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Game Review: Spartacus Legends

It is a truth universally known that a television or movie franchise of good fortune must be in want of an awful video game attempting to cash in on the gravy train. So when I found out about Spartacus Legends, I met the news with great reservation. I didn’t fear for yet another shitty free-to-play game, cranked out as a means of boosting DVD sales, but rather that Starz, Ubisoft, and Kung Fu Factory, would do to the late Andy Whitfield what Ford did to Steve McQueen back in 2005.

 

Despite promises from Starz that the game would be ready in time for Spartacus’ third and final season, Spartacus Legends met the summer on Xbox Live and PSN with minimal fanfare from either the parent company or the gaming press at large.

Thoughts weighed heavy upon troubled mind as I prepared to set aside the rose scented words of critic, and embrace the mantle of lanista. Free-to-play games have seen Jupiter put cock to unwilling ass many times in recent years. And though Spartacus Legends is untested as new steel, freshly cooled from smith’s embrace, it does but stand tall among other games which part coin from hand through trickery and deceit. Let us then turn thought to noble purpose and show all of Rome what glory awaits those who would seek glory on the sands of the arena.

Okay, I really wanted to write the whole review as if I was in an episode of Spartacus, but that’s just not going to work. Let’s go back to normal English since I already mentioned Jupiter’s cock.

Despite being a free-to-play game, Spartacus Legends offers a passable, if somewhat repetitive, single player experience. As lanista, the player must recruit, train, and equip a stable of gladiators. Winning fights earns fame/experience points and silver, thus unlocking better equipment and more impressive venues within Capua’s walls. Defeating an opponent in a “primus” battle earns the former laurels in addition to gold, the game’s premium currency, and combat perks.

Normally two-tiered game economies skew toward extensive grinding such that would-be players will cough up real world money if only for the sake of convenience. Spartacus Legends doesn’t have that problem. This fact alone should probably be enough to get people to try the game.

For want of a particularly thorough tutorial, wherein we see a Spartacus who stands as memorial to Andy Whitfield rather than shallow attempt to cash in on a man’s legacy, I spent my first twenty matches fighting in the outskirts of Capua. There I learned the combos and parries of sword and shield, double sword, and double dagger fighting. The combat engine is far from Injustice or Mortal Kombat, but a few degrees better than abject button mashing. The sounds effects and occasional lapses into slow motions echo what any fan of the series would expect from Spartacus’ highly stylized combat. The only recurring drawback is the dozen cat calls and exhortations that come from an in-game lanista. These get very old, very fast.

The fight mechanics are also clever enough to allow for some significant nuance as a player progresses through the single player campaign. There are a total of nine combat styles in the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. I learned this the hard way when I sent my finest double knife gladiator into a mystery battle in the pits, a high-risk/high-reward combat venue. Not only did my foe have a combat rating that doubled my gladiator’s, but he wielded a two handed hammer. The fight did not end well for Achilleus.

Which brings me to my next point about the game: perma-death. The nature of free-to-play gaming is that it wants a player to be constantly winning so that they never want to quit. Spartacus Legends is quite content to humble upstart gladiators, all to the sounds of the crowd chanting for their death. Knowing that each fight could be a gladiator’s last instantly increases the stakes for the player. Thus the temptation to play as a berserker is tempered by the knowledge that these men, and their unique skills, could be lost forever. Had the gods not blessed me with the patience of a saint, I would have easily seen controller smashed upon wall for my inability to see gladiators to honoured victory.

Oh look I lapsed back into Spartacus speak. What fun.

The most disappointing part of the game is the fact that nobody seems to be playing it. At any point a player can enter one of their gladiators into a multiplayer combat queue. Doing so offers almost double the rewards in terms of fame and coin compared to playing solo. Pair this with the fact that the lethality of a match can be controlled through the choice of venue and players should have every reason to go online with their warriors. Yet nobody seems to be doing it. The three multiplayer battles that I’ve had, wherein my record stands at 1 win and 2 losses, came after waiting in a combat queue for at least fifteen minutes. So either all the PvP is happening in Capua’s coliseum, a place I dare not tread with my measly warriors, or nobody is playing the game. That said, the single player is challenging enough to keep a player interested while they hone men into gods – for about five hours or so.

In the end, Spartacus Legends is probably one of the few free-to-play games that can rightly call itself a game, rather than a limitless engine for profit. The combat is equal parts satisfying in victory and utterly frustrating in defeat. There are some rough edges in terms of the voice acting and the fact that combat ratings never quite seem to give a clear indication of how well a foe can fight. Would that more people were playing PvP matches I think the game could really shine. The one thing that it does share with most free-to-play games is no obvious endgame. Once all the primus battles and legend matches are complete, what is a lanista to do with their gladiators? Without additional content or a more robust player base this game is going to go stale very quickly. Still, Spartacus Legends is remarkable if only for showing that developers and publishers can produce free-to-play games that aren’t just skinner boxes. Would that all free-to-plays offered the teeth of Spartacus Legends they may not be held in such contempt by serious gamers.


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned Episode 10 – Victory

Bloodied but not beaten

As the title card flashed the single word “Victory” on screen, I immediately asked myself, “Victory for whom?” Who could possibly call himself a winner in this version of Spartacus’ legend? Could anything other than inevitable Roman glory triumph in the wake of Spartacus’ rebellion? For all the memorable aspects of this episode, and there are many, my take away has to be the way in which the acting, writing, and directing all came together to play with the audience’s almost certain quixotic hopes for historical revision.

NB: I’m going to try to limit my discussion of Victory to the episode itself. Next week I have plans to talk about the broader implications of the season and the series as a whole.

Also, do not read any further if you haven’t seen the episode. Seriously! This goes beyond a spoiler alert and into “you’ll ruin the entire fucking experience if you haven’t seen the series up to this point” territory.

In the broadest possible sense, I think this was the ending that Spartacus fans deserved. Victory walks a very fine line between the competing forces of the series’ sensationalized interpretation of Roman history, the tropes of a modern soap opera, and the demands of literary tragedy. Balancing on this high wire act produced a heretofore unseen sense of tension throughout the episode. Arguably a huge contributor to this edge-of-the-seat phenomenon came from the knowledge that any of the characters we have come to care about over the last four years could have died within the span of fifty-five minutes. In such a state, every line becomes a potential final word, each scene a potential grave yard. And anchoring almost every moment therein was Liam McIntyre.

This is not to suggest that Liam McIntyre hasn’t been on his game all season, but in this episode he inhabited Spartacus as if the character had been his all along. One of the episode’s many heart wrenching scenes saw the freed slaves offering gratitude to Spartacus. There was no clichéd extra suggesting he speaks for the group when he says (insert 3rd act gimmick here). They simply said, “Gratitude, Spartacus.” For McIntyre’s part, he reacted as if the words were a kick to the stomach. It’s the soul of poignancy to see King Spartacus thanked by his people, knowing they may well die despite everything that has passed.

