Kris Kristofferson once wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Well, “freedom” takes on a very different meaning in tonight’s episode of Spartacus. The episode title “A Place in This World” refers to the many characters that need to redefine themselves in the new world in which they now live. Many of them are liberated from bondage, but yet feel as if they are actually more bound than ever. Those that have always been nominally free find themselves more constricted than at any other point in their lives. To figure out a place in this world, these people must first define what this world actually is.
For Spartacus, the world consists of helping Crixus find Naevia. It’s a noble goal, to be certain. But it’s one that is rife with both confusion and a touch of selfishness as well. Keeping Crixus in line is important, since he controls the men most adept at fighting. But the narrow focus of their current mission means searching for a needle in a haystack as big as Italy itself. Using the information gained during the whorehouse raid last week, the group force their way into the home of Batiatus’ old acquaintance. They do not find her, but Spartacus finds a group with whom he can test his theory of gathering an army based out of loyalty rather than pure brawn.
Primary amongst those liberated from their dominus is Tiberius, a Syrian man with a Roman name. He fashions himself as one actually stripped of position thanks to Spartacus’ efforts, having lost his role as head slave for what could accurately be described as an impotent middle manager. “A Place in This World” demonstrates the way in which slaves acquire purpose through their relationship to their master, and how lost they can be without such a connection. Spartacus’ technique to break that connection is to offer the one thing Tiberius never had: choice. It’s a fine goal, although it’s clear even at this early stage of the game that the mission at hand cannot be a true democracy for it to succeed. Crixus demands that Spartacus rule with a more iron fist, but Spartcus fears turning into the very enemy he’s fighting.
His fears are well-placed, as a parallel story involving Oenomaus demonstrates. It seemed quite clear at the end of last week that he would head into the pits to find the purpose he lost in “Kill Them All.” Fights in the present intercut with flashbacks to his past, in which we witness key moments in his evolution from slave to gladiator in the House of Batiatus. It’s tempting to draw parallels between the techniques used by Spartacus on Tiberius and those used by Titus on Oenomaus. But while Spartacus offers choice as a liberation, Titus uses it as a way to tighten the noose around his impressionable slave. Both Tiberius and Oenomaus are referred to as “dogs” at one point in tonight’s episode. But while Spartacus cuts off the slave collar around Tiberius’ neck, Titus only tightens it further throughout the years. Oenomaus feels that he has triumphed upon achieving his purpose in fighting for the House of Batiatus. But he’s only fulfilled Titus’ wishes, not his own.
For his part, Glaber spends a great deal of tonight’s episode hoping that he has not made a monster mistake in trusting Lucretia. Given her history on this show, I think we can all assume it’s a monster mistake, but it’s one made out of personal calculation from a place of relative impotence. Sure, he doesn’t need Tiberius to help join in his sexcapades in order to feel like a man. But just as Spartacus needs Crixus due to the number of men he controls, so too does Glaber need Seppius due to the forces the younger man commands. Lucretia is Glaber’s way out of Capua and back to Rome, pure and simple. Then again, Lucretia has more than a few tricks up her sleeve yet, as evidenced by the final moments in which we learn she’s been working with the one and only Ashur in order to ostensibly take revenge on both Glaber and Ilithyia.
Ilithyia’s arc this season has been limited thus far, but still interesting. She’s in a house that doubles as the scene of her most heinous crimes. (Killing a woman is bad. Leaving dozens to die is perhaps even more unforgivable, given the latter act’s calculated nature. Feel free to fight over which is more awful in the comments.) But the genius of Spartacus lies in giving what would be one-dimensional characters on other shows added depth. Here’s a woman that was on top of the world a scant few months ago, but now finds herself at the whims of both Glaber and Lucretia. Moreover, Seppia treats her less as an equal and more like a sad rose that’s lost its bloom. Spartacus is a show far removed from our own time. But Ilithyia is a character that would be identifiable on many a modern television program. She is, above all, a once vibrant woman who is now pregnant living in a semi-loveless marriage out in the ‘burbs.
Ilithyia is clearly more than just that, in ways both good and bad. But like so many characters on the show, she stands out because of the attention to detail paid to her by both writer and performer. Oenomaus spends most of the hour looking like Kratos from the God of War videogame series, but his every action speaks to a man who no longer understands his place in life. Mira is desperately in love with a man who may or may not ever be able to return her affection. Glaber does half of what he does because he's perceived as only having his position in the Senate through his father-in-law's connections. Crixus risks the lives of hundreds for the sake of one that may yet be dead. These are people with concrete goals living in a world that’s changing beneath their feet. What’s so fascinating about this season thus far is how much the changing world changes these characters. Their purposes may be clear. But the way is anything but at this point.
- I loved the small scene involving a young Quintus fetching wine for his father and Oenomaus. I really want to go back and watch scenes involving John Hannah and Peter Mensah, to see if there’s anything new in their interactions. While Titus was putting on an act to gain Oenomaus’ trust, it’s likely that Quintus mistook it for reality as well.
- I understand that the “My cock rages on!” song wasn’t written by Gannicus. (He’s no Kris Kristofferson, after all.) But part of me really wishes the Gauls were paying tribute to him tonight via their boisterous rendition of that tune tonight.
- Mira was late to the bloodbath early on, but seemed surprised to see how instinctively she joined the fight. Katrina Law had a rather thankless role on the show when she started, but she’s really blossomed as the show has progressed.
- The Ashur reveal was fun. But I bet the show’s heavy-handed foreshadowing gave the game away early in the hour. I’d be curious to hear how it played for you.
- “The gods would rather piss on Rome than whisper in her ear.”
- “God save me. I find myself in agreement with a Gaul.”
- “One must learn to kneel if he is ever to rise.”