The end is in sight for Spartacus and his merry band, as the herd starts to get thinned a little in the run-up to the finale...
As we open, Spartacus et al are ambushed by Romans in slow-motion but no one with a name gets killed. A little torture suggests that Crassus and his army are four days behind them. Three days later (by remarkably reliable dead-body-smell-o-meter), Crassus, Caesar and Tiberius are in hot pursuit when they’re interrupted by the return of that dour Roman soldier dude from earlier in the season (Metellus). Metellus snarks Crassus about Maid Marian’s defection, so Crassus beats his face to a pulp because we haven’t had enough face-smashing lately – only Caesar manages to stop him from killing the man. Caesar looks pretty freaked out by this little display of temper, but on they go after Spartacus.
Number One points out they’re nearly out of food and Crixus wants to stop and fight the Romans, but Spartacus is convinced that the man who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Number One’s mood is not improved by the fact he’s still sulking about The Artist’s friendship with the pirate, and the pirate confesses that he is, in fact, after The Artist (I feel like I’ve seen this storyline on Friends). The pirate is happily confident that The Artist likes him too, which I think may be supposed to be sweet and romantic, but actually comes across as a bit creepy.
Boudicca thanks Number One for helping her put up a tent and he says he’s only doing so because Spartacus fancies her and he wants Spartacus to be happy. (So… he’s helping her put up a tent so Spartacus can have sex in it? How sweet. Or creepy…) They’re interrupted by Maid Marian, who’s come to ask for help for a woman in labour, who promptly gives birth to a TV baby. (TV babies come out with their heads all head-shaped and human-coloured, unlike real babies, who have a tendency to come out with their heads alarmingly squashed-looking and grey, not unlike E.T. To be fair, the cost of the special effects required to depict that accurately wouldn’t be worth it – better to save the money for more face-smashing).
It turns out Maid Marian was basically Crassus’ household midwife, and although she tries to claim that her master was some random called Pompo, she has obviously forgotten that she’s got a slave brand labeling her as Crassus’, clearly visible on her arm. Of course, no one’s impressed to realise she was Crassus’ slave and they suspect her immediately. Boudicca sticks up for her and Maid Marian explains why she’s run away, which does gain her Spartacus’ sympathy, so he tells Boudicca to keep an eye on her and lets her go.
Caesar tries to talk to Tiberius about Crassus’ newfound temper and inability to recognise the value of a proportional response, and also lets the little brat know that he’s onto him. Tiberius scowls petulantly. Over in Spartacus’ camp, Crixus and Naevia share a romantic moment and Crixus talks about how he wishes they had a home, baby etc. They’re both doomed. Doomed!
Crixus, not keen on the running-away strategy, wants to attack Rome itself. Spartacus, being a sane person, wants to head north to cross the Alps, and disperse their group when they get to the other side. Crixus is horrified at the thought of turning and running away, but Spartacus is convinced they can’t fight any more, especially given the increasingly high proportion of women and small children in their gang.
Crixus taunts Spartacus about ‘the man he once was when Batiatus fell’ and Spartacus sends everyone else out of the room so he and Crixus can fight it out. Crixus is confident in their success, but Spartacus has a feeling the Romans are getting pretty fed up of them and are about to hit them with the mother of all reprisals. Crixus wants to keep fighting, believing they’ll never be truly free otherwise, because they’ve shown the Republic up too much to be allowed to escape no matter how far they run. Chances are, they’re both right.
Crixus tells Spartacus, ‘With or without you I will march on Rome’ and Spartacus says he won’t stand in his way. So they settle it – Crixus is off at the break of dawn with anyone who wants to follow him. Spartacus asks one final thing of him first, and all our named heroes and heroines go to attack a bunch of defenseless middle class Roman farms together in one final heavy-metal-backed slow-motion rampage. Aw, how sweet.
Our guys have a feast for ‘the undefeated gods’ (really, they’re just asking for trouble with all this ‘gods’ stuff) involving people having sex in the middle of the floor while everyone drinks, shouts and sings ‘My cock rages on’ around them (that’s a great drinking song, I wonder if HBO could get the rights to use it on Game of Thrones – it would fit in perfectly). Gannicus is drinking and making out with Eponine, which doesn’t impress Helga, though she remains confident that he’ll come back to her eventually and shows him what he’s missing by snogging another woman while everyone has an orgy in the bath.