Gratitude: a word uttered by John Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Simon Merrells, Todd Lasance, and every other actor playing a Roman. It is a word used so frequently among the Romans that it carries all the impact of a quick “thanks” offered to a clerk at a burger joint. Yet when “gratitude” passes from the lips of extras and third tier characters to a man whose name isn’t his own, the word finds new meaning.

As I said before, the episode lives at the intersection of powerful writing, acting, directing, and hope.

Shades of Gladiator

On the meeting of Spartacus and Crassus I could likely write a thousand words. For the sake of this review I’ll content myself with a hundred. Nowhere do we better see the literal “War of the Damned” theme come to a head than in this meeting. So much of the scene is carried in subtext and body language, culminating in a handshake between worthy foes. The two men are captives of an idea, and that idea is called Rome. Spartacus’ war was against the nation which sanctioned the rape and murder of his wife and reaps the daily labour of tens of thousands of slaves. Crassus is the living embodiment of that nation. He can no more let Spartacus honourably withdraw from Italy than he can forgive Kore for her betrayal. Both Spartacus and Crassus end the war damned tethered to their fate by the idea of Rome, regardless of if they can find a respect for the other.

And then, the dominos begin to fall. I admit I took no joy in the end of Naevia. Even though I’ve been a critic of how the writers managed her character, she demonstrated enough growth last week to make her death a bitter affair. Gannicus is another character who I detested in Gods of the Arena, if only because I was firmly in the “You’re not Andy” camp at the time. While I wish the writers would have found something more interesting to do than have him shack up with Sybil mid-season, his vision of Oenomaus and the arena amid crucifixion was a moving piece of closure. Similarly, Saxa’s death was a heartbreaking thing to watch. Even with the scant dialogue she received over the last two years, the Conan-esque sensibility Ellen Hollman brought to the role made the character’s death meaningful.

But what of Spartacus?

In the moment the spears hit him the audience is taken back to Crixus’ death. Yet, I won’t deny some peace of mind when it happened, despite the timing which only TV is capable of delivering. With a pilum through his heart, Spartacus would die quickly. The Romans could put him up on a cross, but he would not be Kirk Douglas, crucified along the Via Appia. It would have been a fitting death if it had ended there. Instead, the only functional couple the series has ever seen, who just happen to be a same-sex couple, pull him off the battlefield.

Yet it is not a deus ex machina. What follows is the writers’ last assault on whatever dam the audience uses to maintain composure during moments of tragedy. In Spartacus’ final minutes we witness him finding peace in two distinct ways. The obvious is his impending return to his wife in the afterlife. Beyond that, and left unspoken, is the answer to the series’ ultimate question: what is it all for? Even with Pompey rounding up a number of freed slaves who broke for the Alps, the others who waited for Spartacus secured their lasting freedom by being in the right place at the right time. Thus proving even Jupiter can’t rain piss and shit on everybody all of the time.

The beginning and the end

Laeta, Nassir, Agron, Sybil, the mother and her newborn child, and all the rest who make it to freedom justify Spartacus’ belief in the cause of life. Marked by a red serpent, the series comes full circle with a shot on Spartacus’ grave.

I don’t use the word perfect a lot in my reviews, but considering what the series began as, what it endured, and what it turned into this year, Victory was a perfect ending to an imperfect story. Where Stanley Kubrick gave us a tragedy without end, Steven DeKnight offered us a literary tragedy, where death informs the life that survives in its wake.

Tune in next week when I talk about the series as a whole, historical revision, and what I see as the enduring nature of the Spartacus Legend.


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned Episode 9 – The Dead and the Dying

It’s never good to impose too much upon one’s brain the day after returning from a sci-fi convention. In that spirit, I do so hope my readers will forgive me if I diverge from the usual pattern for these reviews and instead focus a mere two aspects of this episode that I think were perhaps more important, though less grand, than Crixus’ glorious funeral: Naevia earning my respect as a character, and Kore as possibly the bravest character in the series.

*Spoilers Ahead*

I’ve always been quite direct with my thoughts on Naevia as a poorly written character in the aftermath of her removal from the House of Batiatus. Where do you go with a character who revels in base bloodlust and PTSD manifesting as a good ol’ fashioned case of the crazies? Absent Crixus, who was both an enabler and restraint for her issues, I expected Naevia to turn into a berserker. Instead, the writers let her find some wisdom in grief.

Sure, Naevia is willing to participate in Spartacus’ games, slaying the captured Romans to commemorate the honoured dead. On a side note, the funeral pyre scene will likely become one of the series’ most iconic scenes. However, Naevia also confesses her sins to Spartacus before the spectacle begins. She willingly admits that she steered Crixus against Spartacus on a number of occasions. When Spartacus lays the decision to spare Tiberius’ life in exchange for five hundred wounded rebels – captured in what I’ll now call the Battle of Rome – at Naevia’s feet, she embraces the greater good and turns Tiberius over to Spartacus.

At this point in the series I don’t know if these few actions are enough to redeem her character. The writers have spent the last two seasons doing seemingly everything they can to dehumanize Naevia in the eyes of the audience. However, the character has certainly offered enough growth in one episode to make her almost certain death in next week’s finale resonate with some level of tragedy.

For the episode’s big win we must turn our attention to Kore. Bound up in the internal politics of the House of Crassus, Kore has been one of the most abused characters of the season, if not the series as a whole. Tiberius raped her not because he wanted her for himself, as Ashur did Lucretia, but to find a way to hurt his father. She then fled from Crassus but was unwilling to slit his throat as he slept. This episode sees her come full circle, stabbing Tiberius as he was on his way back to Crassus’ camp. And before we can have a chance to revel in Tiberius’ death, Spartacus has to come along and remind Kore that five hundred men will now suffer for her righteous desire to reclaim agency against a boy who reduced her to less than a slave. So much for the audience’s catharsis.

But wait, what is Kore’s first act as a newly empowered character? Before the blood on her hands has had a chance to dry, Kore offers herself as a trade to Crassus in place of his slain son. For the sake of his own political fortunes, Caesar plays along with the ruse, legitimizing Kore’s return to her former master. And in the scene that follows we witness the power of a name.

Upon revealing Kore to Crassus, Crassus says, “Thank you, Gaius.” Crassus doesn’t thank his Tribune or the name of House Caesar, placing family name before the individual; Crassus thanks the man before him. Crassus thanks an equal.

Reunited, Kore steps forward and utters a quiet “Marcus” before Crassus roughly embraces her. Yet his first words to Kore belie any emotion his act might suggest.

“From here on you will address me as Dominus.”

