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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-???

54
/100

Episode 5 - Libertus

24 March 2012

Credit STARZ

Synopsis: Spartacus and Agron find an abandoned temple at the foot of Vesuvius. Inside a Roman outcast called Lucius tells them of the impending executions of Crixus and the others. Spartacus insists they attack the Arena. Gannicus returns to Capua to finally meet Oenomaus on the sands. Lucretia counsels Ilithyia not to abort her baby yet and Ashur uses the information to win favour from Glaber. Ilithyia admits that she no longer loves him and plans to marry Varinius. At the games Spartacus' men burn the Arena and in the chaos rescue their friends. Rhaskos and Cossutius perish and then Glaber kills Albinius to prevent his marriage being dissolved.

The Good: The destruction of the Arena was a spectacular event. As a visual feast it worked and made for dramatic viewing as the world came crumbling down around the Capuan elite. It also worked as a massive propaganda victory for Spartacus' cause. Within this retelling of the story slaves will now flock to his banner because of this demonstration of power.

The long battle sequence was solid and had some nice moments where Crixus could demonstrate his skills. The special effects showing the destruction of the arena were very good but it was the actor's fear which really sold the devastation. Those up in the pulvinus did their usual strong job of reacting to things and from now on they won't be able to take the slave revolt lightly. It was particularly fun to see Cossutius get the business end of a spear.

The return of Gannicus was welcome and with the few moments he had he did a good job. The sense of a man tortured by his past and not enjoying his freedom as much as he would like was well communicated. The poignant moment came at the end where he dropped the sword which signified his status as a free man. By joining Spartacus that freedom is gone and he will be fair game for Roman justice.

Ashur once more did the smart thing by betraying Lucretia to ensure that he would be spared rather than trust that she would do it for him.

The Bad: This episode was a miscalculation by the writers. After their slick pacing of the previous episode this was far too rushed. The story was crying out for two episodes and the way to structure that presented itself neatly in the way the story came together. Part one could have focussed entirely on events in Capua. We could have spent more time with Gannicus, understanding why he would agree to execute his old friend. Then more time with Crixus and Oenomaus teasing the idea that they might actually die. We could have had shots of Agron and Spartacus in Roman uniform which only the discerning viewer might have spotted.

Part two would then have taken place at Vesuvius and given us much more time with Spartacus explaining the reasoning behind his insane plan. Having finally won over Agron and the others their preparations to burn the arena would have had more dramatic effect and the final scenes would then have had a full two hours worth of build up.

As things played out there were far too many plot holes to consider. The biggest being Agron and the other men agreeing to head back to Capua. If they were too reticent to attack a mining camp then why would they risk entering a city filled with thousands of Romans? They must have known that the soldiers who just thinned their ranks would have returned there. It was all far too risky and was compounded by the stupidity of Spartacus addressing Gannicus and risking discovery. Following on from that he and Agron had to stand and wait while Crixus and Oenoamus came close to being killed. The longer the fight went on the more preposterous it all became. An additional episode focussed on some slaves refusing to join Spartacus because they didn't believe he could hurt the Romans was probably needed for Agron to agree to this scheme. Spartacus would then have been able to argue with conviction that only a demonstration on this scale was going to provide them with the recruits to take on the legions.

Part of the problem with this story is of course the predictable nature of the survival of our main characters. To have Spartacus, Agron, Crixus, Oenomaus and Gannicus all on the sand was going to look silly at some point. That's why I feel strongly the writing needed to slow down and convince us of the jeopardy our characters were in (as they have done before). 

Despite the myriad of developments being crammed in we still had to sit through several lingering shots of nameless gladiators fighting in the arena. That time would have been better spent on an explanation of Roman property law. The death of Albinius could imply that Glaber would now take control of his possessions. If it was made clear that Albinius had no son and therefore Ilithyia (and by proxy Glaber in misogynist Rome) would inherit his great wealth then Glaber's actions would have had a more dramatic effect. We do know this means she has no father to dissolve her marriage but it could have been even more sinister.

