Spartacus: Vengeance continues with another episode that feels a bit like it's all set-up, little development, but that does promise that the good stuff is yet to come.
Slow-motion feet stepping in a puddle are Dramatic. Slow-motion soldiers wandering through the woods like lost extras from Lord of The Rings are even more Dramatic. Spartacus' men (and women) hiding in the undergrowth, ready to leap out and attack from beneath are really, really Dramatic. Unfortunately it's all ruined when Naevia freaks out and runs away screaming. Spartacus, undeterred, leads the attack a few minutes early. The soldier who complains that she made him run, and he hates running, is quite amusing, but he doesn't last long, as GF flies in from a trampoline off to the side somewhere and stabs him repeatedly in the face. What is it with the women of Spartacus and faces?! After the fight, one of Spartacus' men stays behind to bury their one casualty, while the rest get the heck out of dodge.
Haldir has somehow managed to get in trouble for finding Spartacus so quickly. I'm starting to feel sorry for him, just about everyone around him seems to hate him. Paris Hilton invites the slimy guy who'd been touching her up to stay with them at Bartiatus' old House of Death. Haldir and Paris Hilton have a bath together where they argue about Xena (whom he seems to be taking a liking to) and the slimy guy (Varinius).
Spartacus' men whinge that Naevia is slowing them down (apparently they missed the part where retrieving her was the entire point of their little expedition). Although Crixus is (apparently) dead, Spartacus is keeping faith with his promise to him and refuses to leave Naevia behind.
Gnomey Guy tries to convince the head of the next group of Roman sword fodder to respect the gladiators as a real threat, but without much success, as they guy can't imagine slaves posing a real threat to the Roman army (this is pretty much what the sources tell us happened. Without Gnomey Guy, obviously).
Paris Hilton finds Gladiator Groupie and Xena giggling together over Gladiator Groupie's hopes of marrying Varinius. PH is clearly jealous - Gladiator Groupie had better watch out for her pretty face. PH snarks at Xena with the most wonderful look of disgust on her face, like she just swallowed something horrible (Bailey's and lime cordial together, perhaps). Xena offers to pray for PH to get Varinius but PH just calls her 'empty' and stomps off.
A few of Spartacus' men are brought back to their old gladiator training ground including, much to Xena's dismay, Crixus. How he is alive after the apparently fatal wound he acquired at the end of the previous episode is not explained - put it down to the Law of Preservation of Some Element of Historical Accuracy. Plus the man has more lives than a cat. Maybe the Roman soldier just kneed him in the back instead of stabbing him. Xena and PH snark each other some more and PH mocks Xena over the fact she now almost certainly can't have children.
Crixus is feeling guilty about the fact he's got not just himself but several of his 'brothers' back where they started. They are put in a cell next to DSG who mutters bitterly about women being delicate and unfaithful - which doesn't bother Crixus, who just wants Naevia alive.
Which, luckily, she still is, just about. Our heroes are sleeping out in the open, the men still shirtless. Is Italy experiencing its hottest summer nights on record all through this show or what?! Another group of Romans turn up to get killed, and another of our heroes (not one whose name we knew or anything) is taken out in slow motion, so Naevia can feel especially guilty about it. This isn't enough, so The Artist (who we have TWO names for, he's so important!) takes a nasty stab wound saving GF.
All this is too much blood, not enough tits, so we get some almost full frontal female nudity at Haldir's place/Batiatus' House of Death. Party guests keep chattering rather tactlessly about the massacre, causing Xena and PH both to experience ketchup-splattered flashbacks.
While Haldir makes a little speech, the nearly naked entertainers suck each other's breasts and snog. I can't imagine anyone, including the TV audience, is paying much attention to Haldir, and the party-goers all seem keener on Varinius anyway. Haldir then brings in Crixus, DSG and the others in chains, planning to execute them as the crowning bit of party entertainment. Haldir offers Varinius a sword to kill them with, presumably in the expectation that he won't know how to use it. Which he doesn't - he insists they should be executed in the arena (which would be more normal practice anyway). Which means - yay! More gladiator fights! (What is this show doing to me...)
Spartacus and what's left of his little troupe pause by a stream and discuss The Artist's impending death and the problem of the trail of blood he's leaving behind him. The sulky randoms suggest euthanasia and quick burial, but Spartacus is not a fan (and reminding him of the incident with Neighbours Reject is not the way to convince him). Naevia pipes up with the reminder that Crixus improbably survived a similar wound a while back (more lives than a cat...), and suggests 'sealing it with fire' (that sounds like a terrible idea).
Back at the House of Death, the female entertainers are still doing a decent impression of a lesbian orgy, while our guys kneel on the floor in chains, glowering. Gladiator Groupie is looking forward to seeing them bleed, naturally, though Seppius prefers Haldir's plan of killing them now. As a compromise, they decide to choose one runaway and kill him there and then. Haldir suggests Xena should choose which one, since she suffered the most at their hands.
Haldir calls our guys Spartacus' 'jackals', which is nicely mean and somehow evocative. (Oooh, I really like Xena's dress, it's gorgeous). Xena hovers over Crixus, but chooses a random we don't know, somewhat to Crixus' surprise. This leaves only Crixus, DSG and one other random to die in the arena. Xena assures Crixus that she's just saving him till last so she can savour the moment and he stupidly rises to the bait and tells her that Naevia's still alive. Xena isn't that bright either, as she decides Naevia should know of his impending death. This is not going to end well for anybody.
