After last episode saw Spartacus and the others cast out of Sinuesa en Valle, we see the slaves making camp upon the ridge that, as had been almost painfully made clear, was experiencing weather on a par with the United Kingdom circa March 2013. In fact, such was the monumental importance attached to the show, it felt like a season finale. It isn’t, and in many ways it suffers for it.
Not that I want Spartacus to see his end, but the rationale for keeping Agron, Spartacus, Crixus, Gannicus etc together, with continuous squabbles, and Crixus continually doing-a-runner, is rapidly losing legitimacy. You get the feeling that someone, likely Gannicus or Agron, is going to get it, and fairly soon. Obviously the series has been building up to the death of everyone for a while, but my inner romantic wants it to be a glorious death. Spartacus has always been the television equivalent of 300, and it needs a climax, not for the central characters to be half dead by the time the final episode arrives. I also feel like there has to be as many people as possible to do the ‘I am Spartacus’ bit. Surely a line has never spent as long as this being built up. It’s one thing building up a romance, and a whole other having an audience wait three seasons and a prequel for a single line. Ross and Rachel, Josh and Donna really have nothing on those three words. Having Spartacus officially ‘meet’ Crassus at the end of episode six made what has to be the final line of the series lose impact.
Anyway, the episode begins with a trench full of dead. Two slaves are trying to climb out, and are impaled by the Roman soldiers manning the wall on the opposite side of the trench. Crassus is not Every Other Roman General we have come across. Crassus has the wherewithal to outsmart Spartacus. As the episode progresses, two camps develop in the rebel army, one favouring assault and one favouring a more patient approach. From this, as it has for the last two seasons, the episode gets most of the drama. Crixus and the usual suspects favour an all out assault, Spartacus a more nuanced route.
The far more entertaining part of the episode comes on the Roman side of the camp. Although Crassus lacks the charisma of Glaber, and the show has been crying out for a lead character like Ilithyia since Viva Bianca’s departure at the end of Vengeance, Julius Caesar (Mark Lasance) and Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) have provided outrageous entertainment. In Caesar especially, the show has gone back to being what it always was, a hammed up soap opera. Antidormi has clearly been channelling some of Jack Gleeson in Thrones, and it works. As Crassus’ son, he has command over Caesar; who has been imagined as some kind of bedraggled ex-boy band member trying to make a comeback. The spoilt brat versus edgy patrician conflict has played well, but in this episode, where Tiberius is redeemed and reasserts his authority over Caesar, hints that the stakes may well be raised in the final few.
The episode hinges on two set pieces, an attack on what is assumed to be Crassus’ tent, within which is found a mutilated rebel, leading to an ambush by a large Roman force of the small force Spartacus had assembled to assassinate Crassus. In this battle, Naevia, the love of Crixus, is wounded and saved by Spartacus. However, Crixus blames Spartacus for the injury of his beloved, and although they eventually accept the need to work together, my money is on Crixus becoming the first of the main rebels to die. Probably horribly.
The second set piece is where the episode, and the writers, really let the show down. The trench and fort, we are told, were supposed to have an army of thousands stationed in it. Spartacus has a moment of clarity halfway through and realises that, much like the plotting of the series, it is an illusion. Cue the main characters assaulting the fortress we were told was impenetrable, taking it with ease and creating a route to escape the jaws of death with the rest of the rebels and refugees.
I hadn’t seen any of the current series until I came home for the vac, and it was well worth the half day marathon. Everything about the show has become more exaggerated this season, both the highs and the lows. For a show that I originally thought would be a dramatic equivalent of Man vs Food and Deadliest Warrior, Spartacus has had some compelling moments and characters I genuinely care about. Will Agron and Nasir die in each other’s arms? Will anyone be alive for that final, climactic scene? No idea, but even though we’ve all known the ending since the sadly deceased Andy Whitfield helmed the show, the ride has been a brilliant, thrill-filled one, and one worth seeing through to journey’s end.