Episode seven sees some small plot movement as it heaps insult upon injury, atrocity upon intrigue, and finally gives the audience a reason to care about Spartacus’ story line.
It seems that every time I think Spartacus is approaching a point of lethargy, a new writer/director team gives the series a shot in the arm. This week’s offering, “Sacramentum”, doesn’t end with the plot as a juggernaut primed to charge ahead, but at the very least it gives the audience a reason to care about all of various plot threads, even dumb-ass Gannicus’.
Thread 1: Enter the dark side of the force
Dramatis Personae: Glaber and Ashur.
Remember that particularly gut wrenching moment last week when Ashur employs his leverage against Lucretia for the most base of purposes? Well that wasn’t a one off. Knowing that a single word uttered to Glaber could end Lucretia’s life, Ashur has reduced the once proud mistress of the ludus to his sexual thrall. This week’s creepy moment comes not in the form of active conquest but in the pillow talk. Lucretia calls Ashur dominus, admits to enjoying her rape, and is forced to wear a gift that is meant to symbolize his dominance over her. Again, I have to give credit to Lucy Lawless, Nick Tarabay, and their writers for finding new ways to make me cringe.
Outside the land of blackmail and rape, Glaber indoctrinates the now deceased Seppius’ men into his own legionary cohort. He also welcomes the orphaned Seppia into his home right in front of his heart broken wife. The good Praetor then decides to send a message to the people of Capua, again at the expense of his wife. Any slave who mentions the name of Spartacus will find themselves crucified in the forum. And just to prove he’s serious, he puts Ilithyia’s personal slave to the cross. Stop and think about that for a moment. Rather than round up a criminal, Glaber visited the most horrible death imaginable on an innocent slave just to torment his wife. Later in the episode, Ilithyia wonders how she ever could have thought Glaber to be weak. It doesn’t take long before Capua’s streets are filled with the crosses of dead slaves.
Bonus marks for historical accuracy at this point. The legionaries employed proper crucifixion technique: spikes between the radius and ulna rather than through the palms. Hands are fleshy and would never keep a victim’s upper body in place.
Thread 2: The Gladiator Gang
Dramatis Personae: Spartacus, Crixus, Agron, Liscus, and a German giant called Sedullus.
Finally, there’s a reason for half the principle cast to have a conversation with each other.
The gang enact a plan to raid slave ships as a means of filling out their ranks. When the reconnaissance portion of the mission falls to Agron, he opts to free a ship filled with his fellow Germans. Of course he fails to tell Spartacus that there was a ship filled with Gauls that would have proved just as promising. Once returned to Vesuvius, the Germans prove rowdy, irresponsible, and outright reckless to the point of drawing unnecessary attention with their attacks on the highway. Meanwhile, Oenomaus is alive and on his feet. Peter Mensah gets about three lines in the episode and to my eyes, remains the most under used member of the cast.
I don’t know that Spartacus ever doubts Agron’s intentions but he certainly questions his actions in picking Germans over Gauls. For Agron’s part, he justifies the decision as a necessary means of giving a bit of non-Gallic balance to the would-be army. Crixus is almost stoic about the entire situation. Which, I suppose, is a step up from the moping and pouting that we have seen this season. True to form he doesn’t trust Agron or his people, but he won’t act on suspicion alone. Instead, he focuses his attention on training Naevia as a fighter.
Things come to a head when a very drunk German named Sedullus attempts to rape Naevia. Naevia repays him with a knife to the stomach before Agron intervenes. Their fight spreads into an all out brawl between the Germans, Gauls and everybody else. Things escalate to swords between Spartacus and Sedullus, with the former cutting the face off the latter – a tip of the hat to the special effects people for that little visual gem. Never before have I seen brains spill out of a cranium.
Spartacus makes his only speech of the episode wherein he tells the remaining Germans to shape up, or else. In a moment that channels Conan the Barbarian, one of the Germans proceeds to bash together a shield and stick after uttering something along the lines of “Me support Spartacus.” And all’s well that ends with face severing for the former slaves. Agron’s given Crixus reason to trust him. Now the initiative is on the writers to do something with it.
Thread 3: Roman Girls Gone Wild, but not in the way you think.
Dramatis Personae: Lucretia, Ilithyia, Gannicus
It seems like it was only yesterday when Ilithyia was the spider at the center of a web. Now she survives at the largess of a madman. With that in mind, Ilithyia confides in Lucretia that she can no longer live as a hated and humiliated woman. The conversation that sees the Praetor’s wife contemplating suicide is an interesting one. Lucretia says that she would soon follow if Ilithyia took her own life. Instead offers a way they can both be free of Glaber and Capua. But why is Lucretia doing this? The expressions on Lucy Lawless’ face are those of genuine compassion for her friend(?). However, I’m not convinced that this isn’t a feint within Lucretia’s larger plan.
Drawing on her role as resident prophetess, Lucretia invokes the gods as a means of escape. After scraping a blade across her arm, she plies the spilled blood to Ilithyia’s dress as if to suggest there was something wrong with the pregnancy. The pious Glaber initially buys into the idea that the blood is a sign from on high and orders Ilithyia back to their villa in Rome with Lucretia to play nurse. Not to be deprived of his prize, Ashur reminds the Praetor that Lucretia is a public figure in Capua, and her absence might incite the crowd to fear and panic. So the scheme backfires and Lucretia is stuck in Capua with her only friend to be sent to Rome.
Enter Gannicus. Absent rudis and coin, Gannicus attempts to leverage money out of Capua’s magistrate for services rendered. Rebuked, he takes comfort in his favourite whore house, even though he hasn’t the money to indulge in anything other than drink and conversation. Therein Ashur finds Gannicus and brings him before Glaber. The Praetor, knowing that Gannicus could be a powerful morale boost for his troops and the people of Capua, returns the lost rudis along with an offer of station in the legion.
Gannicus wanders the streets, considering the Praetor’s offer, until he comes upon the crucified body of his brothel playmate. Amid these rotting corpses, Lucretia approaches Gannicus with her own offer. On the night that Ilithyia leaves for Rome, she will distract the gate guards allowing Ganniucs to slip into the villa and put a knife in Glaber’s throat while he sleeps. Lucretia sees this as the only option to prevent more crucifixions as she believes that Glaber no longer knows the guilty from the innocent. The plan also balances the scales of blood for Spartacus in that Glaber’s death avenges that of Spartacus’ wife. With all debts paid, Lucretia anticipates that Spartacus will leave Italy thus restoring peace.
Events don’t quite play out the way Lucretia expected. The only person to set upon Glaber in his bed is Seppia. While the Praetor is indulging in his extra-marital playtime, Gannicus is off slaughtering the convoy that is escorting Ilithyia to Rome. When the dust settles, Glaber find his troops dead and Gannicus’ rudis stuck through the throat of the man assigned as Ilithyia’s bodyguard. Are we to assume that Gannicus has taken Ilithyia to Spartacus as a bargaining chip? If so, I can’t imagine Glaber reacting with anything other than a full mobilization of his forces.
Three episodes remain. Now is the time to ratchet up the pace and build off all the escalation that emerged out of this episode.