Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Spartacus: War of the Damned "Spoils of War"

Non Spoiler Review:
Picking up on Blood Brothers' cliffhanger, the rebels are forced to flee the invading Romans as they attempt to recapture Sinuessa en Valle, stranding Gannicus inside the city. As Crassus basks in his victory, he orders his increasingly bitter son to perform an unpleasant task.

In a change of pace, Spoils of War is a Gannicus story, which was a refreshing look at his character. We also get a cleanly shorn Caesar and a focus on Roman machinations. With another battle-heavy episode, the effects and large-scale shots were impressive and continue the epic level.

This is the first time we really see the writing on the wall for Spartacus. As the rebels are faced with increasingly overwhelming forces, will they stand and fight, or begin to turn on themselves?

Spoilers Now!
Romans pour into the city and Saxa, Donar and Agron fall back to alert Spartacus that Caesar betrayed them and the city is overrun. Spartacus orders them to retreat to the ridge despite Crixus wanting to fight. Gannicus volunteers to cause a distraction to give them time to leave, stressing Spartacus is their leader and can't fall in battle. He promises to find them when it's done. 

Castus comes to Nasir's aid, but Agron wants to kill him. He protests he knows nothing of what his shipmates were up to and stands abandoned by them. Meanwhile, Gannicus and Donar find Sybil in the granary. They set the place on fire and bring her with them. Donar falls in battle, leaving Sybil and Gannicus to take refuge in the cellar beneath the stables.

Crassus meets up with Caesar. When advised the city is burning, Crassus is intent on sticking to his plan—advancing on the northern gate. Spartacus has Castus bound and brought along with them. The Romans reach them as the throngs of rebels try to escape the city. Spartacus sends Crixus out and prepares to bring down the gate. For a moment Crassus lays eyes on Spartacus and Caesar charges to take him down, but he escapes as the gate falls behind him.

Crassus orders the city swept for any remaining rebels and sends a message to the camp to see all on the list brought there. Caesar cleans himself up and finally gets to shave his beard. Senator Metallus arrives and is pleased to see the city back in Roman hands. However, Crassus is in no hurry to go after Spartacus. There is no escape from the ridge and he is confident they can destroy them. Caesar is not so optimistic given Spartacus' penchant for escape. Crassus plans a celebration in Caesar's honor first. 

Caesar finds Laeta back in the city and bound. He frees her, and she recognizes him. She realizes he stood by while Crixus and the rebels killed her people. They both comment war leads people to make difficult choices. However, Crassus has ordered her to be returned to her villa where she is to be fed and cleaned up.

Crassus visits Kore, who he has also brought to the city. Tiberius arrives too and muses Kore served as comfort to him when he mourned for Sabinus. Crassus appears oblivious to her discomfort. After she leaves, Crassus comments his son has overcome much of his weakness and will soon be reinstated in the army, but first he wants Tiberius to help plan the honors for Caesar. A shrewd man turns rival to ally, his father advises. He wants them to make peace. Infuriated, Tiberius goes to Kore and takes pleasure in taunting her, threatening to have her turned from their household if she should reveal to his father what transpired.

The soldiers hear Sybil praying, but it's a trap to make their escape. Gannicus gives her a knife to kill herself if they're discovered, then proceeds to kill the rest of the soldiers in the stables.

Laeta is restored to her former glory and Caesar brings her to Crassus. He would like to hear what she has to say of Spartacus the man. She muses Spartacus is not the beast they think he is, and has a wounded heart that seeks to balance the scale. Crassus is aware of his wife's death. Spartacus will not stop fighting for what he believes is just, she warns.

A very much alive Heracleo arrives and wants his payment for his part in their bargain. Crassus has sent coin to his ships and orders him far from his shores by morning. Heracleo persists he get all that he's been promised, and Laeta realizes she's part of his bargain. Crassus coolly tells her she gave aid to the enemy. She's gagged and taken away. 

Tiberius goes to see Caesar to see what he wants for his party. He's enjoying the gifts from Crassus, including two slave girls. While they trade insults, Caesar comments how Tiberius and his men fled a battle while Caesar alone infiltrated the city without any weapons. 

