In its second episode, Spartacus: War of the Damned still finds itself with a lot of establishing work to be done. While last week’s premiere focussed on the two opposing forces at the centre of this conflict – Spartacus and Crassus – this week’s episode, ‘Wolves at the Gate’, has numerous other characters and story threads to introduce. This weight is mostly handled deftly but it does occasionally become a little too much. By the episode’s end, though, it’s clear that everything is in place for the story of this season to unfold.
For the rebels, this episode is about following through on Spartacus’s realisation at the end of ‘Enemies of Rome’. There is no villa that would hold his growing army, meaning a city must be captured to provide shelter and food for them. Using his tactical knowledge and assistance from his closest advisors, Spartacus finds a city and infiltrates it in order to open the gates from within and allow the rebel army access.
Inside the city, Spartacus meets Laeta (Anna Hutchison), the privileged wife of a Roman dignitary who seems to understand that treating slaves poorly is the reason for the rebellion. The events of the episode find her spending much of her time onscreen with the show’s hero and it’ll certainly be interesting to see if they become entangled further. There is much brutality in the city – as evidenced by the stoning of a disobedient slave – but there is also innocence and this is not lost on Spartacus as he tries to end the violence once the city is secured.
Over in the storyline of Crassus, we are introduced to the young Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance). He has been recruited by Crassus to aid him in his fight against the rebellion. Caesar is somebody who has a name that commands respect but does not have the wealth to pay for his recent military campaigns. An opportunity for payment and potential glory appeals to him, even if the episode makes it clear that it won’t be an easy partnership for these two…
Particularly in the first half, the episode does feel like it’s trying to achieve too much. The stories it establishes are obviously necessary (and Spartacus has proven itself to be a show that is incredibly skilled at providing payoff in even the most minor plots) but because of the short length of the season it does seem to pack in rather a lot and not give itself enough room to breathe. Everything fits into place when the city is stormed, though, and it ends with a series of epic images that suggest the huge scale of the coming war.
Without thematic unity, episodes of Spartacus tend to suffer. There isn’t much focus on specific characters here either, leaving this as a required expository instalment that provides the starting point for characters and stories that’ll become more significant later on. However, it is still highly entertaining and magnificently executed; let’s hope that even more is delivered next week.
Aired at 10pm on Monday 18 February on Sky1.
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