Early on in ‘Balance’ there was a sense that during its runtime someone big was going to be leaving the show – it’s hard to say where this ominous feeling came from, but it was there nonetheless. For a brief moment, it even seemed like Crixus (Manu Bennett) might be injured (or worse) in his sparring with a ferocious Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robbinson). Thankfully, that was not the case, but to the credit of Spartacus: Vengeance, the show has, possibly more so than any other series on television, created an atmosphere of danger for every character that is truly palpable.
Case in point: Ilithyia (Viva Bianca), had been captured by Gannicus (Dustin Clare) in the final moments of ‘Sacramentum,’ and given her past actions on the show, it gave the impression that we would be saying our farewells to her before the end of ‘Balance.’
Certainly, that was the hope of Gannicus, who still struggles to see the purpose of what Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) is attempting to do. In hoping that his actions will not only put an end to the bitter struggle between the gladiator and Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), but also in some small way rebuild the trust he so desperately wishes regain from Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), after the indiscretion with the former Doctore’s wife in Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Gannicus continues to have blinders on to the bigger picture in which he finds himself involved.
Although many of the weary gladiators and slaves in Spartacus’ rebellion would like to think on Gannicus’ terms: that taking the life of Ilithyia would spare them, and the lives of innocent people caught between the two parties, from additional bloodshed – it is not to be. The cause they fight for has grown too large to be satiated by the death of a single woman; Spartacus’ cause can no longer be fulfilled by such a simple act of vengeance.
Interestingly enough, throughout the episode, we get to see Spartacus learn this for himself. At the onset, it seems clear that Spartacus views the execution of a woman as something of a hollow victory, but Ilithyia earns herself further time after informing him the child she carries is most likely the result of their single intimate encounter. Spartacus spares her, not because of the child, but because of a fear his late wife would judge him poorly when they see each other in the afterlife.
Though it is not readily understood by most of his party – especially Mira (Katrina Law), who has the unenviable task of competing with the memory of a dead woman, and now, learning that the object of her affection may have impregnated someone as detestable as Ilithyia – Spartacus decides to use his captive as leverage to supply his growing army with weapons.
While Lucius Caelius (Peter McCauley) is sent to Capua to negotiate the terms with Glaber, Mira pays visit to Ilithyia – seeing her as not only a burden to Spartacus, but also as a symbol of all that she had to endure in her life as a slave. It looks like the end of Ilithyia will be by the hands of Mira, but the execution is once more stayed by a disappointed Spartacus. As Ilithyia is looked over, it is hard to tell which failure hurts Mira more.
In what feels like an old-west showdown, Gladiator and Praetor finally meet face-to-face, and it becomes apparent that in all his battles for vengeance, the greatest threat Spartacus has faced is the possibility he could become just like the man he wishes to kill. So, in being honorable, Spartacus leads Crixus, Gannicus and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel) into a trap where once more there is the sense that someone will fall forever.
Ultimately, it is Lucius who is ushered into the arms of those he lost by the swift sword of the fearsome Egyptian, while the other rebels flee back into the woods.
Though Glaber’s trick failed, and he is wounded in the scuffle, he returns to Capua believing himself unburdened of further responsibility for Ilithyia’s life, and able to rest comfortably in the embrace of the younger, more empowering Seppia (Hannah Mangan Lawrence). However, unbeknownst to Glaber, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) has stumbled upon the truth behind Seppius’ untimely death, and has shared it with the young woman.
In the end, it seems Glaber can do no right when it comes to those of the feminine persuasion, and perhaps that is what will finally do the Praetor in.
Spartacus leaves Ilithyia alive in the woods, but with the understanding that her life was spared not out of compassion, but because she no longer holds any value to her husband, and that makes Ilithyia useless to Spartacus as well.
Spartacus: Vengeance airs its penultimate episode, ‘Monsters,’ next Friday @10pm on Starz.