Following the bloodbath at the House of Batiatus which concluded Blood and Sand, Vengeance sees Spartacus and a rag-tag band of his fellow ex-gladiators attempting to create an army of slaves to stand against Rome. On their trail is nasty Praetor Glaber, out to settle his personal score with Spartacus. Alongside Glaber are familiar faces Lucretia, Ilythia and Ashur, all working to their own agendas. Some of our old friends now have new faces, with Liam McIntyre taking over from Andy Whitfield as Spartacus due to the latter’s illness (from which he subsequently tragically died) and Cynthia Addai-Robinson replacing Lesley-Ann Brandt as Naevia due to scheduling problems.
After the major improvements in the prequel season, Vengeance sadly represents something of a return to bad form. The main problem is the pacing – it takes half of the running time for the story really to kick into gear. Blood and Sand, three episodes longer, didn’t feel half as padded. It seems rather unfair to note it down as a weakness, given that he is actually a perfectly serviceable hero and not a bad actor, but Liam McIntyre lacks the hint of fragility that made Andy Whitfield such an interesting lead man. This is compounded by the fact that he is required to deliver a grandstanding speech in almost every episode - it really feels like we missed a step of his journey from angry slave to powerful rebel leader. Making Mira into a love interest for Spartacus is annoying, pushing her from a genuinely interesting counsel into the usual doomed love interest role, wasting the talents of Katrina Law in the process. The usual criticisms of identikit gladiators still apply, especially early on with a bunch of expendable Gauls. Cynthia Addai-Robinson is unimpressive as Naevia, though she is not helped by the unbelievable storyline which sees Naevia transform from meek slave to hardened warrior, seemingly within weeks.
Once again the high points of the show belong to Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca as best frenemies Lucretia and Ilythia. With Lucretia’s improbable survival having rather turned her head, Lawless gets to let loose with a magnificently barmy performance, and Bianca is never far behind. The tables turn time and again, but you know it isn’t going to end well for either of them and their eventual joined fate is suitably gothic, operatic and silly. They will be missed! Craig Parker also deserves praise for never letting Glaber be anything less than absolutely hissable, while Nick E. Tarabay oozes and gnashes through every scene he’s in like a greased mink. Both get appropriate, if slightly underwhelming comeuppances. While character development is minimal, there is a pleasant flashback-heavy episode which explains how ex-doctore Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) came to the House of Batiatus in the first place, featuring the very welcome return of Jeffrey Thomas as Titus. Having complained about the pacing, it must be said that this does vastly improve from the midway point onwards, with a spectacular return to the Arena in Capua raising the stakes in the war between Glaber and Spartacus.
A disappointment after Gods of the Arena, Vengeance is perfectly watchable guff but rarely threatens to be more. Once again it is worth it for the baddies, and those who enjoyed Blood and Sand will be pleased to see justice meted out, but fans of quality historical nonsense would be better off sticking with Rome.