Episode Title: "Fugitivus"
Writer: Steven S. DeKnight
Director: Michael Hurst
Weeks after the fall of the house of Batiatus, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) runs away from approaching Roman soldiers loyal to Seppius (Tom Hobbs). But it turns out to be a trap for the Romans as Spartacus and the warriors loyal to him slaughter their would be pursuers and strip them of anything useful. Spartacus even uses the opportunity to carve a message in one of the dead bodies. Returning to their hidden camp, Spartacus has the confiscated weapons distributed along skill lines as other slaves train to be fighters.
Gladiators loyal to Crixus (Manu Bennett) return to the camp with food and Spartacus has to forcefully insist that they share their supplies with the women and slaves unable to fend for themselves. Later, Spartacus is alone with his lover, Mira (Katrina Law) when Crixus confronts him about the incident. However, Crixus privately agrees that what Spartacus did was just. The Gualic warrior restates his intention to find his lost love, Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson); which Spartacus has pledged to assist with. But Spartacus is more focused on vengeance for his wife than anything else.
In Rome, Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) enjoys his status as a Preator until he learns from his angry father-in-law that Spartacus and his freed slaves are causing chaos in Capua… and Glaber's own name was carved into one of the dead soldiers by Spartacus himself. Glaber is ordered to return to Capua with soldiers at his command to hunt down Spartacus and his rebels. Glaber's pregnant wife, Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) isn't any happier about it, especially when he insists that she accompany him.
At the Capua gladiatorial games, Seppia ( Hanna Mangan Lawrence) mocks her brother, Seppius about the loss of his troops to Spartacus. In the crowd, the former Doctore, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) watches the games in disguise. Outside, Oenomaus is confronted by men out to claim the reward on his head. But Oenomaus easily dispatches the rogues. Back at rebel camp, Spartacus meets with Aurelia (Brooke Williams), the wife of his dead friend, Varro. Spartacus gives Aurelia all of the money he has stolen to give her a chance to venture north and find her son.
Despite Crixus' attempt to release Spartacus from his vow, he accompanies Crixus and his men to a brothel where they kill many Roman nobles and their guards. One of the female slaves beats Crixus to Trevious the slaver, but Crixus tortures the dying man until he reveals that Naevia is being sold from home to home as a sex slave. Meanwhile, Glaber and Ilithyia arrive at the house of Batiatus and discover that Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) somehow survived her apparently fatal wounds, but her sanity has fled. Although Ilithyia objects, Glaber opts to let Lucretia live so that her survival can be used as propaganda against Spartacus.
Back at Spartacus' camp, Oenomaus appears and he warns his former warriors that Glaber has come to Capua with many soldiers. Spartacus urges Oenomaus to join them, but the older man refuses out of shame. That night, Mira seems to convince Spartacus that the best course of action is to go south with Crixus' men. But in the morning, Spartacus goes to Glaber's public speech where Glaber incites the crowd with both Lucretia's survival and the revelation that he captured and tortured Aurelia with plans to make her betray the location of Spartacus' camp.
Moments after Lucretia recognizes Spartacus in the crowd, he reveals himself and begins to attack the Romans. Crixus and his warriors arrive shortly thereafter and a fierce battle follows before Crixus urges Spartacus to withdraw with the badly wounded Aurelia. Later, Spartacus attempts to thank Crixus for his help, but the Gaul punches him for risking their lives so foolishly. Aurelia then summons Spartacus to her death bed where she blames him for her demise and that of her husband before condemning him to stay away from her son.
Chastened and moved to tears, Spartacus announces his intent to travel south with Crixus in search of Naevia, because he now realizes that their only hope of survival is if they stay together.
I've only seen a few episodes of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," so I'm not familiar enough with the late Andy Whitfield's performance to judge how it stacks up to Liam McIntyre's new incarnation of Spartacus. But if the first episode of "Spartacus: Vengeance" is any indication, McIntyre will be able to honor his predecessor with a strong performance of his own. From the opening moments, I had no trouble accepting McIntyre as the legendary hero. It feels like there's a real sincerity to McIntyre's take on the character and he seems suitably intense and vulnerable at the same time.
Within the context of this show, it's easy to see why most of the other slaves defer to Spartacus so easily. McIntyre's Spartacus truly cares about the people under his protection even if his reckless attempt at revenge could also suggest that he put himself first. But it was more telling when Spartacus explained why he stood up to Crixus' men… and Crixus acknowledged that what Spartacus had done was just. Spartacus also proved himself to be a man of his word when he aided Crixus despite being released from his vow.
Crixus' men also seemed to realize that challenging Spartacus directly would have been a very bad idea. It was also a little cowardly of them to try to intimidate Spartacus later, once Crixus has returned. But it was hilarious when Spartacus barely acknowledged the men before they were shut out of the room.
Most of the returning characters were well serviced. Oenomaus got in a few impressive kills while on his own path for self-redemption and Crixus seems a lot more sympathetic as an ally of Spartacus as opposed to being an open rival. And even though her survival defies logic, it was still good to see Lucy Lawless as Lucretia again. And actually, I think I like this new "crazy eyes" version of Lucretia more than her original portrayal. It was also really funny watching Ilithyia flip out over Lucretia as if she were a ghost.
Getting back to Spartacus himself, I thought that McIntyre was particularly strong during the death of Aurelia. McIntyre showed some impressive emotional range in that scene, although I thought that Aurelia's condemnation of Spartacus was disingenuous after he had tried so hard to do right by her and send her away to safety. I think that Spartacus truly loved Aurelia and her husband, so her words were like daggers through his heart.
Considering that it's been nearly two years since "Blood and Sand" ended, the first episode of "Spartacus: Vengeance" did a remarkable job of bringing lapsed viewers up to speed and setting the stage for a new season. Without the Batiatus Ludus as the main setting for the series, the world of the show has seemingly opened up to become a much grander tale. As always, the action was brilliantly executed with style and the three major battle sequences were terrific.
Among cable series, "Spartacus" has a reputation for pushing the limits of violence and nudity. Both elements are found in abundance within this episode… and yes, it is a little excessive. I don't know if "Spartacus: Vengeance" needs to be that over-the-top. The historical story has been adapted many times before and it's powerful enough to stand on its own. On the other hand, Crixus' unique interrogation technique went places that Jack Bauer could only dream of in one of the episode's most visceral scenes.
The most common criticism leveled at the "Spartacus" TV franchise is that it is pure escapism. Sure, it can be called that. But so what? "Spartacus: Vengeance" is still well executed and very entertaining. If you care about anything more than that, then maybe this isn't the right show for you.
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.