Review – Spartacus: Vengeance Episode 4 – Empty Hands

Crixus stabbed and his skull smashed, Naevia freed, everyone is on the run from Glaber’s guards as they charge the mines. Episode 3 gave a moment of resolution and wiped it away with a hard swipe. Spartacus and the survivors are now set to flee for freedom to the rest of their party, the problem is… they’re not alone and they’re still barely armed against a large army of soldiers hot on their path. Glaber’s men approach from all angles out to catch the prize that will enable him to regain position with the locals, the problem is Spartacus and crew are struggling to stay alive with each wave. With medical attention on their hands and the worry of alerting the men in the dead of night they risk it all to avoid abandoning or slaying any of the wounded.

Back with Glaber he continues his face off with Vorenus, setting up a spectacle show to challenge his ability to get his hands dirty and empower his success with the captured gladiators from the mines. Who appears in this magical lineup? You’ll be pleased to find out when it airs. Needless to say they get a wave of mercy in this tense stand-off and the obvious mystery man in the captured lineup gets picked off immediately in an almost Star-Trek like fashion. The night takes a detour that gets a bit more graphic to levels not really seen since the first episode and the arena itself, Glaber is pleased with his captive playing entertainment to the night and conversations strike up.

The episode focuses heavily on development this time around, we see changes in tactics from Lucretia, Ilithiya, Spartacus and Glaber to come out ahead in the turmoil of the situation. We learn more twists and plots and see growth in many ways even if it might be a damaging shift down the path.

Spoilers ahoy – click to view or scroll to go onward

[spoiler show=”Show Episode 4 Spoilers” hide=”Hide Episode 4 Spoilers”]Spartacus is learning the struggles of loyalty and responsibility for those around him, his pursuit with Crixus brought the rescue of Naevia but many of his men were captured and slain in this pursuit and left him with dead men at hand to the point of only his own will to save them. Vesuvius awaits them in the distance but as a degrading machine the odds of their survival are beyond low.Glaber is attempting to have a show down with Vorenus, the battle of the Roman titles is in full swing and Glaber is doing everything possible to show he has the favor of the locals over all others. While his success in recovering Spartacus is low, he’s currently stockpiling key members of the rebel force that escaped Batiatus that night. With Crixus now in his slave roster it’s sure to spark the attention of Spartacus and crew even as they move away from the region.

Vorenus is enjoying himself in the meantime, his hands free from the taint of blood and shining with diplomacy, he’s the bastion of success and glamor that drives Glaber up the wall. He finds himself courted left and right through the episode and we learn a bit more about his character through each dealing, even Ilithiya has a few jabs of her own when they meet.

Lucretia bats her first strike in this revival, with Ilithiya right on her tail she turns attention toward her brewing plots and works to support them to gain favor. With so much damage between them it’s not a surprise to see Ilithiya questioning every move she makes and maintaining a critical eye to her moves. What Lucretia has up her sleeve next is entirely unknown, she’s still holding onto Glaber’s favor in all of this as her lifeline.

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Those who thrived on heavier action will be a bit dismayed in this episode, the devotion to the story development was a critical step in short seasons like this as it allowed the whole story to launch onward and create critical twists to the foundation. I do feel that future episodes will be stronger for having this bluntly brought up now, having it strung out through each episode is a risky move as it eats up valuable air time for other plot points and development. We also see a hanging point with the Roman side and Spartacus, fortunately it’s not as cruel as the Crixus moment but still it leaves the unknown in the air.

The photo and editing teams have nailed the atmosphere changes and even time of day for the show, while scenes were often predictable to happen in certain times of day it’s not the case anymore. Fight scenes in the moonlight, the fog, dusk and so on all provide essential atmosphere to illustrate the characters in a dynamic environment. Combine that with the story and it’s maturing as a product out there. Although sometimes it might reach to the hyper real, the revenge scene with the nobles illustrated that’s always possible now as well.

Story:★★★★☆ 
Cinematography:★★★★½ 
Dialog:★★★★½ 
Overall:★★★★½ 

Review – Spartacus Vengeance Episode 3 – The Greater Good

The hunt is on, with word of Naevia’s trades the group are off to chase their latest tip, unfortunately this trip will change the dynamic of the group in a way they could have never imagined. Crixus fans will no doubt curse the writers heavily for the news uncovered but don’t let it push you to rage channel change, there’s a method to all of the madness in Spartacus and Vengeance is no exception.

The group is met with a devastating finding in the opening scene, the men stand at a loss and their unity takes another hit. Their mission and future both come into question and they’ve only just begun on this path, not all is as it seems though within the ranks and questions rise forward from the viewer on what’s really going on. It’s a troubling scene and their return to the villa only shows the fracturing that has begun within this group of escapees.

Glaber faces his own problems, Asher’s return brings Oenomaus but his cooperation still lacks, on top of this situation of finding Spartacus, Ilithyia brings not only her father to the Villa but Vorenus as well. Their arrival brings an announcement of the city playing host for  2 weeks of games to distract the attention of the public from the rampage of Spartacus and his men. The twist of the knife comes from Glaber’s role to this event and further damage to his ego from this incident with Spartacus not only in this slaughter but from his attack at market as well.

