Spartacus: War of the Damned "Mors Indecepta" Review: Lies, Damn Lies, and Impalements

  • 73comments

Spartacus: War of the Damned Episode 8: "Mors Indecepta"


In the end, Spartacus proved correct about Crassus’s arrogance: It did leave him vulnerable. And that arrogance hit its zenith in “Mors Indecepta,” when the aristocrat baited a trap for the rebels so he could deliver a message implicitly equating himself with a full-fledged deity. Mors, the Roman version of the Grim Reaper, may be immune to deception. But even after a string of impressive victories, Crassus has not yet become Death, destroyer of rebels.

He certainly seemed close at the start of the episode, with Spartacus and company enduring their direst straits since Vesuvius. Even an apparent error of overconfidence, establishing an aggressive forward camp position, was only a ploy to draw out one of the sneak attacks the Thracian has often favored. The nighttime raid was a terrific setpiece of elegant stealth, one fluidly staged and shot by director Jesse Warn, who used the new aesthetic possibilities offered by the blizzard-swept landscape to full advantage throughout the episode. It was also a thorough failure, yielding only a severe wound for Naevia and the aforementioned cruel taunt, carved into the carcass of a fallen comrade.

Many of the proceedings of “Mors Indecepta” were underlined by deception, but in ways that demonstrated the limits of its utility. The Roman camp is drowning in it, with every conversation couched in subtext or dramatic irony, and every key relationship either badly strained or about to be. All the carefully chosen words, the double meanings masking true intent, have exacerbated internal strife to the boiling point. Even the rejuvenated bond between father and son is built on a foundation of mendacity, one bound to crumble when sunlight hits Tiberius’s secret sins.

Kore exploited the situation, convincing Caesar to squire her to the front lines so she could take Crassus’s temperature. Was her loyal lover really going to leave her behind in Sinuessa after the war, to “advise” (oh, and be brutally assaulted by) Tiberius, ruling as his father’s proxy? Yep, though Crassus seemed to think that setting up his mistress in a love shack on the other side of the Republic was a towering romantic gesture. Was he still dubious enough about his son’s honor that she could spill the beans and earn some kind of reprieve? No way—he’s buying the Eddius Haskellus routine hook, line, and sinker.

In a bitter twist for a man whose stock in trade is deceit, laying out his plans to Kore honestly—while believing his words to be a comfort—wound up costing him dearly. With a bleak future in front of her in Roman territory, she seized her only not-terrible option while she had the chance and joined the ranks of the former slaves.

Meanwhile, in the rebel camp, shedding pretense began to uncoil some lingering tensions. Laeta couldn’t forget Spartacus’s culpability in the demolition of her world, but neither could she keep denying that he’s the only one who can offer much-needed comfort. Agron evinced some trust in Nasir at last, and heeded Nasir's advice to free Castus—a decision that saved his life in the climactic battle. Gannicus and Sybil, realizing that the show was just going to keep throwing them into one love nest after another until they bit the frigging bullet already, owned up to their mutual desire. (That one creates a whole new layer of deception, though; Saxa already had an inkling something was fishy.)

And Crixus, on edge after Naevia almost fell in battle, unloaded on Spartacus. Their conflict wasn’t so different from the one that had festered in Sinuessa, fueled by the former’s congential aversion to the latter’s “secrets and schemes.” Spartacus, too, let slip signs of his own strains, and of the common tendency among superlatively talented individuals to grow frustrated with anyone who doesn’t match that talent.

Still, the thundering brawl that resulted didn’t lead to schism but to catharsis, even helping to set Spartacus’s mind on the right path. Crixus’s preference for the direct approach may be tinged by the same death wish that animated him in the arena, but at least in this case it paid off. Where a surgical strike failed, a frontal assault succeeded—once Spartacus deduced the proper place to aim it.

Crixus’s assessment—“You have been bested by more devious mind”—was the key. Rather than continue trying to outflank Crassus’s subterfuges, the soundest strategy was to penetrate them and determine what was being concealed. When a magician is deploying the ol’ misdirection, the way to solve the trick is to look exactly where he doesn’t want you to look.


In this case, the imperator didn’t want the rebels peering too closely at that wall to their rear. Fortified by troops and guarded by an impassable trench, it was an ostentatious projection of strength. So if Crassus’s forward camp gambit was an attempt to make a point of strength look like a weakness, it stood to reason that the wall was just the opposite.

Proving the theory, though, meant leveraging the only things the rebels had in abundance: desperation and death. At first I didn’t think having a couple characters mention that over 1,000 of their number had died off-screen conveyed the weight of that loss appropriately. That changed when the plan for crossing the trench became clear. Contemplating the act of piling hundreds of frozen corpses into a bridge can’t help but make you shudder, even before the sweeping visual reveal drives home grim reality.

Morbid, yes, but effective. The rebels have gained an escape route, and, for the moment, the high ground against their heretofore unbeatable foe. Echoing their first brief encounter from afar in “Spoils of War,” Spartacus and Crassus once again met eye-to-eye for a fleeting moment before one of them had to retreat. The well-earned cocky grin the victor threw spoke volumes. Whether or not Crassus, like Mors, is undeceivable may not ultimately matter. On both the homefront and the battlefield, truth coming to light is taking a sufficient toll.



NOTAE ALIAE


– I dunno guys, I’m feeling like Saxa is due for a very Anya-esque end in the finale.

– What becomes of Kore now? Will she turn against her ex-dominus completely and pass on vital intelligence, or will she try to blend in and lay low? And if her identity does come out, will the rebels think her another of Crassus’s spies? Laeta is the only one who might have gotten a good-enough look at Kore at any point to ID her, right?

– Caesar’s not letting a little thing like a gaping stab wound stop him from enjoying wine, women, and song. And for all his setbacks, things didn’t go as badly as they could have for him, considering the episode’s airdate.

– Nice touch that Spartacus drew on his time in the Roman auxiliary to call out that the approaching centuries weren’t in combat formation.

– Crixus flies off the handle when called a chicken. Is he a distant ancestor of Marty McFly?

– Saxa told Gannicus that he’s starting to sound like Spartacus. You guys, what if the series ends with Spartacus gone, but only after he leaves Gannicus directions to his hidden Spartacuscave and Gannicus takes his place?

– “Killing Romans was how we gained your trust, was it not?”

– “Live, and help provide answer.”

– “Time conspires against will of heart. We shall break words again when battle is won, and see tears evaporate beneath warming sun of deeper intent.”

– “The he shall behold what miracles of blood a gladiator is yet capable of.”

– “Let him feel the sting of his wounds and reflect upon the mind that inflicts them.”

– “I took this city.”

– “Does no one ever sleep in this fucking house?”

– “You’ve helped move him from the boy he was to the man he is.”

Body Count: 77 on-screen, including Sybil’s unlucky co-religionists but not counting those 1,000 or so claimed by the storm, bringing us to an even 370 on the season.


Cut circle with straightest line. Give voice to what you thought of episode.