Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Spartacus: War of the Damned "Men of Honor"

Non Spoiler Review:
The moral ambiguity facing Spartacus' handling of Roman prisoners grows murkier as old wounds among the slaves spill out now that they have the upper hand over their former captors. Sinuessa en Valle is visited by pirates who reveal an earlier arrangement with Ennius that might prove useful. Meanwhile, Tiberius and Caesar rendezvous with the army, but Tiberius makes a rash decision.

The unpleasant feeling left from watching the good citizens of Sinuessa get massacred by our heroes grows through Men of Honor as clear factions begin to form. And it's Naevia that makes her mark as a potentially divisive force. It's clear the internal politics of the rebel camp are proving just as critical to their survival as victory against the Republic's legions.

Men of Honor has a lot for everyone—action, character growth, troublesome moral questions, and old-fashioned Roman debauchery. And Spartacus now has, hands down, the coolest breast plate in the ancient world (see above).

Spoilers Now!
Weapons are being forged again in Sinuessa en Valle, courtesy of Attius. Spartacus is pleased with his work, and promises him reward if he remains in the city. Agron doesn't trust him, nor does Crixus. Spartacus orders their prisoners fed and kept well as they are currently chained in the streets. Agron finds their presence insulting, given they're taxing their own food stores keeping them alive. 

Crixus confronts Attius at why he remains given he was compensated for his work. Attius explains he's been promised more coin. So Crixus gives him a coin for his journey to encourage him on his way. Saxa comes by looking for Gannicus, though Laurus' former slave girl watches from a distance.

Nemetes offers Ulpianus' pregnant wife bread in exchange for further treasure that lies hidden in their house. The baker agrees and tells him where to look. Nemetes instead lets the Romans fight for the scrap of bread until Crixus intervenes and asks the crowd if they desire blood. They do, so he brings swords to have the two citizens fight for their amusement. Gannicus is not amused, but Naevia reminds him the Romans forced him and Crixus to fight for their pleasure. 

Ulpianus is quickly disarmed by his foe and wrestled to the ground, but manages to grab his sword and kill his opponent when faced with losing his life. Crixus tosses him the bread and walks away, and Ulpianus, enraged, reaches for the bread which lies next to his sword, prompting Naevia to cut off his fingers. Attius is furious she struck him down for taking his food, leading Crixus to step in to Naevia's defense. Gannicus intervenes on Attius' side. Crixus walks off with Naevia asking her if he was truly reaching for the bread, but she doesn't care. She explains to him she has no use for men like Ulpianus. When she was sold off from the house of Batiatus she was ravaged by a family man just like him. Crixus had not known and promises to always stand at her side.

Ships arrive down the coast and four men appear at the gates. They're not Romans, but brigands of Cilicia, and they call Spartacus a brother for his deeds against the Republic. Their leader, Heracleo, regards Rome as their common enemy.

Heracleo explains that Ennius had an arrangement with him. He gave Heracleo use of his official seal for his manifest so that he would avoid problems at other ports. In exchange the pirates dispatched with Ennius' enemies on the seas. Spartacus thinks he might be of use and can keep the city supplied despite the Romans.

Gannicus consults with Attius about the Cilicians. Attius still resents their abuse of Ulpianus. Gannicus wonders why he stands only for himself, just as Gannicus once did. He suggests he leave and take the opportunity to become a new man elsewhere. 

Caesar and Tiberius arrive at the camp of Mummius where Tiberius assumes command. Mummius prefers to catch up with Caesar and leaves Tiberius to plan with Sabinus. A wounded soldier is brought to the camp to reveal Spartacus has taken Sinuessa en Valle. He escaped to the bay before they took the docks. Caesar calls him a coward for fleeing and kills him. Tiberius is furious. He orders Caesar to break camp and return to Crassus with news of Spartacus. He and Mummius will move for Sinuessa en Valle. 

Laeta is brought to her former villa to see Spartacus. She's furious with him for all he's done, and the latest news of Ulpianus, something Spartacus wasn't aware of. He informs her of Heracleo, whom Laeta thinks her husband devoted much money to hunt down. Spartacus reveals her husband destroyed his rivals via Heracleo, in favor of his seal. He needs it to continue the agreements, so Laeta acquiesces to find it for him in exchange for freedom. 

Once in hand, Spartacus promises Heracleo the seal when they abandon the city. Until then he will get coin for food. Heracleo wants Laeta included in the bargain but Spartacus doesn't trade in slaves. Heracleo agrees to land beyond the city walls an hour before sunrise so that they might fulfill their agreement. That raises suspicion among the rebels that it could all be a trap.