Lucretia and Asher have their own story spinning off, the current role rides on Asher and his information extraction to prove the gods are really favoring Lucretia in her prayers and sacrifices to them. Will it be enough to win Glaber and keep control over him, it’s not exactly certain given Oenomaus has extreme loyalties to the house and to his fellow gladiators.

Spoilers if you can’t wait

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Spartacus and Crixus come to find trembling news, upon the latest capture of slaves they come to news of Naevia’s death. It’s a trembling shift so early int he episode and it destroys Crixus to the core. The news itself is deception meant to further the cause of their escape over the pursuit of Naevia into high-profile areas where they risk their necks even more with each move. The result of this is a dissolution of the two factions and where survival and brotherhood begin to split. It’s a tough scene to go through.

Glaber is putting all of his pieces on Asher’s ability to recruit information, he’s proven able to recover a critical piece to the rebellion but he hasn’t gotten anything out of Oenomaus so far. With Ilithyia’s father in town and Vorenus making waves to win favor of the people he has no choice but to press Asher and Lucretia to the limit to recover something he can use. Through mental abuse of the history of the house, Asher is able to bend his mind to give up a crucial piece of information that sets Glaber’s men on their way.

As the truth of Naevia comes to light, a reignited Crixus and Spartacus take on their worst mission yet, a trip to the strip mines to find Naevia, using the slave cart to enter the wasteland. It’s a gamble and a bit of heartbreak, if you’re not a fan of Asher you really won’t be after this.

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Vengeance episode 3 is a series a twists and turns and the fanning of the story is already in full swing as they scramble in every direction to find those pieces that matter most. Crixus continues a tale of woe and Spartacus struggles to find his place as a leader as his people conflict, the stakes get even higher and he puts lives on the line in these missions. He’s learning but he shows that he’s only human in all of this chaos and even the best plans are not immune to roadblocks. Episode 1 left many people concerned about the progress of the story, with these viewing’s it’s clear they’re on a very clear path with it and we just need to hold in. As a whole Episode 3 strikes hard at the viewers, the balance of good and evil will always sway side to side in a show like this, but there are those moments you just cringe hoping for the better and this was one of those times.

Visually they’re able to muster many creative areas, the Arena returns in full glory, the forests provide a pleasant change of pace and the mines even hold a unique touch in their presentation. The location and set design has evolved after being so isolated to simple dungeons and areas of the Villa and it gives Vengeance added depth. They’re not just figures locked in a box that goes a to b to c, they have dessert sections, forests, mountains and more and no story will just occupy one area.

Story:★★★★½ 
Cinematography:★★★★★ 
Dialog:★★★★½ 
Overall:★★★★½ 

Review – Spartacus Vengeance Episode 2 – A Place In This World

And…. we’re back with episode 2 of Spartacus Vengeance – A Place In This World.

We left Spartacus just finishing a lesson in leadership, having to watch for the sake of his people who joined him over his own personal desire for retribution. Episode 2 starts on a different foot, instead it shows us the story to a young man in the mines, trying to fight for his life against an ogre of an opponent. As we know from Blood and Sand, the mines are a kill or be killed environment so it’s no surprise to see such a brutal demonstration. There is a twist though, Titus Batiatus returns from the grave for what will be a long flashback through the episode.

The followers take on a new goal, the search for Naevia is on and the group will stop at nothing to see that fulfilled… well at least Crixus will stop at nothing. Fans of his character will get some excitement seeing his drive igniting again as he pushes with determination to find his lost love, each Dominus gets a target on their back during this search and Crixus struggles to control his rage. Spartacus and the others use this time to recoup and take pleasure, even then the times are not so simple as social clashes continue with the Gauls and the limited numbers of their men at hand. As the first episode brought viewers to see the struggle and lack of organization, this episode shows that it will take more than slight collaboration to keep them together in this fight.

The life of the Romans gets just as complicated, Ilithyia has had her mind take her elsewhere, traveling to another, is it a slip or is it a tease? Either way this will continue to be the least of her problems as Lucretia continues to win the favor and interest Glaber in her reborn state, so much so that she’s able to call to the gods on his behalf for assistance. Add on the struggle of Glaber to recruit men in his venture to capture Spartacus and his plea to the gods gets greater understanding, his inherited title through marriage still haunts him as he tries to draw favor and men from those around him.

Spoilers for those unable to wait:

[spoiler show=”Show Episode 2 Spoilers” hide=”Hide Episode 2 Spoilers”]Spartacus haunts Glaber in deeper ways, as Ilithyia goes to bathe she finds her mind occupied with the night spent with Spartacus that masked night, one has to wonder what this indicates around the talk of her child. Does this mean that Spartacus has sabotaged his life in another way? Hopefully we’ll find out this season as it all unfolds. Even more questions will rise around Lucretia in this episode and around the messages she tells, will her memory allow her to claim Ilithyia’s child as well?The young man in the story is a reflection to Oenomaus as a boy in the mines, brutal and raw striving to live to the next day. It lightly touches upon his history with Titus and slowly unfolds to present day as he battles in the mines yet again, without master and fighting for old glory and alliances in his past. His life yet again runs without order, simply fighting to fight in the name of Titus back then when his view was untainted of the house of Batiatus.

