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Spartacus: War of the Damned – Men of Honor Review: The Dangers of Predictability

I’m someone who has always appreciated the straightforwardness of Spartacus. One knows exactly what to expect from each episode, and it’s comforting in a way. But there’s a huge difference between consistent and predictable, and “Men of Honor” has crossed that imaginary line. This episode of Spartacus teaches us all a valuable lesson on what can happen when writers make an episode end so predictably. The entire last segmentof  “Men of Honor” turned out exactly as I expected it to, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. As a result, it almost makes the whole episode not worth watching, which is something no showrunner wants to achieve.

For example, Naevia has been consistently making a drastic transformation throughout the entire series, from sweet but serious slave, to emotionally damaged weakling, and finally to the bad-ass warrior we always wanted her to be. And consistency is good. It’s a solid character arc, which is the mark of good craftsmanship. However, this episode has singlehandedly unhinged our dear Naevia. Right away in the first ten minutes she makes a crazed attempt at an innocent man’s life, and then tells a bizarre story about how nice men are always the most evil. The whole episode screams about how she trusts no one, so it’s impossible for us to be surprised when she distrusts the blacksmith Attius and kills him for literally no reason. You can smell it coming a mile away as she gives him a deranged glare right away in the episode’s opening.

But as a result of this, it’s also impossible for us to be compelled by any of it. We’re too busy shouting “Called it!” and congratulating ourselves to pay attention to what’s happening. And the really disappointing thing is that nearly all of the plotlines in “Men of Honor” turn out this way. After Laeta is freed she makes a speech about how she can’t trust anyone, so we expect her to betray Spartacus. And that’s exactly what she does. A creepy former slave follows Gannicus around like a lost puppy, catching Saxa’s attention. Based on previous episodes, we expect her to invite the slave into a threesome. And that’s exactly what she does. Some might also expect Gannicus to turn the slave down because she’s too innocent, which he does. Do you see the pattern here?

And it’s not just plotlines that follow the same predictable patterns. The pirate Heracleo is introduced in this episode, along with his pirate crew. Now, close your eyes and imagine the most popular pirate you can think of. Is it Jack Sparrow? Good. Now you know what kind of person Heracleo is. Granted, he’s a little rougher around the edges than the Disney antihero, what with the lusty attempts at Laeta and the bloodbath at the end, but for all intents and purposes he’s the same long-haired, quirky, hard-drinking pirate we’ve all come to get used to. He’s used almost as a source of comedy, which has definitely been the trend lately.

The huge problem with this is that it made me immediately write off Heracleo as a stereotype or stock character. As a result, it’s hard to take anything he does seriously. Even his plotline is almost exhaustingly predictable: he and Spartacus inherently distrust each other, and it takes an attack by their shared enemy (the Romans) to forge a bond between them. It becomes very clear that his purpose in the episode is to incorporate those wacky pirates into an otherwise serious episode, and to drive Laeta and Spartacus closer together.

Which brings us to the last predictable element of the episode: the growing relationship between Spartacus and Laeta. It’s pretty obvious that with Mira gone, Spartacus needs a new lady (which itself is predictable. What’s with everyone pairing off?). Enter Laeta, the fiercely innocent and delicate lady of Sinuessa and former wife of the aedile. The writers created a very obvious excuse to drive her away from her husband’s memory (that’s where Heracleo comes in, and the bargain struck between him and the aedile long ago). And Spartacus’ kindness brings her just a bit closer to him.

So I predict they’ll be sharing lingering glances and tantalizing (yet oh-so sappy) arm-touching soon enough. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. It would be refreshing to not predict something correctly, after what happened in this episode. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spartacus, but it’s time to step up their game and return to the glory of “Wolves at the Gate.”



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