Spartacus: Vengeance episode 8 review: Balance

The eighth in the season of Spartacus: Vengeance proves uncharacteristically tame. Read James' review here...


This review contains spoilers.

8. Balance

After a few weeks of escalating awesomeness, this week’s Spartacus episode trod a more subdued and reflective path. That’s not to say a lot didn’t happen, because it did, nor that it wasn’t good fun, because it was. The difference between this week’s episode and its predecessors is simply that everything that happened in this one was predictable and straightforward. 

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For example: the threat of Spartacus killing Ilithyia never felt real, despite the writers’ best efforts. As one of the series’ lynchpin characters, it seemed inconceivable that she would die so easily. And indeed, she didn’t. In the past, the series has knocked us for a loop by killing or injuring someone who, in narrative terms, should have been invincible. Here, it dutifully proves that Ilithyia’s time has not come by having a succession of people fail to drive home a blade in favour of monologues and pontifications. It briefly seemed possible when Mira had her hands around Ilithyia’s throat, but only for the most fleeting of seconds. Hardly edge-of-seat stuff.

At least Ilithyia’s continued survival gives us some insight into Spartacus’ developing philosophy, as he struggles to define himself as different from the romans. This time: he’s decided he doesn’t want to take vengeance that isn’t just. Not a bad philosophy in practise, but it wasn’t that long ago he cut a man’s face off just to make a point, so it seems like an attack of the convenient moralising plot devices more than a genuine alteration of his outlook. We’ll find out in future episodes how serious he is about this, but I’m going to call it now and say it’s probably a temporary attack of conscience.

Speaking of plot conveniences, Lucius’ will-he/won’t-he betrayal was about the one moment of genuine potential in this episode, and again, they picked a direction that was blandly predictable. Yes, it was fun to watch him chew out Glaber, but it was obvious from the moment Ilithyia tried to bribe him that land alone wasn’t going to make him switch sides, so it was no surprise when he expressed as much. For him to then be dispatched, summarily, during a foolish (and materially pointless) display of stubborn sacrifice… well, it didn’t exactly recall the final moments of, say, Varro, let’s put it that way.

Not everything about the episode was bad, of course. It’s nice to have the unspoken question of whether Ilithyia’s baby is Spartacus’ child given voice, even if (in the absence of genetic testing) it seems unlikely we’ll ever get a satisfactory answer on that front. Perhaps that’s why Spartacus was so quick to believe it: if he thinks it’s true, then whether or not it is, at least the audience can get invested in the idea.

It was good to see Gannicus finally step up, as well, eager to win back the trust of his friend. He’s still mainly with the group out of necessity, but there’s room for growth, that much is certain. Maybe he’ll yet be the hero we want him to become. Of course, history records him as one of Spartacus’ loyal generals (omg spoilerz!) but he’s a way off that just yet. Certainly, seeing the all-star team of Spartacus, Gannicus, Crixus and Agron in the limelight together was a bit like seeing the Avengers team up, so let’s hope there are more scenes like that coming.

Once again, though, it’s the villains that really steal this series. Ashur’s increasing brutality has actually managed to make us root for Lucretia against him, even as his arrogance outstrips his cunning. Seppia’s discovery of Glaber’s role in her brother’s death makes it certain that we’re going to see an interesting confrontation sooner rather than later. And one wonders what will become of Ilithyia now that she’s lost everything. Will we see her again? Well, yeah, obviously – but it’d be good if the writers saved that for a moment when we least expect it (and I don’t mean next episode.)

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Still, weak plotting aside, this wasn’t a terrible episode – it held together well, and offered a few thrills – but for a series that has thrived on unpredictability and stylistic flair, it was uncharacteristically tame. Let’s hope it’s just the calm before the storm as the series moves into its third act.

Read our review of last week’s episode, here.

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