When your TV series is named Spartacus, it is a bold move to have the character named as such used in less than ten minutes of the episode. Spartacus has always been a very bold show and this episode did exactly that. After this week’s very grim, almost Spartacus-free episode, I’m left with only one question- Can we just call the series Gannicus and have him as the main character?
This episode picks up immediately after last week’s with the Romans storming the gates to the slave city. Spartacus and many of his people flee including other major characters such as Naevia, Crixus and Agron leaving Gannicus behind on a seemingly suicide mission to provide distraction. After Spartacus and most of the rebels escape, they are not present for most of the episode until the last five minutes and instead, instead focus is given to those remaining in the city such as Gannicus and the Romans including Caesar, Marcus Crassus, Laetia, Tiberius and Kore.
Trapped in the city, Gannicus finds Sibyl and endeavors to keep her alive and get her to safety. The Romans, meanwhile are making this difficult for them as they are capturing or killing any rebels they find including the recurring German character, Donar, who is not taken into protection by Gannicus and does not fare as well. Crassus has taken the city effortlessly. Caesar is hailed for his helpful actions in toppling the city. The pirates who betrayed Spartacus appear too, demanding possession of Laetia as form of payment, which Crassus gives without second thought.
Tiberius spends the whole episode not doing much except being absolutely awful. He threatens Kore about telling Crassus that he raped her, saying it is his word against hers and generally terrorizes her. He continues to antagonize Caesar, which will probably not go well for him ultimately, as one of them ends up ruling Rome and it’s not him. His final plan of releasing one of the captured slaves to kill Caesar is poorly executed but the thought and words behind it prove that Tiberius is intelligent and cruel enough to be truly dangerous.
Caesar’s rivalry with Tiberius is the only thing saving him from being an ultimately forgettable character. As a character, Caesar should be more than he is- more engaging, more threatening and he should command more of a presence. So far he has not. His scenes with Tiberius, however, are absolutely fascinating. The dislike they have of each other is palpable and fascinating to watch, and the fact that both of them switch between almost childish antagonization and what is essentially war tactics to best the other a brilliant dynamic. Both of them provide a brilliant challenge and foil for the other one which both the characters benefit from. Caesar is a character who needs an enemy to be great and as Crassus has claim over Spartacus, Caesar often is overshadowed by him, only to emerge when he gets to have a very face-to-face confrontation with his own enemy.
Crassus is a brilliant villain. Each week he becomes more and more cunning, more and more threatening as well as increasingly cold. His thoughtless sale of Laetia, a Roman citizen, effectively turning her into a slave was shocking as was his increasingly power hungry attitude, culminating this episode with him claiming the slave city for himself. Crassus is the villain I always want in stories but rarely get, a worthy opponent who doesn’t underestimate the hero. Crassus needs to be this for the final season of Spartacus to work as previously Spartacus was won against pretty much every opponent and such a thing cannot happen this season.
Gannicus is really our only character to root for this week. Usually with the rebel plot line, the audience has a whole series of characters to cheer for but as this episode dispatched of them rather quickly, it falls to Gannicus alone. He rises to the challenge brilliantly, being heroic enough for a half dozen characters and as charismatic as twice that amount.
I almost feel like putting Gannicus front and center was a mistake though. We have seen in the past the parallels between him and Spartacus and this episode proves that Gannicus can do everything Spartacus can, but with a grin on his face and a great deal more style. The scene of him rescuing Laetia and Sibyl and leaving the city on horseback was so classically heroic it puts Superman to shame.
Gannicus’ majestic heroism aside, this episode was one of the harder episodes of Spartacus to watch. Without a large cast of rebel characters, the episode revolved mainly around the Romans who are all terrible people. There are few moments in the episode which makes one want to stand up and cheer victory and far more scenes to watch through your fingers, hoping it wasn’t as bad as you think. I cannot decide if this was a good decision that the writers made or a bad one. All the scenes were powerful and well-written, adding weight to the actions and lives of the characters but I watch Spartacus for the entertainment and watching every female character deal with the threat of rape and a man get pulled apart by the limbs is not entertaining.
Overall, I thought this episode was well written but I question its purpose. It did not advance either story line enough as the Gannicus story was more of a detour and ultimately not important to the overall season arc and the Roman story line could have been compacted to half an episode at most. The writing is strong enough to make this one of the more engaging episodes this series, but hopefully next week will see more advances in plot that were forgotten this week in lieu of showing exactly how terrible the Romans can be and exactly how awesome Gannicus is.
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