Episode two of Spartacus: Vengeance tells two stories: one that is quite expected and proper, and another that struck as a bit of a surprise.

Spoilers ahead.

Titled “A Place in This World” the focus of the episode is split between Spartacus managing his growing slave army and Oenomaus’ life as a pit fighter. The latter includes some flashback sequences that see Jeffery Thomas reprising his Gods of the Arena role as Titus Batiatus.

Thomas’ presence, however, is not as an ailing and intransigent Pater Familias, but rather a mentor and father-ish figure to the younger Oenomaus. Titus seems particularly concerned with giving purpose to the fledgling gladiator. Granted, his actions might be the sort of soft sell that is necessary to convince a slave that fighting in a blood sport is their own choice. He reminds young Oenomaus that as a gladiator he is far beyond the hopeless world of the pits. These words accentuate just how cheap life is as a pit fighter, a fact well demonstrated as present day Oenomaus courts the only exit from life that might come with a shred of honour.

Meanwhile Spartacus and the army of freed slaves have marched south intent on pillaging the estates of Italy’s countryside and tracking Crixus’ lost love Naevia. It’s a bit of a role reversal from the first season. Back then Spartacus was the man obsessed with finding his wife. Now Crixus’ has taken up an almost certainly quixotic quest. Given this show’s propensity for torturing its characters, I don’t think we should expect a happy reunion between Crixus and Naevia when the time finally comes.

Dan Feuerriegel’s portrayal of Agron, who you might remember as the gladiator whose brother died during the escape from the ludus, continues to impress. If Spartacus is the boss of this organization and Crixus is the underboss, then Agron is moving up the ranks to become a solid Capo. The down side is that he’s fairly good hearted human being; if Varro and Aurelia taught us anything it’s that good people end up dead on this show.

Given the episode’s title, I expected a “What are we?” vibe to permeate among the fighting men of the army. This is best seen when Tiberius, a newly freed villa slave, attacks Spartacus out of loyalty to his old master. It was unexpected but certainly not unwelcome to see this question extended to the women of the troupe. Though the series takes some liberties with respect to Roman history, particularly in the realm of Romans boning their slaves – such a social faux pas – it is staying true to fact with the inclusion of women in the band of rebels. Arguably the best scene of the episode opens to Rhaskos, one of Crixus’ brainless Gauls, ravaging a newly liberated female house slave. Mira breaks the two up under the assumption that the act has not been mutually agreed upon. Only afterward do we find out that she had willingly given herself as a means of buying the Gaul’s protection with “The only coin that a woman possesses.” This does not sit well with Mira. Though she joined the rebellion out of love for Spartacus, the growing perception among the others is that their relationship is a similar sort of transaction. The slightest glance from actress Katrina Law tells the audience that Mira will not stand for her gender being reduced to the objects of the fighting men. Expect more to come on that note in future weeks.

Glaber, Ilithyia, and Lucretia are mostly non-players in this episode. The newly minted Praetor unsuccessfully attempts to bargain with Seppius for the use of his mercenaries. Lucretia shifts into the role of semi-mad prophetess as she walks the streets of Capua blessing the masses who see her survival as a whisper of favour from the gods. Ilithyia, still suspicious of Lucretia’s new found piety and amnesia, attempts to plunge a knife into her former friend’s back thus severing the last tie to her murder of Marcus Crassus’ cousin. Only a classic deus ex machina in the form of Ashur’s glorious return stays Ilithyia’s hand.

Having rescued/abducted Oenomaus from the pits, Ashur presents the disgraced doctore before Glaber, Ilithyia and Lucretia as the key to finding Spartacus and the rebels. Now that all the principle characters are back in play, it remains to be seen what sort of intrigues they will cook up. Overall, it’s a perfect ending to an unexpectedly thoughtful episode.

I would note that there seems to be two distinct styles to the fight choreography in Spartacus. Some scenes, usually bigger scale battles, make extensive use of slow motion and CG-blood splatters. It’s all very 300-esque and really not that impressive. Then there’s the one-on-one fight scenes. It is in those moments that the show really shines. Among the highlights are almost no cutaways, masterful deployments of simulated blood, bone, body parts and other expected viscera, and a proper sense of pain and physical toll coming off the actors. Oenomaus’ scenes as a pit fighter are on par if not superior to anything that was seen in the arena last season. On that note, Spartacus revels in spectacle better than most big budget Hollywood productions.

Until next week, citizens.