Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Spartacus: Vengeance "Empty Hands"

Non Spoiler Review:
Spartacus' group suffer an arduous journey to Vesuvius while Crixus is taken back to Capua and his former ludus. As Ilithyia hosts a party for Varinius, Roman machinations are in full swing as everyone appears to vie for position.

Empty Hands was quite effective in focusing on the struggle Spartacus faces against the never ending onslaught of Rome's might as they track his flight from the mines. It was a tense bunch of scenes, but the goings on at House Batiatus was equally effective for all the scheming and backstabbing, particularly Lucretia and Ilithyia's rivalry, which comes to a head.

Coming out of the bloody ruins of season one, it's laudable that the writers have managed to create a very interesting host of new characters among the Roman elite. Even without the primary focus on Spartacus himself this time, the intrigue was ramped up high and easily carried the show.

Spoilers Now!
As the escaping rebels hide in the woods from the Romans, Naevia freaks and takes off running, prompting Spartacus to act. Mira ultimately jumps on her pursuer and stabs him to death. Spartacus is victorious, but they lose a man and a few gladiators want to see Naevia cut lose, believing Crixus is dead already.

Albinius is angry about the insult of the absence of Glaber's troops at the games. Glaber counters that the gods decreed it via Lucretia, and that seems to appease Albinius, who has taken an obvious shine to her. Ilithyia suggests a party to appease Varinius, which angers her husband. She just wants to see their task complete and returned to Rome and warns him that Lucretia will bring them to ruin if he puts his faith in her. However, Glaber appears to trust in Lucretia, as well, and wishes his wife did the same.

While tracking the rebels, Marcus has spread his forces thin throughout the forest, and prompts a warning from Ashur that Spartacus' men are gladiators and should not be underestimated. But Marcus refuses to listen.

While preparing for the party, Ilithyia comes upon Seppia sitting with Lucretia. Seppia came seeking her counsel as she thinks she's found a suitable husband—Varinius. Ilithyia's jealousy is obvious and she feels Seppia lacks the refinement to marry a praetor who will likely be consul someday. Lucretia suggests she might encourage a different union, but Ilithyia can't abide that Lucretia's opinion now holds such weight, and snaps that when Marcus returns without Spartacus she'll lose her value.

The soldiers return to the ludus with three prisoners, Crixus among them. Lucretia watches from the balcony as Ilithyia gloats that Spartacus was not recovered. She mocks her and warns Lucretia they have unfinished business that she'll soon see brought to a close.

Crixus and the two others are taken below and they find Oenomaus is in the next cell. Crixus tells him they liberated Naevia from the mines, but Oenomaus is no longer sympathetic to those who put their trust in their desires for women.

The Romans attack Spartacus' camp again, and this time it's Nasir who falls in saving Mira. He lives, but to take him along would lead a bloody trail for the Romans. One of the Gauls wants to put him out of his misery but Spartacus refuses. Naevia points out Crixus survived worse with Theokoles and Nasir will too, if they seal his wound with fire. Spartacus sends his other man ahead. 

At the party, Cossutius (from Gods of the Arena) attends with Varinius. Glaber takes the opportunity to announce the news of Spartacus' imminent capture and at the moment presents the captured Gauls and Oenomaus. He offers Varinius their lives and presents his sword to him, but his rival refuses because he wants the men to fall in the arena before all of Capua. 

Seppius would prefer to kill them in the house to honor his murdered cousin, so Varinius suggests they pick one. Glaber allows Lucretia to chose who it will be. She puts on a good show of hearing the gods' counsel in making her choice, and then picks one of the Gauls after lingering a little long on Crixus. Lucretia whispers to him that she only delayed his passing so she could savor it. He boldy replies he would gladly give his life for Naevia. Lucretia is shocked to learn she lives, but is happy to see him die in the arena as a slave with his name lost to history.

