Wednesday, 15 February 2012

SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE – "A Place In This World" & "The Greater Good"

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Place In This World
The Greater Good
Apologies. I've slipped behind with my reviews of Spartacus: Vengeance, and to be honest that'll likely be an ongoing problem for awhile. But I thought I'd at least give some random thoughts on Vengeance now we're three episodes into the season. It's still fair to say the show still misses the marvelous John Hannah (more than Andy Whitfield, too), but the return of Ashur (Nick Tarabay) in "The Greater Good" went some way to make me forget about his loss. A show like this needs a larger-than-life villain, and Roman slimeball Glaber (Craig Parker) isn't a strong enough character in my book. Ashur's history with all of the gladiators is also a strong advantage, as Glaber himself only really has beef with Spartacus, and I loved how Ashur's return explained Lucretia's (Lucy Lawless) "miraculous" survival during the mutiny (he sewed up her stomach wound), and that he told Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) that Gannicus had an affair with his late wife. Tarabay is having a ball with this role, and has almost single-handedly reinvigorated my interest now.

Taking a wider view, I'm still uncertain about the success of Vengeance sending half its cast out on the road. It had to take this step, of course, but there was something singularly fascinating about the politics of the once pivotal ludus. Taking the gladiators out of their training camp is akin to watching a series of Downton Abbey where the servants leave the house and visit London. It may be fun to watch that happen, but it doesn't quite sit right. However, "The Greater Good" was a more promising example of the show's new itinerant nature, with some great woodland battles (were those trees real or greenscreen?) and a brilliant climactic set-piece inside a mine between the fugitives and Roman soldiers. The latter being a particularly good sequence because of the unexpected moment when Crixus (Manu Bennett) was captured while saving his rescued lover from harm.

Speaking of Crixus's girlfriend, it's a shame the show's been forced to recast Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson replacing Lesley Ann-Brandt), although to be honest some of the supporting female characters blend together in my mind anyway. It doesn't help that we've technically spent two years away from this storyline, through no fault of anyone given the tragic circumstances. (Strange to see flashbacks of Blood & Sand scenes, redone with McIntyre and Addai-Robinson.) As for McIntyre? He's doing a decent job as the eponymous hero, given the fact it's hard to step into Whitfield's sandals, although I feel his performance lacks the raw edge of his predecessor. What McIntyre desperately needs is an iconic moment for fans to attach themselves to and remember fondly, but Vengeance hasn't delivered one for him yet, as the story doesn't feel as focused on Spartacus as one might expect.

Overall, I'm happier with Vengeance after seeing "The Greater Good", but I was far much more invested in Gods Of The Arena at this third-hour. I was also wondering if it's possible we've become desensitised to Spartacus, so it's not such a visceral thrill? There was a time when a CGI-blade being jabbed through someone's throat made me wince and gawp at the audacity (for the small-screen), but now I hardly bat an eyelid. At least the show's more significant instances of violence remain tethered to emotional issues happening between the characters (e.g. Oenomaus being flogged by his former pupil Ashur), and haven't become something things the writers throw in to keep bloodthirsty teenage boys happy.

Now we're a third of the way into this latest adventure, what are your current thoughts on Vengeance? Is the show improving steadily, or do you believe Spartacus has lost its mojo—either because of too many unfortunate changes to the cast, or the fact the story felt more creative when it was largely taking place in a cliffside building?

written by Brent Fletcher (2.2) & Tracy Bellomo (2.3) / directed by Jesse Warn (2.2) & Brendan Maher (2.3) / 6 & 13 February 2012 / Sky1