Whatever agency Kore gained in killing Tiberius, whatever justice she crafted for herself, the dead prostitute in the follower’s camp, or even for ass raped Caesar, Kore loses as Crassus reduces her to former station with but a word.

Is there another character in the series who has done so much for so many people at such a great personal cost as Kore? As if to make her choice all the more poignant in its tragedy, Kore’s actions fit perfectly with the theme of the season. Kore took one life then offered her own to save five hundred. But will be there a point to it? Are those returned to the rebel army anything but soon to be corpses and crucified bodies at the hands of Pompey and Crassus? Might not Kore also end up on a cross despite doing the right thing? Once again we see there are none truly righteous in the War of the Damned.

With the emergence of Pompey as another piece on the board, if not a character in his own right, any hopes I may have secretly nurtured for an alternate history ending are as dead as Crixus. Realistically, with the undefeated Gaul dead, is there any other place for Spartacus to end up but upon a cross? Save for perhaps a scant handful of minor characters, next week is likely not going to end well. Regardless of what happens, though, we can at least take some satisfaction in a iconic send off for Crixus and unexpected growth for Naevia. What a shame Kore’s good deed is being appropriately punished.


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned – Episode 8 Separate Paths

Spartacus and Crixus part ways not with a mug to the face, but through the bonds of brotherhood. Crassus, blinded by Kore’s betrayal, must choose between protecting Rome or chasing Spartacus north toward the Alps.

People die and the future is foreshadowed in a powerful episode of War of the Damned.

*Spoiler Alert*

Ave Crixus

What do you say about a character like Crixus? I always had the impression there was more to Crixus than was ever revealed. Who was he before being enslaved to Batiatus? He speaks about the nature of war in this episode like a man experienced in its ways. Too bad we will never find out.

Certainly, the forty-three year old Manu Bennett has been a stabilizing force within the series. I suspect many people kept with the show during Liam McIntyre’s first season because of Crixus’s Gallic charm. Though he was never quite as clever as Spartacus, Crixus’ personal transformation was no less poignant. And in Separate Paths we saw the final step in his evolution: General Crixus and Crixus, the man who would be a father.

“A child born into piss and shit,” says the cynical Gaul as he sits encamped, watching a mother feed her newborn son. Therein we witness a profound sense of loss emerging from Crixus. He knows nothing of a world absent fighting, yet he longs for a quiet life. What follows is some of the best dialogue Crixus has ever uttered in the series, and Naevia almost comes across as likable, almost.

For all the handshakes, reminiscing, and affirmations of brotherhood, I think it quite obvious the writers wanted us to know this was the end for Crixus and Agron (maybe). However, rebranding him as “Crixus the Undefeated” might have added a shade too much hubris to the whole ordeal. I mean, didn’t Crixus sort of lose against Theocales?

On a technical level, I have to object to the means of Crixus’ death. I’ve thrice watched the video after Crassus gives the order to take Crixus’ head, and each time I am convinced that the sword’s path would put it nowhere near cleaving head from neck. I know, I know, it’s tedious to complain about technical details, but this is Crixus we are talking about.

Watching his head fly from neck as reflected in Naevia’s teary eyes is a fun picture-on-picture effect, but the death of a titan should not be marred by any imperfection. Crixus’ death deserved to be flawless, thus allowing viewers get lost in the tragedy of the moment. Instead, I found myself complaining about fight choreography and the series’ habit of using a gladius for slashing rather than stabbing.

Turn Your Head and Cough

Who would have thought Julius Caesar would become the voice of reason within the Roman camp? And who would have thought being the voice of reason would result in yet another rape.

I’ve said this before but it merits repeating; Spartacus never fails to impress me with its treatment of sexual assault. Where the series revels in the heady bacchanal of consenting adults and simultaneously shines an uncomfortable light on the icky nature of class based sexual obligation, it is at its best when illustrating the dehumanizing power of sexual abuse.

First and foremost, Tiberius forcing himself upon Caesar is no more or less horrifying than when he violated Kore. Though I suspect male-on-male rape is certainly more shocking for the audience, at least outside of a prison movie, the writing is smart enough not to make an extra big deal out of the scene. It’s not a gay rape scene, it’s just a rape sequence.

This reality is best seen in the equal ramifications visited upon Kore and Caesar in the wake of Tiberius’ action. Kore bore both emotional scars and a physical fear of contact after being raped. In Caesar’s case, he is left unable to perform as a soldier befitting his station. He bears a physical reminder of the ordeal, which strikes at the core of who Caesar is as a Roman soldier.

This brings us to an interesting crossroads. Will either Caesar or Kore reclaim lost agency by avenging themselves upon Tiberius? If Tiberius dies at the hands of another, he leaves his rape victims to deal with the long-term psychological damage of his actions. Given the series’ penchant for comeuppance, I doubt things will end so easily for Tiberius.

The Bringer of Rain, No More

Given that Spartacus very literally escaped the ridge above Sinuessa upon the backs of his fallen comrades, I can see why he would turn pragmatist and make for the Alps. The realization is written across McIntyre’s face, though the character never says it: the rebels are beaten. The cause of ending slavery in Rome is an impossible one. This episode witnesses the death of General Spartacus and the true birth of King Spartacus, for what is a king’s first obligation if not to protect the people who follow him.

What then are we to make of Spartacus tumble with Laeta? Is it just an excuse to give an otherwise celibate Spartacus a sex scene this season? I’m sure Mira and Sura aren’t waiting to kick his ass in the afterlife for going to bed with a Roman. I guess we’re also supposed to forget that Spartacus put a spear through the back of Laeta’s husband’s head, as well. What sort of ex-wife goes to bed with the guy who killed her husband? Here I thought the house of Atreus was dysfunctional.

After witnessing this scene I have a sneaking suspicion we might get an ending along the lines of Kubrick’s Spartacus.

Team Nagron

While Liam McIntyre and Anna Hutchison may have been a study in forced chemistry and ersatz passion, Dan Feuerriegel and Pana Hema-Taylor nailed it in their farewell. Seriously, the scene was magnificent and heart breaking. Agron’s need to fight reminds us that he is equally a warrior and a man who failed to protect his brother during the initial uprising at Batiatus’ ludus. In sending Nassir with Spartacus, he is doing for his lover what he could not do for his brother. The act is touching, but over the long-term might end up tasting like ash if Crassus or Pompey massacre Spartacus’ remaining troop.

A Study in Futility

Either in the next episode or the one to follow, somebody is going to ask about the point of the rebellion. This question will likely be followed by a high minded speech on freedom. We, as an audience, are going to be left with the same question. Is there a point to fighting a hopeless cause? Can anything ever be changed in the world? The potential for allegory is limitless when put in the context of something like the Occupy movement.