Heracleo supplies wine for a celebration. Nasir gets hit on by one of the brigands, prompting Agron to beat him up until Spartacus sends him away. Back in their quarters Agron and Nasir make up. Saxa comes upon the slave girl Sybil spying on Gannicus again. She confesses she just wants to thank him for saving her life. A drunk Gannicus stumbles home to find Saxa dressed in Roman gowns as well as offering Sybil for his pleasure. He looks into her eyes and orders her away, dismissing her as a child. He prefers Saxa tend to his needs. Afterwards, Sybil is waiting outside when Gannicus leaves. She offers him gratitude for freeing her, but he advises her she can repay her debt by staying far from his presence and men of his kind.

Laeta warns Spartacus he's a fool to trust in Heracleo. She realizes she was blind to her husband's schemes and wishes he would have just handed her over to the pirates. Spartacus reveals he has given command that she's free to move about the city in return that she sees her people receive their proper share of food. He offers to let her stay in the villa but she prefers to take shelter in the stables so the people don't think she's sleeping under his roof. She begins to realize he's not the man she expected.

The men gather before dawn, very hungover, and leave, ordering Naevia and Nasir to keep the gate closed until they hear from Spartacus. If Heracleo proves deceptive he wants them all killed. Tiberius and Mummius are watching from the high ground, realizing the rebels are making a deal with the pirates. He orders Mummius to prepare his men to advance. Sabinus warns him he's going against his father's orders by engaging Spartacus, but Tiberius feels he will honor him with blood and death.

Saxa alerts Naevia that Ulpianus and his wife are missing, so she goes to search for them. Naevia finds Attius packing up to leave and accuses him of trying to escape with his friends. He dismisses her accusation so she attacks him. The two battle with Attius disarming her, but she strikes him down with a hammer and violently proceeds to bash in his head.

On the beach Spartacus and his group arrive to meet Heracleo and his men. Spartacus has brought the coin and fulfils the bargain, but Heracleo only supplies a sample of the food, the remainder of which is on the ships. He promises to sail into port and unload, but Crixus warns that's not the arrangement, prompting swords to be drawn. Heracleo suggest the time might have come for them to part ways.

Spears suddenly fly into their midst as they come under attack by the Romans. A party of soldiers led by Tiberius engage them on the beach. As the battle turns against the Romans, Mummius arrives with reinforcements. Heracleo throws up a torch, signalling his ships to launch fireballs that drive back the soldiers. Mummius is killed and the army flees. Tiberius is stabbed by Totus, though manages to kill him as Sabinus comes to his aid to carry him off the battlefield. Spartacus orders a retreat back to the city, but tells Heracleo to take coin and see his ships to port, thanking him for his loyalty. Crixus takes the sword from Totus' body and sees the name on it. Back inside the gates Gannicus wonders why the Romans would attack in such small number with a boy as their leader. 

Naevia arrives, announcing Attius came at her when questioned about freeing the Romans. Gannicus is skeptical that he would betray them given he planned to start his life fresh. Spartacus wants the missing citizens found to avoid Romans plotting in their midst. Meanwhile, in the stables it's Laeta who is hiding Ulpianus' family and the others in a hidden cellar.

The Verdict:
Another enjoyable episode furthering the difficult questions of how the Romans are treated under their new masters. Naevia may have just cause to have a vendetta against the Republic, but it's apparent here she's become a loose cannon, something Gannicus readily sees and Crixus should be suspicious of. Crixus must feel some guilt given he's turned her into a killing machine and is only now learning how damaged she is.

My criticism of Naevia actress Cynthia Addai Robinson is no reflection on her skills. The problem arises of the timing of the recast, as we got meek and mild Naevia in the ludus who was sent away at the end of season one, and then a new actress playing her after her brutalization, so there's no continuity at all to make this the same character for me as I watch her now. It's unfortunate, as I think the original Naevia's transition into this current savagery would be extremely powerful, or at least if Robinson had a chance to play her before she was sent away.

Tiberius' rash military decision lends further credence to my suspicion he will be dispatched in the near future. I wonder, though, if the writers are going to work in Marcus' historical son into the narrative in some way or will just leave him out of the story entirely.

I'm pleased to see Laeta isn't all dow-eyed for Spartacus and is instead pulling an Anne Frank with her fellow Romans. And it's equally refreshing to see Heracleo turn out to be a man of his word and remain to save Spartacus. It's unfortunate Attius was killed off so quickly as he promised to be an interesting addition.

I'm impressed with the direction events are going with this dissension within the rebels. Ultimately it might prove Spartacus' downfall instead of superior Roman numbers if the sense of honor that has held together the gladiator brotherhood gets thrown down by the greater desire for revenge among the freed slaves.

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