Episode 9 - Monsters
29 March 2012
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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