In sending off two of the series’ primary cast, Separate Paths does much to setup this fundamental question. The answer will depend greatly upon who dies in the weeks to come. Will this be a narrative of heroic sacrifice or will it be a cold reminder of the implacable nature of history? No matter how much we may want a happy ending, sometimes everybody dies.


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned – Episode 7 Mors Indecepta

Where Spartacus’ retreat from Sinuessa could have stagnated the plot, Mors Indecepta presents game changers which might just allow Spartacus to defy his destiny.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Episode Overview

With the rebel army trapped between Crassus’ wall and his approaching army, tensions once again flare between Spartacus and Crixus. While Crixus favours a head-on attack against Crassus, Spartacus struggles to find a strategy that will outfox Rome’s tactical genius.

Meanwhile a thousand rebels die from exposure as a bitter storm ravages the cliffs above Sinuessa. Facing death on all fronts, Spartacus uses the frozen bodies of his dead companions to bridge the Roman trench and assault Crassus’ wall, which when pressed reveals itself to be garrisoned with only a small force of legionaries. The rebel army then flees into the wilderness, accompanied by Kore, who has seemingly abandoned Crassus after learning she was to remain in Sinuessa as Tiberius’ head of household staff.

The Big Question

At this point in the series, there’s only one thing I want to know: is War of the Damned going to keep faith with Roman history, or at least history defined by Stanley Kubrick – which might as well be history after 60 years of pop culture ubiquity – or will it do something unique with the Spartacus story?

Theory #1 Pompey Magnus

With Spartacus and the rebels escaping through Crassus’ wall, Pompey and his legions could easily turn this potential win into bitter defeat. Though the series has made mention of Pompey, we’ve yet to actually see him, and there is no record of the Magnus on the series’ IMDB page. Why then do I bring him up? In history, knowledge of Pompey’s arrival in Italy put significant pressure on Crassus to decisively end Spartacus’ rebellion. If the writers are keen to ignore Pompey’s contribution therein, what other elements of the recorded or adapted history might they eschew? Maybe some of the rebels will get out alive? Perhaps the name of Spartacus will die, but not the man we know as Spartacus himself. Remember the name was foisted upon the ex-legionary Thracian after he survived execution in Capua’s arena.

Theory #2: Kore

Of all the things to happen in this episode, Kore’s defection is as fascinating as it is unexpected. It also stands as another big hint that Steven DeKnight might be out to tell his own interpretation of Spartacus, unbound by Kubrick or the infamously prejudicial Roman histories.

Given the physical and emotional wringer Tiberius has visited upon Kore, it’s quite conceivable that she would play Caesar as a means of escaping a life of rape and humiliation with Tiberius. But if that was the case, why not slit Crassus’ throat while he slept? If she knows he won’t save her, what use is he to her? Does she love him that much? Or is something else at work?

Perhaps Kore’s plan is to cement a relationship between Crassus and Caesar as a second Trojan Horse. Once triggered, all Caesar has to do is manipulate the situation to make Tiberius look like an idiot (not a difficult proposition) and return Kore unharmed to Crassus’ side. Kore would then be free of Tiberius once Caesar supplants the boy as Crassus’ right hand.

A twist like this also this has the potential to make up for an entire season of enduring Naveia’s victim-turned-psycho routine. An elegant symmetry emerges when we recall that Spartacus’ reason for fighting, first with the Romans as an Auxiliary and then against them as a rebel, was his wife; the idea of another woman, equally righteous in her cause as Spartacus, catalyzing the downfall of the Bringer of Rain offers a bloody sort of balance to the story’s long arc.

Crixus vs Spartacus Round…who the hell is counting anymore?


If Crixus were a woman, this kind of tension totally would have led to sex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gods of the Arena – Crixus and Spartacus hate each other. Mutual distain gives way to begrudging respect, followed by an alliance of convenience.

Vengeance – Crixus is Spartacus’ yes man and best bro for the whole season.

War of the Damned – Best bro status continues until Crixus starts killing civilians. Spartacus and Crixus fight, then make up, and now they are fighting again. Of course, who wouldn’t want to fight if they got a mug broken across their face?

Seriously though, the double alpha dog thing is getting a bit over played. They either need to kiss each other, kill each other, or find a way to disagree without all the machismo BS getting in the story’s way.

For all of the Spartacus v. Crixus tension, it never seems to amount to anything. We all thought it was going somewhere in Blood Brothers but instead the tension petered out and left us right back where the season started. I’m glad to see the writers doing more with Manu Bennett this year than they did in Vengeance – can’t have the fan favourite showing up the new guy who is replacing the dead guy – but this is not the way to give the character more screen time. Now it just seems like he’s the show’s Mr. Worf, whose only function is to put forward ideas which get summarily shot down by King Spartacus.

Nagron in the City

In a perfect world, The Doctor will walk out of the TARDIS and take Nassir and Agron two-thousand fifty years into the future where they can have their own spin-off series. Seriously, I would watch the hell out of that show, and I say this as a white heterosexual male.

I’ll also thank whatever gods you care to name for the writers putting Nassir’s and Agron’s jealousy sub-plot to rest. The conflict between the two characters felt like a forced gimmick designed to increase the stakes of the show. Since neither of the characters died in the immediate aftermath of their tiff, I question the purpose of setting them at odds in the first place. Though if somebody told me they fought just so we could have the
“don’t give me that look” moment, I’d be okay with it.

Yellow Cards

If it’s cold enough to kill people where they kneel, then it’s nothing but tedious titillation to have Sibyl unlace her coverings as a prelude to a roll in the snow with Gannicus. Also, is it still cheating if Saxa already gave a green light to a threesome?

If it’s cold enough to kill a thousand people in one night, then there should be a lot more frostbite among the rebel army. Last I checked they were all wearing sandals. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t see some black feet next week.

Crassus’ Mors Indecepta trick involved a lot of talking about the legion’s “Praetorians.” While this might sound good and Romanesque, it’s a mistake. Republican Praetorians were a small contingent of a legate’s bodyguards. Killing them would not breakdown the leadership of Crassus’ army. Killing all the army’s Centurions, however, would have done some serious damage to the legion’s overall effectiveness.

Overall

My biggest fear going into Mors Indecepta was the series setting itself up for another drawn out finale a la Vengeance. Mea culpa. Now we get to witness the continuation of Spartacus’ game of chess with Crassus. The question must now become, who will be the new piece on the board. Will it be Kore? Will it be Pompey? Or is the Spartacus versus Crassus battle going to play out independent of external factors?


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned Episode 6 – Spoils of War

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.


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned Episode 4 – Decimation

Crassus attempts to save face in the aftermath of his son’s defeat at Sinuessa’s gates. Within the city, the powder keg that is the slave army explodes.

