Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: Spartacus: Vengeance "Wrath of the Gods"

Non Spoiler Review:
Glaber and Spartacus face difficult choices in deciding how and when to strike back at each other, with pressures both from Rome and among the rebels who are running low on food. Ashur's actions begin to catch up with him, while Lucretia and Ilithyia struggle to ensure their futures. As it's the season finale, all of this comes to an outrageous conclusion that actually manages to pale the ending of season one.

Right from the start it's evident that very few characters are safe, and by the end the series has changed so drastically that next season is going to be an entirely new slate. Make no mistake—there are major deaths, some well-deserved, some tragic, and others that came right out of left field. 

Vengeance has been the theme of this season, and vengeance is what we got. We say good-bye to a lot of familiar people and places. It took me a bit to process it after it was over, but I'm immensely satisfied. It's going to be tough to leave behind so many beloved characters, but this series has never been about keeping people safe. 

Spoilers Now!
Spartacus surveys the valley from the cliffs of Vesuvius as the rebels make camp in the barren rocks. Mira and Spartacus appear to have come to some peace with the end of their relationship. Gannicus and Crixus alert them that Nemotes and his men have decided to try to breach the Roman barricade.

Below, Ashur's arrogance taunts Tarsus, but a dispute is interrupted by the Germans attacking. They're taken down by the Romans, and Ashur is about to behead Nemotes as Mira's arrows lead the way for the other rebels to attack. Ashur is shot in the shoulder and Spartacus engages the Egyptian. Roman reinforcements arrive, so Spartacus rescues Nemotes and begins retreat. One of the soliders hurls an axe that misses him and kills Mira. He takes her back up the slopes.

Mira dies and Spartacus takes his grief out on Nemotes and his rash attack, but the German counters he led them to their deaths and she at least met hers as a warrior. Spartacus realizes he's right and declares Glaber will come to them eventually and they'll stain Vesuvius with their blood. However, Spartacus is finding it difficult to come up with tactics to fight against the Romans. Gannicus reassures him that he now regards him a brother and is happy to fight alongside him.

Back at the temple camp Glaber is brought one German survivor, but given he can't speak their tongue, he kills him. He vows to stay his hand until they begin to starve, given taking the mountain would be very costly.

Meanwhile, Lucretia and Ilithyia are journeying to Vesuvius to meet him. Ilithyia is happy she can find some solace in Glaber again, but she treasures Lucretia's friendship and promises a husband for her when they're in Rome. Lucretia grimly explains that Glaber has already promised her to Ashur. Ilithyia assures her they'll rid her of the burden when they get to Vesuvius.

Ashur wants his mercenaries to swear a new oath of brotherhood, making them the first recruits in his ludus. They're interrupted by the arrival of Ilithyia and Lucretia. Glaber seems pleased to be reunited with her, so she presses him to end Spartacus' life so she can return to Rome and have the child. It would require the loss of many men to take the higher ground, he points out. Ilithyia tempts him to agree to accelerate his plans. She lingers a little longer to give him Seppius' bracelet, explaining her slave saw Ashur give it to Seppia, sparking her vengeance. Glaber muses Ashur has served his purpose, but so has Lucretia, who knows secrets he would not have revealed. He wants to put their unfortunate past behind them and seize a glorious future.

Lucretia plays along with Ashur's advances before rejoining Ilithyia. Glaber confronts him, asking if he thinks him a fool, showing him the bracelet. Ashur denies any knowledge, but Glaber draws his sword, prompting Ashur and his men to do so. Ashur laments the end of their association and suggests they take their leave. Glaber offers the mercenaries 1000 dinari each for their service. They immediately abandon Ashur, so he makes a stand but the Egyptian puts his sword to his throat. Glaber opts to test the depths of his loyalty.

Spartacus prepares Mira's body and is alerted to the arrival of Ashur on the path. He comes bearing a message from Glaber—he's grown weary and would return home to Rome and offers terms of surrender. If they lay down their arms they'll be allowed to live as slaves again, but Spartacus' life is the cost of the bargain. Nemotes steps in and says he doesn't want to die, but if so he'll do it as a free man. None of them will take the deal, so Ashur has his answer. Ashur is about to leave, but Crixus refuses to let him go so quickly, and would see him punished for all he's done. 

Ashur taunts Crixus for cutting down a defenceless man, so he's given a sword. Ashur protests that there is no honor in fighting, given he's wounded in the shoulder. Naevia steps in and says she won't have Crixus soil his name for her, so she'll take vengeance herself, given she has greater claim on his life. Crixus reluctantly allows it.

Ashur and Naevia battle as Crixus painfully watches. He brings her down, but she refuses help. Ashur finally has his sword to her throat, gloating how he had her. When it seems she's doomed, she elbows him in the groin and follows up with her sword. She cuts his neck and he bleeds out slowly. Ashur shouts that it makes no difference, his death will not heal her scars. She agrees it won't erase the memories, but it's a start, and lops off his head after several swings. Naevia admits Crixus was right—that it was no easy task to cleave a man's head in one single blow. He promises to teach her.

