Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Spartacus Blood and Sand: Old Wounds

Bad news I'm afraid - I'm away for two weeks this month and will miss the last two episodes of Spartacus! I'll record them and review them as soon as I can after I get back later in the month. And, while I'm distracted, some better news: I have a new non-academic (very light-hearted) article in Discworld Monthly this month, on the various levels of fantasy and reality in the Discworld.

Drill Sergeant Guy tries to comfort Spartacus over the death of Neighbours Reject while distinctly Gladiator-like music plays in the background. Aurelia, unsurprisingly, isn't in the mood to be sympathetic, but the whole thing is so sad that even John Hannah feels sorry for Spartacus.

Our ancient word of the week is Greek this time - hubris. Though I guess that one's moved into English, really.

Crixus is upset because Spartacus will fight in some Games against Pompeii - or are they Games of Pompey? Their pronunciation is hard to make out! - that he'd been looking forward to, which sort of reminds me of that bit in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway gets to go to Paris instead of Emily Blunt. That's probably just me, though.

Spartacus is hanging around in the hope of supporting NR's wife and family, which is surprisingly sensible and noble of him, though you can bet your freedom that John Hannah isn't actually sending her the money. He's still being rather harsh to his girl-friend, who is servicing a man who, Spartacus believes, was wounded protecting his wife. JH, meanwhile, is having fun torturing the white-haired politician whose son was the cause of all the trouble. One of these days, some magistrate or other legal person is going to notice the number of (often freeborn) dead bodies that pile up around him, and he's not an emperor, there's no reason the family of one of them shouldn't take him to court. If any of them are alive, that is.

White-haired guy prophesies that when Spartacus falls, JH will follow, which is probably true. He's so far gone that even nasty goatee guy is starting to doubt that this is a good idea. Meanwhile, our unfortunate hero is seeing ghosts again, though Neighbours Reject has replaced his wife for the time being, and his wound from the fight last episode is not healing and he has a fever. It's good news for Crixus though, who gets to play champion again and who has taken to saying foolish things like 'tonight I am a god!' He'll be planning to make a horse a senator next, just wait and see. Crixus is very confident - 'He's doomed!' observes Mum.

Beardy gnomy goatee guy has sold John Hannah out to, um, a different white-haired guy? Yeah, this one's a merchant I think. Mum observes that you can't trust a soul in this programme (I think I need to show her Rome and I, Claudius again...).

There's a rather cool dream sequence which unfortunately I had to keep looking away from because I'm very squeamish. Spartacus pours coins from his wound while Neighbours Reject watches and his wife - identifiable by the fact she's one of very few brunettes on this show - approaches masked, then collapses and dies on him (again). His female friend, who's nursing him, is a brunette as well, which is probably not a coincidence.

Oooh, some more arena action, goodo (except I'm not actually looking at most of it, just listening to Mum say 'Eeee!' and 'Ohh, erugh, oh!'). We meet a rather fun new character who may or may not be called Pompey - no, wait, I think they are referring to Pompeii after all (and this definitely isn't the famous Pompey, who wasn't that... generously built). The absence of the white-haired politician has been noticed, especially since his son is right there. Politico is not as dumb as he looks, as he plays dead and then bites one of his captors, who happens to be the minion who was there when Spartacus' wife was killed, like a vampire, though this doesn't actually do him much good, other than to leave him alone with gnomy guy.

I like the trumpet-y things played at the Games - no idea what they are but they look very cool. They're playing because it's time for Crixus to fight Pericles, the Primus of Pompeii, and Crixus has to learn what every inhabitant of the Big Brother House has learnt - that if you disappear from the public eye for five minutes, they will forget who you are and boo when they see you. The CGI on these scenes really is very good, it's not seamless but it's a pretty convincing picture of an arena - no restricting this show to shots of a few people in a box with some sound effects behind them.

It's not looking good for Crixus, and things get worse when his fan club - Xena and his girlfriend - are ordered back to the villa, denying him the chance to share his victory with his girl(s). Luckily, sheer indignation (and a pumping rock soundtrack) gives him a second wind and he guts the other guy (literally). And smashes his face, just for good measure. The crowd love him again, but he's bloodied and his girlfriend is not there - this does not please him.

