If you think of this episode as, essentially, Part One of the finale, then I think “Revelations” works a little better. Much of this episode is set dressing for the final confrontation and the result is a little uneven, especially in the context of the masterpiece that is the finale and the highs of Batiatus’ masterstroke revenge plot in the previous episode.
The show starts with dealing with the fallout from that previous episode. Solonius is summarily executed by Spartacus in the arena, although not before Spartacus quietly informs him that Batiatus will join him in death shortly, allowing the rival lanista to die laughing.
Spartacus himself, meanwhile, is desperately trying to meet with Batiatus to launch his own revenge—killing the lanista outright in retaliation for Sura’s death and Batiatus’ lies. The revelation from Mira that spilling Batiatus’ blood will mean death for all the ludus’ slaves won’t stop his hand, but what does stay it is the discovery that Varro’s wife Aurelia is in indentured servitude to Batiatus, having been unwilling to take either Spartacus’ or Batiatus’ money to pay off Varro’s remaining debt. Mira is rightly pissed that Spartacus cares so little for everyone else.
Maybe it’s going through for a second time and knowing the ending, but there’s a startling lack of tension to Spartacus’ assassination plot here. He gets as far as nearly grabbing a knife on the table to stab Batiatus with, but it never really feels like a serious attempt. There’s the dramatic irony of history of course (Spartacus can’t die before the Third Servile War actually begins first), but there’s also that the show has never offered such a haphazard plot before. Spartacus’ big escape plan in the midseason was an entire episode of preplanning, so that he’s nearly going to off Batiatus a third of the way through doesn’t come off as remotely serious.
The upstairs plot, meanwhile, is frankly a little silly. Batiatus is still after Glaber’s patronage, for reasons I’ll never entirely understand. Illythia appears to have recovered from her trauma, and for some reason thinks she can just walk out from under Lucretia’s thumb, I guess on the reasoning that they dumped Licinia’s body, so she and Batiatus have no hold over her or Glaber. Glaber’s especially pissy in this episode as well.
There’s a few standout moments in this episode relating to that plot. There’s a show by Batiatus for Glaber that Spartacus is completely tamed, forcing him to fight seven of Glaber’s legionaries with just practice swords, culminating in Spartacus punching the last one in the face repeatedly while he stares at Glaber. And then, on command, kneeling and hailing Glaber as legatus in order to secure patronage for Batiatus.
Illythia finds her attempted walkout from the House of Batiatus thwarted when, after Glaber ultimately refuses to become patron, Batiatus produces Licinia’s severed hand, tells him his wife killed her, and promises to produce the corpse on Glaber’s estate. There’s an especially cruel moment here as Illythia turns to her husband and pleads that he can’t possibly believe she’d do something like that.
But, of course, Glaber does know his wife very well, so instead she’s met with a blow that drops her to her knees and an order by Glaber to remain in Capua, rather than return to Rome with him.
The standout plot in this episode, however, is Crixus and Naevia. Crixus is beginning to come into his own as a man in love—rather than blaming Naevia for abandoning the pulvinus at the end of the last episode, he tells her that her absence steals away all the glory he used to find in victory. And Naevia, for her part, promises to always be there.
Instead, Ashur demands Naevia as his prize for his successful betrayal of Solonius. This leads to a lot of angst on Naevia’s part as she refuses to tell Crixus outright what has happened. Ashur, too, plays coy, taunting Crixus on his journey out of the ludus (he’s being removed to choice quarters in the villa), waiting until it seems like everything is going well with Glaber and Spartacus to touch Naevia in Crixus’ clear sight.
It earns him a broken nose, courtesy of Crixus, but it’s another perfect Iago turn for Ashur. He acts shocked at the violence, revealing that Crixus and Naevia are paramours, and Crixus’ violent outburst scuttles Glaber’s patronage, forcing Batiatus’ above blackmail (and Glaber leaving a token force of soldiers behind to watch over his investment). Crixus, in turn, is flogged by Doctore in punishment.
There’s a great deal of rich story in the Crixus and Naevia storyline, and I’m a little chafed that it wasn’t the A-plot, honestly. As Lucretia confronts Naevia (earlier in the episode she’s collapsed in Crixus’ arms only to discover she’s pregnant) about her affair with Crixus, Naevia spits that Crixus never loved the domina.
And Lucretia’s own vitriol and sense of entitlement to her slaves’ bodies is something a whole episode could’ve been built around. In addition to demand Crixus’ body to herself—a running theme through the season, she even feels like she owns Naevia’s virginity, claiming that she was preserving for it for “someone deserving” rather than Ashur (although, it does raise the question of who that would be, given that Lucretia seems to only like Crixus and Naevia among the slaves).
Naevia also gets to offer the last revelation—on her way out, Crixus pledges to win his freedom and find her, and she immediately confesses to Doctore that Batiatus killed Barca rather than set him free.
Ultimately, this episode seems very concerned with loose threads, namely accounting for all of them and laying them in front of the audience to remind us. It’s a little water-treading, and it’s all over the place narratively, and it just feels a bit like a necessary evil to get us to Batiatus pledging a new hard-edge regime for the gladiators and Spartacus laying the groundwork for a revolt. The show has to take this detour to Expositionville in order to achieve the incredible payoff that follows.
This episode only features one of what I’d call an actual sex scene, between Naevia and Crixus in their ol’ wine cellar hideaway (which is incredibly visible from both the ludus, the ludus’ courtyard, and the top of the steps, as we’ve seen in other episodes). It’s almost perfunctory, with quick cuts of the two of them.
Meanwhile, if you’ve ever wondered what Haldir looks like naked, Craig Parker gets a fairly blink and you’ll miss it bit of frontal nudity in his scene with Illythia, which fades to black almost immediately. There’s also a bit of implied sex between Ashur and Naevia.
- Man butt: 1
- Lady butt: 1
- Frontal nudity (men): 1
- Frontal nudity (women): 11
- Something about the way Glaber watches Spartacus beat up his soldiers made me think of the ol’ Archer recurring joke of Archer getting an erection at inappropriate things. I’m just saying, it seems like he’s getting off to it.
- Batiatus has the scarred guard (Hector?) beheaded for losing his key when Lucretia discovers it on Naevia’s person during her beating. Can you do that?
- Michael Hurst, Iolaus from Hercules and Xena, directed this episode! He also did “Shadow Games” and “Whore.”
- You’ve never heard someone more piteous than Manu Bennett telling Lesley Ann Brandt, “I have destroyed us!” Crixus finally shows some introspection, and it could not come at a worse time for him. At least Doctore gives him some pointers on how to be whipped.
- Illythia Catty Putdown of the Week Award: “Your friendship, Lucretia, has forever altered my life.”