Spartacus’ forced retreat from Sinuessa allows the episode to focus almost exclusively on Roman intrigue.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Episode Overview

Crassus’ legions occupy the city, leaving Gannicus and Sibyl (Gwendoline Taylor) as the only rebel characters of note in Sinuessa. Their eventual escape, accompanied by a newly branded Laeta, finds the rebel army trapped atop the much talked about ridge. Meanwhile in Sinuessa, Caesar is celebrated as a hero while Crassus makes plans to manipulate the Senate into rewarding him with the entire city as plunder.

A Much Needed Pause

Spartacus has moved at an absolute break-neck pace this season. Spoils of War offers the audience, and likely some of the cast, a bit of a reprieve. After the city’s initial capture, where we finally get to see the Roman army marching in proper formation, much of the episode’s focus is spent on intrigue.

Among these intrigues is the revelation that Caesar himself bought the loyalty of the Silesian pirates. Again, I think this would have done a greater service to the audience if it were shown rather than told after the fact. The only thing we ever saw Caesar doing in Sinuessa was inflaming the anti-Roman faction of the rebel army. The post-game confession feels a bit tacked on to make up for an overall lack of clarity.

Arguably the most important maneuver to emerge out of the episode is Crassus’ plan to take Sinuessa as plunder once Spartacus is defeated. In watching Simon Merrells outline Crassus’ endgame are we seeing hubris in action, or hints of a new Starz produced series about the rise of Julius Caesar?

She but Stands As Slave

Poor Laeta is the Theon Greyjoy of antiquity. Seemingly everything bad that happens this season happens to her, only unlike Theon she doesn’t deserve it. In six episodes, Laeta has watched her husband die at the hands of Spartacus. She has witnessed Crixus butcher her friends for sport. And despite Laeta’s standing as a citizen of the Republic, Crassus sells her to Heraclio whereupon she’s branded like any common house slave.

For all his base pirate logic, Heraclio brings up a big point the series tried, but ultimately failed, to explore in Spartacus Vengenace. The position of a Roman woman was only as secure as that of her nearest male relative. As a widow, Laeta would become the problem of her son or failing that her husband’s closest living male relative. In history, this led to widows used as glue to seal political and commercial arrangements. Though Laeta’s sale reflects upon Crassus’ willingness to break Roman law for the greater glory of Rome, it’s also a poignant reminder of how the line between slave and citizen can be quite arbitrary.

Emperor Tiberius Looks Good by Comparison

Christian Antidromi brings it for all it is worth as young Tiberius Crassus. His interchange with Kore and Marcus Crassus was nothing short of horrifying. Equal credit must go to the writers for their stunningly creepy dialogue, “I laid heavy burden upon Kore.” As he said that line, somewhere, one bro said to another, “Oh yeah he did,” and then offered up a meat headed high-five.

But for all of Tiberius’ Joffrey Lannister style posturing with Kore, it is delightful to see Caesar reminding Tiberius of his true worth. With naked slave girls in arm, Caesar points out that Tiberius is nothing more than an exile boy, who disgraced the legion with poor leadership and cowardice. It’s a fair assessment. While Tiberius was suffering decimation and exile, Caesar was using guile and steel to bring a city to its knees. And after a dressing down from Julius Caesar his, “Say anything to daddy and I’ll rape you again” speech with Kore paints him as little more than weakling bully in the eyes of the audience.

They Each Think Themselves Hero

Spoils of War saw Marcus Crassus saying aloud what we have all known for the last few weeks. Both Crassus and Spartacus think they are the hero of the story. Spartacus is fighting for human dignity at the expense of human life. Crassus is fighting for stability and Roman glory at the expense of human dignity. It will be interesting to see if the endgame of the rebellion leads Crassus to a place where he doubts the righteousness of his cause. We have seen moments of hesitation etched on Liam McIntyre’s face, but so far Merrells’ taciturn demeanor has not offered any trace of Crassus wavering in the face of bloodshed and battle.

Glaring Plot Holes

Though the episode closed the loop on the how and why of the Silesian pirates’ betrayal, a few things are left unanswered. Where did that Roman fleet come from in the previous episode? Naevia identified the ships as Roman, but they don’t make any appearance in this episode. Along the same lines, I guess we’re never going to find out how Crixus went from leading a counter-attack against Crassus to saving Spartacus.

I’m also wondering what, if any, role Pompey is going to play in this slaughter. With Spartacus trapped between Crassus’ wall at the top of the ridge and his legions below, how can Pompey steal the glory? With the breach sealed between Crixus and Spartacus, for now at least, there seems little chance for Crixus to lead his fringe group toward the Alps, only to be crushed under Pompey’s legions.

The End of the Line

With Spartacus penned in and four episodes to go, the series is at something of a critical juncture. From a military point of view, Crassus’ best option is a siege. He should winter his men in Sinuessa and let Spartacus freeze on the ridge. Yet the writer in me would hate Steven DeKnight if he lets the show end through attrition rather than a blaze of glory. Moreover, now that Crassus knows what Spartacus looks like, how is the “I’m Spartacus” moment going to transpire? Will it involve Pompey blustering in at the last moment? Will there even be a Kirk Douglas homage?

The final act is upon us.