Synopsis: The third season of the STARZ network’s sword and sandals series about gladiator slaves rebelling against their Roman masters. This season sees a recasting of the main character and a move away from gladiator training to a full on slave rebellion.
My Take: The first thought I had upon seeing Liam McIntyre (stepping into the late Andy Whitfield’s shoes as the titular character) was that he looked kinda tall. That notion was born out upon seeing his first encounter with Manu Bennett’s Crixus where McIntyre seemed to be half a head taller than him. One of the things that always stood out about Andy Whitfield in this role was that he was almost always guaranteed to be smaller than all the other gladiators he was in scenes with (except for Crixus) and when he would eventually triumph over them it made the feat that much more impressive.
Aside from the whole height thing (a quick Google search shows Whitfield was 5’10 and McIntyre is 6’2), I had a couple more issues with McIntyre in the role. He lacked the intensity that Whitfield brought to the role as well as not conveying the sense of loss that was always lurking underneath the surface of the character. On the positive side, McIntyre did handle the action scenes pretty well and he had nice chemistry with slave girl Mira (Katrina Law). I’m hoping that the issues I noticed are just a case of first episode jitters and McIntyre will begin to embody the role a little better as time goes on and he becomes more comfortable.
As for the rest of the show…I am extremely pleased that Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) survived the massacre at the end of the first season. Lawless did wonders playing the brain addled, memory deprived Lucretia but I do look forward to seeing the character back to her old conniving self. Setting Ilithyia (Viva Bianca…greatest name in all of TV btw!) up to have to move into the House of Batiatus is a good plot point, I see a lot of bad things happening because of Ilithyia’s need to keep her baby’s paternity a secret while also hoping against hope that Lucretia doesn’t get her memory back. Oenomaus’ (Peter Mensah) descent into self-hatred is also interesting and I am intrigued by just how far he will sink before forgiving himself for past sins. I am not all that interested in Crixus’ search for his lost love Naevia but if every clue to her whereabouts leads to scenes like the bloodbath at the brothel, then I say bring it on.
The one thing that really sticks out for me…even more than the replacement of the series star…is the absence of John Hannah’s Batiatus. Over the last two seasons Batiatus has been the true star of this series and Hannah’s performance has been one of the most underrated on cable TV. Not having him as the primary villain of the show is a huge blow that does not look like it will be filled all that sufficiently by Ilithyia’s husband, Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker).
Final Verdict: Reservations aside I was entertained by the first episode of this season despite all of the changes and look forward to seeing where the creators will take things as the season progresses. Hopefully the loss of the two actors and one character most associated with the greatness of the show does not weigh down the entire season. B