January 28, 2012

Episode Review: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE, "Fugitivus"

When I first watched Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I didn't give it too much thought because I thought it was only going to be a an overly stylized and gratuitous swords and sandals soap that focused too much on sex and violence. It could be argued that's what the show was the its beginnings, but it became so much more during its first season. Blood and Sand was able to craft a brutal world with rich characters, and it quickly went from guilty pleasure to a legitimately entertaining drama, so I was excited that Starz renewed it for a second season (and a prequel).

"Fugitivus" started off with a brief prologue informing the audience of what transpired during Blood and Sand and catching them up to where the story has gone since then. Spartacus and his men are still wreaking havoc on Rome, and they're being hunted down by a noble named Seppius. After a skirmish between Spartacus' rebels and Seppius' mercenaries, the ex-slaves returned to their base in the sewers to plot their next move. Crixus' desire was to find Naevia, who he lost contact with after the revolt at the home of Batiatus. He had heard that the slaver responsible for her sale was going to be visiting a brothel in Capua, so they planned an attack in order to get information. Crixus learned that Naevia was somewhere in the south, and he wanted to go after her, but Spartacus insisted on staying put even though Mira (his new companion) agreed that they should move on. He was contemplating the idea until he learned that Gaius Claudius Glaber would be returning to Capua.

In Rome, Glaber was adjusting to his new station as praetor when the news of Spartacus' exploits started to cause concern. He was assigned to go back to Capua and to handle Spartacus once and for all. Glaber and Ilithyia returned to Capua and took up residence in the house of Batiatus despite her protests, and once there they found out that Lucreatia was still alive although she had gone mad after the massacre that occurred at the end of Blood and Sand. Instead of putting her out of her misery (which also would have rid Ilithyia of the one witness to her murderous ways), Glaber decided to use her as a symbol to instill hope in the residents of Capua.

Glaber unveiled Lucretia at a rally in the town square to prove that Spartacus had no power of the people, and he was even going to execute an escaped slave named Aurelia, who was a follower of Spartacus and the wife of his best friend Varro. His plans were thwarted by our hero, who was there to get his vengeance since Glaber was responsible for the death of his wife, but he was out manned until Crixus and his fellow rebels showed up to save their leader. After Spartacus and his men regrouped, Aurelia asked to speak to him, and she wanted him to promise her that he would stay away from her son so he would avoid the suffering that his parents had to endure. A shaken Spartacus decided against getting revenge for Aurelia's death, and instead decided to go south to find Naevia, but they would free slaves along the way so they could build an army to face the Empire.

While Spartacus is a very serialized story, I did feel that "Fugitivus" did a good job at introducing this world to new viewers while not making fans re-live moment that had occurred up to the opening scene. There are some details that are important for people to know, but I'm confident that someone who watched Spartacus for the first time would be able to catch-up.

The biggest question facing Vengeance is whether Liam McIntyre would be able to adequately replace the late Andy Whitfield, and I for one thought he did a great job. Now, I'll admit that Andy cannot be replaced, and I think Liam understood that's not what he needed to do. Instead, he was supposed to keep true to the character while bringing his own interpretation, and I felt that he was successful. Between the two, Andy's Sparty embodied to more underdog qualities of the character and the rawer emotions while Liam brought more confidence and command to the role. The way I see it, Andy was good at the inner struggles whereas I can see Liam being a stronger leader. That's not to say Andy would not have been able to, but the emotions were his strength.

The only weakness of the show at this point is the fact that its scope may be too large. For example, we were introduced to so many new characters in this first episode back, like Seppius and his incestuous sister, that it was hard to keep up. Usually, I'm a fan of a show expanding beyond its original parameters, but I just wish these changes were made at a slower pace. Since Spartacus does not have the luxury of having 22-episode seasons, I understand that each episode has to be filled to the brim with story, but sometimes this approach makes it hard to digest everything that's being offered up.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • I'm so glad Lucretia survived the uprising because Lucy Lawless was amazing during Blood and Sand. It's just too bad Batiatus had to go, but we still have Gods of the Arena.
  • I didn't realize how much I missed Ilithyia until Viva Bianca showed up on my screen, and I shouldn't have been surprised that her first scene back was sans clothing.
  • Speaking of the nudity, sex and violence, I hope people don't count out this show because of its more tantalizing elements because that's not what Spartacus is about. These aspects are just hedonistic garnishes on the side of a well-told story.
  • So, one of the big questions I have has to do with Spartacus and Mira. During Season 1, and so far in Season 2, he's main driving force has been his love for his wife, but he's OK with sleeping around with Mira? For some reason that just rings false to me.
  • Glaber has the chance to be an epic Big Bad. I can't wait to see where he goes from here.
  • In the end, the relationship that will be the most important is the one between Spartacus and Crixus.
  • That final exchange between Spartacus and Aurelia was heartbreaking and an example of what this show does well.
I'm not going to pretend that Spartacus: Vengeance is a show for everyone because it's not. The world that Steven S. DeKnight has created is savage and vulgar, so it's not for the feint of heart or easily offended, but it's also so much more than the sums of its parts. The characters seem larger than life but are also accessible, and their relationships are paramount, and "Fugitivus" did a decent job at conveying what makes Spartacus special.


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