Thursday, 5 April 2012

SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE – "Wrath of the Gods"


I stopped reviewing Spartacus: Vengeance a short while into its run, which was no reflection on its quality. It was more down to personal issues like time and, frankly, a growing sense that it's a show where you tend to just reiterate the same handful of points over and over. This sometimes happens with shows after the first season has been thoroughly parsed, so once I'd made my feelings on Vengeance's new characters/actors and broader canvas known, it was hard to envisage doing weekly reviews that wouldn't descend into gleeful remarks about a particular episode's goriest death and eyebrow-raising twist.

But now we've arrived at the thrilling finale of season 2, "Wrath of the Gods", so it makes sense to broadly cover my thoughts and feelings on this 10-part sequel to Blood & Sand and the setup for the inevitable third season. By and large, it's been a very entertaining ride and I particularly enjoyed the return of freed champion Gannicus (Dustin Clare), and tip my hat at how the writers suddenly found a way to make Glaber (Craig Parkinson) into a far more interesting character and worthy opponent for Spartacus. He may lack the sorely-missed Batiatus's gift for spoken vulgarities, but he was a more physical enemy for Spartacus to contend with, which lent his final duel with the mutinous gladiator an epic feel. Indeed, practically every sequence involving a fight and bloodshed has been a technical marvel to watch—particularly knowing this is hardly the world's most expensive TV series. I can only assume the tax breaks in Australia are so good that the makers get twice the bang for their buck. At times the action and signature violence was genuinely jaw-dropping stuff.

The only real problem with Vengeance was a feeling the overall story was a little stretched (considering its relative simplicity as a "manhunt" this season), and the character of Spartacus himself posed a few problems. Liam McIntyre did admirable work, but there were times when he'd stand around looking like a Team America puppet, or else the writers would simply be having more fun elsewhere. The Thracian may be the show's eponymous hero, but at times he was perhaps the dullest cog in the whole machine—prone to spending every episode being insufferably noble, then giving a variation on the same inspiration speech to the other former slaves. It felt like Spartacus didn't have much going on that I cared about—because his relationship with Mira (Katrina Law) never really captured my heart, his aspiration to end the Roman slaver trade is obviously doomed, and the vengeance he feels towards Glaber (the man who enslaved him and his late-wife) was only something you felt when the characters shared the screen. And that was an understandably rare occurrence given the circumstances.

Once again, the finale cleared the decks of characters who had run out of potential. Ashur (Nick Tarabay) had his head hacked off by Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), bringing an end to his humorous masterplan to create a "House of Ashur" and live happily ever after with Lucretia (Lucy Lawless); Mira was axed in the chest surprisingly early (it doesn't pay to be Spartacus' lover); arrogant Glaber got a sword down the gullet; and the aforementioned Lucretia stole best-friend Ilithyia's (Viva Bianca) newborn baby and fell off a cliff to raise it with her dead husband in the afterlife. Some good characters lost, but this is a show that knows when it's milked every drop from someone, so it doesn't bother me that Tarabay and Lawless won't be back. I just hope they have new characters who are worthy replacements, because, frankly, none of the new characters brought into Vengeance impressed me—such as Capua socialite Seppia (Hanna Mangan Lawrence). In fact, it was notable how the finale was entirely about the established gang from Blood & Sand and Gods Of The Arena.

Ultimately, despite some bumps along the way, Vengeance ramped up the sense of spectacle in every regard and the series remains one of the most operatic and boisterously insane TV shows around. I wasn't as gripped by this year's prevailing story as I was in the two seasons before, as it didn't feel as nuanced or surprising to me, but I was rarely bored and a typically and exhilarating finale has me eager to see what season 3 brings.

I hear Julius Caesar's going to learn Spartacus' name...
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