Decimation – the Roman tradition of killing one in every ten men as punishment – is not only a key event in this episode of Spartacus: War of the Damned, it’s an appropriate title for a brutal, violent episode, an hour-long slog through blood that leaves you feeling unclean afterwards. As I discussed after the premiere, much of the second season of this show used violence as entertainment; this episode is a welcome return to the violence of season one: meaningful, consequential, filled with pathos.
The show has benefited greatly from narrowing its focus to the claustrophobic confines of the conquered coastal city, stakes raised by the imminent threat of Crassus’ immense army. This is classic Spartacus, with all the players turned against one another and forced to challenge their own beliefs – whether it’s Julius Caesar leading a slaughter of his own people to drive a wedge of distrust between Spartacus and Crixus, Tiberius beating his close friend/lover to death at his father’s command, or Gannicus fighting his own comrades to defend Romans he’d just as soon see on a pike. For a show best known for violence, boobs and melodrama, “Decimation” is a complex, enthralling and simply excellent episode of television.