Spoilers Ahead

Episode Overview

Where the previous episode illustrated the growing cracks in the slave army, this week’s offering yields an outright schism. The revelation that Laeta (Anna Hutchinson) has been hiding Romans in the stables of Sinussea’s former Aedile spurs a confrontation between Gannicus and Naveia. From this spark, and continued food shortages, Crixus leads the rebels on a campaign of extermination within the city’s walls. Meanwhile Crassus teaches Tiberius a lesson in manhood as he orders his son to participate in the decimation of the fifty men who survived his failed attack on Spartacus.

Revelations

A month ago Spartacus’ audience witnessed what many perceived to be a kinky mix of fellatio and blood play at the crotch of Julius Caesar. The reality of that act was a considerably less sexy ploy crafted by none other than Crassus. The Imperator ordered Caesar’s leg scarred which, along with his feral haircut and beard, allowed him to pass as a slave who had cut away the mark of his owner.

A Nelson Muntz’ trademarked “Ha ha!” echoed through my head as visions of writers taking victory laps around their room filled my mind’s eye. Honestly, good on the writers. Dare I say this is an artful manipulation of audience expectations. After three seasons of Spartacus, vampire blowjobs hardly seem out of the ordinary for a rough and tumble Julius Caesar as played by Todd Lasance. Instead Crassus’ subtle intrigue reinforces the idea that he is a foe unlike any Spartacus has ever known. The sharp writing also stands as another example of the series’ ongoing discussion on body politics. It is pretty standard fare to witness a dominus/domina exploiting a slave; it’s another matter to contemplate a Roman noble ordering another to disfigure himself as a battle stratagem.

And then there’s Saxa

Ellen Hollman as the German warrior Saxa

Since joining the cast in the third season, I’ve had little and less to say about Ellen Hollman’s portrayal of the Germanic warrior woman Saxa. During much of her screen time she’s either fighting, fucking, or firing off a one liner. The results are consistently shallow even when she is paired with Gannicus. However, a new thought occurred to me this week. Saxa is the Roman answer to Conan the Barbarian.

When the slave army’s officers are screening the entry of refugee slaves into Sinuessa, Saxa does a little hands-on investigation with a Roman slave girl. Because why not toss in some random girl-on-girl action, it’s cable, right?

Shortly afterwards the camera cuts to Nemetes (Ditch Davey) swindling an incoming slave out of his coin. How interesting. The male character is pilfering trinkets while the female is falling into the sexually exploitative and traditionally male role. Of course the exchange between Saxa and the slave was hardly forced. Rather it was the series’ usual mix of sultry and trashy. It’s moments like this that continue to make me object to the writers’ treatment of Naevia as a character. Saxa occupies a male space, fights and lusts like any other man, and, like Conan, seemingly all women swoon before her. All of this comes from within the character, and some consistent if previously ignored acting from Hollman, rather than as a reaction to external degradation. While I would never suggest all characters need to be the same, I would argue that Saxa, for all her past shallowness, is actually a better constructed character than Naevia.

The Wolves in Sheep’s clothing

Much like Saxa, Julius Caesar has been something of a slow burn character. Being that he’s Caesar, we know he will go on to do great things, if not in this series then in his inevitable spin-off. But in the first three episodes we saw little more than an obnoxious frat boy. Posing as a slave has finally given Lascance a chance to give Caesar some depth. When he must rape and torture Fabia, a captive Roman, to prove his loyalty to the rebellion, Caesar drops his slave facade and appears as a comforting figure. In that moment he’s not just some wild dog, but a man fighting for a cause. After mercy killing Fabia, Caesar makes a public show of her corpse and in doing so fans the flames of dissent which already exist within the camp.

With Caesar and Nemetes calling for Roman blood, Crixus dons the “kill all the Romans” mantle of leadership. But what’s bad for the rebellion is great for the audience. Manu Bennett and the late Andy Whitfield were at their best when their characters were at the other’s throat. Last season saw Crixus as Spartacus’ staunch ally, yet the transformation turned the Gallic champion into a brooding man-child. Now Bennett is crossing steel with McIntyre’s Spartacus, and the conflict is teeming with potential developments.

There are no good options, only the necessary ones.

Between the wholesale slaughter of Roman captives and the unrepentantly brutal decimation sequence, this episode further clouds the line between hero and villain. What really muddies the waters is the recognition that both parties are justified in their actions. Crixus’ frenzy is as much informed by the very real need to conserve dwindling food stores as it is revenge. Meanwhile Crassus must take decisive action to ensure the main force of his men fear their general more than they do Spartacus. Neither are good decisions per se, but they are necessary for survival. With Spartacus’ idealism seemingly an endangered commodity, the audience is left to ponder which side’s vision of freedom is best.

WTF?

Where did all this tension between Agron and Nassir come from? Everything was fine in the first half of the episode. Then Nassir walks into a room accompanied by a Silesian and apparent implications of infidelity? I suspect something got lost on the cutting room floor.

In other WTF news, how is exiling the decimation’s survivors to the legion’s follower camp a punishment? I mean I know how it is supposed to be punishment, but sending a bunch of soldiers to live with slaves and prostitutes seems a bit more like a vacation than a shaming.

The Bottom Line

What I initially thought to be a slow episode rapidly built up speed in its second half. While there were no glorious battles, intercutting the decimation in Crassus’ camp with the slaughter in Sinussea demonstrates just how far both sides have fallen in their quest to be righteous. Even if the writers chose to ignore history, it is hard to see how Spartacus could truly be victorious in the aftermath of so much bloodshed. As for Crassus, this week proved his is the smartest character this series has ever seen. 


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TV Review-Recap: Spartacus War of the Damned Episode 3 – Men of Honor

The moral quagmire that is Spartacus’ war against Rome deepens as the rebel army takes stock of their newly captured city.

Spoilers Ahead…

Episode Overview

Men of Honor focuses almost exclusively on the rebel army within the newly captured/liberated city of Sinuessa. Despite Spartacus’ best efforts, the deposed Aedile’s plan to pitch and torch the city’s grain supplies was effective enough to render most of Sinuessa’s food stores inedible. Once again facing starvation, the former slaves direct their anger toward the captured Romans. Meanwhile, Spartacus brokers a deal with a band of Silesian pirates who could see the rebel army well provisioned, assuming each side can find cause to trust the other.

What happens when all sides think themselves righteous?

It is perhaps the core question to the entire episode. Spartacus’ army thinks they are liberating the oppressed people of Republic. The Republic, as personified in Crassus, who was remarkably absent this episode, is trying to save lives by putting down a horde bent on plunder and vengeance. As an audience we must ask ourselves if Spartacus has any right to shatter the shield which protects all of Italy from barbarism and chaos. Of course, if shielding the citizens of the Republic from the horrors of the outside world demands institutionalized slavery, is it a freedom worth maintaining?

