If you haven't read any of my Spartacus reviews before, I should probably mention that I tend to use nicknames for most of the main characters, partly because I have a Christmas-cracker style sense of humour but mostly because I have trouble remembering everyone's names. There are a few exceptions, of which Crixus is one. He's got an easy name. Anyway, they're mostly fairly self-explanatory, but just in case:
DSG = Oenomaus (it stands for Drill Sergeant Guy, because that's the role he used to play in the ludus in Seasons 1 and, er, 0.5).
Xena = Lucretia (Lucy Lawless)
Paris Hilton = Ilithyia, because her character reminds me of Paris Hilton and tends to provoke similar... emotions... in the audience
Haldir = Glaber (Craig Parker)
Neighbours Reject = Varro, Spartacus' late and not overly lamented friend from the ludus from Season 1
I think that's everyone who appears in this episode.
Obviously, since the tragic death of Andy Whitfield, Spartacus is now played by Liam McIntyre. He actually looks a bit like Whitfield, albeit a little stockier, but that's not really the point. His performance as Spartacus is spot on - the character is a little changed, mostly due to his changed circumstances, but McIntyre slips into the role easily. The physical resemblence is quite useful in that it protects the writers from any temptation to have him say the line 'I'm Spartacus' - this was Rome's solution to a change of actor for much less tragic reasons, but in the case of Spartacus, that line holds so much meaning that under the circumstances such a usage might risk looking disrespectful to Whitfield. Also, I suspect they're saving that line for bigger and better things, particularly given that we were reminded towards the end of the episode that it was a name given to him by the Romans, not his birth name.
As the episode opens, quick headings remind us where we are and reorient us in Spartacus' world - Batiatus' house has fallen and apparently we are a few weeks into Spartacus and his men's rampage through the countryside, 'terrorizing' Capua. A young Roman called Seppius has been sent after them. And with that, we're straight into our first fight scene.
Slow motion horses! Slow motion swords! Quicker horses! It's all very exciting.
Pretty soon, bodies are flying around all over the place - in slow motion, of course - there's blood spattering in front of the camera and Spartacus is defeating ten horsey-helmeted men all at once (the helmets are probably accurate - weaponry and armour isn't my thing - but they look they belong in Lord of the Rings, as does Spartacus' one-man-army trick). People were shocked and impressed by the face-smashing in the first season, so there's some more of that. We know that the battle has finally finished when the speed of the film goes back to normal.
We're in the outside world now, so the whole show has never looked more like a computer game, since it relies so much on computer-generated scenery. Still, the alternatives are I, Claudius' solution (never go outside) or Rome's not-solution (get cancelled in the second season for being too expensive) so I think we can give them this one, even if I do sometimes get the feeling I ought to pick up my controller and move the main characters along the road myself.
Yay, Haldir is back! (OK I knew that would happen cause, you know, history, but still. I'm excited about everything today). Haldir is not overly keen on ever getting involved with Spartacus in any way ever again but he's forced to by some slimy men, one of whom wants to bang his wife (and knowing his wife, will probably get to). Also his father-in-law, the man that gave the world Paris Hilton. He must be shunned.
Spartacus and his group of ex-gladiators, freed slave and assorted poor people (I'm going on the history here, I don't think the episode actually explained this in any detail) seem to be living in a cave of some kind. They're all been out foraging - well, killing and looting - and Crixus' gang seems to have done better than Spartacus'. Spartacus forces them to share their loot and they get very cross, but obey. Apparently they're all Gauls, hence being in Crixus' gang.
Spartacus seems to have an actual relationship going with the woman who fancied him so much now, after messing about for much of last season (at least, I assume it's her). She wants to know why they don't go east where there's more meat and fewer Romans. Before she can get an answer...
Yay! Crixus! I'd be one of Crixus' gang of Gauls I think. If they'd let me in, they seem to be quite racist about the Gaul thing. Anyway, Crixus is not happy (when is he ever?). He has been sneaking into town trying to find out where his girlfriend Naevia (sold off by Batiatus shortly before the rebellion) has got to. They also seem to have lost DSG, who was rather fond of the ludus and has therefore gone off in a sulk.
