Rushing headlong into this finale with a true sense of revolution, Spartacus: Vengeance is set to complete an incredibly strong season by finishing what it had started with ‘Kill Them All’ way back in April of 2010. Moreover, though, Spartacus: Vengeance faces an unlikely challenger in its own storytelling, by having to face the prospect of exceeding the kind of epic grandiosity on display in episodes like ‘Libertus‘ and last week’s ‘Monsters.’
Suffice to say: the season finale ‘Wrath of the Gods’ does not disappoint. The episode is nearly wall-to-wall action that gloriously upends the series, offers closure to several lingering plot threads, and once more redefines the man Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) will become for the pending third season – whatever that may be subtitled.
As storm clouds brew over Mt. Vesuvius, Spartacus’ band of rebels is nearly undone by the impatience of Nemetes (Ditch Davies), Saxa (Ellen Hollman) and Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage look-alike, Ludo, after they attempt to escape the mountain and take on a small band of Roman soldiers. Unfortunately, their escape is met by the arrival of Ashur (Nick Tarabay) and the Egyptian. Were it not for the intervention of Mira (Katrina Law) and eventually Spartacus, Crixus (Manu Bennett), Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel), the three surely would have met their end. Sadly, it is Mira who is dealt the deathblow. And while she and Spartacus had been growing apart after the events in ‘Balance,’ her death brings to the forefront the reason for Spartacus’ vengeance, and sets the tone for the rest of the episode: one in which any character, no matter the importance he or she have to the series’ narrative, may become a casualty before this season is officially in the record books.
Meanwhile, in the pit of deceit below, Glaber (Craig Parker) and Ashur each whittle away the time, waiting for the rebels to starve atop the mountain, by fixating on the life they will lead once this objectionable uprising is finally quelled. Such pleasant thoughts are put on hold, however, as the arrival of Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) heralds the end of Glaber’s arrangement with Ashur – effectively putting to rest any hopes the Syrian may have had of transferring the ludus and wife of Batiatus into the House of Ashur.
One good turn deserves another, though, as Glaber cannot have any loose ends, so he orders his newly dutiful wife to eliminate Lucretia before the couple embarks on their return to Rome.
If losing out on the promise of the House of Ashur wasn’t bad enough, the Syrian quickly loses the loyalty of his men, and very nearly his life at the hands of the Egyptian. Rather than simply kill him, Glaber sends Ashur to Vesuvius to negotiate the terms of the Spartacus’ surrender. Naturally, the rebels politely refuse, but Crixus feels the message to Glaber might carry more weight if Ashur’s head were separated from his shoulders first. Before they can square off, Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robbinson) demands a shot at reclaiming a little of what was taken from her at the hands of the Syrian.
At first it seems unlikely that both Mira and Naevia would fall in the same episode, but despite her rage, Ashur appears poised to once more evade the icy jaws of death – at least long enough for Crixus to kill him. After a heart wrenching and brutal brawl, Ashur, ready to cut Naevia’s throat, pauses to add ridicule, but in doing so opens himself up to a devastating slice from Naevia’s blade that almost certainly robs him of his weapon of choice. While Ashur gets a verbal shot at Naevia before she hacks his head off with three vicious blows, the smiting of her tormenter is the beginning of Naevia’s transformation from traumatized victim to fearsome warrior.
If you thought Ashur’s death brought about a sense of closure, then the goings on back at the ludus were appropriately mind-blowing. All season long, it was clear that Lucretia had a game plan that was known only to her. And the end goal she had in mind? Why the unborn spawn of Spartacus and Ilithyia, of course.
Lucretia delivers the line of the night by saying to the mother-to-be: “Your child? You are but a vessel carrying a gift from the gods to the House of Batiatus. Now then, let us see it unwrapped.” Having cut the child from Ilithyia, Lucretia makes her way to the cliff’s edge, and in as dramatic a goodbye as could possibly be imagined, joins her husband in the afterlife – bringing with her the child she failed to give him in life.
But ‘Wrath of the Gods’ isn’t done, yet. After descending the sheer face of Vesuvius, the Gladiators Four begin the assault on Glaber’s camp by turning the Roman army’s firery catapults against them. And with that the climactic battle is upon us.
Having delivered the final scenes of so many memorable characters, it stood to reason that only Glaber would be left on the finale’s bloody chopping block. But not so, says series creator Stephen S. DeKnight. In coming to the aid of the man who betrayed him, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), battle weary and severely injured from his last run-in with the Egyptian, saves Gannicus’ life, but falls in his stead. And though it’s hard to see the once-proud Doctore go, his death acts to reaffirm Gannicus’ place in the world: as a warrior for Spartacus and the inevitable war that is coming.
As for Glaber, his death serves as the final act to the amazing character arc that has brought Spartacus from the unknown Thracian, to slave, gladiator, and now, the leader of an army united by a singular purpose: to bring freedom to those long suffering under the tyranny of an empire. It also shows how Spartacus is set to take on the new challenge of telling a larger, more powerful story now that will require a new cast of supporting characters be brought in with the expanding scale of the series.
Yet despite all the evidence to justify the program’s quality (re: this entire season) it can be downright impossible to convince others how Spartacus: Vengeance truly is a worthwhile program, with insanely talented people at the helm. Yes, the show is synonymous with gratuitous violence and sex – an aspect designed to attract a key demographic – but it is also home to some masterful storytelling. In the end, those of us who know will see ‘Wrath of the Gods’ as a fierce, powerful and insanely entertaining climax to what has been an epic season of a show that rightly claims its place as one of the most compelling programs on television.
Spartacus returns in 2013 for season 3 on Starz.