Spartacus: War of the Damned "Spoils of War" Review: "Veni, vidi, vici"

By Andy Daglas

Mar 09, 2013

Spartacus: War of the Damned Episode 6: "Spoils of War"

“In war, one does what one must to survive.”

Laeta acknowledged this grim truth to Caesar early in “Spoils of War.” She was, if not absolving, then at least understanding with regard to his role in the slaughter of Roman prisoners while undercover; saving many meant sacrificing a few. She can certainly relate, considering she committed some light treason of her own while under occupation in order to serve a greater good.

Wielders of power are held to one standard, though, and subjects of that power to another. Sins motivated by military exigency are answered differently due to the actors, not the acts. Caesar’s moves directly cost Roman lives, and he became the guest of honor at a post-conquest hootenanny. Laeta acted solely to save lives, and her own life was forfeit as a consequence.

As Crassus stoically explained, giving aid and comfort to Spartacus demanded punishment, even if it was a necessary evil. Of course, he may also be rationalizing a cold-blooded military decision by couching it in a sense of honor. Crassus, too, is willing to sacrifice innocents to secure his larger victory. Selling the widow of a Roman noble to a reviled pirate in order to gain a vital tactical alliance is part of the cost of doing business under dire circumstances.

This was a necessary sequence of events, given how Laeta’s character progression has been laid out all season, but its execution struck me as a missed opportunity. Having Laeta be branded a literal slave before rising up to slay her dominus forces her onto the rebels’ side. It strips her of her Roman-ness and her agency, giving her no choice of allegiance in the final stages of the war—almost like she the show couldn’t truly accept her in the rebel fraternity without first passing the initiation.

How much more interesting could it have been for her to go over to Spartacus’s camp by choice, as a once-exalted Roman citizen renouncing her world of her own free will? To take a bold measure because of what she believes is right, as Spartacus and Crassus do? After all, she had grudgingly accepted that the Thracian was an unexpectedly decent man. Upon learning that her long-awaited Roman savior had treated her as one of the titular spoils of war, such a decision would be eminently sensible. Ironically, after drawing a stark contrast between Spartacus and Crassus based on their level of respect for Laeta’s agency, the show then negated that very agency.

So instead of walking into the rebel camp, she was carried in by Gannicus, a damsel in distress just like Sybil. There’s no denying this was a great episode for Gannicus (and for you many, vocal fans of his), first staying behind to distract the legions while Spartacus led their people’s retreat, then improvising a daring escape of his own with Sybil and Laeta in tow. He got to be valiant, shrewd, and noble (albeit only after Sybil nudged him in that direction). By the time he took to frigging horseback to single-handedly ride down a half-dozen soldiers, he was all but literally a knight in shining armor. The sequence is a dashing addition to Gannicus’s Greatest Hits compilation, and Dustin Clare has developed a real knack for balancing the character’s happy warrior and reluctant hero sides.

Still, like with Laeta, something in this leg of Gannicus’s arc troubles me. More clearly than ever, Sybil is being posited as his new and more appealing love interest. She’s meek, pious, deferential—she practically worships Gannicus, and even if that’s understandable, it means the two can’t possibly exist on the same level. In other words, she’s the polar opposite of Saxa, who—even as an underdeveloped character—has proven her man’s equal in skill and passion.

There is a well-worn trope in fiction that insists a man’s maturation means giving up the “wrong” type of woman and settling down with the “right” type. In this trope, the “good girl” is typically a docile, dependent wife, while the “bad girl” is challenging, sexually assertive, independently capable. Spartacus has, more often than not, treated its female characters with enough respect and complexity that I’m willing to let them play this out and hope it stays out of that trap. The show may ultimately avoid following that cliched road, but at the moment it is passing some problematic mile markers.

For now, Gannicus’s gallantry is the last burst of action in this phase of the conflict, as the dust settles on our new world order. The rebels are once again out in the cold—literally, this time, pinned down on an impassable ridge north of the city. Their numbers now contain a couple of refugees from enemy camps, Laeta and Castus (oblivious to the betrayal of his fellow Cilicians). And Crassus’s crew commands in Sinuessa, where from the catbird seat the aristocrat opened up about the full breadth of his ambition: “A wise man does not fight for glory alone.” Banishing Laeta to the Good Ship Heracleo removed the last vestige of Sinuessa’s original power structure, creating a vacuum that Crassus and his pliant Senate ally Metellus are only too happy to fill.

