Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Spartacus: War of the Damned "Mors Indecepta"

Non Spoiler Review:
Mors Indecepta carries on the game of brinkmanship between Crassus and Spartacus as the rebel army remains trapped between the Roman trench and the approaching army. Crixus and Spartacus disagree on their next course, while a severe storm batters their ranks. In Sinuessa en Valle, Kore gets some unpleasant news which leads her to take some drastic action, even as Crassus puts the pieces in place to ensure his final victory.

This was undoubtedly the most stunning Spartacus: War of the Damned episode to date (and perhaps of the series)—set against the white blanket of the storm, the vivid colours of the Roman regalia and the rebels was gorgeous. I'm loving the aerial shots of the massing armies this season, too. As I've said often enough this year, the creators have succeeded in delivering on the epic scale of the story.

Not just visually engrossing, the story was equally unpredictable, with plenty of drama to be had. Deception is the theme this week as Mors Indecepta further intensified the battle of wills between Crassus and Spartacus and how its fallout is devastating the men and women under their command. 

Spoilers Now!
The trench is full of bodies of those rebels attempting to scale the battlements only to be speared by the Romans manning the wall. Before an account of the dead can be had, Nasir alerts Spartacus that Crassus' army is approaching via the mountain pass, so Spartacus leads his forces to meet them. He opts not to advance against them, raising Crixus' ire, who is eager to spill Roman blood. The two forces face down one another as the legion stops its advance and begins to make camp. Spartacus wisely remembers his time from the auxiliary and realized the Romans were not in a formation to attack. They are awaiting Crassus' arrival.

Back in the city Crassus gives Tiberius his armor back, as he would have his son at his side as they approach the end of the rebellion. A reinstated and proud Tiberius visits Kore in the kitchen, announcing that when the war is over he'll stay in Sinuessa to handle his father's business, and Kore shall remain there with him. Soon, he tells her, they will enjoy the leisure of time to let him repay her for all she's done. Kore is, of course, horrified.

A storm is coming, and Gannicus remains distracted, rebuffing Saxa's advances to make the best of the time they might have left. Castus receives the brunt of hostility given the death of so many in the city due to the Cilicians. Nasir saves him from a beating and Castus declares he wishes to help take arms against the Romans, a decision Nasir promises to convey to the others. Later, Agron frees him and agrees to let him fight, as much as a favor to make amends with Nasir.

In the tent of the wounded Spartacus visits Laeta, who is wallowing in despair at her fate. He sees she now bears the brand of a slave and shows her his own brand of the house of Batiatus, telling her to go on living.

As Crassus prepares to depart, Kore brings him his afternoon meal, but also needs to speak. She asks if she's to serve his son in the city after he leaves. Crassus is annoyed Tiberius revealed that fact already, but he promises to speak with her again once the battle is won and rushes off.

Spartacus notices Crassus has placed his praetorian tent in a relatively exposed location and suggests they attack them there with a small force. Crixus prefers a bolder attack with a clash of armies. Spartacus asks him to stay at his side and when Crassus is dead and his forces in disarray they will destroy their legions. 

As the storm descends, Spartacus, Agron, Crixus, Naevia, Saxa and Gannicus make their way to the praetorian tent only to find Donar's dead body crucified inside and carved with the words mors indecepta—death cannot be deceived. It's a trap, of course. They emerge to make their escape but are set upon by a group of soldiers. After a pitched battle Spartacus saves a wounded Naevia and carries her off the battlefield. The Romans call them cowards, so Crixus turns back and fights them. Spartacus orders him back as reinforcements approach and they flee to safety.

Crassus isn't pleased Spartacus slipped away again but realizes the time for plots is ended and summons Tiberius and Caesar. He orders Caesar to retrieve the remaining troops from Sinuessa and fall under Tiberius' command for the coming battle. When he balks, Crassus reminds him it was Crassus who took the city, not Caesar. Caesar falls in line and Crassus assures him they will seize the heavens as promised. 

Back in Sinuessa Tiberius takes the opportunity to gloat, and an angry Caesar finds Kore watching his tantrum. She explains she fears a Tiberius who has been restored to power. Caesar wonders how she would dare speak against her master, but she confides in him privately to reveal how Tiberius has become their common enemy. She assures him she's been as wounded as Caesar has been. Caesar is reluctant to cast his lot with her, but hears her out.

Naevia is thankful to Spartacus for saving her. Crixus is less than grateful, and suggests this all wouldn't have happened if they'd moved to direct battle like he suggested instead of falling for a trap by a more devious mind. Spartacus refuses to march them all to certain death, but Crixus declares he won't die with a sword in his back. He decides to gather those of like mind to fight Crassus. Spartacus demands he fall to command, so Crixus breaks an ice-filled mug across his face, reminding him he's not a god. The two men have a brutal fist fight until Gannicus and Agron pull them off one another. 

