This review contains spoilers.
3.6 Spoils Of War
Well, we know why the last episode ended mid-fight scene. It was so they could make sure this episode could have a proper blood-and-gore fest early on. And that it did. Opening an episode with the likes of Spartacus, Crixus, Gannicus and Agron fighting at the same time is a bold move, since that’s the sort of moment you wait for, when watching Spartacus. How could they follow that up?
The answer is with the most Spartacus-light episode of this season – possibly since the series began. And yet, unlike the last time they attempted to go heavy on the Roman side of things, this one had something we could latch onto: Gannicus. The story of his escape, intertwined with Laeta’s expulsion from Rome, was easily the most interesting strand in the episode, not least because it’s the last season: there was no guarantee he was going to make it out alive. Watching him ride a horse to freedom in easily his most victorious moment since Gods of the Arena was worth waiting for, even if his escape was a smaller, more personal one than the battle royale that opened the episode.
Of course, the other main strand – that of Caesar (finally sans beard) and Tiberius’ political jousting – was much weaker. It only struck any sort of chord when things moved into the (makeshift) arena, and Donar’s eventual suicide was a fantastic exit in the face of certain execution. All credit to the writers, they built that moment up and then stole it from us, and we couldn’t help but feel the disappointment.
As for Crassus, the man overseeing both plot threads, his political manoeuvring is far less interesting than that of Batiatus, or even Glaber. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen it before. Maybe it’s because this set of Roman aristocracy simply don’t have the screen time to become the well-rounded antagonists the last lot did, because they never seem to actually interact with the main cast. Crassus coming face to face with Spartacus was long overdue, but their relationship is more intellectual than emotional, so it didn’t quite work.
Still, we got some good moments. Heracleo was one of the series’ better secondary characters, and his death was both well-earned and imaginative. Possibly not as imaginative as whichever poor goon got kicked in the face by Gannicus’ horse later in the episode, but still better than a sword to the throat. And by Laeta, whose transformation this series has been well-managed – from ruler to slave, in many ways the inverse of Spartacus’ journey. Can’t want to see where she goes next.
And so, the cliffhanger. Spartacus and his men trapped on a snowy mountain, fenced in by Crassus’ ramparts. We’ve seen several times in this season that Crassus is a man who sticks to his plans and anticipates his enemy’s moves, and that’s proven true once again here. Will Spartacus outsmart him? At this point, the situation looks sort of hopeless, and history itself is on Crassus’ side – and yet, such is the nature of the show that it’s hard to believe that this is the end of the line for the rebellion.
Ultimately it was Laeta’s words in this episode which made it clear what sort of ending the series headed towards: Spartacus no longer fights for revenge, but for what he believes is just. He could not stop even if he wanted to. Crassus’ response of “let history decide which of us is right” was laced with audience irony, but it’s increasingly clear that Spartacus is headed for death, and Crassus to a victory. From now on, I’m just interested in seeing how pyrrhic it ends up.
Read James’ review of the previous episode, Blood Brothers, here.
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