Before those aggrandizing dreams could progress, though, the troops needed to unwind and celebrate victory. Caesar was the guest of honor, so naturally Crassus tapped Tiberius—probably the only man in the camp who detests Caesar’s living guts—to head the party-planning committee. His choice of entertainment included party game staples like the drawing and quartering of prisoners, which I suppose was the Apples to Apples of its day.

Yet Tiberius’s grudge against his father’s favorite was raging, all the more so after Caesar took some time out of his day to first condescend to the kid and then rub his nose in the yawning chasm between the success rates of their respective operations in the war. It didn’t help that Tiberius’s primary role on the show at this point is 1) to be aggrieved at people, and 1a) to fall flat on his face in the process of acting on that aggrievement.

Hence his attempt to surreptitiously eighty-six his rival, which was only halfway foolish (for Tiberius, that’s progress). Baiting Caesar into a surprise mano-a-mano with a vicious gladiator cleverly used the glory-showering occasion against him. It might have even worked, were Donar not suffering one or two grievous wounds from the last battle. At one point, the future conqueror was plainly terrified of the Rhinelander—and with ample good reason.

Alas, hindered by the wear-and-tear of one too many impalements, this was not the day on which the mighty Donar forever altered the course of world history. Like Gannicus, he had stayed behind to ensure his compatriots made their way to safety. But where some men get to gallop over the horizon with a pair of lovely ladies and a snappy new cloak, other men must settle for a noble death by their own hands rather than by a Roman’s.

In his demise, Donar delivered one last message to his newly emboldened enemies. Right now, the rebels may be on the defensive, trapped at the edge of the world, while Crassus holds all the cards. But as Metellus aptly recognized, “If this man stands for all the rebellion, celebration may hold premature.”

Notae Aliae

– R.I.P. Donar. You died as you lived: Like an utter badass.

– Speaking of Crassus kin commoditizing women, Tiberius had made his abuse of Kore an ongoing affair. He, like his father, transformed his victim’s status from an asset into a vulnerability. As a slave, whatever agency Kore possesses is due to Crassus’s favor; leveraging that fact to keep her silent lets Tiberius assault her psychologically as well as physically.

– All right, Fashion Legion: How do we feel about this clean-shaven, properly Roman-looking Caesar now?

– Gannicus got the main spotlight, but let’s also properly credit the balls on Spartacus, Crixus, and Agron, who faced down an entire damn phalanx while the rebels beat their retreat.

– “By what means?” “I have no fucking idea.”

– “You mad fuck.”

– “Even the gods grant aid to the fucking man!”

– “I believe you a man of infinite plots, twisting upon themselves to shame Gordian knot.”

– “He fights for what he believes is just.” “There is no cause more dangerous.”

– “Then he and I are the same. Each believes himself the hero, the other villain. It is for history to decide who is mistaken.” Crassus may speak as if history is a neutral force, but any discussion of events like the Third Servile War calls to mind the old adage that history is written by the victors.

– “He is a troublesome man to kill. I have attempted it myself upon occasion.”

– “Greed is but a word jealous men inflict upon the ambitious.”

– “Must Julius Caesar risk life to kill every last rebel himself?”

– “And I believed myself a difficult man to kill.”

Body Count: I saw 59 in the episode, bringing us to the edge of the three-bills mark at 293 on the season.

What did you think of the episode? Have recent events set nerves to edge?

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  • yutg25 Mar 12, 2013

    After a little rewatch I wonder what would have happened if just before Donar offs himself he screams that Tiberius was the one that set him free. What would Crasus have done? He'll be in a bind. The shamed officer attempted to have the Hero of Sinuesa killed. Maybe he would have had to have Tiberius Decimated. It would have spared Kore the trouble.

