Don’t read this unless you’ve seen the March 30 season finale of Starz’s “Spartacus: Vengeance.”
Holy shit, right?
A few days ago on Twitter, after I said that fans would be yelling “Holy shit” after the “Spartacus: Vengeance” season finale, a fan responded to me with a question: Could anything in the season’s final episode top the moment in which Ilythia killed Seppia and then had sex with Glaber?
I’m going to say the answer is yes.
Let’s review, shall we? “Spartacus” killed off Oenomaus (NO!); “Spartacus” killed off Glaber by shoving a sword down his throat (okay, so he had it coming, but damn, I loved that character this season); “Spartacus” killed off Ashur (OK, so I saw that one coming — nobody who predicts a golden future for themselves ever lives long on this show, but damn! Ashur!); “Spartacus” killed off Lucretia (Noooooo!); and not only that, the show killed off a newborn baby, gods help us — Spartacus’ own son, according to Ilythia, who herself was mortally wounded in the closing minutes of the episode. (And by the way, if you want to know if Ilythia’s really dead and how Lucy Lawless feels about the demise of Lucretia, read my interviews with Lawless and “Spartacus” creator Steven DeKnight here.)
It was completely insane, and yet it made complete sense. And you know what I mean, because you’re a “Spartacus” fan. That’s what I love about this show: Love, logic, vengeance and mercy combine in ways that seem chaotic and nuts, but deep down, we know that everything that happens makes sense on both an intellectual and emotional level.
These “Holy shits!” are earned, my friends. Am I right?
Another thing I love: The show leaves everything on the table. They don’t save plots and characters for a rainy day. Everyone is vulnerable and everyone’s on the chopping block, all the time.
This season, “Spartacus” killed off major characters that any other show would have held onto for several more seasons. There’s no bigger fan favorite than Oenomaus, but he was sent to his beloved wife in the afterlife. Thanks in part to great writing and in part to Parker’s terrifically committed and nuanced performance, Glaber emerged as the guy you loved to hate this season, but he’s now gone too. We have loved Miss Twisted herself, Lucretia of the House of Batiatus, for two seasons and a prequel, and Lawless has established the character as one of the most memorable small-screen women in recent memory … but she’s gone too.
And all that happened amidst the well-choreographed chaos of battles, sneak attacks and flying balls of fire.
Actually, that’s the best way to describe this show: well-choreographed. It is one of the most structurally sound and well-crafted shows on television, and thus there was an almost beautiful symmetry to everything that went down, all of which the show was the culmination of themes and stories that displayed the show’s meticulous attention to detail.
At the end of Season 1, Ilythia locked Lucretia in a house full of murderous slaves, and Lucretia nearly lost her life and the baby inside her was killed. Symmetry: At the end of Season 2, Lucretia locked Ilythia inside that same villa, killed all the servants and put a knife in the belly of her “best friend.” And of course, the biggest parallel of all was that Lucretia took the baby with her to the afterlife; neither woman ended up getting to raise the children they desperately wanted. Although you could look at it as Lucretia finally bringing Batiatus the son he’d always wanted.
If Glaber hadn’t taken Spartacus as a slave and set this whole story in motion, Spartacus’ wife wouldn’t have died. And as any action-movie hero will tell you, karma is a bitch: Glaber had to die at Spartacus’ sword. But Glaber is gone for more than one reason, though of course, Spartacus’ revenge was important. It just wasn’t credible to keep him around any longer. As my husband said when we were watching the “Spartacus” finale, “How many times can Glaber fail?” Rome doesn’t smile on praetors who don’t carry out their orders, and it would have strained believability had Glaber spent another season chasing the army of former gladiators around the countryside.
More symmetry, more karma: Ashur had been an oppressed (if crafty) slave, but then, he turned oppressor with Lucretia. In the end, however, he was killed by a vengeful Naevia, whose life he had ruined. News flash, Ashur: Sometimes karma is a bitch with a sword and a long memory.
(Sidebar: As far as the Lucretia-Ashur story line goes, I can’t fully articulate why I didn’t love it, but it didn’t quite work for me. I know this is a show that embraces melodrama, but that storyline was just a little too overheated for my tastes. In previous seasons, Ashur was the conniving guy I kind of loved to hate, but this season, he might as well have been twirling a mustache. His mad dream of power — including ownership of the villa and his former mistress — just seemed a little too preposterous of a goal for the shifty Syrian. Having said all that, I’m sorry to see Nick E. Tarabay go. A season of “Spartacus” just won’t be the same without his sly machinations.)
Honorable Oenomaus! How am I going to watch this show in the future without him? Peter Mensah always imparted such dignity to the character and had such a commanding presence in the role. In a show with so many ugly and self-serving authority figures, Oenomaus was a true leader of men, a thoughtful and intelligent person who could also kick some serious ass. It’s going to be hard to watch the show without him, but I understood why he had to go. I’m just glad he made peace with Gannicus and could go to Melitta in the afterlife with his soul finally at rest.
There was a lot of death, but let’s look at the positive side of the ledger. Agron and Nasir made it through, and I hope we see a lot more of them in future. (Sidebar: I almost love that I’m able to make this complaint about a bloody, occasionally crazy gladiator show: It wasn’t gay enough! I loved the romance of the super-tough Barca and the sweet Pietros in Season 1, and one of the problems with the shorter, 10-episode “Vengeance” season is that there wasn’t enough time to develop relationships among the supporting characters. I heard from a lot of fans who loved Agron and Nasir and enjoyed their relationship — what little we saw of it. Let’s hope for more of the Syrian-Germanic love story in Season 3.)
Another positive: Crixus is still with us! Thank the gods. Manu Bennett just gets better each season, and this year, he faced some serious challenges — he had to make us care about Crixus’ love for a radically different Naevia (whom I called Newvia because she was played by a different actress). I found it hard to get into Naevia’s plight at first — it had been a long time since we saw her, she was much changed and more passive and glum when we met her, and of course she was played by a new person — but Crixus’ grief and helplessness made me care about the story.
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