The Glaber-Ilithyia confrontation felt damagingly rushed. Their marital problems have accelerated far too quickly to have an effect on the viewer's sympathies. It also seemed quite unlike Ilithyia to explain her whole plan to him without keeping anything back to protect herself. The scheming and half truths were all pushed aside to get us to the loveless marriage that will no doubt end in death for someone sooner or later.

The Unknown: I assume Agron is gay after kissing Nassir on the mouth.

As I edited the podcast last week I realised my own foolishness at saying that it didn't matter what Lucretia wanted exactly. Let's not forget that Ilithyia locked the doors behind her last season condemning Lucretia to stay and face Crixus and Spartacus. Clearly Lucretia will seek vengeance for that and begins her scheming this week by meddling with the abortion. Even the hint here that Ilithyia was beginning to trust her old friend once again seemed silly. I'm fine with these two women trying to use one another but trust should never again pass between them.

I don't know what to make of Lucius the Roman outcast living at the foot of Vesuvius. It felt very convenient that he knew so much relevant information and was willing to welcome the new arrivals. Again, his story would have received more attention if the story was paced differently.

Best Moment: The writers were wise on one count which was not explaining Spartacus' plan to us. It meant that when the fire began to rage and the first section of the arena fell it was a very dramatic sight.

The Bottom Line: This reminded me of the finale of "Gods of the Arena" when spectacle was used to overcome plot deficiency. I actually think the daring attack on the Arena was a great idea but it needed far more time to play out than we got here. Perhaps the story will benefit from the slaves all being reunited though. From now on their lives will genuinely feel under threat.

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  • @Scott I think a very compelling argument can be made for why one would select Jif peanut butter instead of Skippy. Especially if we're talking crunchy peanut butter.

    @Tim and Robin: I now long for the day when I visit a TVCritic.org review or tune into the podcast and Robin's review is, "0 - hated it, needs less frogs." Best. Review. Ever. Especially in regards to peanut butter sandwiches.

    Posted by Brando, 05/04/2012 3:22pm (8 years ago)

  • You are very kind Tim and I hope I would be that polite :-) I also hope anyone who listens to the podcasts knows that I want all these shows to succeed and suck me in. I'm hard on them because I know how good TV can be.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 05/04/2012 12:47pm (8 years ago)

  • @Scott:

    I don't agree with Robin all the time. I accept a lot more "television logic" than he does. And I tend to get more emotionally attached to a show, to the point where I don't look at it critically. But due to his reviews being as detailed as they are, I can still see where he's coming from.

    If someone made you a sandwich using bread that's several months old, not enjoying the snack wouldn't make you a killjoy. If you just threw the sandwich in that person's face, then yes, that would be mean. But as polite as Robin is, he would probably just say, "Look, this may have been a miscalculation on your part", even if someone put a dead frog on a sandwich. And then he would explain his reasons in detail, as opposed to him just saying "0 - hated it, needs less frogs".

    Posted by Tim, 05/04/2012 12:12pm (8 years ago)

  • Mean Scott, mean :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 05/04/2012 12:50am (8 years ago)

  • I agree with the other commenters. Leave it to Robin the killjoy to try to take all the fun out of a fantastic episode. I imagine that if someone makes Robin a PB&J sandwich he needs to know the motivations of why the person used Jiffy instead of Skippy before he can truly enjoy the snack.

    Posted by Scott, 04/04/2012 9:37pm (8 years ago)

  • I for one was glad that this was a fairly fast paced episode. I didn't want to see another scene involving Agron questioning Spartacus' decision making again. Spartacus has proved himself enough.

    As for the return to Capua, with the bulk of the population preoccupied with the games and some inside knowledge of the workings of the arena, a stealth based type of mission leading up to the arena destruction worked for me.

    One more thing, after the episode ended noticed I had my buttocks clenched throughout! So I was feeling the tension :)

    Posted by Mark B, 21/03/2012 11:20am (8 years ago)

  • I thought this was a great episode. It's great to have Gannicus back and I'm looking forward to seeing what the the slave army will become with Spartacus, Crixus, Gannicus, Oenomaus and Agron leading the charges. I know we're set up to (at some point) have them fall one by one, but I do hope we get some great times seeing all five of them on screen at the same time demonstrating their skill.

