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Spartacus

Spartacus is a drama about a Thracian soldier imprisoned by the Roman Republic around the turn of the 1st century BC. He is sold into slavery and trained to be a gladiator in the city of Capua. STARZ 2010-???

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Episode 8 - Balance

24 March 2012

Credit STARZ

Synopsis: Gannicus dumps Ilithyia at Spartacus' feet demanding that the conflict end here. She tells Spartacus that the child is his though and he stays his hand. Mira tries to kill her for him but Spartacus insists that he isn't like Glaber and won't do it. Instead Lucius volunteers to negotiate with Glaber for some better weapons. Glaber agrees to the exchange but tries to ambush Spartacus. He seems happy to see Ilithyia lost and is enjoying his time with Seppia. Lucretia is outraged to see Ilithyia left to die and so reveals to Seppia what Glaber did to her brother.

The Good: There were lots of good moments to enjoy but I think the overall results here weren't good.

We got a number of pleasing vignettes between couples throughout. Spartacus and Mira were as cute as they have ever been while out hunting and Agron and Nassir generated a similar smile. It was genuinely heart warming though to see Naevia and Crixus shamelessly making out as she proves herself to be capable with a sword. Even Glaber and Seppia's pillow talk was well scripted as she tries to nab a husband and he drowns whatever remains of his conscience in the delights of her youth.  

Ashur continued to grow as a character in my eyes. He continued to taunt Lucretia with his new status and throwing Seppia's youth in her face. Then he seemed genuinely angry and hurt when she slapped him, reminding of the lowly status he has worked so hard to overcome. Whether this depth was intentional or not I don't know but Ashur had just returned from a day of horrible torture. You might conclude that the soul destroying effect of such labours had taken its toll on him. He seemed tired and worn down. He took out those emotions on Lucretia in a way which seemed sadly believable.

Gannicus too maintained a distinct character when the explanation for his kidnapping came out. He still wants to put an end to needless conflict and so hoped Ilithyia's life would put an end to Spartacus' cause.

Spartacus' moral stance was just about plausible (more on that in a moment) and was certainly aided by the twin issues of how Sura would look upon his actions and the potential that Ilithyia's baby was his. Of course the ghost of Varro was screaming off screen and the writers have been clever in leaving out Ilithyia's role in that incident. There is no way it could be traced back to her and would only have complicated matters further. I liked the various bits of re-filming which put Liam McIntyre into the Ilithyia-Sura shots. I also enjoyed his use of a strip of fabric to pay Glaber back for the insult paid to him way back in the shows second episode. Spartacus' harsh words to Mira "You do not know my heart!" came across as particularly cold. It will be interesting to see if she turns her back on him or pushes even harder for his love.  

Lucius' visit to Capua was brief but probably contained the best moment of the episode (see Best Moment).

The Bad: There were a number of problems with this. Morality is a notoriously complicated issue on TV.

Many action shows feel that to keep the drama going their characters must be put through numerous testing situations which force them to kill or harm others and yet still maintain the role of good guy. Spartacus is someone who has been killing people since the first episode of the show. In the first episode of this season his men seemed to be slaughtering indiscriminately at a whore house even when it was impossible to tell who was slave and who was customer.

Then there was that whole incident at the Arena. I expect the writers think the awesomeness of that spectacle overrode the very real consideration that Spartacus became a mass murderer in that moment. What Sura would think of hundreds of people burning to death or being crushed by falling masonry hasn't been addressed.

Yet suddenly we are being asked to cheer Spartacus on as the moral centre of the show when he won't kill Ilithyia. That's a tough thing to accept under the circumstances. Gannicus actually looks increasingly sensible in suggesting that Spartacus give up on his war and leave Roman soil instead of dragging more and more to their deaths.

I think the writers were probably wrong to bring morality into focus like this. Spartacus is on difficult territory trying to claim that he is fighting both a war for personal vengeance and for the freedom of all men. Which one is it dude?

If he wants to bring down the Republic by all means necessary then do it. He certainly shouldn't leave Ilithyia in the woods. Won't she now have a pretty good idea of where the slaves are and be able to bring soldiers to bear against them? It was a major anticlimax not to at least use her as a propaganda tool against the Romans. I also felt that earlier in the episode Spartacus looked foolish for not putting her under a more trusted guard. The uncouth Germans outside surely would have been tempted to kill or torture her themselves?

Making Spartacus look foolish is something the writing should avoid at all costs. Unfortunately his weapons for wife exchange did just that. Lucius claimed that the deal would be off if soldiers were seen on the roads. Yet Glaber seemed to have parked an entire century behind a nearby building and the slaves didn't notice. It made them look deeply stupid and unprepared.

