After successfully taking Sinuessa en Valle - an episode last week that wisely placed the burden of setting the course for the season early on - Spartacus: War of the Damned distances itself somewhat from the need to move various pieces around the board in anticipation of what will come next, and focuses a bit more on that very action.
'Men of Honor' begins with a great bit in which Attius (Cohen Holloway), the blacksmith who never met a coin he could refuse, is working to forge the rebels' new swords from the repurposed metal of chains and shackles. It's a nice moment that might have been even better had Spartacus not made mention of it, but the notion of those chains being turned against the enemy looms large over the episode, as it becomes clear many in Spartacus' impressive army are still burdened by the suffering they endured as slaves.
The taking of Sinuessa en Valle has put Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) in a peculiar position, where his army grows restless waiting for the next phase of their campaign against Rome and the surviving citizens (now in chains) begin to pay the price for their captors' idleness.
As it was in the season premiere, Spartacus is occupied with leading an army thousands strong, so things slip by his normally watchful eye. His first encounter with the now deceased Diotimos (Kelson Henderson) exposed certain faults in his management; namely, the lack of adequate food, shelter and clothing for everyone. Naturally, this led to the decision to take the city and wait out the coming winter with sufficient food and shelter, but now his concern is split not only between worry over the lack of supplies in Sinuessa en Valle, but also the army that now resides within the city's walls and those unlucky enough to have survived the initial attack.
While Spartacus searches for a solution to the food dilemma, Nemetes (Ditch Davey) bides his time by collecting as much coin as he possibly can - in one instance, offering a pregnant woman's husband a loaf of bread in exchange for information on where he kept his money. This leads to a troubling turn of events where the pregnant woman's husband (a bread maker, coincidentally) and another man are pitted against one another by Crixus (Manu Bennett) for the enjoyment of the rebels. Then, to further concern as to where Spartacus' army will draw the line, the bread maker's hand is nearly severed by Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) after she assumed the man moved toward a sword, rather than the bread he'd just killed a man for.
It's somewhat open as to what the man's intentions were, but the incident leads to a heavy scene in which Naevia recounts yet another horror in her life where she was tortured by someone who, for as much as his family or anyone else knew, was an honorable man. This, of course, is in addition to the atrocities done to her in the mines she was rescued from during Vengeance. And although Crixus (Manu Bennett) has been able to give Naevia the strength and skills to prevent such things from ever happening again, he's unable to heal the wounds caused by past trauma. "I wish I had power to seize memory and with hands strip it from life," Crixus tells her, but Naevia would ask only that he stand by her side.
And later, following her attack on Attius – in which she first accuses him of aiding the prisoners and conspiring against Spartacus – all the pain she's suffered brings forth a rage not dissimilar to the one unleashed upon Ashur atop Vesuvius, last season. Naevia's modification of the sequence of events that lead to Attius' demise gives Gannicus (Dustin Clare) reason to pause, but aside from the incident with the bread maker earlier, no one yet has reason to question her account. It's a troubling sequence of events for Naevia, and for Spartacus' army, again suggesting that, in this situation, the rebels have ostensibly switched roles with the Romans. It's a jolting reversal for Naevia, especially considering how timid and broken she'd been during Vengeance, but maybe this will be worth sticking with for the larger discussion of the gray area the rebels are operating in.
And while Spartacus is behind in terms of knowing what those he commands are up to, the more pressing concern for the Thracian is the lack of food in the city and the pirates that are looking to continue the bargain they had with the late Ennius; one that granted them use of his official seal. The pirates propose a continuation of that deal, which grants Spartacus the opportunity to purchase supplies – if only he can trust that the men he's dealing with are honorable.
Certainly, the importance of the pirates will likely become clearer as the conflict between Rome and the rebels heats up, but for the time being, they aid in quashing a surprise attack by Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) and his army after he catches wind of Spartacus' victory at Sinuessa en Valle. Sadly, Tiberius is the only member of the House of Crassus to make an appearance in the episode, but the ramifications of his disobeying a direct order (and nearly losing his life in the process) will likely loom large in the coming weeks.
Like last week's episode, 'Men of Honor' had a lot of information to get across in a relatively short amount of time, but it handled the introduction of the pirates quite well and managed to integrate it with an exciting first encounter between Tiberius and Spartacus. Most importantly, however, may be the way it managed some interesting character moments alongside the heavy narrative build up. In addition to the question of what will happen when papa Crassus shows up with reinforcements, this third episode gives the audience something to ponder about several different characters, and that's a good thing.
- The relationship between Laeta (Anna Hutchinson) and Spartacus takes another interesting turn following the revelation that her husband was not as honorable as she thought. In addition, her mostly humane treatment by Spartacus and the fact that he frees her from her chains appears to have assuaged the disdain Laeta has for him – until it is revealed she's harboring other captives beneath her father's stables. But as Laeta seems destined to become Spartacus' connection to the morality his army has seemingly lost, one wonders what his reaction will be.
- Along with a noticeable dearth of Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrell), there's too little Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) in 'Men of Honor.' But he does manage to infuriate Tiberius by killing the man who informs them of Spartacus' whereabouts and then following that up with, "I slip from reason when presented by the faults of lesser men." If he keeps this up, Caesar will be a shoo-in for the standout character this season.
Spartacus: War of the Damned will be taking a week off while Starz offers a marathon of the first three episodes. The season picks up again on Friday, February 22nd with 'Decimation' @9pm on Starz.
Check out a preview for the episode below: