Spartacus: War Of The Damned continues to plumb the depths of war depravity in an episode that proves that no one is going to escape this series without scars.
Let’s bitch it out…Since I was on vacation and the last new episode was two weeks ago, let’s recap 3×03 briefly: Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) made some new pirates friends, led by Heracleo (Vince Colosimo) and had a brawl with Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) and the Romans on the beach. This skirmish left Tiberius with a pretty serious wound (that’s why you listen to your father, kids!) and shamed the Romans into retreat.
Meanwhile, Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) went cray-cray on Attius (Cohen Holloway) the blacksmith, whom she killed under the pretense that he was helping Romans escape. The final scene proved her a liar, since it was Roman noblewoman Laeta (Anna Hutchison) who – in a move of poor decision-making – hid a posse of Romans in her stables after Spartacus allows her free access to the city.
‘Decimation’ – like all of the best Spartacus episodes – shows the all-consuming, unforeseen fall-out from these events. We knew that there would be a price to pay for Spartacus’ tolerance of the Romans, and it looks like food scarcity is the issue that initiates the downfall of the rebels. Naevia makes the continuing kindess towards the Romans a point of contention to spur Crixus (Manu Bennett) into action, prompting his fall from second in command at the top of the hour to plotting a defection by the end. Not helping matters is Gannicus (Dustin Clare), who seeks retribution for Attius’ death and struggles to remain an outsider in the political decision-making (Clare’s world weary characterization remains one to watch as this final season unfolds).
Caught in the mix is an undercover Caesar (Todd Lasance), whose presence is barely required for spreading dissent and initiate a full blown Roman massacre. In many ways even if Caesar weren’t there, this outcome seems inevitable (the group seems destined to fracture). Ultimately Spartacus can’t overcome the fact that he’s literally only one man and while he has idealistic beliefs about how the rebels shouldn’t sink to the level of the Romans, his people’s acceptance of these ideals are inversely proportional to their size: as it grows, so too does their desire for bloodshed and vengeance.
At the center of this storm is Naevia, who I can’t say that I care for much. I admit that I found the transition from Lesley Ann-Brandt (in S1 and the prequel) to new actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson (in S2 and the current season) challenging because the two actresses play the character in dramatically different ways. As Ryan McGee noted in his review of 3×03, Naevia’s sudden reversion to “angry, scared rape victim” (a brand she wore for most of last season) has come out of nowhere. The result is that her attitude and reactions feel disingenuous. Where did this sudden trauma come from? The fact that her desire for revenge (and consequently Crixus’ support) is now the main driving force for the split among the rebels takes some of the impact out of what is otherwise a very, very strong storyline.
- The other half of the story focuses on the relationship between Crassus and Tiberius. Let’s face it, Tiberius is totally responsible for the failed beach attack on Spartacus and the only reason he’s getting a free pass is because he was nearly killed. That doesn’t lessen Crassus’ anger, though, since his track record is forever marred by the loss. He gets even with a barbaric punishment – the titular ‘Decimation’ – to unite the soldiers who deserted in an act of group murder. Naturally sexy friend Sabinus (Aaron Jakubenko) draws a white stone and is beaten to death by Tiberius (that Sabinus would die has been a gimme since the start of the season). This leads to the powerful moment when Tiberius’ relationship with his dad forever changes as son addresses father as Imperator . One moment Tiberius is a reckless, impetuous wannabe; now he’s a battle weary man
- The extended romantic sex scene between Crassus and house-slave Kore (Jenna Lind) is used not only as a showcase for his human side, but as nice contrast compared to his role as the leader of an army who is willing to offer his own son as a Decimation sacrifice. Clearly one side is divorced from the other (Side Note: Does Kore intend to put Tiberius in danger when she encourages Crassus to consider his son equal to the other soldiers or is this an unintentional side effect?)
- As McGee suggests, how long before Agron (Daniel Feuerriegel) effs up the deal with the pirates because he’s jealous of Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor)? Hopefully Spartacus won’t be this predictable
- Sibyl (Gwendoline Taylor) is either going to be an annoying pain until she’s brutally killed (likely protecting Gannicus) or she’s being groomed to play a key role. Thus far the lurking admirer thing isn’t really working for me, and I almost wish Saxa (Ellen Hollman) would just put her head on a pike, as threatened
- Finally, the last two episodes have done a really spectacular job of complicating both sides of the impending war. With that said, the show has crossed the “blood and T&A” to line to full-on “not for the faint of heart.” My tipping point: the treatment of Fabia, the Roman hostage kept in a dank hidden cell who receives a cut each time she is raped. That is some hardcore, awful “humanity sucks” stuff and I can imagine sensitive viewers having great difficulty swallowing some of this recent content
What are your thoughts on the recent dark turn of events on the show? Are you rooting for anyone at this point? Do you think Tiberius will forever be scarred/hardened by his role in the death of Sabinus? Does Caesar really need to do anything to cause the rebels to implode? Hit the comments below and be sure to hug a kitten to shake off the darkness of watching this episode.
Spartacus: War Of The Damned airs Fridays at 9pm EST on STARZ