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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-???

38
/100

Episode 9 - Monsters

29 March 2012

Credit STARZ

Synopsis: Ilithyia crawls home to Capua and asks Glaber if no love remains between them. He points out the irony of her asking that and so she plots with Lucretia to have Seppia kill him. Ashur asks Glaber to free him and marry him to Lucretia once they defeat Spartacus. At Vesuvius Spartacus arranges wine and games to mend wounds and bond his army. Varinius arrives from Rome with instructions to take over from Glaber. The assault on the temple begins.

The Good: The breakup of Spartacus and Mira was sad. It was also a simple, clear story. It seems doubtful whether any woman can take the place of Sura in his heart. Perhaps he just needs more time but for now she has to move on.

The Bad: This was the worst episode of Spartacus by some distance. Sadly it wasn't a misstep. Instead it was the culmination of several related problems and ideas that didn't work.

The pacing of this season has been poor. Ten episodes always felt too few but the creative team would have known this well in advance. "Monsters" was full of moments that felt awkward because no adequate timeline has been established. A few episodes ago Glaber saw Ashur as no more than a dog and yet now he is willing to grant freedom and somehow force Lucretia into marriage. Ilithyia and Glaber reunite after so much, very recent, bad blood between them. And Spartacus' army looked hopelessly ill prepared and foolish in their defence of the Temple despite seeming to have more than enough time to recruit more slaves and train harder.

The Glaber-Ilithyia story was particularly hard to stomach as someone who has argued so strongly that Spartacus wasn't just blood, sex and silliness. Their reunion, after cheating and trying to kill one another, felt lazy, contrived and unbelievable. Assuming that neither is scheming any further then their actions make the last nine episodes seem wasted. What was the point of all their mutual loathing if they were going to end up back together? Were we just taken on a ride for dramas sake but will now be left with nothing? It wouldn't surprise me to see them both dead next episode and I will feel cheated if none of this seasons developments play into it.

Beyond that fundamental complaint there were several other reasons to hate this. I spoke a few episodes ago about the writers needing to establish the nature of Roman property law. I found Ilithyia's decision to save her husband completely out of character. If she had let him die wouldn't she have got unfettered access to her father's wealth? The "twist" that she encouraged Seppia to kill Glaber only to step in and save the day was crass manipulation. Plans that rely on perfect timing always ring false on TV and if Ilithyia's plan was to win Glaber over this way then it was a bad idea. Even if I assume she had an attack of conscience instead then I still don't buy it considering she just learnt that Glaber would have left her to die. Finally the death of Seppia saw yet another Roman citizen killed without much consideration for the consequences. I also don't like the idea of Glaber and Ilithyia being so monstrous that they can shag on top of a dead body. It came across as sensationalism for its own sake. I don't think any viewers are in any doubt that these are the bad guys, we don't need nonsense like that to cement it.

As I mentioned a paragraph or two ago, Ashur's bid for freedom feels entirely premature. I suppose if Glaber defeats Spartacus then he will no longer need Ashur so maybe he doesn't care who runs the ludus. But the idea that Lucretia will be forced to marry him is a sour development. Glaber is Lucretia's patron and might have strong influence over her but whether he can force her into marriage is something I can't quite accept. Gladiators were considered the lowest of the low and even a freed one would strike most Romans as an inappropriate partner. With no more time spent on the story it just comes across as flippant and actually makes Ashur look stupid. Surely he knows that Lucretia is capable of killing him. How can he think marrying her against her will is a good idea?

Last episode I complained about the way Spartacus' men were training. They continue this belief that fighting like gladiators can defeat Roman legionaries. It's a nice story but not only historically inaccurate it repudiates the whole rise of Rome over a millennia which was based on the idea that their organisation won them the Mediterranean. I'm less bothered by that general problem than the fact that Spartacus hasn't recruited any more slaves and spends a valuable day drinking and bonding. That's all well and good but considering you just turfed Ilithyia out I think training would be the highest priority.

