Straight into the gory stuff this week, with blood everywhere, swords swung high, tits waving around all over the place. (Seriously, producers, women wore clothes when they went to gladiatorial shows. And they sat in the top row only, where you wouldn’t be able to see them from the sand itself). It seems that, knowing they will very soon have to abandon the arena and it’s oh-so-sellable mixture of violence and ecstasy for the distinctly less sexy life of a bunch of runaways on the slopes of a volcano, the makers of Spartacus have gone all out to revel in the blood and tits of the arena one more time. Complete with pumping rock soundtrack and hero shot of Crixus. The bit where blood from the arena drips onto the old guy Batiatus framed last week is rather good. Spartacus, meanwhile, still does not seem to understand the essential nature of the master/slave relationship, no matter how much Drill Sergeant Guy tries to explain it to him.
Our Latin Word (or Phrase) of the Day is ad gladium – execution by gladius, the sword wielded by gladiators.
Spartacus is executing the old guy and yes, the director is really enjoying his last few gladiatorial fight scenes. We have the rock music, the slo-mo, the careful posturing before the fight, the arcs of bright red blood, the intestines spilling out of the loser in glorious technicolour while he somehow manages to gasp out quite the dying speech despite the fact that his innards are already all over the floor. Then, to top it all off, his head is put on a pike to the sort of choral music that is designed to emulate Carmina Burana. Meanwhile, the writers choose this moment to remind us of a storyline that seemed to have been dropped weeks ago – Xena’s problems conceiving a child. Interesting moment to bring that up again, clearly it will become important later in this episode.
Spartacus gets another evening with his girlfriend to stop his whining but he’s still insisting that he’s not interested, and he pisses her off anyway. I’m still intrigued by the fact she seems to be wearing a torc, which no one else is, but maybe she just gets dressed up for Spartacus. They’re also speaking in that weird, slightly cut-off way that the programme occasionally uses to make its characters seem foreign and exotic. It’s not totally unjustified – Latin has a smaller vocabulary and briefer way of putting sentences together than English, and two people speaking a second language may use a more abrupt way of speaking than if they’re speaking their native language, but in a programme that usually employs a more colloquial English it just sounds weird. The nature of the conversation is even stranger. Spartacus actually didn’t know that if a master is murdered, every slave is executed, which goes to show just how phenomenally stupid he is, though it does provide the opportunity to explain this to the audience. He also appears not to care, which doesn’t exactly endear him to the viewer.
Meanwhile, gnomy beardy guy has demanded Crixus’ girlfriend as his reward for getting the old guys out of the way for Batiatus. He’s behaving a bit like Wormtongue in the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, all creepy and slow-moving and slimy, although much more graphic and more successful in his rape attempts of course. Xena is not pleased, as she was keeping this girl for someone special, so it’s a good thing none of them know she’s been having it off with Crixus for weeks (and a good thing she hasn’t got herself knocked up either, or if she has she doesn’t know it yet anyway).
Spartacus is taking out his anger issues on the significantly cross-shaped practice plank. He leaves Crixus with a cryptic comment that implies his plan is, basically, to knife Batiatus the minute he gets close to him. He’s still not stopped by the presence of the poor torc-wearer, but he does stop when he spies Neighbours Reject’s widow, Aurelia, who is working for Batiatus to pay off NR’s debts. Torc Girl is so unimpressed by this she goes to see him especially to tell him off, which is quite brave of her since she has to blackmail a guard to do so.
Gnomy beardy guy drops by to taunt Crixus, who wounded him out of gladiatorial combat and who he therefore thanks for everything he has now. At the time, we wondered why no one had mentioned she wasn't a virgin, but this gets resolved later.
Paris Hilton is leaving to go join Haldir, horay! Xena is completely horrified, as she’d only just got Paris Hilton under her thumb. Then, with some words about their friendship that might not be entirely positive, there’s a completely gratuitous two-women kiss between two characters who usually appear to be straight.
Haldir is finally back! Woo-hoo!! He rides in looking all tough on a white horse (he’s nicked Shadowfax!). He appears to be possessed of more brains than most people around, as he actually finds the sheer volume of murders occurring around Batiatus a wee bit suspicious. Meanwhile, Crixus’ girlfriend explains why she can’t come to him and he gets rather cross, and then Xena (in one of her most half-naked outfits) blacks out because, as it turns out, she’s finally become pregnant. If Batiatus wasn’t so horrible you’d almost pity him for being so pleased when the kid is probably Crixus’.