These questions become all the more poignant when the episode sees Spartacus’ captains forcing two surviving Romans into a death match over half a loaf of bread. Agron, Nassir, and Gannicus all stand silent while Crixus, of all characters, sets two fat Romans upon each other. Naevia is all but frothing at the mouth to see the duo fight it out. On a positive note, the scene finally gives Manu Bennett something to do as Crixus. Crixus, who held to the brotherhood of gladiators above all else, abides the honourless slaughter of an untrained Roman. Maybe there’s a bit of  Maximus style, “Are you not entertained?” subtext from Crixus, but even in the aftermath of bloodshed the character offers no readily discernible remorse for his actions. After a year of being Spartacus yes-man, it’s fantastic to see Crixus beholden only unto himself. It’s just a shame to see the character’s story bound to his psycho girlfriend.

How do you solve a problem like Naevia?

That’s right, I went musical. The invocation of Rogers and Hammerstein should indicate just how serious I am when I ask if Naevia something of a problematic character? I understand that after watching her turn Attius’ face into ground chuck the audience is meant to question her stability. I’ll also concede there is a bit of Kill Bill charm to Naevia. But where the Bride was perpetually an ass kicker of the first order, Naevia was a docile house slave whose off-camera debasement yielded first a victim, and then a hot blooded killer. Is there a discussion of female empowerment to be had in the wake of her cleaving the fingers of a defenseless fat Roman? Or is she just a sociopath who uses her victimization to justify visiting equal horrors upon the world?

Compare Naevia to Laeta (Anna Hutchison), who assumes the mantle of power left by her husband in dealing with Spartacus on behalf of the surviving Romans. Sure, she abides Spartacus one-way negotiations in handing over the Aedile’s seal, but she also takes advantage of Spartacus’ pedestrian honor to see her people sheltered from the barbarism of rebels like Naevia. Is there not more room for character depth in this study of empowerment? Of course, I could just as easily argue that Naevia is inhabiting a role which we wouldn’t question in a male character; therein Laeta is nothing more than a broad application of socially appropriate maternal behaviour.

I’ll leave that issue open for debate.

Then things got gay…

When I stop to think about it, Agron and Nassir are probably the most well adjusted couple in the history of the series. Lucretia was in love with Crixus while married to Batiatus. Ilithyia would spread her legs for whoever had the most power. Crassus has no love for his wife, preferring the company of a slave. I’m not even going to open the can of worms that is Crixus and Naevia’s relationship. Agron and Nassir, however, went into their relationship on equal footing and seem to have kept it on an even keel. So why not give them the only real sex scene of the episode? Why not take that one scene, bracketed by images of extras of both sexes in various states of undress, and say, “Hey, we’re not just about pandering to one idea of sexuality here.”

Extra kudos to the writers for the two-girl/one-guy threesome fake-out which immediately followed Agron and Nassir’s tumble. For a moment I thought the show would only go gay if immediately followed up with a pubescent male’s ideal three-way as a means of reinforcing heteronormativity. Instead, Gannicus calls off the hedonism, opting for a moment of character growth when he tells Sibyl (Gwendoline Taylor) that she should stay far away from men like him. It is in these moments when we see just how far Gannicus has come since his introduction in the utterly tedious Gods of the Arena.

The fleeting moments of genuine comedy among the madness.

The War of the Damned season title illustrates two things: first, the slaves themselves are likely damned for the suffering they have visited upon Italy; second, the rebellion itself is doomed to failure.

Amid the political intrigues of Rome, the practical concerns of the rebel army, and the moral relativism of both, the story risks exhausting its viewers. In the past, the series has used fights in the arena and eight-way orgies as a means of breaking the tension. This week’s episode saw some laugh out loud dialogue punctuating the drama.

The most memorable line, for what will no doubt be seen as a variety of reasons, was the naked slave who named his cock “magic” only to have a deadpan Crixus say, “Then make it disappear from sight.”

The Worst Legion

Call me a pedant, but Tiberus Crassus’ charge into battle against Spartacus and the Silesian pirates was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on this series. Roman soldiers do not charge into battle like a bunch of drunk Gauls. The strength of the Roman Legion was its discipline. Each man covers the man to the left of him with his shield. Thus, when Roman soldiers advance they do so as one cohesive centuria, commanded by a centurion, not a fucking tribune. TC taking point would be the same as a Major commanding a modern infantry company.

Yes, fine Tiberus Crassus is an ignorant whelp of a soldier, but his men would never break ranks and blunder forth like so many barbarians. For all the minor historical details this show gets right, it makes some giant glaring errors on the fundamentals.

The Verdict

While Men of Honor only advanced the season’s plot in its final ten minutes, the episode gets top marks for casting a considerable pallor over the virtue of our would-be heroes. Can we truly call Spartacus’ cause righteous when his captains are forcing their captives to fight for scraps of food? Where does revenge end and justice begin? What happens when Spartacus isn’t able to control the men who follow him? Perhaps when men of honour find themselves on opposing ends of a cause the only solution is greater bloodshed.


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TV Review: Spartacus War of the Damned Episode 1 – Enemies of Rome

Hail, Spartacus, premium cable welcomes your return. And welcome back to the Page of Reviews, TV Mondays. So here’s how we are going to do it this year: more focus on critical discussion and less on recapping the episode. I don’t get paid enough to burn 1500+ words on recapping something when I can have more fun praising, or demolishing, its larger themes. So let us turn thought to action and put fingers to keyboard.

Episode Overview

Since the bloodbath that was the end of Spartacus Vengeance our eponymous Thracian’s rabble has grown into a proper army. The newly freed men and women have taken to terrorizing Italy, liberating villa slaves and mine labourers alike. The Senate, overstretched through foreign wars, commissions the richest man in Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrells – who bears a striking resemblance to Christoper Eccelston) to raise an army of 10,000 men. Their plan is to crush Spartacus’ army between two forces. Spartacus must now deal with this new external threat while managing the logistics of an army provisioned solely on plunder and forage.

McIntyre Large and In Charge

Liam McIntyre as Spartacus

Last season was an odd one for series lead Liam McIntyre. The then twenty-nine year old actor walked into a Dick Sargent/Dick York switcheroo in the wake of Andy Whitfield’s untimely passing. While McIntyre’s confidence seemed to grow from week to week, it always felt like the writers were keeping him on a leash. Nine times out of ten Spartacus only spoke to deliver a rousing speech about freedom and sacrifice. It felt as if both McIntyre and the writers were trying to balance character consistency with a respect for Whitfiled’s legacy. If Enemies of Rome demonstrates anything, it’s that McIntyre has come into his own as Spartacus.

