Well, we’re really near the end, aren’t we?
“Separate Paths” is a curious episode of Spartacus, one with many individual highs but also so many things that it needs to show that the individual parts outweigh the sum total. For the first half of things, the action of the episode consists largely of two-person scenes in which people start making peace with what’s about to happen. While the players on this particular stage don’t have the hindsight we do as to what will occur, there’s nevertheless a prevalent sense that something is about to drastically change. As such, the first half of the episode feels like a tablesetter for the final two hours, getting characters to discuss things now rather when the shit hits the slow-mo fan.
And then Tiberius raped Caesar and the whole episode descended into fucking madness.
I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion about how the whiny child from the season premiere suddenly turned into a person that could not only sexually assault one of history’s most famous men, but also took out two of the show’s signature characters/warriors on the field of battle. IN THE SAME EPISODE. It’s one thing to have him rape Kore, which was a deplorable act but one that felt not only within character but also within his capacity to execute. But all of a sudden, Tiberius is just about the most powerful character on the show, and I’m not sure Spartacus has adequately sold this change.
Part of this was done to establish his come-uppance (and Caesar’s ascendance) in the last two episodes. But it still felt like a bridge too far at times. Perhaps it was a side effect of the whiplash effect of the episode as a whole, which went from first gear to fifth gear so abruptly that I found myself trying to catch up with the suddenly fast pace. Some might have found themselves staring at the clock during those first thirty minutes, but I loved the way the episode took its time in really exploring the seismic changes that were occurring. The final Spartacus/Crixus schism wasn’t the shouting match we’d seen all season between them, but rather a quiet, almost whispered discussion in which neither side truly wanted nor desired to sway the other. They understood they had reached an impasse, and wanted nothing more than to not let down the other. It wasn’t about the proper way to win the war. It was about the proper way to live a life.
We’ve known for some time now that the two men are simply made of different stuff. And as Crixus told Spartacus that he was glad the two had never truly gotten along, I suddenly realized that these two are the John Lennon and Paul McCartney of rebel leaders. The constant chafing between the pair forced both sides to be on top of his game at all times, propelling them both to ever greater heights. But in “Separate Ways,” they finally had to embark on their solo careers. Neither thought the other plan was a smart one, but both men believe enough in their own approach that the differences ceased to matter. Perhaps if Crassus had never come along with his unlimited coin and devious mind, the two could have stayed together to the very end. But Marcus’ intervention dealt a fatal blow to any chance of Spartacus and Crixus succeeding or failing together.
With so much focus on the end of Crixus, there really wasn’t much room for anything else on the rebel side. Agron and Nasir got their goodbye scene, with the former realizing he was only going to bring his loved one down a path of destruction. He might loathe Castus, but also loathes the fact that Castus might actually be a man more likely to make Nasir happy over the long term. Saxa seems to let Gannicus go (even while staying with him and Spartacus as they head towards the Alps), but there was too little time involving those two and Sibyl to make much of a dent. As for Spartacus/Laeta: Look, I don’t want to deny the man any pleasure before he dies. But there really hasn’t been enough time this season to make her a viable romantic partner for him. The show tries to get around this by essentially making the pair booty call partners, but a deep platonic relationship between the two might have served the same purpose and lessened strain on credibility.
With all that out of the way, let’s get back to the Tiberius/Caesar stuff. The show has put more brutal stuff onscreen, but in terms of surprise, I’m not sure it has much equal. After revealing knowledge of Kore’s rape, Caesar thinks he has the upper hand, but after Tiberius attacks him, Crassus’ guards soon come to his aide, pin Caesar down, and allow Tiberius to rape him. During a season in which Crassus has done loads to win Worst Father Of The Year, Marcus’ beatdown on Metellus earlier in the episode provides Tiberius with ample reason to treat a supposedly “noble” member of Roman society with disdain. The House Of Crassus doesn’t demand respect such as purchase it, or use said coin in order to thwart those that would strike against them.
All of this makes sense in theory, but in practice, it seems like a lot of machinations in a part of the show’s world that was only introduced this season and seems unrelated to the ultimate aim of the show. In terms of the plot mechanics, sure, it’s all likely necessary as the program moves to the finish line. But how does all this tie into the show’s ultimate themes? Will this incident somehow forge the Caesar that history knows? Is it simply another example of how everyone on this show is someone else’s slave? You could make compelling arguments for both scenarios, and it’s perfectly possible that the next two episodes will address the aftermath in a way that illuminates character rather than simply provide a convenient plot contrivance. All I can say is that right now, at this moment, it’s hard to see where this goes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives enough pause to make me wonder.
In the end, “victory” isn’t defined by who actually wins this war. Given how most of Spartacus’ most skilled warriors are now dead, the idea of Spartacus rewriting the basics of history is more remote than ever. But Spartacus making the leap that Crixus couldn’t—that dying for a cause is selfish once others depend on you to see that cause succeed—still could amount to a victory even if he never makes it to the Alps. It’s a fundamental breakthrough that took the entire series for Spartacus to achieve. Once he did, keeping Crixus by his side wasn’t important. In fact, it was antithetical to his approach. In a show in which someone is always under another’s heel, the idea of a life without external forces bearing down upon you is downright revolutionary. Agron can’t imagine himself as a mere shepherd, but what he really can’t imagine is for himself to be truly free. Even after years fighting for the ideal, Agron, one of Spartacus’ most loyal lieutenants, can’t truly believe such a concept can achieve reality. Maybe Spartacus needed warriors at one point to achieve his mission. But what he needs now are nurturers, ones that would breathe life into the world rather than take life away. Those that would destroy it met their appropriately bloody ends with Rome on the horizon. Those that would seek to live to see another day might also live to teach others the lessons that Crixus, Agron, and so many others never could truly learn.
- Quick programming note: STARZ is taking next week off to rerun the last three episodes (including this one), and then running the final two episodes the two Fridays after that.
- “My Cock Rages On” returned tonight, in what can only be described as a Rebellion Remix. Awesome!
- Not much Kore tonight, with the big scene between her and Laeta played off-camera. Her being in Spartacus’ camp makes things more personal for Crassus, but her involvement may also personalize the ultimate endgame for him in a way that reframes the entire season.
- The Crixus/Naevia scene, in which the two discussion the type of quiet life they could never have as they watch a newborn mother feed her child, was easily one of the best between them in some time. In fact, in general, Manu Bennett pretty much owns this episode from start to finish.
- Again, not much Gannicus this week, but at one point during the opening fight he leapfrogged over a fucking horse and took down its rider. Hot damn.
- Odds that Naevia is dead and we just didn’t see it? I have to believe the show isn’t going to have Crassus suddenly interested in keeping hostages, especially one that helped blaze such a bloody path to Rome.