「最初の手段」 (Saisho no Shudan)
“The First Measure”
Vinland Saga Season 2 is a pretty unforgiving series. It always leaves me pretty battered, but I can’t watch anything else after. Once I finish this one, I’m ruined for the rest of the day. And these are the most intense episodic pieces I write, as well. This is such incredibly dense and multi-layered material that I can’t just toss off some reactions and call it a day. If you aren’t going to think seriously about what’s going on here, you may as well not bother writing about it at all.
There’s a big shitstorm converging on Ketil’s Farm, that much is certain. Canute and his ships are two or three days behind Ketil and his sons (and Leif). There are some complex dynamics even here – Floki is pretty disrespectful towards the king and his decision to personally go to subdue a bumpkin landowner, and makes pains to declare that he and the Jomsvikings are basically hired hands, and that Canute is not his liege. Canute asserts that “people are assets” – the comment being nominally about Ketil and his clan, but implicitly the Jomsvikings too.
What’s really interesting here is that at this point, it’s hard to say whether the King will be arriving as villains or allies of the protagonists. Ketil is already a basket case by the time the ships land (Thorgil’s behavior not helping in the slightest). He seems to basically stiff the captain whose cargo he promised to buy for three times its worth. But when his wife tells him what’s happened with Arnheid and Gardar, he completely loses it. All sense of reason is lost in an upswell of rage that this slave in particular should choose to “betray” him.
Thorfinn and Einar, meanwhile, are confined but don’t seem to have been beaten or tortured. Thorfinn is still lamenting what happened, forcing him not just to fight, but to fight a man he’s come to respect. There must be some other way, he muses – a “first method” to be tried when situations arise which prompt Einar to say simply “sometimes you have to fight”. The next few episodes could play out in any number of ways, but one of them would be the impending crisis providing an opportunity for Thorfinn to learn more about this vexing idea.
Pater has some notion that things are going to go badly for Arnheid (but in truth, he has no idea). He tries to convince Leif to purchase Einar and Arnheid, assuming the Master follows through on his promise to let him take Thorfinn for free. Leif hasn’t even been allowed to see Thorfinn and confirm his identity (this winds up happening off camera, for reasons which I can understand given what else was happening but still presenting a bit of an anti-climax). Leif will always try and do the right thing, that’s a given, but it’s soon to be made irrelevant.
There are astounding intellectual and moral depths to what Yukimura Makoto is saying with this part of the story, but I do think some elements of it can be distilled down to their essence. To wit (though perhaps I should say “to mappa”), people owning other people is bad. The myth of the kindly slaveowner is just that, a myth. When Snake was called upon to kill to uphold the system, he killed. And when Ketil (already at the end of his tether) is presented with news that the woman he “adores” tried to escape his clutches, all he feels is rage and a thirst for revenge. Because Arnheid isn’t a person, she’s his property.
The scene that follows is obviously pretty brutal. It had damn well better be, given the meaning. Ketil isn’t even moved by Arnheid’s pleas that she’s carrying his child – that just makes her even more of a betrayer. Again, till I’m blue in the face, I echo Yukimura’s point – slavery is a pervasive toxin that poisons everything and everyone it touches. Some days may be better under some owners than they would be under others, but the core issue is always the same – it’s an institution that dehumanizes both parties. One legally, and one psychologically. The issue of “good slavery” is directly tied to Einar’s belief in “good fighting”. And it gives you an idea of the mountain Thorfinn has to climb in resisting both entrenched notions in his world.
Arnheid is critically wounded. Einar, of course, will want nothing more than revenge. Canute is about to arrive, and Ketil – whose entire history as a “warrior” is a lie – is now hardened to fight to the death in what seems like an unwinnable battle. This is such a chaotic situation that it’s impossible to guess what will happen. Snake probably realizes this fight is hopeless, but if he’s forced to wage it perhaps he’ll also realize (Canute will very likely be thinking in the same terms once he realizes he’s present) that Thofrinn would be an invaluable asset (he is still property). Arnheid – and her child – may live, she may die. Who will walk (or sail) away from Ketil’s Farm when the dust has settled – and to where will they go?
Just as I feared… With Gardar’s death (plus Thorfinn and Einar tied up at Snake’s camp), I knew Arnheid would be in for a bad time, but man, that was brutal.
I know Ketil’s actual wife was telling the truth regarding Arnheid running away, but the way she said it–and omitted the exact details of Arnheid’s escape–cemented her as a manipulative old crone… Enough that her words drove an already-stressed Ketil to rage and do what he did to Arnheid (made worse by the fact that Arnheid is pregnant with Ketil’s child and may possibly suffer a miscarriage–if not outright death–after that). It’s bad enough that Ketil and Arnheid’s “relationship” is already an unequal one, but the beating Arnheid got was also reminiscent of extreme cases of domestic violence. Gut-churning experience, that scene.
And what would have been a heartwarming reunion between Leif and Thorfinn has to be set aside with Arnheid beaten to unconsciousness and King Canute’s forces about to arrive within two to three days. I hope there’s still time for Leif and Thorfinn to catch up before the inferno of battle rages once again.
I must say that’s one of the most brutal scenes I’ve watched in anime (maybe media). For the most part I viewed Ketil as a “good slave owner” , so watching him suffer from the whole ordeal with Canute made me sad. Even up to the point when he found out Arnheid tried to escape I still felt bad for him. But when that beating started it fully dispelled the delusion I was in. Despite what Ketil and I believed about him, he is a slave owner and not a good man. Neither is Snake as charming as he is. Ketil always viewed her as property. What makes the scene so brutal is the fact that this is the truth of slavery. Turning normal people in unrecognizable forms of themselves. Slavery; the cruelest weapon of them all that kills everyone one way or another.
I was upset by the anti-climax reunion between Thorfin and Leif, but truly it wasn’t the right time for it in this episode or current arc. It’s honestly the least of anyone’s concerns. This stuff right here is mature content where sometimes life doesn’t give you a chance to rest. I hope they do have a moment later if they survive what’s coming.