Spartacus: War Of The Damned is just getting started, but our intrepid crew of slaves have already landed themselves a big victory, though it comes at a cost. Also: a certain key historical figure enters the picture.
Let’s bitch it out…Much like last week’s premiere, ‘Wolves At The Gate’ features a split narrative: one half follows the actions of the slave rebellion as they topple the Roman city of Sinuessa en Valle and massacre its inhabitants, while the other introducesa dirty, sexy Caesar (Todd Lasance) as a key player in Crassus’ (Simon Merrells) army. It’s an audacious balancing act that only works because the scenes in Rome are nearly as intriguing as those concerning the rebellion, though I will admit the scenes of dominus’ taking advantage of their slaves reminds me a little too much of the first and second seasons when we had greats like John Hannah, Lucy Lawless and Viva Blanca kicking around.
I’m unsure what everyone else thought of Caesar, but I certainly didn’t expect Lasance’s take. His Caesar is a wild, unkempt man with some pretty strange sexual perversions and just the right amount of dangerous menace lurking under the surface. The drama unfolding between him and Crassus’ son, Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) – a battle of wills for the mutual respect and honour of Crassus with just a hint of sexual tension – should be fun to see play out. I do like how the show is tying Caesar’s rise to fame with Crassus’ wealth since it’s clear that at some point one will betray the other.
The other significant new character on the scene is Laeta (Anna Hutchinson, from my #5 best film of 2012 Cabin In The Woods), a noblewoman in Sinuessa en Valle. She is first befriended by Spartacus, and then used by him once the hordes descend upon the city. It’s clear from the moment that the attack begins that this will not be a bloodless affair as it harks back to the first season finale in which the entire house of Batiatus was savagely murdered. The violence on display here is pretty graphic, even if it is overly dramatized. I was particularly annoyed by the murder of the mother/daughter that Spartacus interacts with early in the episode – it feels like a desperate attempt by the writer to ensure we don’t condone the violence (“Look, these are good people! They didn’t deserve this!”)
The simple fact is that this is war, and obviously there will be casualties and not all of them will be oppressors. It would be easy if everyone who is killed is like Laurus, the dominus who stones a rebellious slave in the market in front of everyone. Obviously this guy deserves a grisly death (and a round of applause for the one that he gets!).
Let me be clear: I appreciate that the show is making an effort to depict this darker side of the conflict. But showcasing how nice people are so that you can show their bloodied bodies is nothing more than a cheap trick, an attempt to generate emotional sympathy (for the Romans) and outrage (at the rebels).
A subtler touch would have been more effective. Take, for example, the use of Laeta as a decoy to distract Ennius, her husband before he sets aflame the city’s grain supply. While the man is clearly expendable, it does seem like Laeta has convinced him to the open the gate and save the remaining citizens who have not been killed. Instead of waiting to see what Ennius does, Spartacus shoves a lance through his open mouth (yum) and explains that he couldn’t chance the outcome. In this way Spartacus – the show and the man – acknowledge that terrible things occur in war, but this is accomplished without needing to pull out the soap box to preach.
- Can we all agree that a body like Caesar’s would be impossible for a soldier to maintain? As much as I love the Spartacus eye-candy, it sure can induce an ugly shame spirals (especially when I’m eating licorice while watching the show)
- I’m unsure what to make of the relationship between Crassus and his slave Kore (Jenna Lind). Clearly there’s a touch of frigidity in his marriage, so it shouldn’t surprise that he’s getting some on the down low. Naturally this will only lead to disaster. My guess: Tiberius doesn’t know and when he does, the sh*t will hit the fan
- Nice to see Gannicus (Dustin Clare) get a meet-cute moment with Sibyl (Gwendoline Taylor), one of Laurus’ slaves. Nothing says instant attraction like watching some guy cut your master’s head in half. How do you top that on the first date? And what does it meet for Gannicus’ sexy-times with Saxa (Ellen Hollman)?
- Finally, we haven’t really spent much time with either Crixus (Manu Bennett) or Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), but can I just say that Crixus’ hair looks really terrible? Thaaaaat’s all I’ve really got to say about either of them
How did the bloodshed at the city sacking make you feel? Are you enjoying the new characters, or do you feel like we’re not seeing enough of our old favourites? Are you intrigued by this dirtier, sexier version of Caesar? And how long before Spartacus makes sweet, sweet love to Laeta? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.
Spartacus: War Of The Damned airs Fridays at 10pm EST on STARZ