Spartacus: Vengeance episode 4 review: Empty Hands

Some welcome fleshing out of characters takes place in episode four of Spartacus: Vengeance. Here's James' review of Empty Hands...


This review contains spoilers. 

4. Empty Hands

It’s taken a while, but despite the still-yawning absence of John Hannah, episode 4 of Spartacus: Vengeance has finally fleshed out its cast of supporting villains into leads in their own right. Perhaps it could have come sooner, but never mind, at least it’s working now.

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In particular, this episode saw the likes of Glaber, Varinius, Albinius, Seppia and Seppius gain some character direction, defining them for the first time in terms other than their relationship to one another. It was Ilithyia who stole the show, however, with the tried-and-tested Spartacus combination of sex and death, finally making her the scheming equal of Lucretia in her prime.

Speaking of which, Lucretia also had a good episode, her crazier persona now definitively abandoned and shades of the old manipulator finally resurfacing. Like Ilithyia, we’re unsure how truthful she’s being when she says she wants to become friends again, but that’s all part of the fun. It’s possible that she’s telling the truth – but until Ashur returns, there’s no-one around who she can talk to without her guard up.

The arrival of the captured Crixus also threw a spanner in the works for Lucretia, and although they shared some meaningful moments in this episode, there’s surely a far better meeting in the works. In the meantime, Crixus will be returning to the arena, and that means the return of the arena fights. It’s hard to imagine a Spartacus fan who isn’t going to be glad to see those back, as they were frequently the spine of the previous two series.

Meanwhile, things look considerably grimmer for the series’ eponymous hero, as his rescue party gets cut to pieces (literally) as they attempt to flee the Romans. Naevia herself appears to have cost the rebellion considerably, and while it’s clear that she’s aware of it, it’s the doubting looks of the others as they died that will truly haunt Spartacus. Especially when Agron returns at the end of the episode, replete with his own army, tacitly proven right about his reluctance to go on a suicide mission.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in this episode was Glaber’s transformation from generic villain into something more closely resembling Batiatus – an ambitious but inadequate man, seemingly blind to those working against him. And indeed, there are plenty of people working against him. His wife is attempting to leave him. His oracle is working against him. His colleague is trying to steal his wife, and his father-in-law is quickly dissuaded from fighting his corner. Only a small triumph over Seppius prevents him from being a total loser. He might still be a charisma vacuum, but at least he’s eliciting some emotion from the audience now.

Although this episode was fairly light on plot, at least where the slave army was concerned, there’s a definite feeling that Spartacus is being knocked down so that he can rise higher in retaliation. The series has repeatedly employed this tactic in the past, and always with devastatingly brilliant results – so this time, when he looks wounded and exhausted, we know that it won’t be long before his redemption. When and how that comes isn’t clear, but there’s no doubt we can look forward to it soon.

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Still, with the political subplots bubbling and plenty of action at every turn, it’s clear that the series is firing on all cylinders again. It hasn’t yet hit the greatest highs of the last two series, but at less than a third of the way through, there’s plenty of time for it to do so – and certainly, little doubt that it will. Let’s just hope they don’t wait too long…

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