The chosen prisoner endures a long, drawn out torture to the delight of the Romans, with Seppius cutting out his tongue to start. As they watch, Albinius comments on Varinius' power, and Ilithyia surprises her father by suggesting her marriage be dissolved. He counters that she carries Glaber's child and he holds position of praetor, warning her to strike the notion from her thoughts, given Varinius appears to be favoring Seppia.

When Seppia gets squeamish when it's her turn to torture the slave, Ilithyia takes the opportunity to grab the sword and kill him to impress Varinius, commenting on the merits of being decisive when necessary. Seppia is quite upset, but her brother consoles her and suggests they leave.

Lucretia joins Albinius on the balcony and he admits to be troubled about Ilithyia, so Lucretia encourages his confidence so she can entreat the gods on his behalf. He's only too happy to confide in her.

Ilithyia tracks down Varinius and flirts with him, suggesting if she were unencumbered of her responsibilities she would make a good match for him. He's intrigued. She admits her father never favored Glaber and wanted a more suitable husband, and advises he should make his intentions known to him. He assures her if she gets her father's approval to dissolve the marriage, he'll be waiting. 

A delighted Ilithyia wanders through the house, only to find her father having sex with Lucretia. Afterwards, Ilithyia confronts her and warns her she'll never be under her heal again. Lucretia protests that she wishes to erase the bad blood between them and admits she remembers everything that happened. Ilithyia strikes and attempts to strangle her, gloating that she'll smash her skull on the floor. Lucretia then reveals Albinius will dissolve her marriage, and that's why she bedded him. He sees wisdom in her counsel and she did it for Ilithyia to mend the rift between them. After a moment Ilithyia releases her, and says she was foolish to doubt her dear friend.

With the party ended, Varinius says good-bye to Glaber and Albinius departs with him. Glaber apologizes to his wife for doubting her, as the evening proved advantageous.

Spartacus seals Nasir's wound but the fire draws the Romans. The other gladiator returns, having run into more soldiers. They're unable to escape the forest so make a stand. Everyone is killed but Spartacus, Nasir, Mira and Naevia, but they still manage to overpower the Romans while Ashur saves and takes a wounded Marcus away. But Marcus is still defiant about sending more Romans against Spartacus, so Ashur kills him to keep him silent and save his own life. 

At sunrise, the four spy Vesuvius in the distance, but still half a day's journey. More soldiers appear behind them, and Spartacus and Mira make a stand together to hold them off so the others can make an escape. But it's not the Romans this time—Agron and his men have come to the rescue.

The Verdict:
The episode ended on a very emotional and cathartic note. Spartacus has some soul searching to do about his decision to undertake such a costly mission for one person. Was it worth it to sacrifice so many? In addition, Agron made the proper tactical choice. It will be interesting how that affects the leadership (especially with Crixus absent). He feels enough guilt about bringing Glaber's revenge down upon their heads. Now he has to come to terms with leading so many men to their deaths in pursuit of one slave.

It was Ilithyia's party that provided the real focus, however. Glaber enjoyed a lot of development as a character, as did the rest of the Romans, evolving into a very strong supporting cast in Capua.

Lucretia's role as oracle is a great twist for her, and her scenes this week with Crixus and Ilithyia were the best. We've not seen anything of what's been going through her mind. It would be nice to get a touch of mourning over the loss of her husband, given she's barely mentioned him. Ironically enough, she may now see herself rise to position she always sought as a result of the massacre.

I was disappointed to see Marcus go. I thought he was a promising character, but at least Nasir managed to survive for another day. I'm hoping Naevia isn't completely emotionally damaged from her experience in the mines, either. I miss the original actress.

The writing continues to excel. Few series could have its focus away from the primary actor and pull off side plots equally as compelling (and even overly melodramatic) as this week's Roman shennanigans. Spartacus has proven (additionally with Gods of the Arena) that there is no single, big star on this show, as everyone contributes to an amazing ensemble cast. One of its major strengths, for sure.

Next week—back to the arena!

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