Episode 1 - Fugitivus
8 March 2013
Synopsis: Spartacus and Crixus both lead groups of gladiators on raids around Capua. Spartacus carves a message into one of his victim's bodies to get Glaber's attention. Glaber is dispatched by his father in law to put them down. Oenomaus warns the slaves about this but won't join them. Spartacus helps Crixus learn more of Naevia's whereabouts. Glaber and Ilithyia set up home in Batiatus' villa and are shocked to discover Lucretia still there. They use her survival as a rallying point for the citizenry.
The Good: This was a relief. There were so many ways that the Spartacus franchise might fall on its face with the resumption of the story. However I thought this episode accomplished all that it needed to and was full of solid emotional characterisation which remains the major reason for the show's success.
The most important relationship at this stage is that between Spartacus and Crixus and that came across really well. During the season one finale we learnt that many of the gladiators wouldn't join the rebellion without Crixus' approval and that division remains in place. Despite the obvious potential for conflict it is the sense of honour and brotherhood which keeps the two of them rational. So Spartacus voluntarily helps with the search for Naevia to show his gratitude for Crixus. And Crixus then shows unusual restraint in stopping Spartacus from killing Glaber.
He recognises that they exist in a unique place. As Glaber's chatter in Rome reminded us, the armies of the republic were off in Spain and other places winning new territory. Roman armies were not meant to be present on home soil lest someone try to set themselves up as King. Crixus sees that they can survive if they keep the rebellion quiet. If Spartacus kills Legatus (now Praetor) Glaber then they will be wiped out by the ensuing response. If they head south and avoid a major confrontation then Crixus is more likely to find Naevia.
Of course Spartacus has no intention of giving up on his plans to bring Glaber to justice. So instead he plans on building an army that can "make Rome tremble." The episode ends with him announcing his plans to free all the slaves they come across and turn them into soldiers. This is a lovely melding of fact and fiction and should remain a good point of friction with Crixus who doesn't seem to think house slaves can be turned into fighting men.
All of those developments were fine but what gave them emotional impact was the big scene in Capua where Glaber addressed the people. The hallmark of the series has been the way each episode culminates in physical confrontations and this was well produced. The source of emotion was Aurelia, Varro's widow, who Spartacus had sent off to find her son. She was scarred and beaten by her captors and it was this sight that pushed Spartacus toward attacking Glaber despite the likelihood that he wouldn't survive. Crixus soon arrived to save them both but Aurelia then returned to cursing Spartacus (having finally been won over by his actions during the uprising) for bringing death to her family. The realisation that those who have helped him will all be killed if he puts his need for revenge above their survival is what leads to the new plan.
Adding to the drama of that scene was the presence of Lucretia who acts like a ghostly apparition to both Crixus and Spartacus. The state of her shattered mind makes it hard to predict what role she will play in what is to come. That uncertainty is intriguing at this stage but we'll see if it goes somewhere satisfying (see The Unknown). Glaber and Ilithiya were fine in their roles and the return to the villa was logically explained. Oenomaus' situation should be interesting too as he returns presumably to be humiliated for his role in the rebellion. I liked the way the Spartacus-Mira relationship was handled. Although he is happy to be with her he clearly leaves her behind to head to his death. Once he returns she is furious because she sees that his dead wife is still more important to him than she is. That's a good conflict to leave the characters with at this stage. Either she will have to win him over or move on.
The Bad: Some people take one look at Spartacus and see breasts and blood and switch off. That's fine and the producers are intent on keeping the show a visual feast in various ways. I have no problem with graphic content but I'd prefer if it was justified by the story. The visit to a brothel was shamelessly unnecessary with its slow motion pan through every sexual scenario that came to mind. It's not a big deal but throughout Gods of the Arena it felt like the sex was becoming a part of the show without becoming part of the story and this was a brief continuation of that idea.
"You had me at whores" was a fun line said by one of Spartacus' men when he told them about the plan to support Crixus. However it was a rare 20th century reference and I hope it was a one off. The faux-Shakespearian dialogue of the characters is a helpful way to transport viewers to a new world. I wouldn't want to see that sacrificed for a cheap laugh.
The Unknown: Liam McIntyre is in a very difficult position right now. I spent much of the episode imagining how Andy Whitfield would have played various moments. McIntyre was perfectly solid and hopefully over time the role will become his rather than an imitation as it couldn't help but feel here. I certainly felt I was watching the same character. That might sound like a silly compliment but on a show less focussed on character emotions I could see him appearing like a different person. Instead this was very much the emotional and impulsive yet thoughtful and moral man we came to love in season one.
Lucy Lawless' continued involvement in the series was well broadcast and so I didn't entirely consider Lucretia's survival a twist. Initially I wasn't a fan of this news because I felt Batiatus and his wife had served their purpose and needed to be gone for the show to move on. The fact that her memory is so traumatised that she doesn't know what's happening felt convenient. There is a chance that she never regains full awareness and the writers can use that to have her make implausible decisions. We will have to wait and see where it goes. Initially at least her fear at seeing Spartacus and Crixus added to rather than took away from the drama.
We will also have to wait to find out what to make of some of the new supporting characters. Agron (the older German brother) was someone we only got to know briefly in season one and he spent the whole of this episode being angry which told us nothing. There are also the vaguely incestuous young Roman siblings who will presumably be aiming to get some of the glory of capturing the slaves.
Best Moment: The sight of Aurelia being led Jesus-like through the streets suddenly added the emotion that the episode had been somewhat lacking up to that point. The Glaber speech\Spartacus attack scene surrounding it was really strong and encouraging.
The Bottom Line: This was a very welcome return for a show with lots of problems to overcome. We had to deal with a lot of set up but I thought it was handled well. We now have the Romans in Capua and the slaves moving south, both building forces for an inevitable battle. Within each camp there are tensions which will play out over the season. I'm really looking forward to it.
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