of the Vikings (who are never called that on-show, which is accurate as far as I know; the term was invented much later) from the get go, focusing on its central family, young-farmer-to-become-legend Ragnar, his wife Lagertha, who is also a shield maiden, their children Björn and Gyda and Ragnar's brother Rollo.  Also important to the ongoing plot: Ragnar's friend Floki, a ship builder (guess who his favourite deity is), his liege lord Jarl Haraldson, and Haraldson's wife Siggy. 

Now several of the plot twists are to be expected - i.e. you know from the get go the Jarl sees Ragnar as a younger rival and therefore is going to be a main antagonist, or that Rollo plays the classic jealous brother role (the only question is how long his affection for his brother will fight with his jealousy, not which will win) -, but the way they're told doesn't feel stale or clichéd but organic. Helped by the fact that a lot of the other storytelling choices are (still) unusual. Lagertha is the main female character, and she's already a married woman and the mother of two children when we meet her. (BTW, thankfully the actress has a figure that makes it believable she's a warrior who can defeat male warriors. She gets some great action scenes, and there are in larger battle scenes some female warriors depicted to make it clear Lagertha isn't the only shield maiden around.)  Instead of using "will they or won't they?" type of romances, the show gives us two married couples with history behind them in terms of male/female relationships.  Mind you, Siggy doesn't really get fleshed out until episode 5, but from that point on she's fascinating, and NOT the "mate of evil overlord"  cliché the first look at her and the coal lines on her eyes in the pilot might lead you to assume. She's also at least in her early 40s (Lagertha is in her early to mid 30s, I'd say), so both the main and the most important supporting female characters are adult women well into their lives. Who, btw, as opposed to their menfolk don't have an antagonistic relationship with each other. (If they do in later seasons, don't tell me yet.) And, btw, are a great demonstration that no, the interest a story takes in you doesn't have to end the moment you get married and reproduce. That can just as well be only the beginning.  

It also doesn't take the easy way out when it comes to the Viking raids. By which I mean: after a pilot detailing the humanity of all the Viking main characters and inviting the audience to share their pov, you get to see them pillage and plunder in the second episode, and their victims aren't characters previously made unsympathetic so the audience doesn't mind that much. They're also unarmed and thus utterly helpless. This does not sway Our Heroes to mercy, au contraire. They're delighted everything is so easy for the taking and cut down unarmed people without a flicker of hesitation and remorse, taking those whom they don't kill as slaves to be sold. And the show never pretends this isn't what they're doing.

Not every choice works. For example, a spoilerly detail ensues )

. Incidentally, and speaking of sex, for the first six episodes, everyone keeps their clothes on when having it due to the climate. Then you get female nudity, but male (frontal) nudity as well.

Lastly, a minor frustration: this show has some great visuals of Viking ships, in fjords, on the open sea, and ominously sailing up the British river Tyne. I just went on the lookout whether any of these were made into icons, but no. What icons of the show exist solely features the actors. Which, fine, they deserve it, but - Viking ships!

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