Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) – Now a politician more than a man of action, he spends most of his time making speeches and slaying Roman foot soldier. Liam does what he can with the part, but he lacks the charisma and acting prowess of the much-missed Andy Whitfield (who said so little and communicated so much). The character’s weakness in in his distance from his direct enemy (Glaber), now that Batiatus is scheming in the afterlife. Maybe that’s for the best – Spartacus’ main task so far has been in getting off camera and allowing the other characters to grow.
Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) – Still overly reliant on a glassy stare and a biting of the lip to portray his impotence, the up close and personal murder of his father-in-law may herald a much-needed replacing of words with deeds. Glaber and Spartacus need to be in the same space sooner rather than later, lest we lose interest in them, as their friends’ and enemies’ travails drive them out of our attention.
Crixus (Manu Bennett) – Progressed from a brawling beefcake into the most interesting of all the franchise’s characters and owner of one of television’s iconic moments, unforgettably tapping his shield to beckon Spartacus to his leap to the pulvenus in “Kill Them All” (2.20 here). Now caught between those whose feelings towards him remain confused, Oenomaus and Lucretia, separated as ever from Naevia and with Ashur’s enmity greater than ever, Crixus has but his honour, his loyalty and his judgement of people to get him through each day – for he, unlike Spartacus, is no politician. Probably the only actor to appear in every episode of the three Spartacus’ series, Manu Bennett’s performance is immense, no matter how much high-minded critics’ prejudice blinds them to it.
Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) – Unbowed despite the carnage wrought in her home when Spartacus freed the slaves, Lucretia is playing a long game in her plan to bring down Illythia. The cleverest of the Romans, she ruthlessly exercises her ability to manipulate everyone who comes into her orbit. Her weaknesses are that she may have found her match in collaborator / survivor Ashur and that her feelings for Crixus bubble rather closer to the surface than she would like. Though not as funny as her dead husband, Batiatus, she makes up for it in villainy. Lucy Lawless, superb in both previous series, has had little to do so far – but has done it very well indeed.
Illythia (Viva Bianca) – As impetuous, ambitious and cruel as ever, Illythia’s plans are still being thwarted by her lack of understanding of human nature – because she thinks only of herself, she cannot see how her actions will affect others and, crucially, how they will behave as a result. Saw off the miserable challenge of the underwritten Seppia (Hannah Mangan-Lawrence) for the affections of Varinius (Brett Tucker) with exactly the right level of glee and is being sucked into Lucretia’s web through a typically arrogant acceptance of Lucretia’s power gained by her (apparent) soothsaying line to the Gods, dangerously failing to accept Lucretia’s greater intelligence. Viva Bianca continues to look like a greek statue, but perhaps overdoes the swinging between simpering coquettishness and blazing-eyed anger, with little in between.
Oenamaus (Peter Mensah) – Only the dazzlingly realised character of Crixus keeps Oenamaus from being the main focus of Vengeance. Like Manu Bennett, Peter Mensah has turned a cookie-cutter role into one packed with pathos. Suddenly vulnerable having been tricked by Ashur into giving away Spartacus’ intentions and having had his rigid belief in honour shaken by the messiness of life outside the ludus, his home since adolescence, the second half of Vengeance will see Oenamaus torn by dilemmas.
Ashur (Nick Tarabay) – Like the snake he is, he wriggles and wriggles and frees himself from any danger through cheek, wit and his unmatched capacity to play one off against the other. Nick Tarabay has crafted a wonderful anti-hero (how can you not admire Ashur, even as he disgusts you?) who knows confrontation with Oenomaus and Crixus is coming, but knows too that he can do work for Lucretia and (even) Spartacus that might purchase his survival.
Mira (Katrina Law) – Travelling the same path as Crixus from eye candy to compelling character, Mira is warrior, strategist and lover. The moment is coming soon when Spartacus’ feelings for her will overcome his desire for as many hands as possible to be in a fight… and I think we all know what Mira will do when told to stay at home and do the ironing. Rising in seniority and likely to clash soon with lieutenant to Spartacus, Agron.
Agron (Dan Feuerriegel) – Having disposed of Barca too quickly in Blood and Sand, it’s a smart move to have resurrected the character (and Barca’s lover Auctus) in the persons of Agron and Nasir. Strong-willed and having shown himself willing to defy Spartacus and Crixus, it’s unlikely that Agron will toe the line for the rest of the series. He did not bear witness to Ashur’s treachery in the mines, a fact that won’t have escaped the astute Assyrian.
Gannicus (Dustin Clare) – Despite looking like Randall Flagg from the television adaptation of The Stand, Gannicus has become much more interesting now he wearies from fighting and takes refuge in women and the bottle, like a Capuan George Best. Is due a pivotal reckoning with Oenomaus, as two men not quite broken by their own despair and with much to offer Spartacus, may be forced to find an accommodation on the run.
Lucius (Peter McCauley) – A Roman making common cause with Spartacus… or Roman willing to sell out Spartacus to the highest bidder? We’ll soon find out.
Overall report – Vengeance has much that attracted viewers to Blood and Sand, primarily its ultra-strong set of central characters brilliantly cast and acted. It misses Batiatus’ humour and the language isn’t as spectacularly inventive as in either of the previous series, perhaps through familiarity. With the producers having much more money to spend, it is a more cinematic product, grittier and more realistic in its presentation of the mines for example – but it unapologetically retains its video game aesthetic – and why not? As there was at the half-way point of Blood and Sand, the stock of characters includes many whom we can expect to go from marking time to moving the plot forwards. We can also expect new characters to be introduced weekly. Betrayal will come – but where and what will be its price?
My review of Gods of the Arena is here.