Lucretia takes extra notice in this episode, her actions and life are driving tensions to the limit with Ilithyia, she can hardly resist the ability to strike her down during the sacrificial ceremony, you can almost feel the trance she falls into watching the event boil down. To bury what she thought was finished in the slaughter before. With Ashur playing up new tricks again she becomes a wildcard controlled by small notes we’re not able to view.

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The story pushes forward in episode 2 into many branches, just as everything condensed into a single moment at the end of Blood and Sand it’s all exploding again as so many mysteries lay open. One thing is for certain, this is going to be a hell of a ride this season with so many wildcards in play. While I did include spoilers of this episode I did leave some bits out that you’ll just have to tune in to see, or cheat and wait until our Episode 3 review goes up and simply run from there.

Visually the episode takes a shot above episode 1, the moods, lighting and settings are all more developed. The action sequences feel seamless where they stuttered before, the transitions are clean and the slow motion sequences are balanced in their use to showcase the space they battle in and everyone involved not just one figure. There’s a lot of growth happening this season for the entire crew and it shows as they find their rhythm again. The engaging sequences are a draw to any fan of the series or newcomer, you get the tension struggle and thirst for blood throughout. The breaking of the stories is a welcome twist, the series often thrived on everyone being at their worst for intent, hopefully we will see that rise in the coming episodes.

Story:★★★★½ 
Cinematography:★★★★½ 
Dialog:★★★★☆ 
Overall:★★★★½ 

Review – Spartacus Vengeance Episode 1 – Fugitivus

The fated debut is almost here, we’re ready with a full early review and spoiler tags for those waiting until the last moment to see all the goods.

Taking up after Blood and Sand, Spartacus Vengeance greets us with the struggles of the champion after the slaughter at the House of Batiatus. Viewers pass through a time jump that goes unspecified but see’s Legatus in the Senate trying to distance himself from the ordeal, that is, until a message from Spartacus calls him forward again. It seems the gods have another road in store for his path, he sets his robes aside and ventures back to origin at Batiatus.

In this episode we see a newly freed Spartacus with his people, venturing forward to seek payback in any way he can. The unfortunate part for Spartacus is his lacking forethought to having to tend to the needs of his people who followed him into freedom. Food and support fall secondary to the needs of retribution in this story line and a hard life seems to await all that follow as the Gauls and Spartacus.

[spoiler show=”Show Spoilers” hide=”Hide Spoilers”]Spartacus demonstrates this lack of focus as his people stand divided, their wishes to escape the city versus the desires of revenge against Legatus.  Spartacus learns the hard way that he has to grow as a leader not just in battle but in survival as not only the blood of Varro rests on his hands but his wife as well from his shortcomings to lead them. Without a proper leader, tension drives his own people and his relations with the Gauls as they all fight for their own ambitions.

The story is only compounded as Legatus and Ilythia embark to take over the House of Batiatus only to find a lost Lucretia wandering in the darkness, mended from her would in the slaughter by a mysterious force.  She stumbles about without a trace of memory to the events that took place over the season, not of the murder, betrayal or violence that took place during the downfall. The new shift brings a twist as this Lucretia marks as a claimed blessing and her actions signify a role as a sage, wishing to devote ritual to the gods. What this means for the likes of the freed slaves or Crixus is unknown, he is visibly shaken when helping to bail out Spartacus in the market though.

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Liam McIntyre steps into the role of Spartacus with confidence, attempting to make the role his own while paying respect to the groundwork set up already by Andy Whitman, it’s a tough transition to see but he makes an effort to smooth the experience out by studying the vocals and behaviors. Given this is a transition period as well from the arena to being on the run, it opens the story up for some adjustment and shifts in behavior and appearance. As the series progresses it seems that McIntyre will continue to grow into the role to deliver a Spartacus we all know.

The styling of Vengeance continues to evolve, the experience and techniques improve the presentation and allow Vengeance to technically distance itself from the first episodes, critical stabs and slices are more authentic now than ever before. The rain of blood from each attack loses CG styling and flows with the scene keeping the audience engaged with each frame. To go with the mood of this new story arc, the setting is much darker in every scene, from the tunnels to the general tone of every area. These are dark times for the survivors of Batiatus and we’ll have to wait to see where their fate rests.

We will cover Vengeance through the season so check back often for series updates or special features. Episode 2 coverage will arrive soon.

If you can’t wait for Spartacus Vengeance to kick off, check out the official page on Starz to see Episode 1 early before the debut.

Story:★★★★☆ 
Cinematography:★★★★½ 
Dialog:★★★★☆ 
Overall:★★★★☆