If you thought the fact all our heroes have escaped from the ludus meant that we wouldn't get to see any more gladiatorial combats or women waving their breasts around in an historically implausible manner, you may be pleased to discover that this is not the case. DSG is, it turns out, watching the fights in a remarkably large arena, and naturally we get to see all the spilled blood in the usual enthusiastic close-up. Also some overhead shots. (The women seem unusually keen on staying dressed so far though). Apparently these gladiators are a bit rubbish, presumably because Batiatus was actually a pretty good trainer and is now dead. Or DSG was, and is now retired.
Seppius and the magistrate are also watching (Seppius is so dull I can't think of a decent nickname for him). His sister taunts the magistrate with Spartacus' latest kills. She's clearly a gladiator groupie (these actually existed in the ancient world). She's also quite keen on the idea of her brother getting killed and leaving her unprotected. No prizes for guessing what general direction this plotline is going in!
possibly historically inaccurate) thumbs down sign from the audience. Not to sound snobby or anything, but that's unusually literary (arterary?) for Spartacus. It's rather fun, I wonder if they'll throw in more references like this in the rest of the season.
DSG fights off a guy who wants to turn him in for money. It involves poking out his eye, then stabbing him. As you do. DSG walks off with his cloak - which I think is suppoed to be a disguise - swinging dramatically behind him, like Angel's coat in the opening credits of Angel (if DSG became a vampire, that's totally a show I'd watch).
Neighbours Reject's widow is sulking about the fact she's separated from her son, and about Neighbours Reject being dead. She actually has a bit of chemistry with McIntyre, they'd make a good couple - though I'm guessing the whole he-killed-her-husband issue would get in the way of that. Spartacus gives her all their , money, to fulfil his promise to Neighbours Reject that he would look after NR's family, and tells her to sail away with her son.
A ha! Tits! About time. But they belong to Paris Hilton. Apparently she's pregnant. I've completely lost track of who she'd slept with in season 1, but I don't think her husband Haldir featured very heavily. Paris Hilton doesn't want Haldir to fight Spartacus and she especially doesn't want to go with him, but he reminds her that she murdered Crassus' cousin and therefore they can't really risk rocking the boat, and insists on her coming with him (he probably just wants to make sure she doesn't smash anyone else's face in).
Spartacus' second - who doesn't look familiar to me, but I think I'll name him Number One - doesn't like doing anything Crixus wants. Because he's a Gaul, possibly - this is essentially becoming a race-based gang war between Gauls and... not-Gauls. In other news, Crixus is still not wearing much even though they're free now (actually, no one's wearing that much). Perhaps it's very hot in that cave.
Random full frontal female nudity is random. I think we might be in a brothel. Dildos are involved. And wine, being wasted by being poured all over people's heads. Definitely a brothel. There's a pumping rock soundtrack and everything. One of the brothel slaves is quite clearly very unhappy - we're basically talking about a rape scene not far off something from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but with a pumping rock soundtrack. Suddenly, just as it's getting really nasty, the wine gets mixed with actual blood - it's Spartacus and Crixus, storming in to free all the prositutes! By violently murdering all their customers! It's actually kind of cool and heroic.
One of the girls murders the pimp while Crixus is distracted, but before he dies they question him - for which read, brutally torture what remains of him - and establish that Naevia was handed around the villas of the south. Batiatus was using her to curry favour with rich men in that direction. He also tells them about the Romans coming south to hunt them, led by Haldir.
Have we ever actually seen Crixus smile?
Haldir appears to have set up shop in Batiatus' old house, possibly just to provide a constant reminder to Paris Hilton of what an evil idiot she is. She gets the message and she's not happy about it. He's not letting her leave, though, and actually gives her the job of cleaning up the mess from the massacre she nearly got killed in They deserve each other, those two.
Paris Hilton has everything in the house chucked over the cliff (bet the people living below the cliff will really appreciate that). At least it looks like someone removed the bodies beforehand. She picks up Xena's old mask and we get a flashback to her having it off with Spartacus (I bet it's his kid, though since they didn't have DNA tests in the ancient world, they won't ever actually know).
