Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Spartacus: War of the Damned


Overview

With Glaber dead, Spartacus leads his army of freed slaves against a greater enemy: the Roman Empire itself. Desperate to construct a force powerful enough to crush the rebellion, the Senate appoints the wealthy Marcus Crassus to take down Spartacus. Alongside Crassus are his annoying son Tiberius and a young upstart named Julius Caesar. The ex-slaves capture and lose an entire city, face death in the snow and finally divide into two: one half of them head towards freedom, the rest for Rome.

Weaknesses

Bringing in Caesar was only ever going to turn mind towards Rome which, as we have noted before, is not a comparison that Spartacus bears well. While he isn't bad in the role of Caesar, Todd Lasance is certainly no Ciaràn Hinds. The character of Naevia continues to be unlikeable, though once again this seems to be due to unconvincing writing rather than to any fault in Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s performance. Christian Antidormi, playing Tiberius, seems to be learning to act as he goes along, so only begins to make an impression when there is little left for him to do. Some plot threads fizzle away before their time while others plod on interminably, and everything seems oddly disconnected. The welcome camp of Luctretia and Ilythia is sorely missed, as there is nothing but overwrought romantic scenes to break up the macho posturing. Tying the finale back to the opening episode is a sensible idea in theory but, because the death of Spartacus’s wife was avenged in the previous season, it just feels hollow.

Strengths

Having lost all the villains at the end of Vengeance, I feared this season might lack a good baddie. Thankfully Simon Merrells as Crassus is great, and a fitting foe for this finale. As Spartacus notes, he is quite unlike anyone they have faced before. It helps that he has a strong Spartacus to face off against. Having lacked nuance last season, Liam McIntyre really comes into his own here, developing a dry wit and ably showing the internal struggle of a man fighting for freedom against insurmountable odds. The relationship between Spartacus and Crassus is defined by a mutual respect that we haven’t seen before, and is all the more interesting for it.

Having not mentioned them thus far, it only seems right to discuss Crixus and Agron, both of whom have been present since the house of Batiatus. Manu Bennett might not be the greatest actor, but his level of commitment to Crixus is commendable. Dan Feuerriegel as Agron, although lumped with a character who never seems to get much to do, has been dependable all the way through. While this might sound like faint praise, in a show with so many weak actors it is actually a delight to have someone upon whom you can depend to produce consistently good work. It is Agron who gets the most emotional scenes in the final episodes, and Feuerriegel sells them very well indeed.

Some of the plot points work well, and we finally get a scene where everyone pretends to be Spartacus. The effects work is better as well, though it still overreaches. If you have stuck with the series this far, there are some good emotional moments. On a metatextual level, it is lovely that the very last words on the show are Andy Whitfield’s cry of ‘I am Spartacus’.

Verdict

Yet another warrior who fights in an acceptable but unsurprising manner. Like too much of the series beforehand, Spartacus: War of the Damned coasts by as mindless, throwaway nonsense, only occasionally rising beyond this. If anything, though, these peaks are even more annoying, as they serve to show how good the show could theoretically be. I won't be watching this series again any time soon, but it has been a fun enough ride while it lasted.

2.5/5

MP

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