Spartacus continues to be bigger, but not necessarily better this season. While there has not been one episode that has been actually bad due to the show’s overall consistency, some episodes are better than others and this is not one of them.
The biggest problem with this episode was the amount of story lines. We followed too many characters this episode and subsequently story lines were started, but not properly finished. While last week’s episode perhaps showed us that Spartacus as a series works better with more focus on secondary characters, Spartacus the character not being dynamic enough to carry an episode on his own, this episode went too far in that direction and ultimately suffered because of it.
The major event that concerns the rebels in this episode is the introduction of pirates who are rather predictable- violent, untrustworthy and overall interesting characters but nothing overly unique. We have seen pirate characters like this, we have seen Spartacus characters like this. The whole plot of Spartacus organizing trade with them lacks interest and feels too much like a plot device to include new characters to the cast.
Naevia’s story was problematic because it was introduced in the first 15 minutes of the episode and then forgotten until the last 15 minutes. In the first scene we see her chop off a man’s finger as she believes him to be reaching for a sword. She explains her actions by telling Crixus a story about some of the trauma she endured after being removed from House Batiatus. After this, she spends most of episode doing nothing at all until at the end of the episode she gets involved in a classic Spartacus scene where a small argument leads to a deadly fight. Because of the troubling subject matter revolved around Naevia’s actions being motivated by rape and abuse, the story really needed to be handled carefully. The writers did not invest enough time in it and it ultimately comes off as sloppy, repetitive and slightly insensitive.
Agron’s equally lame story line does not come in until halfway through the episode and lasts about 15 minutes before Agron fades mainly into the background again. While I commend the Spartacus writers from not shying away from homosexuality and scenes of gay sex, Agron’s storyline about jealousy over one of the pirates’ attentions towards Nasir, followed by passionate sex felt more like it belonged in a soap opera. The dialogue felt slightly too cheesy, the story too hastily introduced and concluded and I finished the episode wondering if the only reason the writers included this story was for the purpose of equality or to get the fans who had requested such a scene off their backs.
Overall, both Agron’s and Naevia’s story lines were too rushed and would have benefited in being told in two different episodes, allowing time to tell two full stories instead of half of each. Alternately, both could have been cut and replaced with more interesting, well written character arcs.
By default the best rebel story line this episode was Gannicus’s, because it wasn’t terrible. But, in a better episode Gannicus having a lots sex with Saxa and rejecting the advances of an infatuated slave girl because he’s a decent guy would not have been the best part of the episode. The only reason that it’s the best is because the writers managed to play to their strengths by writing a not complex, character driven story that includes sex and scenes that have the rebels expressing basic human decency which separates them from the Romans.
There has been a shift this season from showing Spartacus and his rebels as heroes into making them much less obviously the ones to root for. In this episode the Roman citizens from the city they took are put in chains and at one point made to fight each other to the death for scraps of bread for the rebels’ cruel amusement. While a bit of moral ambiguity is a good thing, especially in a show like Spartacus, overall, it felt slightly out of place and character to suddenly see our heroes being so ruthless like the Romans they fight against. You know you have a problem when the character whose loyalty is only bought by coin is the only one insisting that making a man kill another man to receive bread for his pregnant wife is not a decent thing to do.
Just as the rebel story, the Roman story was weak. Most of the scenes felt awkwardly wedged into the episode as a reminder that this is still part of the show. Most of the scenes felt ultimately pointless. The only upside was Caesar who, as a character is starting to grow on me and become much more interesting. Disappointingly, he is dispatched after the first two scenes and appears scarcely in this episode.
The only decent character arc in this episode was Laetia. The way she interacts with Spartacus is fascinating. Her quality of being a decent Roman woman in contrast to the suddenly morally ambiguous rebels has gone from obvious last week to fascinating this week. The final scene with her secretly harboring the Romans is the only storyline I came away from the episode thinking I really want to see more of.
Overall this episode of Spartacus felt somewhat lackluster. Even the vast amount of sex and violence for which the show is known felt slightly tired. The final battle scene should have been amazing but it wasn’t, so should have the pirates, and the Romans, and the episode as a whole. It had so much potential but just let me down a little.Roman I can only hope as Spartacus draws to a close this season that the episodes get better and it finishes strongly.
This article was first posted on February 10, 2013