Though McIntyre sees no short supply of hack and slash action in this episode, Spartacusdialogue is focused on the burdens of command. There’s no way to monologue a General out of having to manage his supply train when soldiers and camp followers alike are reduced to eating festering horse guts. The change facilitates this Spartacus interacting with the common man as Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus did in the film’s second act. This is probably a good thing for McIntyre’s future performances. Where last year McIntyre had to inhabit Whitfield’s Spartacus, while gradually making the character his own, he’s now free to draw inspiration from the man who wrote the book on Spartacus as a fictional character.

Rome’s new champion

Simon Merrells as Marcus Crassus

To wear a toga in Starz’ Spartacus is to revel in hubris…and orgies. A bloated sense of self-importance (and likely an off camera case of the clap) has been the downfall of every major antagonist. In Crassus, however, Spartacus has finally found a worthy foe. Batiatus was an up-jumped lanista with delusions of political office. Though Glaber was a Roman of rank, his title had more to do with his marriage to Ilithyia than personal merit or connections. Crassus, however, knows himself and his powerful station in Rome. Despite this, he spends hours each day training with a former champion of the arena so that he might better know his enemy. When Crassus’ son says that a Roman stands above a slave in all things, Crassus tosses the brat a sword and lets him stand forth for a lesson in humility. For Crassus, the psychology of a champion and a patriotic Roman are one and the same.

It’s a fascinating course change given the series ongoing Upstairs Downstairs-ish investigation of Romans and their slaves. Spartacus himself says that underestimating the enemy is a Roman trait, and arguably the reason why the slaves have been able to do so well in their war. In treating Spartacus as a General, rather than an arena rat, Crassus removes the slave army’s best advantage against the republic.

Since I mentioned Upstairs Downstairs…

When Spartacus Vengeance moved out of the ludus and into Capua and its surrounding hinterland, the series lost its most meaningful way of bringing slaves and Romans together. Sure Ashur and Oenomaus were still hanging about, but they hardly filled in for the microcosm of slave culture as seen in the series’ first season. Moreover, personal intrigues, rather than grand political ones, demanded the Roman side of the story remain centered in Capua’s petty machinations. Of course, all of that could have been avoided if they hadn’t killed off Batiatus.

Enemies of Rome finally brings about a change in perspective which restores the Upstairs Downstairs element of the series. Rome is resplendent in its glory. The character focus is fully entrenched in the business of Senators, Praetors, Consuls, and Tribunes. In stark opposition to this civility is the rebel camp. Children run through mud puddles in bare feet. Men and women alike walk around in tattered rags and fetish attire for want of anything else to wear. While comparing this new tone to something along the lines of HBO’s Rome might be a little over generous to Spartacus, Gannicus’ (Dustin Clare) drunken orgy can attest to that, there’s an obvious high stakes, high politics shift to the story. In many ways this change makes an entire season’s worth of conflict against Praetor Glaber seem like an appetizer for the real story of Spartacus.

On Men and Legends

If a single theme emerges out of the rebel army, it’s the relationship between a man and the idea of a man. Discussions with Nassir (Pana Hema-Taylor), Agron (Dan Feuerriegel), and post-coital Gannicus show that people are following Spartacus because of the legend of the “Bringer of Rain and Breaker of Chains”, not because of any particular tactical genius on his part. Indeed, Gannicus quite rightly calls Spartacus on the fact that he has no end-game to his crusade against Rome. This begs the question, will Spartacus shift from idealism to pragmatism? Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus pillaged and liberated as a means of buying ships to flee from Italy. Whitfield/McIntyre’s Spartacus rages against an institution. We all know how the story ends, but the route it takes to get Spartacus up on the cross is what matters.

Technical Foul

War of the Damned’s very first scene screams, “Look at us! We’ve tripled our production budget!” Romans on horseback, scads of extras, and gratuitous blood splatters further drive home the fact that the series finally has some decent money behind each episode. Yet the ability of Roman swords to cleave head from neck in a single strike, though gloriously gory and theatrical, is a bit over the top. Unless Rome discovered Valyrian steel, the chances of a gladius, whose primary use was for thrusting rather than slashing, cleaving off heads left, right, and center are slim to none.

The Bottom Line

Evaluating an episode of Spartacus often comes down to counting the frequency and depravity of its sex scenes. Though Gannicus’ scene, complete with obligatory girl on girl action, ranked about a 7.0 on the series adjusted Richter scale, it was the only one of the episode. The main focus was split between introducing Crassus as an honourable foe for Spartacus and demonstrating the practical, rather than tactical, problems facing Spartacus’ army. Grand questions on the dangers of a leader becoming bigger than his ideals are asked, but left to fester in the minds of character and audience alike. As series openers go, Enemies of Rome is fantastic. It is instantly one of the high points of the series. Now let’s hope the momentum carries forward from here.


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Television Review/Recap: Spartacus Vengeance Episode 10

What sort of loose formation is this?

As prophesied, the final episode of Spartacus: Vengeance sees a whole bunch of main characters get killed. Did their deaths serve a purpose? Maybe, a little.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Was there action? Yes. Was there blood? Oh yes, by the bucket full. Did people get what they deserved? Some. How do I feel about it? Meh.

I’m going to write a wrap-up piece on the series next week, so I’ll save much of my criticism for that. For now, I’ll say that the route that Steven S. DeKnight, took to get Spartacus from A to B is not the path I would have walked. Yay, arm chair screen writing/directing; isn’t the internet a great place?

The episode opens atop Vesuvius. As expected, things are pretty rough. Mira explains to Spartacus, before getting in a little dig about his “next woman”, that the group is running low on food. Before Spartacus can respond to Mira’s barb, Crixus alerts Spartacus to the fact that some of the Germans are trying to breach the Roman position at the foot of the mountain.

This unauthorized sortie would have worked had Ashur and the Egyptian not conveniently arrived at the picket line to lend a hand. Before Ashur can cleave German skull asunder, Mira, Spartacus, Crixus and Gannicus show up to save the day. And then Mira gets an axe in the chest.

Kill count = 1

Also, remember last week when I said that for want of a relationship with Spartacus, Mira had no point in the story?

Alas, Mira, you should never break up with the leading man.

Normally I love being right, but Mira’s death is just too pointless for me to feel good about it. It reminded me of when Wash died in Serenity. The powers that be killed somebody just to show the audience that no primary is safe. Oh wait, this is Spartacus, we already knew that; we learned that lesson when Varro died. So now Katrina Law, who I’ve found to be a rather good actress within the series, is gone for season four. Boo!