Paris Hilton is trying to have a good night in but Haldir, who really is the sharpest character around apart from maybe Drill Sergeant Guy, as he has noticed that Batiatus seems to be giving himself undeserved airs and graces and that his own wife may have something to do with it. She’s soon able to distract him, of course, because we hadn’t had a sex scene for at least five minutes.
Torc-girl is victimising Aurelia because Spartacus seems to like her so much, even demanding that he talk to her alone. He tries to persuade her to leave and live on his winnings, but she’s having none of it – she’s aborted the baby she was pregnant with and sent her son off to live with his uncle so that she can nobly work off the debt herself. Spartacus warns her not to trust Batiatus and she points out that, at this point and unsurprisingly, she doesn’t really trust anyone.
Haldir and Paris Hilton pop by to visit Batiatus and Xena, and Batiatus continues his doomed attempt to enter politics by trying to obtain Haldir’s patronage. (Paris Hilton, during the conversation, observes that the older man Batiatus had been trying to win support from was unpleasant and had a tendency to stare at people with his teeth – a brilliant line, hilariously delivered complete with face-pulling and, if I recall correctly, absolutely true!). Haldir is unimpressed with the idea that he should associate himself with a lanista and points out that Spartacus, their champion, was his worst soldier. This is all a ploy on his part to try to get rid of Spartacus (good luck there, mate) as he demands that all the gladiators be brought to the villa (why all of them? Really, there’s absolutely no logical reason any of the others should be there).
Haldir has his men attack Spartacus one by one, in the best tradition of Hollywood bad guys, and even with practice swords, Spartacus is able to defeat them all while jumping around artistically in the very pretty and historically accurate pool in Batiatus’ atrium. Spartacus even kneels before Haldir in the interest of maintaining his position until he can strike, but it is all to no avail, because at this moment, Crixus spots gnomy beardy guy with his hands all over Naevia, his girlfriend, and goes completely mad. OK, so gnomy guy was taunting him, but his actions here go beyond stupid and into morally irresponsible, considering the consequences for the unfortunate Naevia. Here, gnomy guy reveals that yes, he had noticed she wasn’t a virgin, and had been trying to work out who she’d been sleeping with. Xena, of course, goes completely and utterly mad, beats up Naevia and discovers the key Naevia stole. Naevia points out the obvious truth that Crixus didn’t love her and was only doing what he was told, but Xena just gets madder.
Haldir and Paris Hilton go to leave, since they have no desire to be associated with this lot, but Batiatus and Xena blackmail Haldir with the hand of the woman Paris Hilton killed a few weeks ago, Crassus’ cousin. Haldir believes Batiatus and Xena over his wife awfully quickly here, since all they have is a body she claims she didn’t kill, but Mum and I decided Haldir must know his wife quite well and think that this is something she might do. Haldir grants his patronage, dumps Paris Hilton to stay in Capua and leaves them with a bunch of guards to keep an eye on things. And stomps off, hopefully to return in series 2.
Batiatus waves around the head of the guard whose key Naevia stole, has Crixus flogged (though not quite as badly as the flogging in The Passion of the Christ, as they still need Crixus’ gladiatorial skills to make money and don’t actually want to kill him) and Naevia is taken away. As she leaves, she manages to say a word or two to Crixus and she finally tells Drill Sergeant Guy the truth about what happened to Barca. Meanwhile, Batiatus shows he’s not quite as dim as he seemed, and that he knew Xena was sleeping with Crixus the whole time – and yet he’s still convinced that her baby is his. Maybe he’s just deluding himself wilfully because he needs a son. And then finally, finally, Spartacus starts a conspiracy with a couple of younger gladiators (brothers who wanted his help staying together). They are planning to escape! Yay! And the solution to the problem of not having every slave in the household executed for Spartacus is to kill the entire household. If they’re escaping rather than just murdering Batiatus, this is not strictly necessary, but it will ease their escape and may be their only practical option, unpleasant as it is. And so, we are set up for the finale.
This is a powerful episode with some good stuff, especially the final scene between Crixus and Naevia in which Crixus weeps manfully, and the gladiator fights at the beginning really are rather good too. The only problem with this episode is that some of the characters do have to pick up the Idiot Ball (thank you again, TV Tropes!) in order for the plot to move forward, which is always a bit jarring. At least it wasn’t Spartacus throwing the ball around though – his Idiot days are behind him. And next week, not only do we get lots of blood and guts and all sorts of nastiness going on but... (drumroll please!) ...we also enter Actual History! Sort of. A little bit. Get near it, anyway!