John Hannah has news of an attack on Politico brought to him and takes the irritating teen off with him, supposedly to help. Gnomy guy tells the white-haired merchant where Politico is, but it's starting to look like this is another double-bluff of Batiatus', since he ushers the merchant on a solo rescue mission.

(Ad break - Batiatus encourages us all to go to the Co-op and buy olives).

The minion who was there when Spartacus' wife was killed is now in the infirmary with him, where the medicus has given him henbane which, thanks to a brilliantly comprehensive poisons list in The Sirens of Surrentum, I know is not a good idea.

Spartacus is still experiencing effectively creepy dream sequences - if there's one thing this show knows how to do well, it's a dream sequence. Spartacus has killed his long-haired Thracian self, who is also Neighbours Reject - deep. Interestingly, these are the sort of dream sequences we would expect to see or experience ourselves rather than the sort of dreams Romans often described - none of these dreams contain prophecies, just the odd hint of unfortunate destiny, nor is Spartacus brought a message from the dead or the gods as might happen in an ancient Roman dream sequence. This, however, is probably the one that comes closest to a Roman dream. Spartacus is told to look by NR and his wife, he sees Batiatus talking to the cart driver - it seems almost as if NR and his wife are trying to make him see the truth. They don't quite manage it, but they make him suspicious.

The whole business with the identical white-haired men does turn out to have been a double bluff, as the spotty teen and guards walk in to discover that the merchant has just murdered the Politico and drag him off.

Spartacus inspects the body of the minion and discovers... no scar! The truth is finally out - when strangled by Spartacus, he sings like a canary. Well, more chokes the truth out with his last breath actually, but same diff. Spartacus shows he has some brains by getting the girl to help him cover up the murder, pretending the bite got infected and killed the minion.

'Behold Spartacus risen from the dead!' says Batiatus as we see Spartacus attacking a practice pole that's distinctly cross-shaped. Subtle. (Because this show is known for subtlety of course!).

'I am myself again!' declares Spartacus, smiling for the first time in ages. Excellent - we should have some quality plotting and escaping to look forward to over the next two weeks!

This was another cracking episode, though of course, with all those dream sequences, I was bound to enjoy it. And the dream sequences were the standout parts of the episode, as we saw our hero use a different muscle for a change - his brain! Unlike an ancient Roman dream sequence, these dreams did not provide Spartacus with any information he did not already have. His wife and friend did not come back from the dead to tell him something, as they might in an ancient novel or poem - rather, in thinking about them, Spartacus came to realise something he already knew, but had been too preoccupied to fully realise. It's a very modern use of the dream sequence, but it works perfectly for this Roman story, and next week's episode, 'Revelations', looks very promising.


  1. Introducing Pompey would have indicated an interesting direction for the show. He did a lot of the clean-up after Crassus broke the back of the rebellion. That might have been after Spartacus was dead, though.

    The dearth of brunettes is odd, considering all the big-wigs in this show ought to be southern Italians. I know there was a period where blonde wigs were very in for Roman women, but I think it was later than this.

  2. "some Games against Pompeii - or are they Games of Pompey". Did you say he was from Capua? Against Pompeii - the city - is possible. There was very definite inter-town rivalrly between the cities in Campania, with the citizens/fans of Pompeii and Nuceria famously rioting all around Regio II. You get gladiators fighting "at" places all the time, but I can't think of a reference where this is billed as "against" the host city. But, in terms of civic and group identity, this might be expected (see Hope on the gladiators of Nimes?).


  3. Yeah, Pompey's later involvement was why I wondered if that was what they meant, but I'm pretty sure it was just John Hannah mispronouncing Pompeii - the Games were Capua vs Pompeii. I guess the focus was on their fight *against* Pompeii because they wanted to play up the rivalry and the importance of Capua's champion beating Pompeii's.

    The brunettes that are around are slaves and poor women, while the blonde-wig wearers are free and richer, so that's the justification, but I think the show is more interested in ogling lots of pretty blondes than in historical accuracy!

  4. Thanks for the recap. Somehow I missed recording this episode! (And thanks for the nod to The Sirens of Surrentum, too. I had fun researching all the different poisonous plants available in ancient Italia!)


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