Spartacus: War Of The Damned episode 3 review: Men Of Honour
The number of subplots make this week's Spartacus: War of the Damned a less-than satisfying watch. Here's James' review...
This review contains spoilers.
3.3 Men of Honour
After last week's Crassus-heavy bore-fest, it was good this week that the show decided to re-focus on the slave army and some of the day-to-day mechanics of actually holding their newly-captured city. Because let's face it: the show's called Spartacus, not The Roman Politics Fun-Time Happy Hour.
As it turns out, holding the city isn't half as difficult as keeping order within it. Indeed, it was the unlikely form of Naevia who caused most trouble, flying off the handle at any nearby Romans the first chance she gets. Not an unreasonable course of events, given all she's endured on top of a lifetime of subjugation, but her behaviour - and Crixus' loyalty to her - is potentially something that's going to put a strain on Crixus and Spartacus' relationship in the future. History records that the slave army is eventually divided in two behind each man - could Naevia's actions be the eventual cause of any split? Assuming, of course, they stick roughly to history's version of events.
Although Tiberius and his crew did make an appearance towards the end, we can at least be glad that this episode was quite light on Caesar, who was dispatched early on to prevent him meeting the main gladiators too early in the season. The guest appearance of a Mediterranean pirate captain named Heracleo (and his crew) doesn't exactly dispell the fear that this series is going to a bit more cartoonish than its predecessors, though. Without Caesar around, Tiberius' attack felt perfunctory: destined to happen, destined to failure. Still, it was probably the most interesting battle of since the show's return, being the first that was noticeably any more than people hitting each other with swords, thanks to the intervention of Heracleo's crew and their incendiary bombardments.
The problem, at the moment, is that it's very hard not to agree with everyone suggesting that Spartacus simply kill their Roman prisoners. He repeatedly justifies his violent actions to Laeta and co., saying that they're at war, nor does he seem to care much when he hears his men have been forcing the prisoners to fight for entertainment (and frankly, that's quite poetic as justice goes.) But Spartacus often makes it known that he explicitly draws the line at cold-blooded murder of Romans because... well, it's not really clear. Reasons of dramatic tension?
Obviously, part of it is to keep Spartacus within a more recognisably-heroic frame by modern standards, but it just comes over as oddly stubborn. It's a much more believable a character beat when he refuses to sell Laeta, claiming that they don't "do" slavery. That's far more convincing than his pseudo-philosophical monologues and unwisely compassionate leniency.
This episode's real weakness, however, was the sheer number of subplots we were being asked to follow, given very little movement in the main plot. The episode's story mainly concerned negotiating deals with the pirates, but the only main-arc content was mostly crammed into the last scene, while the rest of the episode simply piled subplot upon subplot. Laeta, Naevia, Gannicus and Sybil, Agron and Nasir, Tiberius, etc. etc. It's impressive that the writers can find space for everyone to have a story going on, but ultimately that leaves viewers with finger-food rather than a feast. Let's hope for something a bit more filling next week.
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