Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Spartacus Blood and Sand: The Thing in the Pit

I love the title of this episode - 'The Thing in the Pit'. It makes me think of Doctor Who monsters, or Victorian sewer monsters or something. Anyway, I’m going to try out a slightly different approach to Spartacus over the next couple of weeks, highlighting particularly interesting aspects rather than recapping everything, since ‘then they fight’, ‘then they have sex’ can get a bit same-y after a while.

Since I was in Birmingham this week, I was able to watch Spartacus with a group of friends, so this week I will mostly be blogging our group’s reactions to the episode, though I have also managed to record it and watch it again to catch up on bits of dialogue we missed.

This is a particularly nasty episode of Spartacus (and take a moment to think just how nasty it has to be to be a particularly nasty episode of this show!). The subject of the episode is ‘the Pits’, which appears to be, as several of my friends described it, essentially, Fight Club. In a roomful of Classicists, none of us could think of any evidence for such a thing from the ancient world, though there is no evidence against it either, so it’s not a totally unreasonable extrapolation. The idea – that slaves are forced to fight while John Hannah makes money from people betting on them, rather like a cock-fight, sometimes with actual cock – seems logical and plausible enough, though a bit of a waste of the money spent on Spartacus.

The fights in the Pit are really nasty. Obviously, one of the things about Spartacus is that it has lots of blood all over the place, but this goes beyond cartoonish, artistic geysers of blood and into extended horribleness. Comments from friends throughout the fight sequences included:

‘Woah!’ (as blood flew out of a runaway slave’s mouth)
‘Aaaaarrrggh! It’s a face! It’s a face!’
‘I don’t think he’s a very nice man’
‘They’re all not very nice’
‘Noooooooooooo!’ (I’m not even sure what that one was referring to, I was looking at my notebook)
‘Oh yeah! That’ll teach him!’ (This was from a male friend)
‘Oh no, he’s gonna go for the eyes!’ followed by ‘Oooooaaaaahhhhh’

At one point there was a brief discussion of whether it would be physically possible to peel the skin of someone’s face so easily. We also had a running discussion on whether or not anyone felt especially emotionally involved in this episode, and got at least one real emotional involvement towards the end, when one friend pondered the total horror of the knowledge that if you lose the fight, your face will get peeled off and worn as a mask by the winner.

We also observed that there seemed to be less sex and more violence in this episode, something we weren’t entirely happy about, and one theory was put forward, that they all keep saying ‘cock’ all the time to cover up for the fact that isn’t nearly as much male nudity as female nudity (though, later in the episode, we caught sight of the last chicken in the shop, which went some way to redressing the balance). Another discussion that broke out among the Classicists at one point concerned the precise use of the word ‘paterfamilias’, with the eventual conclusion that the script had, possibly accidentally, used it correctly.

Other observations throughout the episode included ‘Nice wall paintings’, ‘His necklace is from River Island’, ‘I’ve been here for five minutes and I haven’t seen any nipples yet’, ‘This is sensual, is anybody sensualised?’, ‘Awwwww’ (as the slave couple snogged) and, as it started to rain blood ‘I’m 95% sure this is a dream sequence’. As Spartacus approached a woman with her back to him, looking for his wife, someone said ‘it’s not her, is it?’ and another replied ‘No, it’ll be a dwarf in a red coat’. Some attempts at archaizing language in the script-writing were observed, and we felt they’re better sticking to plain English. I was particularly amused by the mandrake root, which made me picture the screaming mandrake babies from Harry Potter, and by the cut from Imaginary!Wife whispering sweet nothings in Spartacus’ ear to Neighbours Reject telling him ‘you look like shit’. Oh, and it turns out the Carthaginian is the one with the long hair – thanks to Most Recent Old Housemate!

