Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: Spartacus: Vengeance "Chosen Path"

Non Spoiler Review:
Chosen Path takes a moment to decompress from the epic level crazy of the previous week. As the rebels return to the temple to tend to the wounded, there are happy reunions (and less than happy ones). Gannicus' arrival brings plenty of mixed emotions—old friends and now old enemies thrown together. Spartacus attempts to convince him he should join their ranks. Back at the ludus, Glaber is attempting to manage the fallout of the catastrophic public relations nightmare in Capua, while Ilithyia and Lucretia both find their stations suffering as Ashur's influence rises.

The Gannicus/Spartacus meeting has been long in coming, so that provides the focus for this week. There were a couple of contrived elements with the rebels, but it was good to have a more sedate episode coming off of the huge battles. Glaber and Ashur's machinations really steal the show, though. And it's a compliment to Ilithyia's character that someone so devious can exact a bit of sympathy from the audience too.

It doesn't feel like the season is already half over, but a lot has happened, and Chosen Path continues to set up more stuff down the road. A host of characters all got a moment or two in the spotlight and emphasizes how much of an ensemble the series is. It was Spartacus at it's soap-operish best.

Spoilers Now!
Spartacus and his band return to the temple with their wounded. Chadara is saddened to hear Rhaskos has died, while Agron enjoys his reunion with Nasir. Lucius apparently has some medical knowledge, so cares for Oenomaus. Crixus is reunited at last with Naevia. 

Spartacus is confident Oenomaus will recover, but Gannicus doubts the rebellion has any chance of victory against the power of Rome. His choice to help was a debt to Oenomaus, and he owes Spartacus nothing. Mira suggests it might have been wise to let Gannicus die in the arena, but Spartacus swayed Nasir, and suggests Gannicus might be convinced otherwise, as well.

As the smoke from the arena hovers over Capua, Glaber is hearing the account of Albinius' holdings. Glaber wants to use some of the money to post reward for Spartacus, but he lacks the authority, given he's only caretaker of the funds until his heir comes of age. Glaber suggests the law will bend to greater purpose. Meanwhile, Ilithyia is broken, while Glaber gloats that she's mourning more for her marriage to Varinius than she is her father. He lets her know in no uncertain terms the only reason she lives is for the child in her womb, and if anything happens to it, her life is forfeit. They will keep appearances for the public, and he orders her to pull herself together.

Glaber's officer reports that hundreds of bodies have been recovered from the arena, and some soldiers are even fleeing for fear of Spartacus. They've also recovered Gannicus' rudus. Ashur comments that three of Glaber's Roman soldiers won't match even one gladiator, so Glaber wants him to prove his boast and fight his men. He's surrounded and takes a severe beating but does manage to hold his own and defeat the three men. Lucretia watches from the balcony. Dusting himself off, Ashur comments that he was considered lowest of their number and suggests he would prove useful. Glaber at last agrees to take his counsel.

A cleanly shaven Ashur gets a visit from Lucretia. She wants to know how Glaber abruptly turned against Ilithyia. Perhaps the gods spoke to him, he chides. She slaps him and warns him he secures no place without her. But he's Glaber's man now and threatens her that one word from him would end her. He pins her down and rapes her. 

Naevia finds herself unable to be intimate with Crixus without having flashbacks to the men who had their way with her. Meanwhile, Chadara joins Gannicus as he sits at Oenomaus' bedside. He's not receptive to her overtures, though, and has no intention of standing with Spartacus. Chadara is being denied left and right by the others, so Mira tells her to sieze the world with her own hands rather than using her body. 

Spartacus plans to place a watch on the slopes of Vesuvius to keep an eye on advancing Romans, while also seeking to fortify the temple. They also need to learn to wield new weapons, like the bow, and recruit new fighting men. Spartacus suggests attacking Neapolis. Gannicus walks in on their conversation, but is seeking only wine.

A shaken Lucretia is joined in the bath by an equally damaged Ilithyia. She asks Lucretia to stay and keep her company, wondering if the gods are punishing her. Lucretia explains they both carry the burden of their acts and together they must find the solution to appease the gods. If she succumbs to Glaber's will, one day his hatred will subside enough to allow them an advantage. Ilithyia confesses that now it's only Lucretia's breath that gives her life. Lucretia vows to remain at her side until her husband calls her to the afterlife.

Ashur is set to task assembling a team of fighting men, first at a brothel to have words with a deadly rabble-rouser, then seeking out an Egyptian beast who has been held in a well. Soon he has assembled an assortment of his own baddasses to counter Spartacus' gladiators.

Crixus visits Spartacus, as he ponders Gannicus' role. Crixus admits he would be a boon to their cause, and Spartacus has always found a way to remove their doubts. Spartacus addresses the rebels about their recent victory. If they're to face the might of Rome, he would do it in the shadow of Vesuvius, and they must prepare by making proper weapons, and tunnels dug for escape. Agron plans to dress as merchants and seize the boatload of slaves before they're unloaded at Neapolis. 

