Episode 10 - Victory
16 April 2013
Synopsis: Spartacus spreads confusion to try and throw Pompey off his scent. He also prepares for the final battle, sending the women and children toward the Alps. Meanwhile Crassus finds out the truth about Tiberius and Kore and forgives her. Spartacus asks Gannicus to lead a part of the army. Crassus asks Spartacus for a private conversation before the battle. The battle sees almost all the rebels fall. Spartacus nearly kills Crassus but lives long enough to die a free man. Gannicus joins Kore on the cross. Agron and Nassir lead what remains of the rebels out of Italy.
The Good: What a tremendous finale. I got teary eyed twice as the producers found the right notes to strike in the tragedy of defeat.
Something that has failed for the past two seasons was finally put right as we got a proper build-up to battle. There's no reason this couldn't have been done before but obviously being the last stand it had an extra resonance. I liked the demonstration of Agron's crippling and Nassir's improvised shield. If we'd had longer to get to this moment the construction of the shield would have been even sweeter. The various goodbyes were all solid but the moment when Spartacus lifted his battle map to glance at a map of Thrace really began the emotions for me. His talk of the hole in his heart for Sura was moving and we got hints of the links back to season one which would add so much to the episode.
The meeting between Spartacus and Crassus was a terrific rhetorical battle. Last season Glaber and Spartacus kept running into one another and this stood out because it was their first confrontation. It also helped that Crassus, unlike almost every other Roman, treated him with respect. The argument over Crixus and Tiberius' death gave the key Kore detail but the rest of the conversation was excellent. Crassus has no argument against Spartacus' yearning for freedom and the simple focus on freedom gave the whole episode a simple but powerful moral point of view.
Crassus has been an excellent foil for Spartacus and once more we saw that in his reaction to the truth about Tiberius. Instead of maniacally launching himself against Kore he instead looks inward. He accepts that if Tiberius was such a monster then he bears some responsibility for that. The Crassus character received a pretty strong send-off at the end of the episode too. He leaves Kore to be crucified and even accepts Pompey swooping in to steal his glory. He explains to Caesar that the past and present are so full or injustice and horror that the only thing to live for is the future when things may be better. It was a very rational and emotionally numb ending for a character who represented Rome better than any other in the series.
Back to the battle though and this was the first major action sequence that really worked. Again it helps that it was the final battle and so there was real consequence to be had. However the balance between spectacular wide shots with individual sparring was strong and each minor character death (Lugo, Saxa, Naevia) was given its moment to land. The tactical victories which the rebels won were more effective because of their ultimate unimportance. All episode characters talked of the overwhelming advantage of Crassus' forces and so those glimmers of hope only made the subsequent deaths sadder. To see Gannicus slashing at a wall of shields in impotent rage was a surprisingly powerful sight.
Poor Gannicus. It seemed all season that he was destined to escape Italy with Sibyl. Instead he suffered the fate he had been horrified by for so long (307) for the cause he always knew was doomed. His finally glimpse of glory in the arena felt to me like a strange one. It fit the character just fine to once more remember himself a God of the arena. It also fit the show that he would recall the one way in which Roman slaves could find immortality. Perhaps the bitter sweet knowledge that the greatest moment of his life was when enslaved was meant to be a deliberately ambiguous note but I suspect the writers just never figured out how to square that circle.
The Spartacus-Crassus confrontation was absolutely terrific. The last two seasons have been a slog for those of who found the first two so exhilarating. Finally I was able to let my guard down and cheer unambiguously for Spartacus as he cut down a troop of guards to reach his nemesis. At last the slow motion was done away with until it was needed. The sight of both men slipping on the dust and gore and bleeding profusely all added much needed realism. The sound department earned their money too with the sound of steel clashing really making an impact. The flashes to those Spartacus had lost were effective at showing us his final violent surge for victory and I loved the use of Crassus' season opening manoeuvre (of grasping the sword) and how Spartacus went one better in catching it. It felt just right that Spartacus was too good for anyone until the weight of Rome's numbers caught up with him. After so many javelin strikes landing on Romans, it felt appropriate too to see our hero struck down that way. The parting dialogue was pitch perfect too:
Crassus: "Would that you had been born a Roman and stood beside me." (Gracious and respectful in victory)
Spartacus: "Blessed fate, that it was not so." (Defiant to the end)
I really thought it was the perfect death scene as Spartacus grasped Sura's fabric one last time and initially I was disappointed that Agron and Nassir saved him when they did. However to later have him die a free man was a nice moral victory that didn't dilute the sadness of his passing too much. Both moments brought tears to the back of my eyes so all credit to producers and to Liam McIntyre for their work. To have the "Bringer of Rain" do it once again and to remember that the name Spartacus wasn't really his were excellent details to include.
The Bad: The trench and concealed ladders on the battlefield were pretty silly. How exactly did the rebels do all that without the Romans seeing? That misunderstanding about how armies scouted terrain has been a constant problem. There's no way Gannicus' detachment should have been able to get behind Crassus army. However as the rebels lost neither moment bothered me too much. Nor how exactly Crassus found a neutral hill for the pre-battle chinwag. For their one-on-one confrontation I was actually pleased with the logic even though in a real battle I'm sure it couldn't have happened. However to have Crassus rushed from the field by his bodyguard and be pursued by Spartacus worked for me.
The Unknown: It's not clear how Laeta, Sibyl and the others escaped Pompey's men. Nor whether the remaining rebels will make it to safety. But let's assume they do :-).
Best Moment: One or both of Spartacus' deaths.
The Bottom Line: It's a real credit to the producers that they created such a moving and entertaining finale. It annoys me in a way that they clearly understood the need for build-up and consequence and yet spent the last two seasons ignoring both. Ditto the use of slow motion when it was far more dramatic watching Spartacus simply lose his footing than it was watching CGI limbs go flying.
But as I've said all along season one of Spartacus was something very special. Real effort went into the construction of the universe of the ludus and with a bit of luck with casting the show rose above what was on the page. With Andy Whitfield's tragic death the momentum was gone and the decision to rush through the story in this final season was a blessing and a curse. The events of season one felt closer than they might, so perhaps it was a wise decision. Through all the missteps it's nice to be able to leave the show with the simple memory of a man who'd been wronged striking back at his oppressors. The tragedy and triumph of the slave rebellion was communicated well by the final chapter.
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