    Posted by Brando, 21/03/2012 11:19am (8 years ago)

  • I was quite shocked at reading your rating for this episode as on the whole I thought it was fantastic TV. I appreciate the fact that as a plan it was very unrealistic, I mean if I was to attack an empire and only had a limited amount of man power I don’t think I would have swam into the lions lair! Also I am sure Spartacus is more recognisable, as he was stood with the guards and in front of the crowd with his face fully on show! It was very Superman/Clark Kent in terms of rubbish disguise but I let all that go for the pure entertainment and passion this episode brought after. After watching LOST, Boardwalk Empire and to an extent The Walking Dead I am sick and tired of 'filler' episodes and I was glad the writers attacked this in one episode. LOST was massively let down in the last series because we wanted some action/suspense and answers but all we got was pointless sub stories and character building (at that point we didn’t need). The visual effects were very impressive although I am getting tired of the comic book style blood splashing that we saw so often in the pilot episode. To finish I thought this episode was up there with the best that I have seen in Spartacus for purely the passion and suspense that this episode brought - edge of the seat stuff that I tune in for!

    Posted by Ryan_B_11, 21/03/2012 11:19am (8 years ago)

  • I loved this episode! I thought it was the best episode of the season so far. I liked what they did with Glaber, just when it looked like everything was going all wrong for him. He saw an opportunity to help himself and took it. I'm also looking forward to seeing how Lucretia comes out of this and what Ashur does. That guy has a great ability to always figure out a way to help himself. The arena coming down was great and I love how Mira is turning out.

    Posted by denise, 21/03/2012 11:18am (8 years ago)

  • Hi Robin,
    Hope I make it in time for this week’s podcast. As always, it’s nice to hear your opinion on Spartacus.
    I enjoyed myself tremendously watching this episode. This was probably the first time this season that I truly enjoyed the fight scenes. Thankfully there was a marked reduction in the slow motion camera work and the fight sequences were a lot clearer and fun. As usual the character developments paid off with the physical and emotional actions.
    As much as I hate Glaber, it was sad to watch him being told by his wife that he wasn’t worthy of her or an heir. This confrontation came earlier than I expected, but it helped to secure Ashur and moved the story along as this series is prone to do.
    While the plot for the rescue mission was one that I had dreaded from last week, I was happy with the way this was resolved. We all knew that once Crixus was captured, there was no way a rescue wasn’t coming. I thought this was going to drag the story, but it actually helped to propel the story along. I do agree with you that the rescue plans had holes in it, but it was going to happen. I am willing to forgive them for this because this has moved the story along in so many ways.
    First, the writers did a very important thing with the burning down of the arena. By doing this, a major safety net for the show has been removed. This means no more random gladiator fights to fill space and thank god no endless weeks of Crixus and Oenomaus surviving near death in the arena. Several storylines which could have toiled along were brought to a head and I can’t help the feeling that this was some kind of midseason finale. Now the story moves toward the slave revolt and away from the past.
    One of the reasons I enjoy Spartacus and Breaking Bad so much is that these shows are more beholden to the story and character than extending the run of the shows. I do understand your point Robin about all the plot holes and the emotional impact could have been better served by delivering all this in two episodes, but I think we all knew that the rescue was going to happen sooner or later. However, I prefer that these characters move toward the part of the story where we know their lives will truly be in peril. We are all aware where this story was going, but I am curious and excited about how the writers will get us there.
    A lot of iconic and spectacular shots were part of this episode. One I particularly liked was the shot of Spartacus glancing back as the arena that created him collapsed and burnt behind him. The entire arena scene could easily have been a lesser show’s season finale, but for this show it was just another episode. I don’t even want to go into the symbolism that entire scene represents in terms of how we view terrorism, but it’s worth mentioning and thinking about.
    The next section is for the friends we lost this week 
    In Memorial
    Rhaskos; we were just beginning to know you better, but sadly you are gone. We will miss your brutish Gaul ways.
    Cossutius; Still not sure if you were just gravely wounded or very dead. I was hoping for a long and torturous death, but a spear to the chest will suffice. If we don’t see your smug smiling face again, I’ll be very happy, enjoy your time deep in the pits of hell.
    Great job as always Robin.

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 21/03/2012 11:18am (8 years ago)

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