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Starz returns us to the ancient world of gladiators and Roman decadence with their third season of the sensational swords-and-sandals series, Spartacus: Vengeance. Picking up only a few weeks after season one, the freed gladiators who rebelled against their lanista and master, Batiatus, are now fugitives hiding in the sewers of Capua. Or, fugitivus, as the episode is titled.

For weeks they’ve been terrorizing the city, killing Romans and stealing food and supplies. But their rebellion is becoming weak, splintered, as the freed slaves are beginning to grow hungry and restless. The gladiators are split between two leaders with different goals; Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) seeks revenge for the death of wife while Crixus (Manu Bennett) is determined to be reunited with his love, Naevia, a former slave of the house Batiatus.

The episode opens with Spartacus leading an attack on mercenaries sent to hunt them down. They’re dealt with swiftly and gruesomely. On one of the dead soldier’s chests Spartacus carves a name. Whose name? Why, old friend Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) the Roman army legatus now praetor responsible for selling his wife into slavery and eventual death.

Once word of Spartacus’ message reaches Rome, Glaber is sent back to Capua to deal with the mess he’s made. You see, Glaber was responsible for bringing Spartacus to Capua in the first place, where he showed promise in the arena and was bought by Batiatus, a power-hungry and presumptive lanista who sought to rise high in Roman society. Batiatus then blackmailed Glaber into giving his ludus patronage after his batshit crazy wife, Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) kind of-sort of murdered someone and Batiatus covered it up. For Glaber, being linked to Spartacus and his rebellion is putting a nasty stain on his fancy new praetor robes.

For Ilithyia, returning to Capua is like reliving a nightmare. The friendship she began with Batiatus’ wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), almost destroyed her, literally. She was at the ludus, as were many of Capua’s nobles, when Spartacus’ rebellion began. She barely escaped and ordered her guards to lock the doors, condemning everyone still within to a bloody, bloody death. And guess what!? Upon their return to Capua there’s only one residence suited to Glaber’s needs of hunting down Spartacus, it’s the lovely house and ludus of Batiatus! Still with that fresh, recently massacred Roman smell. And it seems the residence is not completely unoccupied.

But what of the arena? Who will fight and die spectacularly in order to please the mob? Since Spartacus’ rebellion it’s clear the quality of gladiators has suffered, and the crowds as well as Capua’s elite are tiring of the boring matches. In attendance is Seppius, a young man of noble birth seeking to capture Spartacus and be honoured for it. He’s joined by his sister, Seppia and their relationship reeks of more than sibling affection. (Note: Their relationship was initially intended to be incestuous but the show’s creators didn’t want to appear to be stealing the idea from HBO’s Game of Thrones and their incestual power couple, the Lannisters.)

Back with the fugitive gladiators, Spartacus and Aurelia (wife of Varro, Spartacus’ only true friend at the ludus who Spartacus was ordered to kill) share a quiet moment. Spartacus gives Aurelia the coin he’s managed to save off dead Romans in the hopes she can find her son, leave the borders of Rome’s empire, and be free. It’s a nice sentiment, but if you learn anything from watching Spartacus, there are no happy endings.

Finally we get to what’s made this series such a hit, sex and slaughter. Crixus and Spartacus seek out a slaver to find some answers about where Naevia was sold. They enter a whorehouse and proceed to kill a bunch of naked people. Nothing’s quite a brothel buzzkill like having your dick severed by a pissed-off Gaul. In the end all they learn of Naevia is she was sold off to a villa in the south, but more importantly they learn Rome is sending an army to end their rebellion. A real Roman army led by Glaber.

Spartacus’ lust for vengeance takes over and instead of heeding caution and joining Crixus in his search for Naevia, he plans to confront Glaber while he makes a speech in the town square. Glaber has come to appease the worried crowds of Capua’s citizens, promising to end Spartacus’ rebellion swiftly. He brings forth a former Batiatus slave captured while trying to flee. It’s Aurelia, bloodied and beaten almost beyond recognition. In his fury, Spartacus’ attacks from where he was concealed in the crowd, seeking out Glaber. The two fight and before Spartacus is overtaken by guards backup arrives in the form of Crixus and the other gladiators. The reclaim Aurelia and escape.

As Aurelia lays dying from her wounds she makes Spartacus promise to stay away from her son for she, “would not have him die in your wake as his father and mother.” Oooh. Burn. After this Spartacus agrees to join Crixus in his search for Naevia, but as they travel south they will free every slave they come upon until they have raised an army. Then they will return and kill Glaber and every Roman standing in their way.

Spartacus truly is back with a vengeance and this season promises to shock us with even more insane, over-the-top violence, debauchery and sex than ever before. I absolutely love the tenuous alliance between Spartacus and Crixus and I’m sure as the season continues we’ll see them clash again and again. Liam McIntyre steps into the role of Spartacus as if he had been playing him all along. In no way do you feel he’s trying to impersonate Andy Whitfield’s performance, but come the end of the episode he is Spartacus, no questions asked. In our interview with some of the show’s stars, Craig Parker (Glaber), mentioned how the actors felt they were working in very different camps. There’s the slaves and the Romans, and I’m interested to see what different challenges the characters face in their respective “arenas.” Particularly Ilithyia having to deal with a deranged, but totally not dead, Lucretia. Viva Bianca and Lucy Lawless’ scenes together were definite highlights of season one and I’m only looking forward to more. Of the new characters introduced, I think the siblings Seppius and Seppia will be fantastic to watch. Incest or not. Who knows what kind of trouble they’ll be stirring up this season.

Make sure you tune in Fridays at 10pm on Starz. Below, watch the trailer for this season of Spartacus: Vengeance.

Category: Featured, reviews, TV

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