With Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Stephen S. DeKnight and his writers displayed an ability to shift focus from one central character to a bevy of supporting ones – making them leads in their own right, and far stronger personalities, as a result. In ‘Empty Hands,’ the fourth episode of Spartacus: Vengeance, DeKnight and crew have managed a similar feat, though this time with Cladius Glaber (Craig Parker).
Early on, ‘Empty Hands’ concerns Spartacus’ escape from the mines – his ranks severely depleted due to the loss of Crixus and several of his Gauls, as well as those who fall while being pursued by Ashur (Nick Tarabay) and a group of Roman soldiers.
Crixus’ capture is felt not only in his absence, but also in the presence of Naevia who is looked upon with a great deal of scorn by the remaining rebels. Poor Naevia does little to justify the sacrifice that earned her freedom by alerting a band of Romans to the rebels’ whereabouts, and nearly being killed by a soldier, were it not for Mira’s (Katrina Law) alarming ferocity that is rapidly proving her to be a great asset to the group.
During the struggle, young Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor) is dealt a potentially fatal wound, but hangs on and, in a display of brotherhood, accepts the cauterizing of his injury as though it were the brand issued to the former gladiators of the House of Batiatus.
As thrilling a spectacle it would be to watch Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) cut down swaths of Roman soldiers, ‘Empty Hands’ takes pause from the Thracian and delivers a rather compelling episode that focuses on Cladius Glaber and the underhanded forces mounting against him – in his own house no less.
Glaber is beset on all sides; his fellow Praetor Varinius (Brett Tucker), Seppius (Tom Hobbs), his father in-law, Albinius (Kevin J. Wilson) and, unsurprisingly, his wife Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) all scheme against him in some way – yet Glaber manages to keep his head above water.
He plays what little cards he has to their fullest extent, putting Crixus, Oenomaus and the two captured Gauls on display for the those attending the soirée thrown in honor of Varinius, who has put on games to distract from the terror of Spartacus. In addition, Glaber continues to wring use out of Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and her supposedly lying in favor with the gods; mere mention of her name affords Glaber some breathing room with Albinius – a move which angers both Ilithyia and Varinius.
For her part, Lucretia is no mere pawn, though she is content to appear as such. Of anyone in the rejuvenated House of Batiatus, it is Lucretia who seemingly sees all the gaming pieces on the board. This is confirmed by her continued manipulation of Ilithyia by way of her father, Albinius.
Ilithyia is somewhat distracted at the moment, however, with the overwhelming desire to leap from her current position with Glaber to one she feels has more potential – namely as Varinius’ wife. Unfortunately, the switch isn’t as easy as she might like. For one, her father won’t allow it, and more disturbingly, a move toward the up-and-coming Praetor places Ilithyia in the middle of a love triangle between Varinius, Seppia (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) and her brother Seppius.
The most interesting consequence of Ilithyia’s deceit, though, is that of a deeper understanding and interest in Glaber’s character – who up until this point was something of a stock villain and target of Spartacus’ ire. Watching Glaber shuffle back and forth, struggling to win the approval of the people of Capua (and the senate) against a seemingly stronger, more capable opponent in Varinius is compelling enough it almost makes one feel for the guy. There is an air of need and desperation in Glaber that smacks of John Hannah’s Batiatus, and adds more depth and flavor to the proceedings.
After the struggles that begun in ‘A Place in this World,’ ‘Empty Hands’ ends on a much-needed high note that consists of watching Spartacus’ threat of “a wounded animal may yet bare teeth,” come to fruition in one of the most bombastic battle sequences this season, and a reunion with Argon (Dan Feuerriegel) and the rebels he took to with him in ‘The Greater Good.’
Spartacus: Vengeance teases the return of Gannicus in ‘Libertus,’ which airs next Friday @10pm on Starz.