Apologies to readers for missing out on the final batch of Spartacus: War Of The Damned episodes. One week after the series finale, I’ve finally had the chance to catch-up, so without further ado, read on for my thoughts on episodes 3×08-3×10.
Let’s bitch it out…
I’ve long told friends and family that Spartacus is an unappreciated gem of a television series. These final episodes only solidify that belief as they prove to offer everything fans could want and expect. While there were ebbs and flows over the course of the three seasons (and shortened prequel), this final season has been quite strong and ultimately built to a memorable and, for the most part, emotionally satisfying climax.
I say for the most part because upon reflection there was a little too much effort made to turn the Roman parts of War Of The Damned into an integral part of the drama. This might have worked had Crassus (Simon Merrell), Caesar (Todd Lasance), and Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) been introduced before the start of the season. Unfortunately because we only had a limited time to get to know these characters, there were times when the writers had to hurry us along, which occasionally turned promising characters into two dimensional caricatures. The character who suffered the most: Tiberius. A great deal of time and effort was expended to turn Tiberius into a villain on par with Asher (an unseen Nick Tarabay), but for several reasons Antidormi was unable to make Tiberius more than a spoiled brat*. As a result I had a great deal of troubling investing in his “who’s penis is bigger” pissing contest with Caesar.
*With that said, however, once I got over the shock of Tiberius being the one to “defeat” Crixus (Manu Bennett) in 3×08, it definitely made the anticipation of Tiberius’ death at the hands of Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) that much more enjoyable in 3×09 ‘The Dead And Dying.’
Of the final episodes, 3×09 was my least favourite. I understand what ‘The Dead And Dying’ was trying to do – especially the reintroduction of the gladiatorial ring – but the extended sequence of watching nameless Red Shirt Romans fall to our seasoned victors a) went on for too long and b) felt like a hamfisted way of once again exploring how the slaves and the Romans act alike when they are in power (something we saw a great deal of early this season). With so little time left with these characters, I wanted less gratuitous sex and violence in the final episodes and simply more time with them.
In my opinion, this is where 3×08 ‘Separate Paths’ and 3×10 ‘Victory’, the series finale, excel. The high melodrama of seeing Crixus and Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) separate and then Crixus dies in battle is a huge emotional pay-off for one of the series’ most memorable and challenging relationships. The conversations between Spartacus and Crixus when they discuss what they would and would not have done differently did an amazing job of celebrating their unlikely friendship. It felt particularly well-earned and even though it pained me to see Crixus fall so early, his death is handled with an appropriate level of gravitas that might have been lost had it occurred nearer the end of the series. The visual finality of seeing Crixus’ head separate from his head in the reflection in Naevia’s eyes is particularly memorable.
The way the series has handled death is one of its strongest traits. In particular, the finale allows each character their own “moment” (for lack of a better word) as they leave this world for the next. Naevia’s is particularly brutal, which is saying something considering I never really warmed to Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s take on the character. Gannicus’ (Dustin Clare) is also difficult to bear, though his death mirage, in which he sees Doctore (Peter Mensah) smiling at him as the arena crowds roar, is the silver-lining in an emotionally draining death. RIP Gannicus: I desperately wanted you to live on.
- When it’s all said and done, I would have liked a little less predictability for some of the characters. It’s been far too obvious that Saxa (Ellen Hollman) would fall and Gannicus would be there to catch her, but it still feels like an empty conclusion (he gave up her for Gwendoline Taylor’s Sibyl??? Blah). Similarly, the moment Crassus (Simon Merrell) indicates he is unable to forgive Kore (Jenna Lind), you know that she’s a goner.
- One pleasant surprise: the return – and survival – of Daniel Feuerriegel’s Agron. While we knew that – much like Saxa – Castus (Blessing Mokgohloa) would die in battle, it’s lovely that Agron and Nasir (Pana Hema-Taylor) live to see another day. Just goes to show you that the gay couple can have a happy ending!
- What becomes of our rebels at the end of ‘Victory’ is extremely difficult to watch – not only because so many of them have fallen, but because of the terrible gruesomeness of seeing them lined up on crosses. Although we’ve known since the very first episode that the rebellion would fail, it doesn’t make it any easier to witness
- With that said, I absolutely adore the way Spartacus’ battle with Crassus on the hilltop is handled. The intercuts of Spartacus’ wife and the lack of extradiegetic music makes the battle so much more than the culmination of a season’s worth of conflict. The images of Spartacus’ wife indicates that this is about his entire crusade for freedom from slavery, while the lack of music highlights the sheer force – and exhaustion – the battle takes on both men (remember these two are seasoned warriors). Side Note: having both Spartacus and Crassus grab the blade of the sword between their hands is a great visual to remind us of not only their equal pairing, but also a nice callback to Crassus’ introduction back in 3×02 when he spars with his gladiator trainer
- Other great callbacks: during the return to the “games” in ‘The Dead And Dying’, I like how Spartacus breaks out the old school gladiator moves, including jump kicks, clotheslines and the ever popular decapitation by X’d swords in the ground
- Whether or not STARZ follows through on the rumoured Crassus/Caesar spin-off (series showrunner Steven DeKnight has already moved on to other projects), there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing the two of them fall in line after Pompei more or less decrees himself the Roman victor. In the world of Roman politics, this is business as usual and reputations must still be curried and favoured
- At the end of the day, you gotta feel a little sorry for Anna Hutchinson. She starts out War Of The Damned with such a meaty role and finishes as just another follower heading over the mountains. Oh sure, she has her moments along the way (as well as bragging rights as one of only three women to get a roll in the hay with Spartacus), but in hindsight, Laeta proved to be an unmemorable character
- Finally, those last image – recalling all of the characters – as the credits roll is a great touch. I can imagine many fans (myself included) commenting as they see favourites long departed appear in Spartacus’s memorable pop-up fashion (Viva Blanca – I freakin’ love you!). Whoever made the call to end with original Spartacus actor Andy Whitfield yelling “I am Spartacus” deserves a special kudos. Very classy
Your (belated) turn: what did you think of this final batch of episodes? Were there any scenes in particular that stood out to you as significant milestones? How did you handle the deaths of so many of these significant characters? And what do you think Spartacus‘ legacy will be? Hit the comments one last time with your thoughts.
Spartacus: War Of The Damned has now finished airing on STARZ