One of the bits of dialogue I missed first time around was a rather nice scene between Xena and JH (in the room with the nice wall paintings) in which Xena expresses concern that JH is going to get himself killed by debtors in the Pits, and adds, ‘you know the law; without an heir I’d be forced to marry another’. Presumably this means that her father is still alive, and would insist on her re-marrying, since she has no son to be her guardian – so the ‘law’ in question is that of the power of the paterfamilias (which, as someone noticed, was our Latin Word for the Week this week) which means women and children must obey the head of the household. Then they actually manage to have sex by themselves, without requiring slaves as fluffers. Their relationship is nicely rounded when they're not being pleasured by slaves, though I can't help thinking JH is not going to be impressed when he finds out Xena has been bonking possibly-Barca behind his back (actually having sex to the point where any offspring produced would not be the husband's would be a no-no for a woman).

It turns out Neighbours Reject got himself into debt betting on the fights in the Pits, which I also missed first time around, and on an entirely unrelated note, there was also an advert for our town which no one else was that excited about, but when I re-watched with Mum today she was excited about it!

Me in the tunnels underneath the amphitheatre at El Jem, Tunisia, a couple of years ago

This was a good episode, though unpleasantly violent (more so than usual). The pace has picked up a bit and although there is no ancient evidence for it, the idea of the Pits is intriguing and brings something fresh to the series. I’m very glad it’s for one week only, as it brings the level of violence up even higher, but it’s somehow satisfying to think that Spartacus has, presumably, got as low as he’s going to get before he eventually rebels. We continue to get hints of a bigger story concerning Xena and JH and their problem conceiving a child, and JH continues to string Spartacus along with promises to find his wife, and it will be interesting to see just how long he can keep that up. I do hope next week has a bit more character stuff and a wee bit less eye-gouging and face-peeling though.


  1. You're thinking of that Douglas Adams 'Dr Who' story, aren't you? 'The Creature from the Pit.'

    Dr: What is that creature?
    NPC: We call it - *the creature*...

  2. I liked this episode too.

    I don't think this is quite a spoiler, but the whole first season is building up to the rebellion and the Servile War.

    The Spartacus of history doesn't really make an appearance until the last episode. Essentially it's an origin story, of sorts.

  3. Gideon: *That's* why I kept thinking of Dr Who! Thanks - I haven't seen that episode, but I've heard the title, and I wondered why it reminded me of Dr Who so much.

    Derek: That's OK, that's not a spoiler - I was getting a feeling that was probably what they were doing, and it makes sense, though I'm disappointed I'm not going to get rebellion and battles and so on for a while! (Or ever, if season 2 falls through).

  4. Xena's bonking Crixus, not Barca.


  5. Faithlessone: Thanks! I spend too much time not looking at the screen during this show and can't tell who's who... so Barca is the long-haired Carthaginian!

  6. I thought this was a particularly unpleasant episode but necessary for the arc of the character's development. This is Spartacus's low point, I think! For me, this episode got extra points for having chickens in the one scene that takes place outdoors, (the scene where Xena is trying to flog back her River Island necklace. I loved her fan and costume, too!) I always give historical drama extra point for free-range chickens. B'kak!

  7. I missed the chickens, both times! We were all rather taken by her hat in that scene though...

  8. Barca is the fittest and strongest 100 year old I'v ever seen.

    I believe season two is a dead cert - it was ready to go until Spartacus got cancer, which is why they're doing the prequels, which to be honest is fine because I wanted some more Xena and John Hannah being a delightful pair of bastards.

  9. Yeah, the Carthaginian thing passed me by, I was so busy trying to tell who was who, but good point - kinda hard to come from Carthage after the ground has been sown with salt! Andy Hamilton's illness is what I meant really, but maybe if worst comes to worst they'll re-cast...

  10. Last I had read was that he was in remission and was starting training so they can start shooting in September or October. I like him as Spartacus, so I hope they don't need to recast.

    I'm excited about a second season - I wonder how they'll play with the history to fit the style of the show and what will happen in the end when, eventually, Spartacus is subdued by the legions under Crassus.

  11. Juliette's hilarious commentaries for Spartacus are becoming legendary! I wonder if she would be interested in doing an audio commentary for the epic season finale? A simple mp3 recording and you can host/stream it for free on services like divshare.

    If anyone else is interested in such a thing, chime in!


  12. Thanks! :) I hadn't thought of doing something like that... definitely a good idea, though it depends if I can get hold of/work the technology...


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