Agron confesses to Crixus he understands now why he would risk everything for his heart. Crixus won't forget that he came to help, but also won't forgive the lies he told. Agron says it was a mistake to offer comfort to him, so they come to blows again, and spark Spartacus' anger. Gannicus laughs that his own men can't get along. Spartacus wants to talk to him alone, so they go hunting. He explains his past and motivation for fighting, but Gannicus isn't receptive to his pitch.

Glaber is visited by the magistrate and Seppius. Lucretia has offered to perform a ritual to appease the gods in the market, but Seppius is outraged that Glaber isn't taking action. Glaber suggests they join forces and at last set differences aside for the good of the people, given Varinius has moved to distance himself from Capua—and Seppius. He says he'll consider and give answer the next day. Ilithyia interjects and offers an invitation to Seppia (who is traumatized by Mercato's death). Seppius is grateful for the overture.

Gannicus gets a chance to sit down and talk with Crixus and the battle they never had. He's happy Crixus was champion but is surprised he's here following a Thracian. It's a foolish cause and he advises Crixus to be free of Spartacus before he drags them all to their end. Gannicus is called into see Oenomaus, who has woken up. The former doctore tells him no words he has can hold any meaning now. Gannicus admits he is to blame for what happened, not Melitta, but Oenomaus says he stands only for himself and would betray the gods to get what he wanted. 

Seppia visits Ilithyia and Lucretia, talking about the trauma of watching Cossutius and Mercato die in front of her. Together they remind Seppia that too many Romans of note have been snatched away by Spartacus. Seppia sees through the plan to sway her brother's position. Lucretia interjects and admits she's discovered their scheme, but they all share the same experience of suffering under Spartacus. Glaber arrives to confess he hasn't been the most agreeable man either, and assures Seppia he has seen the error of his ways. Lucretia can't help but notice the look that passes between Glaber and Seppia. Ashur arrives to draw Glaber away and advise him the men have been acquired.

At the temple, Spartacus finds that their coin and the map of their attack is gone. Gannicus leaves Oenomaus and prepares to depart, but Spartacus stops him, asking what he carries with him. He replies that he has not betrayed him and orders him out of his way. It quickly becomes a fight that Spartacus turns into a personal battle between the two of them. Mira suddenly grabs her bow and fires—the arrow passes between Spartacus and Gannicus and hits Chadara, who she saw try to slip away during the melee. She meant only to wound, but Chadara is dead—it was she who took the map, seeking to secure her place elsewhere. 

Spartacus offers apologies. Gannicus just wants to leave them all behind. Crixus has opted to stay, so Gannicus muses he'll mourn his passing. Mira suggests the former champion may yet prove a threat to them. Naevia tells Crixus she can't run from what's happened. She wants Crixus to teach her how to live, breathe and fight so no man can lay hands against her again. 

Ashur and the new band of men attack and pillage Seppius' villa as Glaber watches. Seppius is mortally wounded and Glaber admits he could not await until morning for his offer. He kills him, letting him know Seppia is safe beneath his roof. Seppius' men are now his to end Spartacus. As they depart, Ashur takes the serpent bracelet from Seppius' wrist—insurance, perhaps?

The Verdict:
Chosen Path took care of a lot of housekeeping necessary after the fallout of the arena's destruction. With Gannicus' introduction to the story once more, it required a bunch of conversations—with Oenomaus (obviously), with Crixus, and of course the inevitable discussions (and battle) with Spartacus.

Their sparring match did seem a bit forced. While Chadara has had little to contribute aside from eyeing up potential bed mates, she did fulfill the necessary plot device to get the two champions fighting, but her loss won't really be noticed, especially now that Naevia and Mira both are becoming warrior women (I'm very pleased that we didn't have to suffer through more Naevia angst and the writers very quickly put her on a path back to regaining her strength). It was a nice little touch that the rain started falling as soon as Spartacus and Gannicus came to blows. Gannicus' role with the rebels remains to be seen, but it's interesting that Mira continues to have a lot of suspicions about him.

On the Roman side of things, the situation has been completely overturned for Lucretia and Ilithyia (and now Seppia). It's quite a mix of characters in the ludus these days. I guess I shouldn't be surprised Seppius was toast, given we are about halfway through the season already. But they're certainly winnowing down the cast of Romans.

Very cathartic to see Ilithyia fallen and getting some much deserved punishment for her crimes. And her relationship with Lucretia remains one of the more fascinating aspects of the series, as I'm still wondering what Lucretia's endgame is. She suffered a lot herself (that rape scene was tough to watch). I'm wondering if it will be Ashur who won't live to see the end of the season—his litany of crimes is starting to add up that it may become necessary to kill at least one of the baddies. The question is, who gets to kill him? As much as I hate him, I admire how clever he is, taking Seppius' bracelet as a measure of incriminating evidence against Glaber at some point in the future.

I really love the new dynamic the writers have set up—Glaber and Ilithyia have become a dark version of Lucretia and Quintus, and now Lucretia is fulfilling a role once held by Gaia, as the tempter and advisor. There were so many parallels between the late Batiatus using his gladiators for muscle, and Glaber assembling his own shadow army to do his dirty work.

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