Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review: Spartacus: Vengeance "Libertus"

Non Spoiler Review:
Libertus is one of those episodes that gives you pause and makes you appreciate what an amazing series this is. One hour dealt with so many plot points that a lesser show (ahem...Alcatraz, Terra Nova, Being Human...) would have taken months to tease or get through.

Spartacus hatches a plan to rescue Crixus that is his most bold action yet. Ilithyia's machinations grow equally bold when dealing with Glaber, and both Lucretia and Ashur scheme to turn matters to their own ends. Add to that, Varinius' primus promises the execution of the rebels at the hands of one of Capua's most famous champions. It all culminates in an outrageous climax that would have served just fine as a season finale.

Libertus left me breathless keeping up with so much plot. Everything worked. It's easily the best episode so far this season, and one of the more memorable ones of the entire series.

Spoilers Now!
Spartacus confides in Agron mistakes were made on both sides and they should place it behind them. The rebels come upon the ruins of a temple on their trek to Vesuvius. But it's not empty—an old man comes out with a bow. Spartacus advises him he only seeks shelter, and the man then realizes who he is and is happy to see him.

His name is Lucius, a Roman, who once had a villa, land and a family, killed by Sula who marched on his own people. He feels no kinship to the Romans anymore and gladly would call Spartacus a brother. Lucius informs them the city is talking of his capture, and three prisoners are being readied for execution the next day.

Ashur returns to the ludus with the bodies of those killed in the forest, and Crixus learns Spartacus still lives. Ashur recounts the tale to Glaber that Spartacus killed Marcus. Glaber is quite angry at everything and finds no more use for the Syrian, so will execute him with the other slaves.

Albinius learns Spartacus still lives and is equally unamused. He's having a meeting with Lucretia, Varinius and Ilithyia about the marriage plans and the need to keep it hidden from Glaber. It's made known that Ilithyia must remove encumbrances, which means aborting her child. Lucretia looks very alarmed at the news.

Lucretia comes upon Ilithyia about to take the serum from a red vile. She counsels her that she'll sicken and bleed for days and will miss the games (given Lucretia used it a lot with her own pregnant slaves). Ilithyia trusts in her wise advice and decides to delay. 

Lucretia tells Ashur she'll save him from Glaber, as she still has use for him. There is a red vile in Ilithyia's jewellery she would see replaced with water and herbs. It will be taken as a sign from the gods that her child must be born, and she can't risk discovery for herself. Ashur agrees to do the job.

Gannicus returns to Capua, hired to fight the prisoners in the games. His rudus (given to him at the end of Gods of the Arena) must always remain with him as proof he's not a slave. He's still tortured by his time in Capua, and appears lost for direction in his life.

Agron tells Naevia he's in her debt for saving Nasir, but it's Naevia who wishes they never came to the mines, given it cost her Crixus. It appears Nasir and Agron are growing fond of one another.

Ashur is freed and goes right to Glaber with news that he saw a red vile spoken of by the slaves that is used for one purpose only. Glaber confronts his wife and shows her the vile he's found. Caught, Ilithyia boldly puts up no defence and admits he's not worthy of her. Glaber tells her she will remain a dutiful wife, so she announces Albinius is dissolving her marriage and she'll be returning with Varinius to Rome after the games. She suggests to the dumbfounded Glaber that they present themselves as husband and wife one last time.

Spartacus wants to attack the arena to make a big show that the rebellion is alive and well, and produce a spectacle in the hearts of those still enslaved. It's a risky maneuver, but everyone is on board for this mission.

At the beginning of the games, Glaber and Ilithyia join Varinius and the others. Lucretia can see Glaber is troubled. Ilithyia whispers to her that he discovered the vile.

Beneath the arena, the bodies of the defeated are cut up and disposed of. Spartacus and his men arrive through the sewers and secure Roman uniforms while Mira and the others make preparations to set a fire below.

Varinius' games have proven successful, and the executions of the captured prisoners begins. Ilithyia is growing bolder in praising Varinius in Glaber's presence as they watch Oenomaus, Crixus and Rhaskos escorted out. Varinius brings out the only gladiator ever to earn his freedom—Gannicus—much to their shock and the crowd's cheers.

Spartacus (in Roman garb) sees Gannicus bears the mark of the brotherhood, and asks why he would slay his brothers. Gannicus wants to give his former brothers a noble death, from one of their own who still takes them to heart.

Gannicus faces Oenomaus and tells him he's lost his honor as Melitta always feared. Oenomaus asks if it's true that he laid with her, then charges him and the fight begins. Smoke begins rising beneath the stands. In the growing mayhem, Rhaskos is killed. Crixus is also wounded as Oenomaus and Gannicus have their own battle. Part of the stands abruptly collapses in flames (including on top of Gannicus as he's about to end Oenomaus' life). Spartacus and Agron make their move onto the sands to rescue them.

Large sections of the arena begin to fall away, carrying spectators into the fire and producing absolute panic. The soldiers rush onto the field and Glaber spies Spartacus, who quickly hurls a spear that just misses Glaber and kills Cossutius. As they flee the stand, Lucretia sees Crixus still lives. Albinius yells to Glaber his days in the Senate are at an end after this incredible mess up. 

Crixus and Spartacus find Gannicus trying to free the wounded Oenomaus. Around them the arena collapses, and his rudus, the sign of Gannicus' freedom, is left behind. Mira sends the others back through the sewer and awaits Spartacus below, and then they all leave the arena forever.

Glaber finds Albinius trapped under a collapsed beam. He begins to help, then tells him he's not the fool he and his daughter think him, and smashes his head. Outside in the panicked streets, Glaber informs Ilithyia her father has fallen at the hands of Spartacus. They'll survive this together as husband and wife, he says, while Lucretia watches Ilithyia's horrified expression as Varinius walks away.

The Verdict:
Libertus left me exhausted. The whole thing was Spartacus at its absolute best. Where to start? Spartacus' plan seemed a bit crazy, and it relied on pretty much everything going exactly right, but it made for a spectacular end to the gladiatorial games in Capua and a set that's been the backdrop for the entire series. Quite a vivid break with the past.

Gannicus' reappearance promises a lot of conflict. How will he integrate with the rebels now, especially since he's lost the symbol of his freedom, never mind the animosity between him and Oenomaus. He did seem very conflicted and absent a purpose when he first appeared, so joining the rebellion could well be the best thing for him. However, they now have four former champions commanding the ranks of the rebels. Lots of testosterone there.

Lucretia, Ilithyia, Glaber and Ashur playing against one for their own ends continued the awesome melodrama among the Romans. Ilithyia's plans were brought crashing down so soon it was quite a surprise (you'd think that would be left to a season finale). What was Lucretia's ultimate goal in saving the baby (granted, she's achieved that, but to what purpose)? There were some additional nice little bits peppered among the epic drama—Nasir and Agron, Crixus seeing that Spartacus had come for him, Cossutius getting the spear meant for Glaber.

Nothing really to quibble about this time, aside from some of the CGI of the arena collapse looking a bit rough when viewed in high definition. But I only noticed that upon rewatching, and certainly not during the initial viewing when I was staring in rapt attention for the final fifteen minutes.

I could go on and on about this one. Whatever comes next, this week reset a new dynamic—the rebels are reunited, Ilithyia's plans are in ruins and Glaber seems to have regained the upper hand. Rome will undoubtedly retaliate hardcore for such a brazen attack in Capua. 

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