Over the course of the show, Batiatus has put quite a number of wheels in motion, and most of them have run smack into the mud, one way or another. You could forgive yourself if you thought he was piss poor at them.
But “Old Wounds” shows there’s nothing like a good plot gone right.
There’s a special quality to this episode in its narrative leanness that allows Batiatus’ masterpiece revenge plan to really shine. First, it sidelines Spartacus into an almost self-contained B plot, one that is critical to the series, but we’ll talk about later. Second, it barely touches on anyone else—Lucretia is barely in this, Illythia is nowhere to be seen, Crixus gets some story in around the edges, and Agron and Duro have all of three scenes to show that Agron’s still the better fighter. And third, it makes sure to only show us the necessary pieces. When the episode begins, the Magistrate is already being held in the cisterns, having been captured some time between the last episode and this one.
I’m going to take an aside here and note that I’m not, generally, a fan of narrative withholding. There are many shows, especially a number of high-concept dramas in recent years, that seek to create conflict or heighten mystery by having characters carelessly fail to disclose information to each other or the audience. The reason why I appreciate it here is because none of the characters are being willfully obtuse to cause drama, and the idea isn’t to keep the audience in the dark so we have a nice puzzle to turn over and inside out, it’s so the payoff actually, well, pays off.
A big part of that is Nick Tarabay. We’ve know Ashur is a duplicituous fuck since about midway through the season, but he’s especially twisty here. Since the last episode (if not before) he’s seemed to have wavering loyalties to Batiatus in favor of Solonius’ purse, and “Ashur betrays Batiatus” would be a particularly satisfying end to the lanista. It’s even set up with Batiatus refusing to return Ashur to the arena a couple of episodes ago.
So, here, when we see him eye the Magistrate’s rings, and then given them to Solonius as evidence of Batiatus’ dark doings, it feels right. It feels proper.
And then it feels even more right when Solonius follows him down into the sewers to find that the Magistrate’s throat has been cut, and then for Numerius and Batiatus to arrive with a host of guards to discover the scene and arrest him.
I think Tarabay’s maybe overplaying it a little (Ashur seems to have a “lying” voice when he’s lying), but I really do credit the show for taking the expectation and subverting it.
It’s also fitting that, at the moment of Batiatus’ successful revenge twofer, another of his plots, the one that keeps Spartacus tied to him, is unraveling.
I’m not 100% sold on using a fever caused by an infection from Varro’s cut to relay visions that are really on the nose, but I appreciate that it gives Andy Whitfield some space to really grieve Varro’s death and its implications. And, ultimately, if it is a fever, rather than some divine hallucination, then it’s ostensibly Spartacus’ own psyche turning things over.
There’s also some lovely visual pieces—gold coins pouring out of Spartacus’ cut as Varro’s apparition tells him that’s all Batiatus sees him as, or Sura wearing the Diana mask from Spartacus’ encounter with Illythia as she walks through the ludus towards him. And, of course, Sura and Spartacus talking over his own corpse, representing the Thracian he was, rather than the gladiator he’s become.
You could see, in the last episode, that Spartacus was not Crixus—his commitment to the gladiator’s code is not rock solid. Crixus and Doctore have a brief conversation in which Crixus mocks Spartacus for mourning Varro’s death when it was a proper gladiator death, and Doctore once again pumps Crixus to show everyone what a true champion looks like (an opportunity this episode afford him, neatly bringing the two men back to equal footing for the impending showdown).
Through Varro’s death, which Spartacus notes will not be remembered for his place in the ludus, but rather for his place in his family, Spartacus is allowed to explore and ultimately come unglued from that commitment to keeping his head down and serving without complaint. It also helps, of course, that the fever apparitions do a lot of handholding with him to get him to pay attention to Batiatus’ regular cutthroat and show him that the man has no wound on his stomach like he seemed to have when delivering Sura’s body to the ludus.
And in a nice meeting of the A and B plots, that cutthroat (whose name I couldn’t make out and was probably only said in this episode) is lying next to Spartacus in the infirmary, having been bitten in the throat by the Magistrate. Which allows Spartacus to choke a confession out of him, then choke him to death and escape punishment (with Mira’s help). Batiatus barely minds—he nods thoughtfully when Ashur remarks that the man’s apparent death from his wound is “a loose end no longer in need of tying.”
And so the episode ends on a rather high note for the House of Batiatus: revenge served cold and two enemies vanquished, a successful primus in the games against Pompeii, and not one, but two champions under his roof.
That one of those champions is no longer his loyal man is a tomorrow Quintus problem.
A shockingly sexless episode, especially given how there aren’t five different plots running through this episode as in many of the episodes that have featured a plethora of naked bodies and three or four sex scenes.
There is a passing scene of Batiatus’ cutthroat enjoying himself with two slaves (including Mira), but it’s mainly to show that he doesn’t have a stomach wound.
- Man butt: 1
- Lady butt: 0
- Frontal nudity (men): 0
- Frontal nudity (women): 2
- Gotta give up to the magistrate—tied to a chair with a sack on your head in the sewer, and you’re still going, “Batiatus, you’re beneath me.” I also like his “pretend to be dead and then try to bite the throat out of my guard” gambit. Jack Bauer he is not, though.
- The most unsubtle steering of a child I’ve ever seen: Batiatus, standing next to the open door to the cisterns, “how could one move about the city unseen?”
- Crixus has a real moment of heartbreak during his primus victory when he looks to the box only to see it empty. He’d pledged to Naevia that he’d look to her so they could share the victory, but it’s ruined because he was losing and Lucretia couldn’t bear to see him die, so she left, taking her slave with her. One would hope that Crixus has learned that there’ll be a reason other than “Naevia doesn’t love me” reason for this, as with every other misunderstand in their relationship, but one suspects not.
- Illythia Catty Putdown of the Week Award: This week’s winner is Numerius, spitting the Pompeiian lanista’s words back in his face as Crixus kills the Pompeiian champion: “Your prayer was answered—the match was overly brief.”