Note: This recap contains spoilers.
“We need a leader, not some angry boy who can barely piss without splashing everyone about him” is one of many memorable lines from the long awaited season premiere of Spartacus Vengeance. This episode picks up a few weeks after the first season finale, aptly titled “Kill Them All’, which ended with the massacre in the House of Batiatus and Spartacus vowing to make “Rome tremble” as he and his fellow gladiators escaped the ludus.
All the hallmarks of a Spartacus episode are taken to the extreme this week as we witness a bone snapping out of an arm, a dagger thrust into a man’s eye, bloodbath at a whorehouse, and a gigantic strap-on dildo. The gruesome deaths, stylized slow motion sword fighting and no holds bar nudity would seem empty, maybe even comical, if it weren’t because we are emotionally invested in the plights of these characters and the complexity of the larger themes being explored. Characters we have come to care about are refamilarized in the premiere episode as well as some new characters introduced, nicely setting up what should be another stellar season.
At the heart of this episode is how Spartacus’ own thirst for vengeance leaves him blind to what he was fighting for all last season: his own life and the lives and freedom of the slaves he helped set free. Since their escape a few weeks prior, Spartacus and his rebels have been living underground in Capua; stealing food and money from soldiers which leaves no choice for Glaber, the man who sold Spartacus’ wife into slavery, but to hunt him down. With no army of his own, Spartacus is still adamant in avenging his wife, even if it means sacrifcing his life and leaving his rebels without a leader.
However, when Aurelia, the wife of Spartacus’ dead best friend Varro, gets captured and is dying from her wounds she asks him to grant one last wish to stay away from her son since all he ever brings is death and misery to the everyone around him. Coming to a realization that in order to keep his rebels and hopes of vengeance alive, Spartacus decides the rebels will head south to search for Crixus’ lover Naevia, free any slaves they encounter and build an army that could one day bring down Rome.
In every scene as the Gaul gladiator Crixus, co-star Manu Bennett gives his character an emotional depth and genuinely portrays his anguish over his lost lover, Naevia. Crixus is absolutely devastated when his only lead to the whereabouts of Naevia is slowly dying from a gash to the abdomen. When the whorehouse master refuses to give any information about Naevia, Crixus sticks his fingers into the man’s gut and pulls out the entrails. Although it is disgusting to watch, the audience is without a doubt rooting for Crixus. The actress that played Naevia in the first season and the prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, decided not to renew her contract so it will be interesting to see how the chemistry will be with the new actress and if the eventual reunion between the lovers will payoff as hoped.
Of course the most notable change in cast is the title character Spartacus, now played by Liam McIntyre, replacing lead actor Andy Whitfield who sadly passed away from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in September 2011. Whitfield gave Spartacus a subtle vulnerability, a compassionate heart and mournful soul that could have easily been lost to a lesser actor. In the first few scenes I had trouble accepting McIntrye as the new Spartacus but by the end of the episode, especially the scene with the dying Aurelia, I began to believe that McIntrye is doing an admirable job so far.
Returning this season is actress Lucy Lawless as Batiatus’ wife Lucretia, who we last saw bleeding from a stab wound to her uterus, at the hands of her former sex slave Crixus, which killed the baby she always wanted. How did she survive the stabbing? How did she neatly stitch up the wound and go unnoticed these past few weeks? Surely she would have needed water, food and medical attention during this time. Perhaps the treacherous and conniving Ashur, notably absent this episode, stayed behind to help her? Hopefully we will get some more details in upcoming episodes and this loose end doesn’t get forgotten.
Interestingly, Lucretia who has become mentally unstable and suffering from post traumatic stress, is still capable of noticing that Glaber’s wife, Ilithyia, is with child. We get a brief flashback of last season when Spartacus and Ilithya are tricked by Lucretia into having sex with masks on, which may hint that the baby’s father might be in fact Spartacus. I also look forward to seeing if Lucretia will discover that it was Ilithyia who gave the orders to barricade the doors to House Batiatus during the massacre.
Two new characters are introduced this week; the young noble Seppius and his mischievous twin sister Seppia. According to series creator Steven S. DeKnight, he scrapped plans for an incestuous relationship because it is currently being done on HBO’s Game of Thrones.
I’m very curious to see what roles these siblings will play this season. Seppius was slighted when Glaber interrupted his speech in the marketplace so it would seem there will be a power struggle between the two throughout the season.
One of the highlights of the episode is when the honorable Doctore single-handedly destroys several rogues threatening to reveal his true identity without even breaking a sweat. For the next few episodes, it appears Doctore will continue to struggle with his involvement in the fall of House Batiatus before joining forces with the rebels.
This season will focus on the tension and differences between Spartacus and Crixus. A formidable leader in his own right, Crixus wisely counsels Spartacus to hold off on his vengeance and even rescues Spartacus from his reckless one man assault on Glaber. The journey of Spartacus becoming a responsible leader and commander of the rebellion against the Roman Empire will be riveting to watch for the next couple of years. Starz, the TV Channel, has already renewed Spartacus for a third season before this premiere episode even aired.