Number One is still sulking (would some Roman please put him out of his misery). The Artist tries to cheer him up, but he’s refusing to drink because he wants to be sober when Crixus leaves, because he’s going with him. Turns out he agrees with Crixus and doesn’t want to go be a shepherd beyond the Alps. The Artist quite happily says ‘fine, we’re going with Crixus,’ but Number One tells him to stay with Spartacus because he’s been watching too many superhero movies and thinks The Artist isn’t a good enough soldier (or knows it’s a suicide mission) – he wants him to live, so he dumps him to save him.
Spartacus comes to have a last drink with Crixus and they share some genuinely adorable banter about how useless they both are sometimes. Crixus summarises their greatest hits and concludes that their constant bickering was what led them to glory. Spartacus prays they’ll see each other again before they die, but they both know that’s not going to happen.
Over in Roman-land, Crassus has managed to damage his own hand beating up Metellus. Tiberius tries to bring up the subject of Maid Marian, which doesn’t improve his mood, but he does ask Tiberius why he thinks she ran away. Tiberius blames Caesar for giving her the opportunity and tries to needle his father into mis-trusting Julius. To be fair, that’s probably not-totally-stupid advice in general, albeit wrong in this instance.
Number One hands in his notice to Spartacus, who thanks him for not making a giant fuss about their disagreements like Crixus did. Number One wishes him ‘comfort,’ i.e. advises him to get laid, so Spartacus goes to find Boudicca. His idea of flirting is apparently to argue about the treatment of slaves but it seems to work. Spartacus tells her he can never love her because she’s Roman and she says that’s fine, she just wants his body. Somehow they manage to find an unoccupied room to get down and dirty in.
Dawn comes and it’s Gannicus’ turn to say cheerio to Crixus. Crixus tries to get him to come with, but Gannicus has apparently decided to settle down with Eponine so he refuses. Spartacus and Crixus say one last goodbye and Crixus says he will always consider Spartacus a brother, and Spartacus says it’s mutual, and it’s all very gooey and at least one of our heroes is going to have to meet their maker by the end of this episode. Number One and The Artist make gooey eyes at each other one last time, and the two groups go off in their different directions.
Crassus works out that the women and children are off north with Spartacus while his ‘pet Gaul’ is marching on Rome. He, Caesar and Tiberius argue over whether to stop Crixus from sacking Rome or continue to chase Spartacus. Tiberius makes this about him and Caesar, as always, while Caesar is really just interested in not letting the capital city get sacked. Caesar has found out about Tiberius raping Maid Marian (by making friends with a camp follower) but says he doesn’t want Crassus to find out in case it drives him over the edge. Tiberius’ response to this discussion, demonstrating once and for all that he’s had some kind of intelligence-bypass, is to have Caesar seized by his guards and rape him, because that worked out so very well last time.
Time for a montage! (Who else has Team America in their head now?!)
Crixus is fighting his way across the countryside in an orgy of bad CGI flames, artistic blood spatters, pounding soundtrack (which is starting to sound quite classically ancient-world-movie-like) and having a lot of sex in between fights. He successfully leads his army close to Rome, where they have to defeat one last legion, led by Arrius. Crixus gives a stirring speech inspired by the late, lamented DSG and there are some pretty impressive CGI armies involved. Battle ensues. Meanwhile, Spartacus is leading his gang (which still includes Helga as well as Gannicus) through a rather beautiful and peaceful-looking forest, but frets about their inability to defend themselves without Crixus and the others.
Back at the battle, Crixus stabs Arrius in the face (obviously) and Naevia calls him a god and they look across at a blurry CGI city that is supposedly Rome (across what looks like a desert – I’m not sure the makers have ever been to Rome). But no – Caesar or reason won out in the end and he, Crassus, Tiberius and all their armies have come to protect the city. And so they go into battle again (in what looks like a slightly greyer version of the Grand Canyon – seriously, Italy looks nothing like that. They could at least have made the grass look green). Despite Crassus and Caesar both ending up on foot, it’s not looking good for our heroes.
Number One is the first main character to get knocked down, knocked out by a Roman on a horse just after one of Crixus’ favourite extras gets a sword through the neck. Because he is a major character, Number One gets the honour of going down in slow motion with a sad cello/double bass on the soundtrack. Crixus himself is attacked by several Romans at once and ends up in combat with Caesar, who is unexpectedly saved by Tiberius, who runs Crixus through with a spear (apparently he’s not finished with Caesar – which doesn’t bear thinking about).
