The STARZ Network has a unique list of shows to its credit. With Kelsey Grammer winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series (Drama) for his role on Boss, the network has established itself to be a reliable source of awesome television, except for the occasional hit-and-miss (*cough* Camelot). But the show that really put the network on the map and made it a noticeable force to be reckoned with has to be everyone's favorite blood-and-gore fest, the Spartacus series. The newest installment of the series, Spartacus: Vengeance officially returned this week, and it placed the viewers smack dab in the middle of the action, so much so that you can almost taste the blood as it sprayed across the television screen!
With the fall of House Batiatus, Spartacus and his band of gladiators have been on the rampage, attacking unsuspecting bands of Roman soldiers and pilfering food & supplies from wherever they can. The slave rebellion is starting to gain momentum, and Gaius Claudius Glaber, now a Praetor, as well as Spartacus' original nemesis, is dispatched to Capua to resolve the situation. The rebels have taken shelter underground and have divided themselves into two factions, one under Spartacus and the other under Crixus, who leads his own band of Gauls. While Spartacus is still focused on keeping the rebellion alive and bringing down the Roman empire, Crixus continued his desperate search for Naevia after she was whisked away and sold to an unknown buyer before the massacre at House Batiatus. With this background in mind, this episode gave us a comfortable opportunity to judge Liam McIntyre as Spartacus. Make no mistake, Andy Whitfield was absolutely perfect in his role as the legendary gladiator. But if the show was to go on, the producers needed an extraordinarily broad set of shoulders to take over the reins from him. I thought McIntyre was fairly impressive as Spartacus, although he does lack the charisma and depth that Whitfield brought to the role. Fans of the show will need time to get used to a new Spartacus, and it's up to him to make the role his own. But nowhere during the 55 minutes of the episode did I feel disappointed by his performance.
Meanwhile, as Glaber and his (apparently pregnant) wife Ilithyia arrived in Capua, Glaber decided to take residence in the former House Batiatus, much to Ilithyia's chagrin. Not that you can blame her. The blood spattered walls of the House don't exactly bring out the most pleasant memories of her previous stay. While she was reminiscing about simpler times when the bloodshed was only confined to the courtyard (and also about an unintended encounter with Spartacus), her thoughts were rudely interrupted by the ghost of Lucretia. The sight of a disheveled, yet very much alive Lucretia (and not her ghost, contrary to what Ilithyia's screams suggested) was hardly a surprise for any of us. I still consider Lucy Lawless to be the backbone of acting talent in the series, and her reappearance into the fold gave the story a welcome shot in the arm. As far as I'm concerned, Lucretia just became the principal antagonist of the show, despite how things seem at the moment. I was distinctly amused that Glaber decided to spare her life on the insistence of one of his advisors, and despite Ilithyia's repeated demands to "kill it". The idea that her survival is a "Blessing from the Gods" and that it might pacify the growing fear Spartacus has instilled among the masses was a little too 'out there' to be believable. But then again, I've never been to Capua. What do I know?
Crixus continued to behave like a lovesick cat on a hot tin roof throughout the episode, as his search for Naevia led him to a slaver named Trebius. It turns out that Trebius was directly responsible for her sale to an unknown third party. So with a little help from Spartacus and the rest of the rebels, Crixus caught up with Trebius at a brothel (after the customarily extended erotic montage and subsequent blood filled carnage where all the bad guys are gruesomely murdered). I understand that in this new age, premium channels have a license to skirt the boundaries and that certain shows like to stand out from the rest. The Spartacus series became famous BECAUSE it skirted the boundaries of what to air on television. But the extended erotic montage was a little too extended for my taste. And my taste is pretty lenient. I still think the nudity should be relevant to the ambience and the scene.
I thought the battle scene where Spartacus finally came face-to-face with Glaber was really the moment where it felt like Liam McIntyre was indeed where he belonged. As a matter of fact, I thought the whole scene was masterfully executed (no pun intended). Aurelia's subsequent death was quite unexpected as were her final words for Spartacus. Nine out of ten shows would have thrown in a few unrealistic final words of forgiveness before her demise, but not this one! It made sense for her to die a bitter death. Full marks to the writers for throwing in a little reality into the mix. The casting changes notwithstanding (I say changes because the character of Naevia has a new actress, Cynthia Addai-Robinson), it's comforting to know that the show still continues to be in good hands. The reason we started watching this series was the abundance of jaw dropping and breathtaking moments that it offered the viewers, and "Fugitivus" had plenty.
- Is Lucretia indeed nuttier than a fruitcake?? Or is this all an act to exact revenge on Ilithyia for abandoning her?? Could this be an elaborate plan by her to get to Spartacus (or even Crixus) by using Ilithyia and Glaber?? - Oenomaus is caught between his honor and doing what's right. I feel for the guy, but Team Spartacus needs its Doctore for the rebellion to succeed. Let's hope he joins the cause sooner rather than later. - The promos suggested that Gannicus (from Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena) would play an important part in this season. Is he going to be a series regular or a recurring character? Let's hope for the former. - At the cost of sounding like the voice-over guy for a daytime soap opera, could Ilithyia be carrying Spartacus' child??
Overall, the season premiere continued the trend that made the series famous in the first place. With its over-the-top CGI and historically inaccurate use of expletives, Spartacus: Vengeance is still the crown jewel of the STARZ network. With the loss of Andy Whitfield's brilliance as well as John Hannah's exit, time will tell if this season will live up to our expectations. But for the time being, "Fugitivus" knocked it out of the park.