Ewwwwwwwww, someone's sawing off a guy's lip wile he's still alive! Gross! It's been a while since I had to look away from the screen during an episode of Spartacus - such is the effect of watching this show on a regular basis - but this is stomach-turning. How the heck do the writers come up with this stuff?! It seems they're going to chop the guy up bit by bit while he's still alive, taking it in turns. While taking in this twist in the entertainment, PH's father notes that Varinius is much more impressive than Haldir, and PH agrees. She feels it's about time she got rid of the Elf, but Daddy refuses to sanction the divorce while she's pregnant, and since Varinius is obvously interested in Gladiator Groupie he doesn't see the point anyway. GG had better watch out...
Spartacus, GF and Naevia perform some open-air, hot-metal-based surgery on The Artist, to 'close the wound'. He doesn't need a hot sword to the abdomen, he needs Star Trek levels of medical care. Anyway, their fire is spotted by some more Roman sword fodder and they have to hurry it up.
It's Gladiator Groupie's turn with the unfortunate runaway and Varinius takes the opportunity to do that romantic comedy thing where the guy puts his arms round the girl to help her wield the weapon. Haldir suggests to Seppius that he would be a better anti-Spartacus partner than Varinius, because he's not after Seppius' sister (though really, if Varinius is after marraige, he's not doing anything that awful). Somewhat surprisingly, GG can't go through with the mortal wounding, so PH takes the sword and finishes the guy (which is actually reasonably merciful at this point). Quite why she's so proud of her ability to murder people in front a party is unclear, and she'd better hope no one starts asking questions about Crassus' cousin, but it seems to impress Varinius and has the desired unsettling effect on Xena.
Xena pops out to the balcony for a quick chat with PH's Daddy and establishes that his daughter is as much a pain in the neck to him as she is to everyone else. Meanwhile, inside, the nearly-all-female entertainment is still going. Seppius comforts his sister over her inability to torture and murder people and then kisses her a bit too intimately for a brother - ah, we're going for an incest story! We haven't done incest on this show yet (surprising it took so long really). PH catches Varinius making a joke about the size of still-not-appeared-in-person Crassus' manhood and demands servicing in return for her silence, but Varinius isn't really into married, pregnant women. When she suggests her intention to divorce Haldir, he gets a bit keener and indulges her (the Roman lack of underpants is really useful in these situations). He seems pretty keen, though surely he can't be taken in by her suggestion that they'll have wealth and power to rival Crassus - no one has wealth to rival Crassus.
There's then a weird slow-motion sequence, accompnaied by the Wailing Woman on the soundtrack in spooky mode, in which PH just wanders around her party for a while, until eventually she walks in on Xena in flagrante delicto with Daddy, which brings her mood right down.
Spartacus' group is now down to him, one sulky random, GF, Naevia and The Artist. Some more Roman sword fodder turn up and an arm is sent flying up towards the camera in slow motion. Lovely. The final random goes down, stabbed in the back (see what they did there) by Gnomey Guy. Spartacus is now literally a One Man Army, though GF is pretty useful (Naevia just crouches on the ground and cries and obviously The Artist can't help). Gnomey Guy picks up the arrogant soldier from earlier and limps off with him. However, the soldier keep trying to call for reinforcements, so Gnomey Guy smothers him to keep him quiet, because he's decided Spartacus is possessed by the gods and will kill them all. Sulky Random orders Naevia to make sure he didn't die for nothing and corks it.
PH makes her feelings clear to Xena, who defends herself on the grounds she only did what she did to PH out of jealousy - revealing at the same tinme that she remembers everything. PH decides to kill her the same way she killed Crassus' cousin, but Xena stops her by pleading that she's persuaded Daddy to let PH divorce Haldir and marry Varinius, and insists she's sorry and wants to make it all up. Since it looks like she might prove useful, PH lets her off for the time being and snogs her. You know, as you do when one of your friends has done you a favour. If you're on Spartacus, anyway. Poor old Haldir remains totally oblivious as Varinius and Daddy wander off looking incredibly smug.
There's a very pretty shot of dawn over the forest, then we cut to Spartacus and the girls (and what's left of The Artist) approaching Vesuvius. They hear more Roman voices in the background and GF refuses to leave, so they set Naevia to crouch by The Artist at the foot of a tree and the two of them point their swords towards the Romans... who turn out not to be Romans, but Number One and the rest of their horde, running to the rescue in slow motion. Everyone is reunited, including Number One and The Artist, and even the soundtrack is starting to think it's in Lord of the Rings now. It must be all that filming in New Zealand. End of episode.
Not a bad episode. The scenes at the party were especially strong, but the show as a whole is still suffering from the lack of structure that was provided by the ludus and the Games in season 1. And I really just want Gnomey Guy to die NOW, please, as he's long outlived the little interest I had in him. I am looking forward to seeing Crixus and DSG back in the arena, that should be good. I'm also sort of hoping Haldir and Xena end up having a steamy affair - everyone on the show hates Haldir so much, I'm really starting to think the guy needs a break. On the upside, we got to see his naked backside again, and that's always pleasant. Overall, this still feels like more set-up, less action, but we're getting there. And I must admit, I welled up a little bit in that last scene - the slow picking-off of Spartacus' group, culminating in his and GF's lonely stand and the relief as everyone else wanders out of the mist did provide some structure, and a satisfying emotional payoff.
Soldier: You made me run. I f***ing hate running!
Random partygoer: Come on, we want blood! (I think this basically sums up much of the audience's attitude to the show as a whole).
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