This review contains spoilers.
3. The Greater Good
After a pair of well-written but very slow-paced opening episodes, Spartacus: Vengeance finally feels like a series that has found its feet, finally delivering the same urgency and passion that made its predecessors so gripping.
The focus on Crixus certainly helped, as his relationship with Naevia was one of the series’ more believable and thus deserves the prestigious, plot-driving position it has been afforded. For that reason, it’s a shame that Naevia was re-cast, but let’s face it: the series has dealt with bigger problems than that. Although the battles in the last two episodes looked cool and inventive, they didn’t stir the audience’s passion like those in this one, perhaps because this time a plot resolution seemed certain. We were not disappointed.
If you wanted to criticise anything, it could be that Crixus was too quick to believe Naevia’s (alleged) death. Or that Agron’s betrayal was revealed too quickly. But in story terms, they made so much sense that stringing them out over several episodes would have felt like a cheap attempt to disguise a lack of ideas. The first series ended up feeling padded as a result of such delayed gratification, but if Vengeance continues in this manner, cramming three episodes of story into a single hour, that won’t be a problem.
The episode’s sub-plot was also the strongest yet, as Ashur’s return fills the charisma void left by Batiatus’ departure. He may be smarter than Batiatus, but he’s twice as cowardly. We may not root for him on any level as we did his departed master, but we love his failures almost as much as we enjoy hating his successes. It’s inconceivable that Ashur will make it out of this series alive, but from this episode’s events it’s clear his death is going to be well-earned.
By comparison, Spartacus himself takes almost a back seat throughout the events of this story. He delivers some speeches, gives Crixus a sounding board, and spends lots of time reminding people what their mission statement is, a bit like a corporate intranet with a sword. But let’s face it – he was never the most interesting personality in the series, just the most hard done by. This series, there’s more than enough hurt to go around.
Speaking of which, Oenomaus continues to be pummelled – and this time it’s in spirit as much as body. Lucretia may still be two shields short of a legion, but she’s still scheming, and more than capable of pushing the buttons of her former employees. Of course, with Gannicus’ inevitable return still on the cards, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess where Oenomaus will find some new motivation.
The re-population of the cast with B and C listers continues apace, too. So far, heading up the live of favourites is Nasir, a Syrian who gets to play hero after a dramatic entrance in the previous episode, and Seppia, the only character in the series capable of out-bitching Ilithyia. Mira’s ascent still feels a little sudden, but it’s clear that they haven’t set out to turn her into Ripley overnight, and her continuing arc might just win us over yet.
Glaber, meanwhile, is fleshed out a little more with some more explicitly realised political aspirations reminiscent of Batiatus, but the man still has all the personality of a plank of wood. Yes, we had a good laugh at him being too stressed to concentrate on the, er, task at hand – but other than that, his presence as a villain is more than eclipsed by the Ashur-Lucretia pairing.
Anyway – with a strong cliffhanger and actual plot developments taking place, this episode was the first to feel like something from the previous series. It took a while to get there, but it looks like it was worth the wait.
Read our review of the last episode here.