Cut scene to Lucretia and Ilithyia in a cart together. Having reconciled with Glaber, Ilithyia is eager for her child to be born in Rome. She takes to the road so that she might convince Glaber to press his men up the mountain, rather than letting starvation do his job for him. Ilithyia also expects that Lucretia will be returning to Rome with the couple. Inevitably, Lucretia reveals Glaber’s plans for her vis-a-vis becoming Ashur’s bride. She also hints at a plan of her own to get out of it. Ilithyia, who now seems to have well and truly forgiven Lucretia for everything that happened in Season 1, reassures her friend that all will be put right.

With Shakespearian delicacy, Ilithyia pours a little poison into Glaber’s ear. First, she convinces Glaber to assault the mountain sooner rather than later. Then, she re-writes the story of how Seppia came to learn of her brother’s fate. With the now infamous snake bracelet in her hand, Ilithyia casts Ashur as the agent provocateur behind Seppia’s aborted assassination. Glaber, perhaps too easily, buys into the idea that Ashur is nothing more than a Syrian viper. And since murder is always more fun in pairs, Glaber informs Ilithyia that Lucretia has served her purpose as prophetess. The oddest of couples are loose ends that need tying up.

It seems odd to write Ashur’s name in close proximity to the word innocence, but such was the case. Glaber, however, refused entertain the Syrian’s pleas of loyalty. Instead, the Praetor sent Ashur up Vesuvius with an offer of clemency for the rebels if Spartacus would surrender his life. After giving a speech, Spartacus sends Ashur on his way. Yet Crixus has other plans. The Gaul would send Ashur’s head to Glaber as answer to his offer. Ashur cites his wounded arm as grounds for unfair completion between Crixus and himself. So Naevia steps up to settle accounts with the Syrian.

Kill count = 2

Oh don’t look so surprised; we all knew that Ashur had to die. Once he crossed the line in to being Mr. Rapey McRaperson, his days were numbered. However, his Iago-esque final lines were, for want of a better word, spectacular.

““Killing me won’t erase the feeling of my cock inside her, or all those that followed.”

One last chew at the scenery for a once great villain.

Still, Mira dies and Naevia lives? It hardly seems fair if you ask me. Mira evoked Artemis: a strong warrior and voice of proto-feminist reform. Naevia is as blood thirsty as Ares. I’ll take the earlier one for the win any day. I suppose the writers will have an easier time with brooding Spartacus than having to dive headlong back into the scummy waters of howling mad/sad Crixus.

After a chat with Gannicus, Spartacus devises a plan. He’d been using the vines that grow on the rock face of Vesuvius to shroud Mira’s body. Perhaps they could be used for other purposes? Purposes that involve rappelling down the side of the mountain.

Meanwhile Lucretia and Ilithyia are back at the ludus in Capua. Lucretia, thinking herself free of Ashur, tosses the red wig over the villa’s balcony to the cliff below. Joined by Ilithyia, the two women go on about how both shall soon be free of this, that, and the other thing.

*Shameless foreshadowing alert*

With Lucretia’s back turned, Ilithyia moves closer to the woman who earlier in the episode was a “cherished friend”. Despite her mixed feelings, the Praetor’s wife is intent upon uniting Lucretia with the gods. At the last possible second Lucretia turns to see her “friend” with hands raised in murderous intent. Pause for dramatic effect; then camera pan down to reveal Ilithyia’s water has broken.

Seriously? Considering the amount of water on the floor, I expect Ilithyia would have noticed something amiss a little sooner. Then again, I’ve never witnessed that particular biological function. Anybody care to educate me on this point? Anyway, murder is set aside as Lucretia takes Ilithyia inside to deliver.

Back at Vesuvius, Spartacus, Agron, Crixus, and Gannicus use vine ropes and cover of night to get behind the Romans’ line. After slitting a few throats, they make for the siege engines. The bombardment that follows lays waste to the Roman encampment. Furious, Glaber orders a charge on the rear flank. Just before the first rank of Romans cross steel with the small commando squad, Oenomaus and Nassir lead the rest of the rebel contingent down the mountain. The desperate assault catches the advancing Romans completely out of position. Guts and gore ensue. Oh and I hope nobody particularly cared about Oenomaus because he gets a sword through the stomach while fighting the Egyptian. With his final breath Oenomaus tells Gannicus that he’s off to be reunited with his wife.

Kill count = 3

Wait, they killed the only Black guy in the show?

I don’t want to say I saw it coming, but Oenomaus hadn’t been getting a lot of screen time. Notwithstanding the second and fifth episodes, I don’t really think the writers knew what to do with him.

Having lost the imitative in battle, Glaber orders a retreat to the temple. Spartacus, covered in blood and full of fury, commands his men to press their advantage.

Now things start to get a bit stupid.

We return to the villa to see Lucretia playing midwife to Ilithyia. She returns from getting some “herbs to soothe pain” covered in blood. It seems that Lucretia went on a killing spree while she was gone, a spree that extends to the slave attending Ilithyia’s bedside.

I’m sorry, but the time for Lucretia to go crazy was way earlier in the series. She’s been too normal for too long for this reversal of character to have any meaning. Any thoughts that I had toward Lucretia playing the long con died when the arena burned down. Now, without any regard for the integrity of the character or the intelligence of the audience, Lucretia decides to go bat shit crazy. Cut scene and Lucretia is outside on the sands of the ludus. With the newborn babe wrapped in her dress, she’s walking toward the cliff at the far side of the training area. At the same time, Ilithyia is crawling toward Lucretia, leaving a trail of blood behind her as she moves.

For the briefest of moments I thought Lucretia would claim the baby as hers. A legal heir to Quintus Batiatus would allow Lucretia to act as steward of the boy’s inheritance until he came of age. Such was not the case. Lucretia, one of the best characters in the show, mutters something in her crazy voice about “Quintus always wanting a son” before throwing herself and the baby off the cliff.

Kill count = 5

Can we say crazy eyes?

Bullshit. Total bullshit. Remind me again why I’m going to watch this show without Lucy Lawless or John Hannah?

Things wrap up at Vesuvius about as I expected. Romans die. Spartacus has a sword fight with Glaber. Glaber warns Spartacus that he hasn’t won anything; Rome will send legions to hunt him down. And Spartacus puts his sword down Glaber’s throat.

Kill count = 6

The season ends with Spartacus telling Crixus that it is time to build an army. Then there’s one last quick speech about freedom.

C’est ca.

At least now that they’ve killed Lucretia, Seppia, Seppius, and Glaber, there’s no reason for the series to be tethered to Capua. Next season SHOULD see a shift toward Rome, Crassus, and the glory stealer himself, Pompey. Still, I can’t help but thinking that this was the season of unrealized potential. I kept waiting for things to happen, but they never quite materialized in the way I expected. I’ll speak more on this next week when I do my season wrap-up post.

For now, I want to thank everybody for coming back week after week to read my recap/reviews. Starting next week, Monday shifts from Spartacus to Game of Thrones on the Page of Reviews.