As a television spectacle the confrontation was also a letdown. As expected Ashur's goons were no match for the men trained under Oenomaus and the slow motion slashes felt inconsequential. We really have reached the "Prison Break Season Two" situation that many of us feared when season one ended. Glaber and Spartacus have come face to face three times in eight episodes and each time neither dies the story becomes less interesting. We all know Glaber is going to fall eventually and by teasing it the show actually dilutes the final moment. I felt similarly about Mira choking Ilithyia. Use a knife and get the job done.

The Unknown: The machinations back in Capua really have become quite complicated. By insisting repeatedly that Ilithyia must be saved Lucretia seems to be giving away her real desire. I feel pretty confident that she is planning a horrible vengeance on her former friend. If she were just looking out for herself then she would surely have been sucking up rather than talking down to Seppia.

Seppia on the other hand now wants to kill Glaber and yet we have no context for what this would mean. The amazing thing about season one of Spartacus was we (the viewer) always knew the consequences of every act the characters took would have. In Seppia's case I don't know what to think. If this were season one I would expect her to go seek justice from a Magistrate. Or perhaps to go find her own pater familias and tell him what Glaber was up to. But in a world where Glaber can go slicing up citizens (in the whorehouse) without fear of reprisal I'm sure Seppia will stay where she is. Doubtless Lucretia will begin whispering in her ear about how she could bump off the Praetor. I hope they will both think about where they would go once his body hit the floor.

Gannicus' decision to stay with the slaves feels a bit weak. He has done his best to make peace with Oenomaus and even tried to avert a bloody war. We all make mistakes, I say forgive yourself and get away from this mess. Instead he seems so obsessed with Oenomaus' approval that he is going to stay and fight for a cause he doesn't believe in.

Best Moment: The writers played with our perception of Lucius' loyalties to make his arrival in Capua more intriguing. He asks Glaber if he can restore the lands that were taken from him in exchange for Spartacus' location. Of course Glaber says he can. "And what of my own wife?" Lucius goes on. "My children. My brothers and sisters all slaughtered in the name of Rome. Is it within your power to return them to me too you fucking cunt?" Glaber reaches for his sword and Lucius growls "Lay a hand on me and your wife dies!"

It was one of the few moments this season that has really felt vital and filled with potential consequence. We know that Lucius is in great danger and is being brave by standing up to Glaber like this. That context gave the exchange real resonance in a way that so much else has lacked because of our knowledge of TV conventions. Sadly Lucius was crushed against the rocks of that fate later on. He stayed behind to be a known face cut down by Ashur's men. It was a token gesture of consequence in an episode with very little.  

The Bottom Line: We all knew when the slaves broke out of the ludus that we might end up here. The characters are shadow boxing and not really striking one another. The harder the writers try to create clever physical confrontations between Rome and the slaves the more strained the pretence becomes.

I didn't think this episode was terrible and there were still plenty of enjoyable moments. But it seems like until this season is over Spartacus and his friends are too safe from any consequence that would make their escapades enjoyable.

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  • Hey guys, thanks Brando as ever.

    David - glad you're enjoying the podcasts. Yes the Egyptian did threaten Crixus. However I didn't feel even for a second that Crixus was in real danger. I fully expect the Egyptian to die at Crixus' hand in two episodes time. This felt like a pretty basic attempt to create a personal feud.

    Overall Ashur's gang outnumbered our 4 gladiators and yet couldn't inflict more than a few bruises on them. In the grander scheme of the show I'm very happy with the way I phrased things :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 21/03/2012 11:28am (8 years ago)

  • Also I agree that Spartacus's dual motives (personal vengeance? freedom for all and fight injustice?) should be narrowed to one. And I believe that at this stage in the game, freedom for all and fighting injustice should be the motivation. I have a hard time connecting to the personal vengeance angle. Sura was a huge part of Spartacus in the beginning, but the show, the scope and the lives affected by the rebellion have expanded so far beyond a character we only caught glimpses of and barely knew. Not to mention I felt there was more catharsis and closure through Batiatus' death at the hands of Spartacus than would be gained (as a viewer) through Glaber's death.

    Posted by Brando, 21/03/2012 11:28am (8 years ago)

  • I didn't think this was that bad actually. Most of it carried well for me, but the mistakes that were made were huge ones.

