BLU-RAY REVIEW: Spartacus - War of the Damned
The STARZ Original Series' Final Season In All Its Glories...
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I've been a fan of the STARZ original series Spartacus since first hearing about it at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con. I had the privilege to briefly meet Andy Whitfield, titular star of the series's first season, at the Con and he was impressive both in his passion for the role as well as his kindness and willingness to talk to a simple action figure reviewer like me. Later, after watching the first season, he proved himself brilliant as the gladiator turned rebel leader Spartacus, a man who would make history as one of the few willing and able to stand in defiance of the Roman Empire. Following Whitfield's tragic passing from cancer, the titular role was passed to Liam McIntyre, who made the part his own and brought new life to the warrior leader of a rebellious people.
The final season of the series, Spartacus: War of the Damned, hit Blu-ray and DVD home video this week and, if you're anything like me, you picked it up and immediately began to binge watch what's no doubt one of the best final seasons of any television show in recent memory. Like previous seasons of the series, sex and violence fill every episode; likewise, emotions flare and tensions run high with the introduction of characters both new and old. Specifically, the introduction of the man who would end Spatacus' revolt, Roman Imperator General Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrell), Crassus' son Tiberius (Christian Antidormi), and Crassus' ally and Roman warrior (and later Roman Dictator) Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance), who historically never fought in the Spartacus uprising, but was indeed a lifelong supporter and confidant of Crassus. Of course, past season character favorites - including the dedicated warrior Crixus (Many Bennett), the loyal Agron (Daniel Feuerriegel), and the fierce Gannicus (Dustin Clare) all return as Spartacus' trusted lieutenants as do other favorites.
One thing the series has never been afraid to do is play with historical fact in order to ensure the series' storyline progresses and engages viewers. I for one appreciate this as obviously creative liberties have been and should be taken in order to ensure entertainment value remains. So while the series may inaccurately portray historical facts (or simply make them up), the show makes for entertaining television. The various historical characters and their back stories are explained in depth throughout the series and this last season is no different. We gain interesting and educational insight into the life and ways of the Roman General Crassus, his trusted warrior Caesar and Crassus' son Tiberius. Each character's back story reveals traits developed in both love and hate, lust and their individual characters; traits which both draw viewers into admiring their bravery and noble cause as well as despising their lust, greed and selfish pride. After watching this last season of the series, it's easy to see there are no heroes or villains in Spartacus: War of the Damned, only men seeking to live, kill and die gloriously. Sadly, some do not get their wish.
Small plot twists throughout the season leave viewers questioning what's next, which is difficult considering history can not be denied and we know what will ultimately happen. However - again, thanks to taking liberties with history - the writers have done outstanding work with building tension within both sides - both the Romans and the internal struggle between father (Crassus) and son (Tiberius) and warrior (Caesar) and tactician (Crassus) as well as on the rebels' side between battle brothers Crixus and Spartacus and lovers Agron and Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor) to name but two conflicts. Often at odds with one another, these internal struggles and rifts cause viewers to struggle with whose side we would choose and why. After all, we care for them all in one way or another and yet know what the future will hold.
Ultimately, the season has a number of enthralling episodes which provide plenty of emotional turmoil. Not only is Spartacus and rebel army forced to overcome military odds, but Mother Nature soon becomes the bitterest of enemies as well. I'm forced to remind myself this is the last season of the series and, as such, fan-favorite characters die, leaving one wishing and wanting for more, angry at the end of marvelously-written and well-acted characters who we've come to know so well. The final three episodes - “Separate Paths”, “The Dead and the Dying” and “Victory” - draw on one's fortitude as viewers watch the ending of an era take place. We watch the series end bravely, tragically, terribly and filled with blood and violence - a well deserved ending that's brutal, uncompromising and all around viscous.
Ultimately, Spartacus: War of the Damned finishes the series the same way the first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, began it: with pride, dignity, blood, sweat, tears and in defiance of tyranny. Spartacus himself would be proud.
Spartacus: War of the Damned is available now on Blu-ray and DVD wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley