After last week's episode, 'Empty Hands,' Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) gave a glimpse of the rage that lived deep inside him, and how once that fire was lit, there was little anyone standing in his way could do, but die. Now, with 'Libertus,' Spartacus: Vengeance translates that burning into an act of aggression that none of the Thracian's enemies could have foreseen. For the viewer, however, 'Libertus' now stands as the benchmark of storytelling and spectacle, not just for this season, but also for the entire series.
'Libertus' opens in grand fashion, depicting the less-than-amicable reunion between Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) in the arena, where it is intended that the former Doctore and Crixus (Manu Bennett) will be executed in front of the good people of Capua. Just as Oenomaus swings his sword at his foe, the episode takes us back 24 hours to see how the players all came to stand on the same board.
And what a large board it is. Whether it is a declaration of intentions or crushing of one's enemy, nearly all of the major players in this large ensemble make a move that will affect their position in the series. As the ensemble grows, with the addition of Gannicus, moving the pieces around the board is just getting to be more enjoyable for Steven S. DeKnight and his team of writers.
As we are re-introduced to Gannicus, it seems he's fallen on hard times – short of coin and looking to regain some of his past glory by giving his former brothers an honorable death in Varinius' games. Though he carries the wooden sword that tells of how he earned his freedom, Gannicus is still shackled by the guilt of what transpired between him and Oenomaus' wife Melita (Marisa Ramirez).
Meanwhile, in the House of Batiatus, Ilithyia (Vivia Bianca) moves a step closer to her intended marriage to Varinius (Brett Tucker), thanks almost entirely to Lucretia (Lucy Lawless). However, Ilithyia is tasked by her father Albinius (Kevin J. Wilson) to abort the child she is carrying, so as to enter her union with Varinius unfettered by the past with Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker). Lucretia, sensing an opportunity, convinces Ilithyia to delay the act, and sets out to have Ashur (Nick Tarabay) arrange another intervention from the gods.
Ashur, more duplicitous since his return, takes his information directly to Glaber – essentially severing ties with Lucretia to win favor with the man who can better deliver what he wants. This sets up an astonishingly honest confrontation between Ilithyia and Glaber, wherein she confesses to her husband that the love which once existed between them is no longer there, and she plans to move on to Varinius. Now that all of Ilythia's scheming has been revealed, it is only a matter of time before those who would act against him feel Glaber's reaction.
That is how the rest of 'Lbertus' plays out. It is two men, Spartacus and Glaber, driven to act by forces largely out of their control, but by episode's end, both will have made a rather bold statement regarding their position.
Spartacus' mad plan is to strike at the arena, utilizing the gladiators' intimate knowledge of the structure to their advantage. Unlike the trek to rescue Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robbinson), the attack is intended not only to free their comrades, but also to strike at the Romans and show that this band of rebels is more than a mere annoyance – they are capable of making the republic bleed.
For those who have been clamoring for the arena battles in Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena to appear in Vengeance, your calls have been answered. The games leading up to the final battle between Gannicus and the rebels feature some of the most brutal and gloriously bloody matches the series has seen thus far.
But all of that is a far cry from the spectacle of Spartacus' masterfully executed move to tear down the structure that stood to make sport out of men's lives, while simultaneously freeing Crixus and Oenomaus. The fire that erupts to swallow spectators whole is met in intensity by the blows struck between Gannicus and Oenomaus. Despite the utter chaos surrounding them, the meaning of the battle is not lost on the combatants or the viewers, and is an excellent way to bring Gannicus back into the fold.
Perhaps more importantly, through the fire that surrounds him, and the fire that is Spartacus' rage, Glaber somehow regains a sense of self and purpose. It is no mistake that his brush with death results in him crushing Albinius and once more staking claim on his wife; it is reclamation of his stolen manhood.
'Libertus' was first-rate television that illustrates just how far Spartacus has come, and suggests the grandness of where the series may yet be headed.
Spartacus: Vengeance continues next week with 'Chosen Path,' Friday @10pm on Starz.