Gannicus and Sybil hide on the rooftops and spy Heracleo below. Heracleo promises Laeta she'll be his greatest treasure and he won't share her with his men. But that means they must know she's his, and he brands her arm with his mark. Gannicus walks in to the surprise of everyone. Heracleo protests his arrangement was borne of necessity. He had no choice but to deal with Crassus. 

Gannicus sets about killing the pirates. Heracleo grabs Sybil and prepares to kill her. Laeta stabs him in the throat with the hot pike. Sybil doesn't want to leave Laeta behind, who realizes she's nothing but a slave now.

At Caesar's celebration the rebel prisoners are tortured for the amusement of the Romans. Metallus inquires about the fate of the wife of the city leader and realizes Crassus has claimed Sinuessa for himself. The Senate will not be pleased, but Crassus offers Metallus a portion of the taxes collected and a villa if the Senate would be agreeable to his claim. 

Donar is brought forth and he challenges the Romans to a proper contest. Privately Tiberius asks what he would do with such an opportunity. Tiberius then addresses the crowd to applaud Caesar's accomplishments and offers him the privilege to deliver the fatal blow to Donar. 

Caesar takes the sword and Donar charges him. Caesar realizes Tiberius released him but opts to take the challenge and tosses the rebel a sword. Though Donar puts up a good fight, Caesar reopens his wound and gains the upper hand. Before Caesar can end him, Donar kills himself with his own sword, robbing him of victory. 

In Heracleo's robe, Gannicus leads a chained Sybil and Laeta through the streets. As they approach two horses, they pass by Caesar who tells him to stop. Heracleo was granted but one woman and he asks where the other one came from. Gannicus tells them to run and fights off the Roman, wounding Caesar before battling their way through the gates. Laeta is speared in the side and gallops away, while Gannicus and Sybil follow.

Despite Caesar's angry protests, Crassus won't pursue him in the middle of the night. By dawn they will march. Caesar again warns him Spartacus is no fool.

On the ridge beyond the city the rebels are freezing in the snow, though they're buoyed by Gannicus' return. A wounded Laeta also arrives and Gannicus informs them she is now a slave of the Republic like the rest of them. Spartacus and Gannicus look out over the ridge which has been barricaded to trap them between it and the city, proving that Crassus has been one step ahead of them. Spartacus vows Crassus will find death when they come.

The Verdict:
I quite enjoyed this one. This was the first time I felt the reality of Spartacus' impending doom in the series (despite the growing momentum of history), as Spartacus sees he may have met his match in his new nemesis. While Crassus is enjoying his military success, it's his son that's going to sour the milk of his victory when everything is done, I'm guessing. Either he'll destroy Kore to spite his father, or force his father to end him due to his reckless plans. It's really the only way for Crassus to suffer some kind of failure given how it will all end up.

Heracleo's surprise reappearance made for an interesting twist in Laeta's storyline. It seemed a little bit much to put her character through in order to get her to the rebels. In light of Crassus and Caesar sacrificing the Roman survivors of the city, she may have collaborated, but she did so to save her people. However, if this doesn't turn her into a sympathizer, I don't know what will. Meanwhile, Heracleo's death was far more suitable than being tossed into the harbor by Spartacus. Whether Laeta will become Spartacus' new love interest (there's little time left for that!) remains to be seen. Interesting that Caesar appears more genuine in his sympathies for her than Crassus.

The other curious addition is Castus, who managed to survive the Cilician treachery and seems to have been cast aside by his countrymen. Why add him into the mix at this late juncture unless it's to unhinge Agron and Nasir's relationship.

Like Heracleo, I thought Donar had fallen in battle, so it was fitting he managed to survive long enough to go out in style against Caesar and rob the Romans of their kill.

Not since Gods of the Arena have we gotten a decent focus on Gannicus, and it was successful in reminding me why I like his more thoughtful and introspective character. He's definitely the anti-Crixus. Plus, Sybil finally got some development, as well. I don't see the purpose of the two of them becoming a couple, aside from her ability to give him a pep talk now and then. Though perhaps these two are more suited than any to end up surviving the war of the damned.

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