Spartacus: War Of The Damned episode 5 review: Blood Brothers

A battle, a cliff-hanger, and that goatee. Here's James' review of the latest Spartacus: War Of The Damned...

This review contains spoilers.

3.5 Blood Brothers

Last week I recalled that episode five had heralded a big turning point in both of Spartacus‘ previous full seasons. As it happens, I was half right about the same being true here. There’s no doubt that the situation just got real, but unusually for Spartacus, they ended the episode on a cliffhanger! Mid-battle! Is that the first time they’ve done that?

So while we can be fairly certain that, with Romans advancing on both sides, episode six is going to end with a major shift in the series status quo (goodbye, Sinuessa!) it does mean that episode five wasn’t quite the game-changer it could have been.

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That said, it was a great episode in its own right, and far from devoid of action. The schism in Spartacus’ camp was, as we expected, not quite as lasting as it looked, but nor was it the wholly choreographed deception it could have been. Crixus, at least, wasn’t in on the manipulation, and even Gannicus didn’t get filled in until it was too late to do anything about it. A gamble, but one which might have paid off – were it not for Crassus’ strong instincts as a leader. This episode leaves us in no doubt that Spartacus has finally met a tactical equal in Crassus, and it’s great to watch their respective machinations unfold.

And while Crassus might be a strong leader, he’s nowhere near as good a father, having severely under-estimated the effect of his iron-willed leadership on his son Tiberius, who made the leap in this episode from “sympathetic antagonist” to “irredeemable villain” in somewhat unnecessarily brutal fashion. There’s no coming back from making yourself a rapist in heroic fiction, and it’s to the writers’ credit that it seemed in-character despite earlier episodes going to good lengths to make us feel sorry for him. The scenes of Tiberius raging against anyone in earshot earlier in the episode explain that this is most definitely an angry man who’ll go to any extent to satisfy that anger.

One thing this episode did do was restore a little common sense to the cast. Spartacus finally kicked out the Roman prisoners, turning them into a non-issue within the city. Their trust of Heracleo and his pirates was revealed as misplaced, as you’d expect for someone who continually points out that he’s only in it for the money. Everyone finally noticed that Caesar was evil, and even Agron might have resolved his jealousy. Right now, the only person who’s making the cast look like they can’t think straight is Naevia, and even she tried to apologise to Gannicus.

The episode also began the inevitable descent that precedes the coming triumph. Expect an episode or two of the rebel army feeling beaten and disorganised before they rise to victory in the final hours of the season. Although, given how history turned out, that victory may be somewhat Pyrrhic, or even purely moral in nature, because we know that their war is doomed to be crushed by Crassus.

Anyway, with only five episodes left, it won’t be long until we get to find out how this saga is going to end – but right now, I’m more interested in how this battle’s going to end (and whether someone will finally cut the irritating goatee from Caesar’s face.) Only another week to wait…

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