Spartacus: Vengeance episode 2 review: A Place In This World

One of the best-written episodes of Spartacus to date? James checks out the second installment of Spartacus: Vengeance...

This review contains spoilers.

2. A Place In This World

After the first episode eased us back into the world of Spartacus, familiarising us with the new status quo for the escaped slaves, this episode gets the story moving again. Attacks on Roman villas, the execution of Spartacus’ new philosophy and – most enjoyably – more time spent fleshing out Oenomaus.

Indeed, the main thread of the episode (as alluded to in the title) asks what a slave should when his master disappears. In the case of Oenomaus, the answer is to return to the pit and wait for death. In the case of Tiberius, it is to search for a new cause. Neither appears to fully succeed, but the seeds of drama planted here will grow into mighty plots. Will Oenomaus get his purpose back? Has Tiberius found his own, or is he just pretending? These are questions we want to see answered.

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Fight-wise, it’s always good to see Oenomaus in action, particularly while he’s in such a dark place. It’s also good to see The Pit return, used to such great effect, when its creation seemed to serve a single purpose in the first season – although I have to admit, I’m missing the fun of the arena match-ups where the focus was on two men in stupid armour working out their ‘backstage’ issues. Don’t get me wrong, I like having Crixus and Spartacus be pals – but it’d be a shame if they never got to fight again.

Of course, the change in inter-character dynamics doesn’t damage the series too badly. The absence of John Hannah as Batiatus, however, is a bit more of a problem. Batiatus was self-important, cowardly, borderline incompetent and yet, even as we watched Spartacus (and others) defeat his plans over and over, there was part of us that wanted him to succeed. As many feared, there’s now a giant hole where his character should be, and not just because he swore better than anyone else in the series. Indeed, it seems that this episode’s search for purpose may have a more meta-textual vibe than first imagined. Where do you go when you’ve killed off a main character that prominent?

There are contenders for the crown of series villain, of course. They’re just not particularly strong. Glaber, the supposed antagonist, is a charisma-free zone with no discernible personality. Ilithyia is more interested in protecting herself than stopping Spartacus. And while the return of Ashur makes for an interesting narrative twist, it’s clear that Lucretia is the only one with enough presence to be the series villain, and she’s still acting the loon (although hopefully not for too much longer, given the episode’s end.)

The further developing romance plots are a bit more prominent this series, not just because the rebellion’s actions are currently fuelled by the search for Naevia, but because Mira is becoming a more prominent character. Her increasingly kick-ass disposition feels a little unearned, but in a series keen to objectify women it certainly helps its credibility to have a female character around who isn’t bitchy, insane, or, er, taking things lying down. It’s interesting how Ilithyia’s feelings towards Spartacus have clearly changed, however – things get slightly weird as her hate turns to something more primal. Can’t wait to see what Glaber thinks of that…

With a strong thematic centre spread over multiple character threads and a twist ending that promises a quick pace for the series, this may well have been one of the most well-written Spartacus episodes ever. Not bad going for a series which started out as an unashamedly ridiculous piece of exploitation television.

Read our review of the last episode, here.

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