    Chief among them being Spartacus just leaving Illythia in the woods at the end. So stupid. These moments also make him look like a fool. A strategist would at least see the value of keeping her captive...not to mention the Spartacus/Illythia combination is a dramatic, tense and intriguing one. Or at the very least should be. In the first season I felt they really built up their relationship so well, with just enough distance, just enough mutual loathing, but just enough obvious attraction and sexual tension. To have that all culminate in the masquerade sex scene was a massive highlight to the season. The drama, tension, confusion and all around complex nature of what had happened was dramatic television at its finest. Each one has valid reasons to hate the other, yet there is an undeniable chemistry between the two characters. I thought this was acknowledged early in the season where Illythia would fantasize about their passionate night, yet here I felt like the impact was not pumped up to its full potential.

    Perhaps there is more to come on this front? Which then, again, leads to why it is not only a bad idea for the character Spartacus to leave Illythia in the woods, but also why it is a bad idea for the writers to have separated them so quickly. The complexity of their relationship (now made even more complex by the addition of a baby) just could have been used a center piece...but now it just looks like Illythia will run back and tell everyone that Spartacus' camp is somewhere near Vesuvius.

    Posted by Brando, 21/03/2012 11:28am (8 years ago)

  • Hi Robin,

    I listen to both your walking dead and spartacus podcasts and really enjoy them.

    Excellent stuff.

    You're a great critic but I've think you've got it factually incorrect with the statement "As expected Ashur's goons were no match for the men trained under Oenomaus".

    Crixus was pinned to the floor by one of them and was only saved by an arrow shot from mira or the other guy.

    It didn't look like he was getting out of that situation without some help.

    I also don't remember the others having their way with Ashur's men like you're suggesting. Wasn't Agron knocked over a few times too.

    Either way, this seems like enough to prove that point wrong.

    Sorry to be nitpicky! Keep up the good work.

    David

    Posted by David, 21/03/2012 11:27am (8 years ago)

  • I think this episode was at best average, I did not dislike it and I didn’t really enjoy it as I normally do. I think this must be the last of the character episodes of the current series and the real action and tension must come soon as the season finale is fast approaching. I really liked the confrontation between Glaber and Lucius, as I felt real tension in that scene and really enjoyed the twist of him staying loyal to Spartacus, as I will admit I did think he was going to turn his back on the cause. Apart from that scene and little storyline nothing really stood out for me and that is not a common thing I can say about Spartacus. Me and my mates spend a great amount of time chatting about each episode and the great quotes it contains but this time round nothing really was that memorable. One aspect that we all didn’t like was the confrontation of Spartacus and Glaber. Spartacus turned up to the meeting with only 3 others for company and 2 more armed with bows and arrows. It seemed to me a little naive of the character as it was obvious that all Glaber wants is to kill Spartacus and that he would have a plan B. Also when Spartacus and his men ran off at the end and the Roman army was running in I thought we might get a good battle scene or a scene to start off next week’s episode but instead they just apparently slipped away and were un tracked. I am starting to get the feeling that they are dragging the final battle/confrontation out with Spartacus and Glaber a little too much and I hope the real action starts soon!

    Posted by Ryan_B_11, 21/03/2012 11:27am (8 years ago)

  • Hello Robin,
    This episode was by far the most disappointing of the season for me and quite revealing about the thinking of the producers of the show. When I learnt that there was only going to be 10 episodes this season, I was surprised. Since I assumed that with the tremendous success the show has had, the producers could dictate terms to Starz. Now it seems apparent that they only have enough stories for 10 episodes, maybe even less.
    While I appreciate the further development of characters that occurred during this episode, there are so many other ways these same discoveries could have been revealed to the characters. The story didn’t really move forward in any significant way and like you commented in your review, the confrontation between Glaber and Spartacus is being made more insignificant with each non consequential meeting. Even Ashur’s men didn’t suffer any significant loss.
    Even despite a weak episode, further development was made to our favorite characters. Sometimes I wish the writers from the Walking dead would just watch this show to get a clue. I can only hope that this episode is that last dithering that this show will do this season.
    About Glaber, with the way things are going I suspect that he will fall victim to the women in his life as opposed to Spartacus. This might be a bit of an anticlimax, but everything is being stacked against him. I cannot see the writers letting him survive this season. I wonder if Ashur will follow him, but all the time being invested in Ashur makes me suspect he will squeak by again. This show suffers from the loss of Batiatus, and I think Ashur is the closest the writers can come to him. They won’t let go of him so easily.
    For the first time I feel like this show is falling victim to its own high standards. Hopefully, the season can be brought to the rousing conclusion that we are used to from this show.
    As always, thanks for the forum Robin.

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 21/03/2012 11:27am (8 years ago)

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