Spartacus: Vengeance continues its bloody fight in the aftermath of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, raining down its sixth episode “Chosen Path,” as Spartacus looks to recruit Gannicus (Dustin Clare) to his cause, while Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay) and Glaber recruit a deadly new force and Ilithyia takes comfort in Lucretia. Another strong, if less action-packed episode, “Chosen Path” descends into darkness as Spartacus tensely moves toward the end of its season.
Ugh, wow. ‘Chosen Path’was the last of the Spartacus: Vengeance screeners I’d seen through the last few weeks, so tonight’s airing means that we’re all officially on the same page as far as this continually excellent series unfolds. By the time I’d written about ‘Empty Hands,” I’d already seen ‘Libertus‘and ‘Chosen Path,’which meant that I could keep in mind a sense of where the season was going, and how the quality only escalated from week to week. This morning, episodes 7 and 8 finally arrived in the mail, but I chose not to watch them just yet for the purpose of keeping an even keel with everyone else, and appreciating ‘Chosen Path’for what it was, including all the pressure to follow up the incredibly epic destruction of the arena.
You’d better believe that the moment I finish writing this response I’ll be popping them in the DVD player, but for now let’s keep things simple.
I was really excited for and elated by the reaction to last week’s ‘Chosen Path,’not just for how people responded to such an incredible hour of television (and left such wonderful comments on my review) , but for how fans of the series at large could be so rewarded by an episode merely halfway through a season. Normally one doesn’t find that kind of epic scale or dramatic tension until closer toward then end, which puts ‘Chosen Path’in something of a unique position to follow it up. It’d be crazy to think Spartacus: Vengeance would treat us to another giant set piece so quickly. Instead, ‘Chosen Path’represents much more intimate episode with very personal conflicts that climax in unexpected ways, even amidst the slow-motion clanging of swords. For that it succeeds on every level, never once dropping the various character dynamics or ignoring the tensions that seethed before the arena fell to the ground upon citizens of Capua.
Literally, and metaphorically speaking, ‘Chosen Path’shows us the darkening storm, and the omnipresent scars that accumulate in our heroes’attempts to achieve the impossible. One might think a measure of victory would be in order after Spartacus’small faction of rebels managed to bring down the great arena of Capua, yet we’re only privy to the suffering and pain in its wake, or the feeling of dread that arises from the immediate future. So too has Gannicus liberated Oenomaus from bondage, and achieved some small measure of closure from speaking of Melitta once more, but finds only pain and regret in his solitude. And so too should Crixus and Naevia be joyful in their reunion, yet find themselves torn by accumulated scars and trauma. Ultimately, we know the story of Spartacus to be a tragedy, and it breaks heart all the more to see what little solace exists for this band of rebels in uncertain times.
What I truly took away from ‘Chosen Path’was the rise of dark forces, particularly in the wake of the arena, be they Ashur’s distinctly terrifying new squad of wild gladiators, Lucretia’s conniving efforts to ally herself with Ilithyia, or Glaber’s willingness to subvert Roman authority in his crusade to destroy Spartacus. In particular Ashur has become one of the more fascinating characters of the season, in the way his slow-burn rise has now eclipsed his servitude to Lucretia, and a quick shave seems to mark the birth of an entirely new, if not unforeseen villain. He remains Glaber’s respected man for the moment, but ‘The Egyptian’and Ashur’s other forces represent distinctly wild cards that threaten to throw the scales of power off-balance once more. It’s particularly poignant given that Ashur isn’t without a measure of sympathy, as we know from last season his strongest desire was to return to the arena and feel acceptance from his so-called brothers, and this season seems to have placed on him undue oppression from every turn. Ashur is only as the others have made him, but still remains a powerful weapon as he proves in the Ludus’courtyard.
Lucretia on the other hand seems to have a few clearer motivations, thanks in part to some fantastic work on the part of Lucy Lawless. For the moments we see Lucretia in the bath following Ashur’s sexual assault, she seems genuinely adrift, but the moment Ilithyia relents to relying on her former friend for support, we see both flashes of returned affection and conniving looks of opportunistic malice. I still can’t quite tell where Lucretia draws the line in terms of betrayal, now seemingly allying herself with Ilithyia to escape Glaber (and perhaps men in general) but that ambiguity makes the character more effective as a villain, at least for now. Spartacus is a complex moral play, and no villain is without some measure of conflicted humanity.
Perhaps even more heart-breaking is the short-lived reunion between Crixus and Naevia, which near-immediately gives way to her tortured memories and shell-ish persona. To her credit, Naevia’s struggle affords fine opportunity for Cynthia Addai-Robinson to really make the character her own, and offers up some very moving philosophical drama toward where we draw the lines of humanity. Whereas someone like Gannicus simply finds himself adrift, Naevia believes her name and identity lost in tortured slavery, and only reclaimed through becoming a warrior. It’s particularly difficult to watch when Crixus takes out his tragic frustration on Agron or even Naevia herself, for even in reunion there seems no end to suffering for those under the heel of Rome.
Everyone needs to find their place in this rebellion, be it Naevia and her memories, Gannicus and his indifference, or Chadara (Bonnie Sveen) and her struggle to leave behind the notion that she needs men to protect her. By the time Mira’s arrow pierced Chadara’s flesh more fatally than intended, the lesson was well learned that purpose is the only savior in this hellish existence. Fine work all around, really.
But much of what ‘Chosen Path’delivers on is that which we’ve waited years to see; a true discourse formed between Spartacus and Gannicus. We had brief flashes of the two conflicting during ‘Libertus,’but the final act didn’t’afford enough time for the two to truly feel one another out, and forge any kind of bond like they do in ‘Chosen Path.’Both Spartacus and Gannicus are the heroes of their own story, thus it makes for an exceptionally intriguing dynamic, as both men carry haunted pasts that drive their purpose, or in Gannicus’case, lack there-of. Surely we haven’t seen the last of this estranged brotherhood, and I can’t wait to see what drives Gannicus to finally take up arms with Spartacus. And if I might be afforded one geek-out moment, how frakkin’awesome was their rain-soaked melee?! Nerdgasm.
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Chosen Path’is all about the darkening storm, with new villains rising, old fallen beneath heel, and the encroaching sense of fearful doom. ‘Chosen Path’may not carry with it the action of ‘Libertus,’but good grief is it rivetingly dark.
And Another Thing…
- Surely some September 11th imagery to be found in the wide shots of smoke pillars from the arena, with the reading of Ilithyia’s father’s will sounding almost like a background newscaster to Glaber overlooking the destruction.
- Curious, has anyone really broached the subject that Ilithyia’s baby in theory, belongs to Spartacus? Beside Lucretia, would anyone really be able to bring forth that truth?
- Okay, so…I’m a guy. And it’s a little difficult watching serious scenes with meaningful dialogue while both Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca are topless. It’s a testament to the period accuracy of the show, that neither character thinks twice about that but…boobies.
- It’s nice to see the other rebels training, or even fixing up the temple to flesh out a real sense of community. I particularly liked the brief cut to the gladiator who spurned Chadara during her death throes, to remind us that even small characters can react to present drama.
- Definitely can’t wait to see more of ‘The Egyptian’in action. As for his cronies? I dub them “Face-Tattooed Scott Ian,” ‘No-Face,”Lionel Richie,’and ‘Other Guy.’
What did YOU think?