    I think I would have found it amusing if Crasus or Spartacus to find out that the other ask Laeta about them. Laeta is there source of info about the other guy. I realized knowing what we know about history and they way this story is going maybe Spartacus is going to influence Crasus on his future actions.

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 11, 2013

    Great review for another excellent episode of Spartacus.

    I think you and all the comments sum up everything I think/feel about this episode. The comment by others below explain my thoughts of Laeta and basically she has to be a slave before joining the rebels. It seems like Caesar knew what was going to happen to Laeta.

    Regarding Gannicus, Saxa and Sybil--not sure what is going on here but I like Saxa. However Saxa and Sybil are different in age and experiences imo. I'm not sure how Sybil will turn out once she "grows up" and I'm not sure how Gannicus feels about either of them. They show Gannicus and Saxa together but are they in love or just "friends with benefits".

    "Gannicus’s Greatest Hits compilation"--rock on Gannicus!!

  • JonathanYung Mar 11, 2013

    I think this episode was every Gannicus fans' wet dream.

  • BijoyKb Mar 11, 2013

    I loved the part when Gannicus gave Caesar a very nice cut during his grand escape from Sinuessa. Take that Mr Guest of honor!!!

  • Knoxera Mar 11, 2013

    I was confused by Caesar's interactions with Laeta in this episode. Did he knowingly aid in selling her into sexual slavery to a foreigner? Even after remarking on how she reminded him of his wife and was all flirty & kind? Because he did recognize that it was her being herded off as a slave at the end, yes?

    But yeah, I'm in agreement that they dropped the ball with Laeta a bit. I was wondering how they were going to keep her involved in the plot, and at first I thought it'd just be by her being in the Roman camp with Crassus, and then at the start of this episode maybe even as a love interest for Caesar, but then they decide to literally force her onto the rebel's team.

    On the positive side, I did like how they toughened her up a bit in this episode. Though her gentle saintly-ness was refreshing for a show like this, it's nice to see her act like a real grown-up woman too. Not only did she utter the words "fucking shit", but she also stabbed a man through the neck. Now, I don't want to see her go down the apeshit Naevia path or anything (not that she has the justification to anyway), but I do appreciate them not making her just be some Mother Theresa type all along the way. Sybil's got the "angelic & timid" thing going on enough for everyone.

    And on that note, right on with the pretty BS & way tired Sybil/Saxa (aka Madonna/Whore) contrast.

  • yutg25 Mar 11, 2013

    I agree though I want her to go apeshit ON Naevia the guys can't do it cuz Crixus will go nuts on them but girl on girl it can put Naevia down a peg.

    I think Ceasar did. I think it was Ceasar who brought the offer to Herakleo to talk to Crasus. No direct proof admittedly but there are enough circumstantial evidence

    1. When the Romans were taking the city Navea said something about Ceasar and Herakleo breaking words.
    2. Look at the way Ceasar excused himself after bringing Latea to Crasus. He didn't look totally happy and a bit uncomfortable/guilty when he left. (May be I just imagine it I didn't see it during my first viewing but after 2 or three replays thats what I think of that scene.

  • labada Mar 11, 2013

    This is ridiculous. Up until these last episodes, the logic of the series adhered to some degree to the actual history. Now it's all an illogical mess and veers from it considerably.

    If the producers were able to put so much money and effort into honoring Spartacus, the least they could have done is to honor him rightly by showing him at the top of his game, a bold and brilliant general that amassed an army that far outnumbered any of the Roman armies that chased after him. Instead they greatly truncate the story and twist events around in time and place so vastly altered from the actual history that he comes off as a far outnumbered, quixotic scrapper.

    It seems as if the producers have tired of the story and lost the money to do it justice and so are now wrapping it up, "history in 30 seconds" style.

    If they can show the Roman armies en mass and under strong discipline, certainly they could have shown Spartacus as such, as he was and even more so. Even in ellipsis, they could have in some way depicted the true historical account of the over two-year period of the revolt, with Spartacus and his 120,000 strong army wiping out one pursuing Roman army after another until he arrived at the foot of the Alps with the intent of leaving Italy for good, only to turn around and head back, at the behest of his men, on to conquer Rome.