Then, somewhat unexpectedly (unless you've been reading spoilers) Xena turns out to be still alive! This seems extraordinarily unlikely, but she's gone mad (with hair to match) which is always fun, so what the heck, let's go with it. Seppius suggests that they should use her as a symbol of how it's possible to survive Spartacus, while Paris Hilton want to finish her off.
Meanwhile, back in the cave, those who've joined Spartaus from the countryside are somewhat distressed by the fact the Roman army's after them. Spartacus has obviously grown into the whole leading man thing because he makes a speech. There's cheesy background music and everything. He gets interrupted by the return of DSG, who insists they're all going to die. He reminds them that Doctore is no longer his title. I bet he gets it back as trainer of Spartacus' army by the end of the season.
Xena's got her breasts out again. She's quite excited by the fact she's back in the bath (that woman does love a bath. She's some kind of spiritual ancestor of Cleopatra, perhaps). Paris Hilton asks how she came by her wound (trying to get her to remember presumably) and what I want to know is, who stitched it up?! Xena's still rambling (about them being friends) but I think she's not really mad at all, she's just pretending, mostly so that she doesn't let on that she remembers Paris Hilton's little incident with Crassus' cousin's face. She's also way too interested in Paris Hilton's unborn baby. I bet when it's born she kidnaps it.
Spartacus' girlfriend reckons he's hanging around Capua because he was hoping to get a chance to fight Haldir. She brings up what his wife would have wanted, which seems an odd thing to do when your naked body is draped all over his, but whatever does it for you. She thinks she's convinced him to leave with her. Fat chance.
By morning Spartacus has, of course, gone to the market place to assassinate Haldir. Seppius and his rebellious gladiator groupie sister are there, stirring up the crowd, and then Haldir brings out Xena to cries of 'it's a miracle!'. Xena spots Spartacus in the crowd and starts whispering 'he comes' but since she's (apparently) mad, no one pays any attention. Meanwhile, Haldir has caught Neighbours Reject's wife (because no one gets a happy ending on this show. Yes, including whatshisface from season 0.5, he'll be back) and drags her out to make an example of her (Gladiator Groupie looks way too pleased by the thought of watching her get tortured to death, and she fancies Haldir for some reason).
Naturally, Spartacus leaps out in slow motion and starts waving his big thing around. Sword, that is. The rhythm of these fight scenes is like a foxtrot - slow, slow, quick quick slow... Crixus has followed him and together they fight off Haldir and all his men while everyone else runs away. Number One rescues Neighbours Reject's widow and Xena comes face to face with Crixus (which seems to jog her memory). Haldir hides behind his men and Crixus points out they can't win and should live to take revenge another day.
Back at the cave, Spartacus' girlfriend is quite miffed. Crixus interrupts their domestic to lay into Spartacus himself, pointing out that if they kill a praetor an actual Roman army of thousands will come after them, and he will never get to rescue his girlfriend.
To finish off the episode, we have our first major death of the season - Aurelia, Neighbours Reject's unfortunate widow. She makes Spartacus promise to stay far away from her son, since he's already killed both father and mother (which is a bit harsh, her death was hardly his fault). Numnber One wants to go kill Haldir for revenge, but Spartacus doesn't want Crixus to punch him again so he orders them all to come south with Crixus and look for Naevia, since their only strength lies in numbers. He also promises they'll boost their numnbers with every slave they find along the way, and *then* go and kill Haldir and all his men. Dramatic music. Credits.
When you've gone mad, it's very important to have the hair to match.
There's a lot to pack into this episode, even without needing to get a new actor settled into the lead role. As such, it's a bit of a rush through a lot of plot with the rather abrupt death of a main character stuck into the end. Still, there's some promising stuff here. There's no way Xena should still be alive, but she's a fun character and she's even more fun when she's mad (or pretending to be mad) so I say forget logic and go with it. The best scene is the fight in the brothel, though once again, this scene rests on the awkward line Spartacus walks between sympathy with the victims of rape and using the sexual abuse of slaves as titillation for its audience. Still, a promising opening episode and, as we move into the area of actual history, pretty much accurate to the historical record (bar Haldir setting up shop in Batiatus' ludus and really anything to do with his wife).
Spartacus: I have proven troublesome to kill
Random Roman, possibly Seppius: What has happened?
Haldir: In matters concerning my wife, the gods themselves fear to speculate
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