March 19, 2012

Episode Review: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE, "Balance"

It could be argued that Season 2 of Spartacus has had the same issues as The Walking Dead. So far, it's been about a group of protagonists sitting around an encampment talking about what's right and wrong while preparing for an inevitable showdown with the enemy. The biggest difference is Spartacus keeps the momentum going instead of letting it get bogged down by debates about what's ethical ... and it has more boobs, blood and not as many zombies. Much like Rick, Spartacus' moral code was tested during "Balance," but he was able to choose his path within the hour instead of taking an entire to season to make up his mind.

Gannicus planned on taking Ilithyia to Sparty's camp so he could take her life to balance the scales of blood and end his hostility with Glaber. Once they returned to Vesuvius, Spartacus was eager to end Ilithyia's life, but she was able to give him pause by telling him that the baby was his and killing his child would dishonor him in the eyes of his wife when they meet in the afterlife. He decided to spare her for now while he decided what his next move was, but Mira tried to complete the deed so he would not have to, but her actions placed a wedge between them. Meanwhile, Ilithyia convinced Lucius to help her by promising that Glaber would return everything that was taken from him if he turned on Spartacus and secured her freedom, and he made his way to Capua.

While Ilithyia was being held captive by Spartacus, Glaber and Lucretia tried to come up with ways to find her but they had very different approaches and motivations. He determined to punish Spartacus for taking what was his and used Ashur and his men to do his dirty work while she tried to convince him to get help from Rome so they could save her friend. She even tried to use Seppia to sway Glaber, but she had plans of her own. Now that Ilithyia was out of the picture, she could take her place as the praetor's wife (or mistress for now). Her plans were about to be derailed by Lucretia because she was going to reveal the truth about what happened to Seppius by showing her the snake bracelet Ashur took from his dead body, but Lucius' arrival interrupted the conversation.

As it turned out, Lucius did not betray Spartacus. Instead he returned to Capua to tell Glaber that they had his wife, and Sparty was willing to trade her for weapons for his soldiers. Glaber agreed to meet Spartacus and three of his men at a neutral sight for the exchange. In a classic spaghetti Western style showdown, the Thracian showed up with Agron, Crixus and Gannius (he was standing in the place of Oenomaus) while the praetor arrived with three of his soldiers and a wagon which turned out to be a Trojan horse. You see, Glaber did not intend to trade with his enemy because he was consumed with anger, so he had Ashur and his henchmen ambush the rebels. Fortunately, Spartacus was prepared, and Lucius and Mira covered them during the skirmish. When the dust settled, our heroes were able to get away except for Lucius who fell while giving the others a chance to flee.

Both sides returned to their basecamps to lick their wounds, and Lucretia informed Seppia about what happened to her brother when she learned that Glaber was not interested in saving his wife. Back near Vesuvius, Spartacus told Ilithyia that he loved Sura, and it was clear that Glaber didn't feel the same way about her and only cared about vengeance, so killing her would not even the score. The episode ended with him freeing her in the middle of the woods.

Now, that's how you figure out what to do with a prisoner. Instead of going around and around about what was right and wrong, Spartacus kept it relatively short and sweet. Not only did this episode keep the narrative momentum going forward, it also gave us some really interesting character moments. We now know what kind men both Glaber and Spartacus are, and while their decisions shouldn't have been surprising it was still interesting watching them get to where they ended up.

We also got more insight into Gannius and how he views the world. To him, Spartacus killing Ilithyia made sense because it would've been an eye for an eye which seems simplistic, but his motivations were also deeper than that. Balancing the scales would end the bloodshed and save innocent people, so for the first time he was thinking of someone besides himself because he wants to restore his bond with Oenomaus. Good stuff from Dustin Clare as he's been able to transform Gannicus from a flippant rockstar to a man of substance.

The boys were not the only ones getting to have all the fun. Ilithyia, Lucretia, Mira and Seppia all had the chance to show what they'd be willing to do to save themselves and those they love, and it's clear that all four are going to be pivotal over during this final stretch. While I've grown weary of some of the scheming I have to admit that they're all a force to be reckoned with, and I can't wait to see where they go from here.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • Ilithyia had to remind us that she was preggers in almost in every scene just in case we didn't remember.
  • Speaking of her baby daddy, I wonder if she really believes that it's his or if she just said that to save herself. Part of me hope that it is his, but that would be too soapy even for this show.
  • The brothel scenes were particularly over-the-top this week and it was hard to take Glaber and Ashur seriously.
  • Usually, I can see plot twist coming from a mile away, but I genuinely thought Lucius betrayed Spartacus and cheered when he pissed in Glaber's face. Call me a sucker. I don't care.
  • Another misdirection that I fell for: I was convinced that someone important was going to die this week, and I thought it was going to be Agron. Fortunately, I was wrong and it was Lucius. While I'm going to miss the old guy, I was relieved that Agron survived ... for now.
  • I don't know how much Ashur I can take at this point. His form of brutality is especially vial.
  • So, I'm pretty sure the Egyptian was sent back in time by John Connor.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that it was too soon for Seppia to find out what happened to Seppius? I know that there's only two episodes left, but that development felt rushed.
  • I'm still rooting for a Spartacus/Ilythia alliance alla Buffy and Spike.
After two somewhat slower episodes, "Balance" could have really slammed the story to a screeching halt, but there was action, intrigue, betrayal and character growth which kept everything chugging along. Yes, we need to get to the face-off between Spartacus and Glaber sooner than later, but I'm all for taking some time getting there as long as I'm entertained and thankfully Spartacus has been able to do just that.


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