The opening scenes where Spartacus, Crixus and Gannicus dressed up as Romans to test the camp's preparedness was ludicrous. The potential for bloodshed in that situation was massive and it was a deeply foolish way to foreshadow and set up the plot.

The Crixus-Agron v Gannicus-Oenomaus tag team match was deeply disappointing. It was over far too quickly and contained almost no interesting moments. Worse than that though it apparently worked in mending the bad blood between each team. Quite what being beaten up would do for Agron and Crixus' enmity I can't imagine. Neither man could have seen the other for more than a second as they were soundly whooped yet they claimed to respect the effort of the other. As for Oenomaus somehow forgiving Gannicus for sleeping with his wife because of a five minute scuffle...well that was awful. Perhaps tensions will linger on but this was an episode that laid waste to a season's worth of stories with a shocking lack of ceremony.

We come at last to the attack on the Temple which again I thought made for bad television. There was no adequate explanation for Varinius leading a sortie and then being backed up by Glaber. Are we supposed to believe that Varinius happily accepted Glaber's participation in the campaign? Surely not. In which case are we supposed to believe that Glaber arrived a bit late and then took command of the troops? That's more believable but it seems odd. Varinius' subordinates should have been shocked to see him and he must have appeared within seconds of Varinius leading the initial assault. It all smacked, again, of lazy writing.

The battle scenes were chaotic and not dramatic. We had no real build-up to this moment. Spartacus made no plans to defend against Roman siege weapons (a questionable choice for the story) and so looked hopelessly outgunned as a result. The lack of recruitment and preparation now bit hard. If Spartacus had acted like the slaves were in a desperate situation then this battle would have felt desperate. Instead he has been relaxed and so the fight felt relaxed. I was in no way worried about anyone of note being hurt and Oenomaus' wounding felt as token as Lucius' death last episode.

Nassir's fighting snarl is a bizarre choice that feels silly.

The Unknown: Naevia and Crixus finally sleep together which was a nice moment but felt like it could have been more than it was.

Maybe the loss of an eye will lead to an interesting new chapter in the story of Oenomaus but it didn't feel momentous. If it had been surrounded by a suspenseful battle then perhaps the loss would have been more keenly felt.

Best Moment: Spartacus and Mira breaking up.

The Bottom Line: This was a bitter disappointment. I won't rehash the arguments I made below but I will add that I am not looking forward to next week's episode. Everyone knows Spartacus isn't going to die on Vesuvius so it seems like a foolish choice to leave that as the major cliff-hanger. However if we had had even one satisfying fight scene all season I might feel differently. Back in Capua I think we also all know Lucretia is going to take revenge on Ilithyia. We learnt in "Gods of the Arena" that she is a snake with no conscience. I don't like that as a story because it relies on mindless villainy rather than human avarice. It seems we need to get Vengeance out of the way before we can truly see what kind of show Spartacus will end up being.

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  • Just started listening to your podcasts and am very impressed with your reviews and agree with most of your points.

    i am working backwards through your Spartacus podcasts as well as jupitersrooster's and i'm looking for something i can't seem to find which is an explanation regarding ashers leg. in the first season he had a limp which prevented him from fighting in the arena but now hes ok and can fight and run and even drag a wounded man back to camp.i could over-look this but his wounded leg was a significant plot device in season one and we found out how it happened in gods of the arena, it does bother me that it was papered over for this season as it is important. Nasirs stomach wound which he got in the forest fight should mean he has significant burn scars but he has none now, i don't mind this but ashers leg really bothers me.

    i did not like this episode either and i think its a poor season compared to the other two for two reasons: firstly not replacing the intensity and spectacle of the arena fights with something of equal interest, and second not replacing Batiatus with a character of equal weight to act as 'the eye of the dramatic storm'.
    i feared the writers would fail to do this at the end of gods of the arena and they have.
    i feel this season has only tried to echo what was great and good about the first two seasons and not tried to go in its own direction, this is shown by the lack of momentum in the season and the habit for the characters to go round in circles.

    i will keep watching but more out of habit than the hope it will improve since the show is fundamentally flawed through the motives of Spartacus himself - he wants revenge on Glaber for the death of his wife but it was batiatus who ordered the death of his wife and spartucus has already killed him and the man who carried out the order, he also keeps stating that he is better than the romans but in season one the only person who showed him any kindness or regard was his friend Varo, a Roman himself,
    this coupled with the fact that glaber wasn't going out of his way to detroy spartacus personally in the beginning made the show a hard sell for me but to its credit it kept me interested.

    keep up the good work and i will spend the next few days feasting on mud, rocks, and hope awaiting the season finale!

