It seems like Sinuessa en Valle has become the place to bring out the worst in men, and as Spartacus: War of the Damned depicts, Crassus and his army redefine what it means to take a city back from the rebels who had briefly sought relief inside its walls.
'Spoils of War' picks up seconds after the thrilling 'Blood Brothers' ended with Julius Caesar offering some sage advice to Agron and Saxa that fleeing would be in their best interest. The rebels briefly ponder his words even as Crassus' army crashes through the city's charred gate with a huge battering ram that packed a punch as fearsome as the animal it was carved to resemble. And with that, the hope of the rebellion was dealt yet another stunning blow by a man whose craftiness has proven to be a considerable, if not overwhelming challenge for the celebrated Thracian.
Last week's episode saw the ideological divide between Spartacus and Crixus put aside in the hope that the rebel army would soon be able to attack Crassus on two fronts, outmaneuvering and eventually crushing his army with their combined might. But as Spartacus found himself battling a host of Roman soldiers delivered to the docks of Sinuessa by the traitorous Heracleo, (who'd been meeting secretly with the ever-cunning Caesar), he and his army were caught unaware, scattered about the city and forced to flee into the mountains so that they might live to fight another day.
However, it seems that Crassus – "a man of infinite plots" – had been prepared for that eventuality as well, having built a massive rampart atop the mountain pass, which effectively traps Spartacus' army and grants the Romans the upper hand. This development not only further establishes Crassus' strategic dominance, but it pushes the narrative into an increasingly desperate situation that is reminiscent of the last few episodes of Vengeance, but with a far more somber tone that smacks of inevitability.
It's also interesting to see the series choose to spend time away from its main character, in an effort to focus on his enemies and to hand the spotlight over to Gannicus. To that end, 'Spoils of War' divides its time between Crassus and Caesar celebrating a victory that has all but ensured them a glorious future, while Gannicus fights just so he and Sibyl (and later Laeta) may have a future beyond the next few hours. It's at times a distressing hour of television, as Gannicus' storyline sees him stumbling upon Sibyl while attempting to set fire to a portion of Sinuessa in an effort to distract Crassus' legion from following Spartacus into the mountains. Following his declaration that his fall would be of "lesser concern" than that of Spartacus', it was briefly unclear whether the writers' vision of history move toward Gannicus making the ultimate sacrifice, or if his actions during the episode were simply intended to convey yet another step in the maturation of the character and his march toward greater honor and the salvation he has sought since Gods of the Arena.
Considering Crixus and Naevia embarked on a bloodthirsty rampage against the Romans who were held captive in the city, and Agron is otherwise consumed with undue jealousy toward Castus for making a pass at Nasir, it seems that Gannicus' arc this season will offer the most persuasive case for what Spartacus' storyline was intended to put forth, beyond the rise of Spartacus himself. As Laeta explains to Crassus, the war isn't about revenge any longer; it is about serving a greater purpose that one would throw his or her life down for. Crixus and the others have an understanding of this, but the series seems to suggest that it is Gannicus who feels it as deeply (whether he admits it or not) as the rebels' leader.
On the flip side, the now empty (of those who matter) city of Sinuessa appears to be Crassus' reward to himself for a job well done – one that sees him offering Metellus a villa and portion of future taxes in exchange for his convincing the Senate this is deserved compensation for what appears to the beginning of the end for the slave rebellion. Meanwhile, his reward to Julius Caesar is that of credit for the victory in Sinuessa and the opportunity to once again resemble a proper Roman warrior.
As such, the recently groomed Caesar uses his downtime to pick up his battle of words with the suddenly reprehensible Tiberius, by first offering him the opportunity to share in his reward, and then switching gears and insulting the boy with a comparison of their achievements in the campaign against Spartacus. As his continued failures have led him down a gradually darker path, Tiberius once more turns to underhanded plotting in order to achieve some sense of revenge against those he perceives as having wronged him. After his assault in Kore last episode (followed by a threat to reveal the act as not only consensual, but of her design), freeing Donar and issuing a thinly veiled challenge to Caesar is most definitely the lesser of his crimes. But the act catches his adversary off guard and while it fails to rob Caesar of his life, it does suggest Tiberius has more of his father's shrewdness to him than previously thought.
'Spoils of War' was a familiar kind of Spartacus episode that illustrates the motivations and infighting that so often occupies the lives of Spartacus' enemies – a component of the storyline that makes them as interesting to watch as the plight of the Thracian and his army. With just four episodes left, this deviation from the main character's story actually serves to heighten the feeling that end is very much on the horizon.
- Crassus' order of decimation proved he is not one to forgive what he perceives as weakness. After Laeta was set free last episode, it seemed perhaps her story was at an end, or would somehow revolve around the Roman camp. Seeing her offered as payment to Heracleo, however, was a chilling reminder of the lengths Crassus would go in order to ensure victory.
- It appears Heracleo's story didn’t end last episode either; he survived his battle with Spartacus only to be met with a more grisly and fitting demise at the hands of Laeta.
- Gannicus is up 2 to 1 in his confrontations with Caesar. Are we going to be treated to another titanic tussle between the two before the series is over?
- Speaking of, where does Gannicus' triumphant exit from Sinuessa stand in terms of this season's most stirring moments?
Spartacus: War of the Damned continues next Friday with 'Mors Indecepta' @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview of the episode below: