Spartacus: Vengeance continues rising out of the ashes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, offering up its second episode “A Place in This World,” as Spartacus and Crixus begin the search for Naevia while Oenomaus (Peter Mensa) struggles to reclaim his honor and find purpose after what he’s done. Far from a sophomore slump, “A Place in This World” offers a somewhat quieter, but heavy with purpose episode for the series’ renewed vigor.
So…it’s over, right? We’re into the second episode of Spartacus: Vengeance now with ‘A Place In This World,’and the audience has had weeks of ‘Fugitivus’available to get used to Liam McIntyre in the title role, right? The season is in play, and we can move past the curious tragedy of it all to appreciate the bloody spectacle for what it is? I say this not out of disrespect, but only because much of the response to last week’s season premiere dealt with the looming cloud hanging over the series, rather than appreciating the loving craftsmanship of the show, which so far seems to get better and better as season 2 (or 3?) rolls on. A few times over the course of ‘A Place in This World’I found myself drifting to thoughts of ‘I wonder how Andy Whitfield might have played that’or ‘Glaber really is the new Batiatus,’and that’s not fair for a series well-deserving of independent praise.
So, moving on.
‘A Place in This World’isn’t quite as epic in scope or violent as last week’s premiere ‘Fugitivus,’but rather angles for a different type of storytelling . I find myself continually fascinated by the show’s more elegant discourse, examining the nature of slavery and freedom as Spartacus, Crixus (Manu Bennett) and the other rebels struggle to add to their numbers without becoming masters themselves, making tonight’s entry a bit more introspective than most.
‘A Place in This World’also serves as something of a backstory to Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), even further back than what we learned from Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, as we cut between the adult Oenomaus animalistically taking on challengers in the pit, and a young Oenomaus first recruited by Titus (Jeffrey Thomas) to join the House of Batiatus. Thrilling as the visceral battle sequences at both ages might be, the narrative doesn’t spend quite enough time with the younger Oenomaus to flesh out exactly why he so readily devotes his life’s purpose to honoring the House of Batiatus, but I can certainly see why Titus’gentler, more encouraging treatment would create such respect for his legacy in the future. Titus’treatment of his men serves as a stark contrast to Quintus Batiatus, who we glimpse briefly as a youth, which makes John Hannah’s portrayal in seasons past all the more resonant when we consider how Oenomaus made the right choice to help Spartacus, but still betrayed his once-noble master’s honor.
I was especially enthralled with the manner in which ‘A Place in This World’managed to pose some really complex questions as Spartacus, Crixus and his men overtook an isolated Roman villa for the purposes of tracking down Naevia’s movements. The Servile Wars of history weren’t fought by Spartacus and a small convoy, but rather entire armies of freed slaves, begging the question of how our TV adaptation will portray Spartacus’movement from rebel to mass leader, and here we see a few prods of that concept. Everyone seems to have a differing idea of freedom, as even without shackles some of the women find themselves in need of men for protection, and slaves might see their freedom as liberation from one master becoming service to another. There are some very complex concepts being bandied about by new recruit Tiberius (Pana Hema-Taylor), Crixus, and even Mira (Katrina Law) herself, with no right answer for how to see their standing or the cost of freedom in such uncertain times. Even as liberators Spartacus and his lieutenants face dangers of becoming like the Romans they abhor, and you don’t often get discourse so rich in a show with such pulpy, thrilling action.
It’s a fascinating examination of what enslaves us all, be it love, vengeance or fear, with new threads from all angles. The relationship between Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) in particular continues to dance back and forth in a game of power, with Lucretia’s being seen as divine half-mad prophet thwarting Ilithyia from taking any real action to eliminate the woman who holds her secrets. I love the way Lucy Lawless continues to play Lucretia from multiple angles, with tantalizing glimpses of her deception matched only by seemingly genuine affection for her old friend. There’s a real unpredictability to this relationship that continues to be savored by both actresses equally, and keeps their scenes rife with tension.
Elsewhere, ‘A Place in This World’grants us some new and returning characters that add plenty to the already-bubbling mixture; Hanna Mangan Lawrence and Tom Hobbs return briefly as aristocratic siblings Seppia and Seppius, though neither really have much to figure in to the story beyond Seppius’connection to Glaber’s unseen rival Varinius. So too does Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay) return, working with Lucretia to bring Oenomaus back to the ludus under the pretense of divine intervention, though we don’t recognize the hooded figure as Ashur long enough to gather any real sense of what his undoubtedly sinister motivations might be. I’m most curious to see what becomes of Tiberius (or Nasir, depending) or Chadara (Bonnie Sveen), the two liberated house slaves with slippery moral slopes in finding their place under Spartacus, who could become real powder kegs in an already charged situation.
Going forward, episodes 5 and 6 arrived in the mail for me today, though I’ve yet to watch them, and I’d seen through episode 4 before ‘Fugitivus’debuted last week. Episode 3, next week’s ‘The Greater Good’certainly keeps things moving, but for me it’s episode 4 ‘Empty Hands’that really sells the incredible scope of Spartacus: Vengeance, which already feels like a labor of love a long time in the making. The more epic hours are certainly cause for awe, but it’s more thoughtful episodes like tonight’s ‘A Place In This World’that really make Vengeance such a layered, and enjoyable series.
And Another Thing…
- Of course, there’s still some wonderfully gratuitous violence this week as well, though I wonder how much punishment these gladiators can take given how even minor wounds could be a kiss of death in such primitive times.
- I’m curious, do Ilithyia’s flashbacks of Spartacus as Apollo still recycle footage of a masked Andy Whitfield, or was Liam McIntyre brought in to re-shoot for continuity?
- It’s a different time, sure, but does no one bat an eye out of such hooded figures tramping around? How can they even see out of those?
- Thank you, Jurassic Park. Every time Lucy Lawless moved on her sacrificial offering, I kept asking myself, ‘what’s going to happen to the goat?’
- Also, great subtle callback of the gladiator line ‘your will, my hands’being re-purposed for Lucretia doing ‘the work of the gods.’
- I’ve got to hand it to the wardrobe and cosmetic departments too. Lucretia’s new looks of more earthy dress and regal hairstyles are very subtle, but convey quite a bit with regard to how the character sees herself now.
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