Naevia is captured and a sword held to her throat, and Tiberius takes his sword back from Crixus (who had it?! must have missed that). Crixus isn’t quite dead and Tiberius wants to crucify him, but Crassus tells them to chop his head off to send Spartacus a message. Crixus and Naevia look at each other dramatically while the violins go all out on the soundtrack, and Tiberius chops off Crixus’ head – which we don’t actually see, we just see a close-up on Naevia crying. Apparently the highest honour a character on Spartacus can be paid is that we don’t see their horrible death. End of episode.
This whole episode is about the split between Spartacus and Crixus and the lead-up to Crixus’ death, and it’s done very well. Because all our evidence comes from the Romans, historians are very unsure about exactly what Spartacus was trying to do and where he was trying to go as he wandered all over Italy – and the only two sources disagree on some of the details anyway. Neither account (Appian, Civil Wars, 1.14.116-121 and Plutarch, Crassus, 8-12) quite matches the way things play out here, but the main gist is there – an attempt to cross the Alps, and the possibility that at the end, Spartacus or someone involved in his rebellion was planning to march on Rome.
Image from vroma.org
Moving the split between Spartacus and Crixus to these final episodes and framing it as a conflict between Crixus wanting to march on Rome and Spartacus wanting to flee over the Alps makes sense. Aside from keeping Crixus around longer than he might otherwise have been, it sets up a clear and simple dramatic conflict between retreat and further attack, and produces some lovely final scenes between the two characters. Their discussion in Spartacus’ tent, heads close together, talking calmly rather than yelling at each other, is brilliantly done. This is skillful manipulation of the historical story to produce the tightest, most satisfying drama.
The only sour note historically-speaking comes at the end of the episode; Tiberius wants to crucify Crixus, but Crassus has him beheaded in order to send a message to Spartacus about what will happen to him. This doesn’t make much sense. The whole point of crucifying the rebels (as I suspect we’ll see before the end of the series) is that crucifixion is a slave’s death – Crassus is both inflicting a very slow and painful end on them, and reminding everyone of the rebels’ places as slaves. They aren’t paraded through the streets in triumph and garroted (Crassus wanted a triumph, but was informed winning a war against slaves didn’t count), but crucified as runaways, for everyone to see. If Crassus wanted to send a message to Spartacus, crucifixion is exactly what he would do to Crixus. It’s a minor point perhaps, but it irritates in the sense that it takes you out of the show for a moment as you think ‘hang on, that doesn’t sound right’ to yourself (well, I do!).
Most of the episode, though, is very well done. It's great to see our heroes get one last hurrah before it all starts to go downhill in a permanent way. Between the sad loss of Andy Whitfield and the fact that Spartacus isn’t in Gods of the Arena, Manu Bennet’s Crixus is as much a central character as Spartacus is, and he and Agron are the only actors remaining to have been in season one (though Naevia, played by a different actress, isn’t quite dead yet). It’s fitting to see all our remaining heroes, led by Spartacus, Gannicus and Crixus, enjoy one last victory and one last orgy before the end, even as the orgiastic nature of the scene reminds the audience that they are becoming increasingly like their enemy – their wild party in the conquered Roman villa looks not unlike Batiatus’ regular orgies from season one. It’s fitting, too, to see Crixus and Agron go down together (apparently), leaving Spartacus with only Gannicus and a lot of women and children (though to be fair, ‘women’ includes Helga) against Crassus, Tiberius and a really, really pissed off Caesar. A really good episode, effectively building up momentum for the finale.
Spartacus: We cannot turn from any slave wishing freedom.
Agron: Then let her be free to starve with the rest of us.
Tiberius: You over-step Tribune!
Caesar: Many times each day, but in this we both know I do not.
Crixus: I would have us free. Truly free. Do you really believe that Crassus will stop once you crest the mountains? That the Republic will let us quietly slip away? We have shown them vulnerable. We have shown them that a trembling hand can become a fist. We have challenged the idea that a slave must always know his place, accepting rod and lash because he was taught to accept it. We built their mighty Republic. With our hands and our blood and our lives. And we can see it fall at equal cost. You opened my eyes to this, Spartacus. Do not ask me now to close them.
Spartacus: It was simpler between us when the bond stood only as hate.
Crixus: Those days are sadly past.
Crixus: When we were yet of Batiatus' ludus, I spoke of how we may have been as brothers, in another life.
Spartacus: Yet not in this one.
Crixus: Know that I was wrong. And will always hold you as such.
Spartacus: As I will hold you.