February 26, 2012

Episode Review: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE, "Libertus"

Spartacus: Vengeance continued its second season with another strong, albeit not perfect, episode. Unlike "Empty Hands," "Libertus" had a sense of danger and suspense with the right amount of soapy intrigue, which all combined for an engrossing ride.

Now, that most of Team Spartacus has reunited, they continued on to Mt. Vesuvius where they found the remnants of an old temple. As they explored the dwelling to see if it would be suitable for shelter, Spartacus and Agron ran into a new ally in the form of Lucius. He's a Roman who no longer had allegiances to his countrymen and offered the rebels support. He also informed Spartacus that three of his men were to be executed in the arena of Capua, and one of the prisoners was identified as Crixus. After giving it some thought, Spartacus decided that they should raid the arena to save their brothers, so he took Agron, Mira and some others back to the place they had been fleeing all this time.

In Capua, Oenomaus, Crixus and the other Gaul were awaiting their punishment, and they would be fighting the returning champion, Gannicus, and a band of random gladiators. While they stewed in the dungeons, the usual politicking and betrayal took place above their heads. Ilithyia and her father continued to plan the end of her marriage to Glaber (she also was expected to terminate her pregnancy), while Lucretia tried to maintain her cover as a vessel of the gods. She used her sway with Glaber to have Archer freed (he was to die as well since he was not able to bring Spartacus back), so he could help her stop Ilithyia from aborting her child so she could use it as a sign from above, but the Assyrian made his own power play by telling the praetor about what his wife was doing. Once Glaber realized what Ilithyia was about to commit, he confronted her, and she told him that she no longer loved him and planned to marry Varinius as soon as she could.

The games that Varinius had planned were coming to an end, and the final display would be the execution of the ex-slaves. As the Romans were distracted by the spectacles going on in the arena, Spartacus and the others put their plan into action. Mira and the accompanying men started a fire as a diversion while Spartacus and Agron stormed the sands to save their colleagues. When it was all said and done, the arena was engulfed in flames, the Romans were in disarray (and Ilithyia's father was dead at the hands of Glaber, so he could not dissolve their marriage) and the rebels were able to get away along with Gannicus.

While I thought that "Libertus" was a solid episode overall, I want to get the negatives out of the way first. Now that Spartacus is no longer a gladiator, I've found myself disinterested by all of the brutal games that take place in the arena. The reason why I cared about them in the past was because I had become invested in Spartacus, Crixus, Gannicus and in their fates, so watching faceless brutes kill each other lacked any emotional buy-in. Having to sit and watch these pointless fights made me antsy, and they halted the momentum that the story had going for it, but I guess they were only there to give the audience a sense of time (it was like watching the regionals performance during the last episode of Glee). Regardless, things became more interesting once the execution scene began.

Personally, I think the sign of good storytelling is when you're watching something unfold, and you know how it ends, but you're still enthralled. By that definition, "Libertus" was some damn fine storytelling because I knew what was going to happen in the arena, but I was still on the edge of my seat as I watched Spartacus and Agron sit idly by as they waited for Mira to start the fire, and I seriously thought a major character was going to die. Add those scenes to the delightfully wicked melodrama that continued between Ilithyia, Glaber, Varinius et al, and you have a pretty entertaining episode of television.

Speaking of Ilithyia and Glaber, I applaud the writers for having them talk about their martial troubles so early on in the season (half-way's not early per se, but you know what I mean) because that's something other show's would've put off until the very end of the run. My only gripe has to do with the fact that I don't quite understand why she wants to leave him. I get that she's ambitious, and that being married to him will not gain her the prestige that she thinks she deserves, but that seems like a flimsy excuse to me. Maybe it's because I see her as such a dynamic character, and having her leave her husband for such a trivial reason weakens her in my eyes. Either way, I'm excited to see what happens now that it looks like she'll be forced to stay with Glaber, and it looks like my Buffy/Spike theory's out the window since he blamed Spartacus for her father's death.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • Gannicus! Gannicus! Gannicus!
  • I'm already digging Lucius. Let's just hope he doesn't turn out to be a bad guy.
  • I know that they've been hinting at a Agron/Nasir pairing, but I was a little surprised that they went through with it. They do make a cute couple though, and that kiss was sweet (that's why I thought Agron was going die).
  • OK, even I have to admit that the green screen work wasn't all that great during this episode, and that fire was laughably bad, especially when people would fall into it like in Titanic.
"Libertus" was not groundbreaking in any way imaginable. We've seen war movies where soldiers break out their brothers-in-arms before, and everything that transpired between Glaber and Ilithyia has happened many of times on daytime TV, but the way the story was told was exciting and effective. That's not something every show can achieve.


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