Spartacus puts Ashur's head on the path as a reply to Glaber. Then Spartacus gets an idea—something the Romans won't see coming. At the temple, Tarsus brings back Ashur's head and Glaber plans to take Vesuvius at dawn.

Back at the ludus Lucretia tosses the red wig over the cliff. Ilithyia joins her, pleased they will soon leave this place. Ilithyia struggles with having to push her off the balcony as Lucretia comments how she saved her from tragedy. Lucretia turns at that moment and startles Ilithyia, and they see her water has broken. Lucretia tells her it's the sign from the gods the child must be born within the walls and leads her inside.

The rebels have woven vines together to provide ropes down the cliffs—enough for four men. Agron, Crixus, Gannicus and Spartacus will make the descent. He gives the rest a final pep talk, that the Romans believe the Roman way is the only way, and that's their fatal flaw.

They begin their climb down the shear cliff face, where Roman guards stand watch below on the path. They take them, head to camp and began to kill everyone there.

Tarsus joins Glaber on the temple wall. He's musing about his future, rising above others in the Senate. Then he spies a fire in the woods at the camp, and Spartacus lights the catapults to bombard the temple. Oenomaus sees the signal from the cliffs and they make their move. Glaber gets his men to advance into the woods, finding the four gladiators ready to fight. They charge and engage but are suddenly met by Oenomaus and the rebels from behind.

Lucretia has summoned the medicus, but Ilithyia fears something is wrong, so Lucretia goes to find something for the pain. Ilithyia hears a cry and sees Lucretia covered in blood, holding a knife. She kills Ilithyia's other slave telling her intent was always to see the curse on the house lifted. Now no one need come between them, she says. Lucretia explains she's but a vessel carrying a gift of the gods for the House of Batiatus, and she'll see it unwrapped.

Glaber orders his troops to fall back as Spartacus and his men pursue. Oenomaus saves Gannicus from the Egyptian, but the two mortally wound one another. Gannicus steps in and kills him, but Oenomaus tells him he goes to his wife, and they'll greet him in the afterlife as a brother. He dies in his arms. 

Lucretia emerges with a baby in her arms, while inside Lucretia crawls across the floor screaming to her. Quintus always wanted a son, and he shall have one, she explains as Ilithyia tries to reach her. She falls back over the cliff with the baby as Ilithyia watches in horror. Then Ilithyia collapses on the sand and dies.

Glaber secures the temple, but the rebels are already scaling the walls. Tarsus is killed. Spartacus and Glaber finally battle. Glaber refuses to die at the hands of a slave but Spartacus says he's a free man and shoves his sword into him. The Romans have finally learned their place before them. With that, the men have taken back the temple and Glaber tells him he's won nothing. Rome will send legions in his wake and one day soon he will fall. Perhaps, but not this day, Spartacus says, and shoves his sword into his mouth as memories of his wife pass before his eyes.

Spartacus tells his people that Rome can send their legions and they'll face them, and all will follow Glaber in death. Now they become an army, he tells Crixus. The rebels shout his name.

The Verdict:
Wrath of the Gods ranks up as one of the best of the entire series, and left me breathless and dumbfounded in places. Mira's death wasn't unexpected at all, nor was Ashur's, but it was immensely satisfying to watch him fall. Oenomaus brought  a very sombre moment, but at the same time a beautiful closure for his arc.

Most shocking was the culmination of Lucretia's plan. It all made a twisted sort of sense, but watching her fall back off the cliff with the baby was one of the most stunning moments of the series. That leaves Ilithyia, who I had assumed was alive, though I've just read an interview with the creators and they've confirmed she's dead, too.

There was little to critique given the epic scale the writers delivered. There's always the head-scratching questions of how fast the rebels can travel on foot down the mountain to the temple, or from Capua to Vesuvius, plans that need go exactly as planned, and for my own satisfaction I'm just going to assume that at some point in season one Batiatus hosted a two-day seminar on the operation, loading and aiming of catapults.

It's an interesting note that Crixus is the only original actor left since the beginning of the series. And the entire cast of Romans is dead, but given the shift in focus for the rebels, apparently Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus will be appearing next season. Nevertheless, the shining star of this year was Liam McIntyre, who has certainly put his stamp on the character.

Spartacus has his vengeance, as does Naevia, and even Lucretia. The season wraps up very nicely with a broad new direction ahead. Glaber's parting words were very ominous, given Rome will indeed send legions, and the inevitable defeat of Spartacus is something always hovering over the series. But they will now rise above the small band of rebels and become an army fighting on a larger tapestry. It's sad to leave behind the arena and Capua, but everything and everyone received a proper send off. 

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