    With the entire time and setting of these last episodes completely out of whack with the history or even any kind of believability, they have become laughable. Crassus able to have a trench built across Italy in one day? Summer turns into winter in one day? Winter with snow and huge mountain ranges surrounding them in southern Italy?

    As I described before, Crassus didn't come until the picture until much later, 71 BCE, well more than a year after Spartacus had swept across Italy looting towns, freeing slaves and building his massive army, which never gets depicted in any way in this series, and then moved as a completely unstoppable force northeastward with that army.

    Spartacus and his army didn't get betrayed by pirates until they had moved to the south of Rome in order to freshen their supplies -- again, a year after the period during which the events in these last episodes supposedly took place. The bargaining with the pirates was to take them across to Sicily where he had hoped to spark another rebellion and rebuild his army, which had been depleted by then. It was then that Crassus dug the trench and entrapped the rebels.

    If this was a completely fictional story, then the entertainment value could be taken purely for what it is. But showing the rebels as just a ragtag group of scrappers, as this series is doing, fails to explain why Spartacus struck great fear throughout Rome and why the practice of slavery came to fade after his defeat, and it unfortunately turns what had at first promised to be an major epic into something far less.

  • Knoxera Mar 11, 2013

    I think it's a little ridiculous to hold this tits & gore fest fest up to true historical scrutiny. It's like The Tudors in that its storyline is based on and inspired by true events, but it's not a History Channel documentary. It is supposed to be entertainment first & foremost. Furthermore, Spartacus has very short seasons and only a few of them to tell the entire Spartacus epic. How can it not be massively condensed cliff notes?

    That's not to say all criticisms are invalid - it still has the duty to be a good show and to tell its story well. And perhaps on that front it is faltering - so far as Spartacus' role goes and his army. We saw in the beginning of the season that he was winning battle after battle and constantly increasing his numbers. Though most likely due to budget restraints, it might not have been the best choice to "skip over" most of Spartacus' conquering as well as to just focus on the few main characters rather than include more of the massive army they do have in the background. For better or worse, the writers definitely seem to be attempting to tunnel toward the Final Battle as quickly as possible as well as to maintain Spartacus always being the underdog. I assume it's all gone a bit screwy not only with Andy's death and recasting, but the huge delays the show has been put through. What could have been a more "elegantly" told 5, 6, 7 season series has been reduced to three and it seems the network and writers/producers want to move on but at the same time wrap it up the best they can for loyal fans who hung in for a lot. I respect that at least.

  • klotensen Mar 11, 2013

    Hey, now Ceasar doesn't look like Richard Branson anymore!
    Instead he looks like a worked-out Charlie Brown somehow.
    Nice, tense episode with just the right amount of boobs, slaughter, thrill and intrigue!

  • BranislavIvkovi Mar 11, 2013

    nice episode, not much screen time for spartacus though.
    i've been wonderig for a while... where are the archers? not a single one, even when taking on the whole city? just a random thought :)

  • airizarr Mar 10, 2013

    just now
    I have enjoyed reading your reviews, but there are two points that I found myself disagreeing with:

    1. "How much more interesting could it have been for her to go over to Spartacus’s camp by choice, as a once-exalted Roman citizen renouncing her world of her own free will?"

    Frankly, I would've your scenario as absolutely unbelievable. Why would Laeta under lesser circumstances choose to freely join with Spartacus and his Roman-hating clan? ... with her husband's killer? ...along with the people who despised her and would've killed her and all her people had they had their way???

    2. You state that you're troubled with the likely developing romance of Gannicus and Sybil, stating how Saxa is a better match.

    Quite the opposite! When Spartacus in the previous episode mentioned that Gannicus didn't hold Saxa as special, it shouldn't have come as a big surprise. The only woman we have known Gannicus to love, or his "type", was Melitta from the prequel season. Now who is Melitta more similar to, Sybil's meek, caring and softer personality, or Saxa's fierce, independent and mannish personality? I find the choice to be clear. The show is not falling in a "trap" with this; it falls well within Gannicus' character development, that if given enough time he could find Sybil as someone to care for and protect.

  • JosepD Mar 10, 2013

    Um... Caesar was bald and pretty worried about it.

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