    Posted by Charlie, 28/03/2012 6:46pm (8 years ago)

  • Wowzers I can’t believe your score! Knew the score wouldn’t be high but no way would I ever think it was going to be that low. Reading your review you do put you points across well but 38 – I had to double check I didn’t click on the flash-forward section of the website! haha

    I felt the episode was in shown two halves, the first half which I wasn’t too keen on and I feared that it was going to be another character building episode. I was not keen on this as it is the seasons penultimate episode and it should have been about building tension from the start but thankfully for me that did come in a fashion. In the build up to kill Glaber I found myself always fighting against it working, as the only person who is going to kill Glaber just has to be Spartacus, I knew that something would happen that would prevent Glaber from being killed in that moment and I felt that was fairly obvious and I agree with you that the show has suffered from this. The show has lost the 'fear factor' of big characters being killed off and scenes are being repeated with slight tweaks and changes with the battle scenes as a prime example of this. Thinking about the episode more it was bitter-sweet for me, I really enjoyed the 2nd half of the show and visually again it was very good. The effect of the ball of flames flying through the air and causing panic and chaos worked very well (even though I knew none of the main characters were going to die again!). When I actually watch the episode I really enjoy it and sometimes get lost in all the action scenes and find myself tense but then after the show has done and I think about it more, it does let itself down in terms of storytelling, ill thought out character decisions and timings. I thought this battle scene would happen in the final episode and I thought in some areas it was worthy of a season finale as I enjoyed it so much. But it does leave me wondering for the finale, as they are now up the mountains and as Glaber commented that ‘he is just going to leave them up there to starve’. What is there left to happen in the supposedly most biggest episode of the season. That is a feeling I am not used to in terms season finale build ups, it is normally quite clear what is going to happen as it is supposed to draw you in but this left me feeling puzzled (I still do not think it deserved a 38 as a score but I can see your points making sense the more I think about it). To finish will they 'fast-forward' to a stage where they have to come down and fight as they are starving and becoming desperate? Or will it be an episode of mainly building for the next season? I really hope its not the second guess! A puzzling end to the episode but I still hold hope of the writers pulling it out of the bag!

    Posted by Ryan_B_11, 27/03/2012 11:20am (8 years ago)

  • Ouch! Wow, I had a very different reaction to this episode. It makes me appreciate the work you do as a critic, since you bring out many points that I had honestly overlooked.

    I do feel like the major problems with this episode have to do with timing. Notice that stories like the Mira/Spartacus relationship worked because they have been fleshed out throughout the season. On the other hand, the sudden bonding over games felt rushed, when having spent more time during the season with recruitment and training of more freed slaves would have made this moment more believable.

    I agree that I'm not sure on what Ilithiya hopes to gain from re-associating herself with Glaber. However, I feel like both of them have come to a place where they honestly don't give a f--- any more. Glaber must see the capture of Spartacus through, and thus is willing to do anything to accomplish that. I think Ilithiya is acting on the craziness and bloodlust that was awakened back when she killed Lycinia, and seeing the dark place Glaber has gone to, she is giving in to the darkness as well.

    Lastly, I'm not sure that Glaber is willing to concede anything he has promised to Ashur. Like he himself said, he's now become a monster, a vile and dark creature that cannot be trusted. Ashur's biggest fault is believing that he can take Glaber's word on his promises to him.

    Posted by Roberto Suarez, 26/03/2012 8:25pm (8 years ago)

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