The brunt of the storm hits, forcing everyone to shelter. Caesar arrives in the Roman camp without any notice, bringing Kore directly to Crassus. He leaves them alone and is discovered by Tiberius, who is furious he did not wait for him. Caesar warns him to pause before seeking his father's audience, as he's with Kore and she was desperate to make word with him. Caesar could not deny her, though claims he doesn't know what it's about. 

Crassus is a little annoyed with Kore's breach of protocol, but promises Caesar will see her back to the city when the storm passes. She asks if she is to be banished from him when the war is over, but Crassus assures her he's claimed the city so he has a place to visit her free from prying eyes. He would have her there to counsel Tiberius, as well. When she delicately suggests there might be some things that would divide him from his son, Crassus remarks he can't see anything that would make him withhold forgiveness from him. Kore begins to weep, but says everything is very clear to her now, then enjoys the night with him. After, as Crassus lies sleeping, Kore takes a knife.

Saxa comes looking for Gannicus so Spartacus goes off in search for him in the storm. Sybil has been seeking answers to the gods through a blood offering with some of her devout friends, but Gannicus takes her back to shelter under a wagon before she freezes to death and mends her wound. She kisses him and the two end up having sex.

Having failed to find Gannicus, Spartacus returns to shelter and tells Saxa to remain inside. Laeta offers he share her blanket. As the storm breaks Spartacus learns nearly a thousand have died in the night. Gannicus and Sybil meet up with them. Finding her former friends frozen to death in prayer, Sybil sees the gods have replied to their pleas. 

Spartacus goes to confront Crixus, who is even more angry now that they've lost a thousand men. Spartacus explains the trench and the wall is not only a barrier to escape, but also to what lies beyond it. Perhaps there are only a few men holding it. 

Taking a great tactical risk, they attack the trench and pull down some of the fortifications, picking off the Romans who try to stop them. Scaling the cliff they see only a few hundred waiting for them beyond. As they rush to the camp other rebels begin to bring down the wall and file through to lend aid.

Crassus is woken and advised the rebels have breached the wall. He commands the legions to formation but can't find Kore. He looks outside his tent to see a dead guard. 

The rebels succeed in breaking through and defeating the Romans on the other side. Their numbers escape through the opening in the barrier, and among them is Kore. Crassus and his men are alerted that Spartacus' army is gone from the mountain pass. They wonder how they could span the trench, but when they get there they see it has been filled with the frozen bodies of their own dead to allow passage across.

An angry Crassus orders the legion to advance to reclaim what is his, but he's nearly killed by a spear as the rebels have been lying in wait behind the battlements. Spartacus meets Crassus' eyes again for a moment before the imperator retreats under their spears and arrows. Spartacus declares they will see themselves far from there and honor the fallen with future victories, and the blood of Marcus Crassus.

The Verdict:
Mors Indecepta ranks as one of the best of the season, and as I mentioned, the most visually enjoyable to be sure. It held its fair share of surprises, too—Kore actually joined the rebels, while I thought suicide was definitely going to be her way out. How much of an asset or bane to Spartacus she can be will play out in the final episodes, though she could just as easily fade into the background. She's yet another curious addition to the rebel ranks that include Castus, Laeta and Sybil. Are they throwaway subplots at this late juncture, or will they actually have a bearing on plot?

At least Sybil got a bit more development to her character. I'm just not feeling any type of chemistry with Gannicus, though. Oddly enough Saxa came off as less of a caricature this week in her conversation with Spartacus. I almost wished the two of them would hook up.

I was wondering how the rebels would get out of this mess, and it was a nail-biter right to the end. It was a fitting victory for them, albeit a costly one. I dare to question Crassus' strategies though—why put such a small force to ambush Spartacus at his praetorian when he could have sent in hundreds of men to end him once and for all? He's not above sacrificing men (like the poor guards who were stationed at the tent). I guess his hubris will be his downfall. That and his personal life, which he's curiously blind to. Odd that Crassus can read and manipulate Spartacus but can't see through his son and is incredibly dense when it came to hearing Kore's concerns. Will her loss shake his confidence in battle?

My main critique is the rivalry between Crixus and Spartacus. I'm beating a dead horse each week by reiterating this, but I'm still not getting a reason for the depth of animosity from Crixus. There's much talk that he's reverted back to his gladiator days, and that seems to be the case. Is it because he's so in love with Naevia he's blinded by everything else? While making for a great scene, it didn't feel right. Historically there are reports of dissent in the leadership of the rebels, prompting reckless actions, so that may be the impetus from the writers in turning Crixus this way.

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