It’s interesting to watch an episode of Spartacus: Vengeance and see how the series has learned from its past mistakes. “The Greater Good” brings higher production values and introduces Roman intrigue for the sake of intrigue in half the time it took Blood and Sand to do the same thing.
Remember how last week I said that Agron was a good guy and thus in danger of getting killed? This week he demonstrated himself as a consummate student of Machiavelli – so he’ll either live forever or die acting against his better judgement. After ambushing a slave convoy bound for the mines (a place often mentioned as a death sentence for the slaves who work there) Agron and the slave formerly known as Tiberius learn of Naevia’s whereabouts in the aforementioned mines. Knowing that a raid there would prove near suicidal, Agron, with Nassir’s silent compliance, takes it upon himself to tell Crixus that Naevia has perished from her injuries. The audience doesn’t learn of their deception until later in the episode. However, the knowing glances traded between the two men during the first half of the story makes it pretty obvious that something is afoot.
As expected, Crixus goes mad with grief. It was quite the gamble to have Manu Bennett howling with sorrow. Pain like that can sometimes alienate the audience as much as it can generate sympathy. Yet the gambit pays huge dividends. First, it lets Spartacus and Crixus bond over their mutual losses. A conversation between the two former champions also opens the door to a rare moment when Crixus is allowed to show some depth as a character, thus quantifying the primal pain that he previously showcased. He admits that his love for Naevia was a reckless thing which bore no forethought to Lucretia’s inevitable wrath. Yet recklessness continues to be Crixus’ defining characteristic when Nassir reveals Naevia’s true fate. In doing so Spartacus offers grudging respect for Agron’s decision to lie for the greater good, but reaffirms his position that the needs of the one are just as important as the needs of the many.
Meanwhile in Capua, Praetor Varinius has arrived with an entourage that includes Glaber’s Senatorial father-in-law. The entirety of this story line is classic Roman intrigue. Glaber’s continuing inability to deal with Spartacus is proving an embarrassment in Rome. Varinius has decreed three weeks of games as a means of restoring Capua’s faith in Roman rule. Part of this spectacle will include a precision formation demonstration from Glaber’s troops. The idea of having his cohorts recalled from the field does not sit well with Glaber. For those who don’t know, Roman statesmen held their offices for one year. If a Praetor didn’t distinguish himself in that year through great deeds, or skillful sucking up, then his chances of eventually grabbing the purple and being elected to the republic’s highest office, Consul, were almost nil. In a single episode Glaber is transformed from posturing Roman asshole to a man so desperate to prove himself that it invokes the spirit of the late Quintus Batiatus.
Thus does Glaber find his political fate bound to one man: Ashur. When Glaber’s attempts to extract information from the captive Oenomaus prove futile, Ashur offers himself as the only way to get at the information within the former gladiator’s mind. There’s flogging, mutilation, insults and Ashur being Ashur; still Oenomaus remains silent in the face of his captives. Only when Lucretia suggests that Ashur expose Oenomaus to the secrets buried within the house of Batiatus, namely Gannicus’ affair with Oenomaus’ wife, do things really get ugly. To the series’ credit, they found a way to bring the events of Gods of the Arena into fray while sidestepping the fact that the prequel was almost devoid of meaningful plot. It’s a pretty impressive piece of retconning.
Oh while we’re talking about retconning, Crixus’ memories of Naevia are retconned to feature Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Lucretia’s former body slave, not Lesley-Ann Brandt. I know actors come and go, especially during long hiatuses, but this move seemed a bit too much for me.
At any rate, Ashur’s psychological assault causes Oenomaus to slip up and admit that Crixus is still driven to find Naevia. This small piece of information was not enough to impress Glaber. At least, not until Lucretia emerged from the shadows and said that she knew the location of Crixus’ lost love.
South of Capua, Spartacus, Crixus, Tiberius, Mira – who gave a great speech to Spartacus about wanting to spill Roman blood, not just live under his protection (granted the speech would have been even better if it wasn’t immediately followed by her getting naked)- and a few others take to the mines to liberate Naevia. In Capua, Glaber’s men fail to take their place on the sands of the arena. Before the crowd can riot Glaber announces that his men are at this very moment engaged in capturing Spartacus, much to the approval of the mob.
Cut back to the mine and things are getting ugly. Roman Legionaries, accompanied by Ashur, are slaying the would-be rescue party with impunity. Crixus and Naevia are reunited for the briefest of moments before Ashur and a half dozen goons descend upon them. Shoving Naevia into Spartacus’ arms, the Gaul makes a desperate last stand that sees the surviving rescue party to safety just as the pommel of Ashur’s sword knocks him into unconsciousness.
Overall, a fantastic episode that strikes a perfect balance between intrigue and sword play, with just a hint of sex. Where the first two episodes had points where they looked cheap, non-green screened location shots and impressive set construction look stunning in this episode. Mira’s proto-feminist outrage from episode two has morphed into a valkyrie-like desire to join the men on the front lines of the rebellion. Ashur retains his mantle as the most Iago-esque character in the show. And Liam McIntyre moves Spartacus further into the role of idealistic revolutionary. I expect that next week will see a renewed conflict between Agron’s realpoltik philosophies and Spartacus’ more idealistic ones.
Until then, good citizens.