Thursday, 9 February 2012

Spartacus Vengeance: A Place in this World

We open on an extreme close-up of someone breathing hard, caked in - mud? clay? make-up? I'm not sure. He's fighting a smug person. Our guy (we know he's our guy 'cause he's an underdog. Maybe that's the Brit in me coming out) gets up and they go at each other. We're back in Roman Fight Club! And women have their breasts out again - truly, we are back in Spartacus-land. Our guy takes a beating but wins with a well-placed knife-bone-thing to the gut. And the throat. And the face. And the eyes - ew. The twitching as the other guy dies is especially gross. Our guy gets up and looks proud while the crowd call him a demon.

Batiatus senior comes in - given that Xena killed him last season, we must be in a flashback and this must be DSG. Batiatus Sr has come to the Pits - Roman Fight Club - shopping for gladiators. I still fail to see why a culture that has embraced gladiatorial games would need a Fight Club, but it was with the episode 'The Thing in the Pit' from season one that the show really started to take off, so whatever, let's go with it.

Back in the present, Haldir is cross. Xena thinks the gods are conspiring against him and suggests that he needs to sacrifice something to them.

Everything's teribly dramatic today - more so even than usual! We see Spartacus and his men putting knives through people's heads in silouette at one point. They interrupt a random slaveowner raping a bored-looking blonde slave girl to kill everyone in sight. Spartacus' girlfriend gets in on the act too - I'm starting to like her. I could have lived without the shot of a sword emerging from someone's mouth though. When only the slaves and the paterfamilias are left (the slaves identifiable by collars - lucky for Spartacus - slave brands that might be covered by clothing, which would be much more historically accurate, would be rather less obviously visible), Crixus takes pater off to question him about Naevia, while Spartacus tries to recruit the slaves.

The paterfamilias idiotically mentions the fact he raped Crixus' girlfriend to Crixus, which does not end well for him. Crixus makes one of those anti-slavery speeches that usually stick out a mile as being historically inaccurate, but in context, it works. Spartacus' girlfriend and the new blonde discuss the sexual inadequacy of Gauls and the confusing non-specified status of Spartacus and the girlfriend's relationship. The Gauls wave their penises at the camera because, well, why not. Spartacus gives a speech about how awful slavery is and how they're free now which still more or less works, but is edging into historically inaccurate now.

See, the problem is, no one in the ancient world ever spoke out against slavery. Christians and Stoics said you should treat slaves well, largely because it was better for your own soul, and Spartacus did pick up many slaves as he roamed the countryside after the revolt - but as far as we can tell, it was Batiatus' bad treatment of the gladiators specifically that sparked it, not a desire to do away with slavery all together. Mind you, to be fair, the historical evidence for this comes from the slave-owning elite, so perhaps the real Spartacus was all about freedom and ending slavery, you never know.

During this speech, Spartacus actually says 'I am Spartacus!' Tee-hee. I thought that moment would be bigger and more dramatic, I must admit, but still.

Paris Hilton is trying to enjoy herself in the bath, with the help of her slave girls and by remembering her boink-fest with Spartacus, but it all gets spoiled just at the climactic moment when her husband walks in. One of her slaves is totally naked too - so that's the second full frontal nudity of the episode, with equal exposure given to male and female minor characters. Yay for equal opportunity exploitation! Haldir asks her to take Xena to market to buy supplies for a religious ritual, and although he doesn't commit to the idea that Xena's a blessed prophet, he's desperate enough to get rid of Spartacus to give anything a try (I like this - I bet lots of people approached religion that way in the ancient world).

Spartacus' girlfriend decides they need to have The Talk, which goes reasonably well until a slave from the household tries to kill Spartacus. The guy points out that he actually had a pretty nice life as a slave and doesn't want to roam the countryside scavenging and killing people. Spartacus refuses to execute him, to try to show how different he is from a slave-owner. I really like this observation that some slaves - a minority, sure, but some - would have been quite happy and led reasonably comfortable lives.

Number One and Crixus aren't impressed with the refusal to punish the guy and agree with each other for once. They're starting to develop almost a Kirk-Spock-Bones thing between the three of them (except that Crixus is single-minded, not unemotional) which I rather like.

DSG, not knowing where to go, is back in Roman Fight Club, once again demonstrating that some people were happy with thier lot, even gladiators, who could get addicted to the thrill of the arena. During his fight, we see a flashback to Batiatus Sr welcoming him and telling him that everyone, slave or free, needs to decide what they're fighting for. Back in Fight Club, DSG finishes off his opponent with what appears to be his signature face-poking move. He demands to face two opponentss at once next even though he barely got through and seems to be trying to commit suicide by Fight Club.

Spartacus trains the reluctent ex-slave and also tells him he should choose what purpose he fights for (neglecting the obvious problem that the guy doesn't want to fight at all).

Paris Hilton takes Xena to market and pesters her about her slowly returning memory. Xena definitely doesn't look very mad any more, though she is slightly taken aback by people wanting her to bless them because she's favoured by the gods. Gladiator Groupie arrives and takes Paris Hilton away from Xena's Messiah act to discuss how miserable she thinks marriage sounds. A hooded figure brings Xena a message.

Seppius is prodding Haldir about Spartacus' ability to get away from him and eating figs Symbolically (I'm not sure what it's Symbolic of, but it's definitely Symbolic of something). They aren't getting on.

The Gauls are having a party. They're singing - well, sound vaguely arranged into something resembling notes is coming out of their mouths anyway. It must be a very hot night, as hardly anyone's wearing very much. Crixus complains that he doesn't think people who joined later and aren't part of the brotherhood (of gladiators) should be treated as equals, but of course Spartacus is all about the equality.

Number One chats to the reluctant slave, who is called Tiberius (now there's a promising name...) Number One makes some random racist comments about Syrians, though Tiberius points out he's more Roman than anything else.

One of the Gauls has his way with the blonde, who still looks bored. Spartacus' girlfriend tries to rescue her, but she points out she had chosen to sleep with him because she hasn't any money and has no other way to pay for stuff - and insists, much to Girlfriend's discomfort, that that's what Girlfriend is doing too.

Xena is sacrificing a goat - I'm pretty sure she should have hired a priest to do that. She mutters about secrets while staring at Paris Hilton in a vaguely threatening way. Not much happens.

DSG asks the head of Roman Fight Club to send someone who'll finish him off. In another flashback, we see Batiatus Sr tell him he's destined for grander things than the Pits, and he says the purpose of his life is to honour the house of Batiatus. Back at the fight, he starts seeing the ghosts of himself and Batiatus Sr. The fight is intercut with Xena extracting the entrails from the goat to read them. Paris Hilton spots a knife and thinks about doing for Xena. DSG is unexpectedly saved by the same hooded figure who approached Xena earlier, and Xena herself is saved by Paris Hilton's slave - who has seen everything - announcing that men are approaching.

Roman soldiers turn up at the villa looking for the owner and Tiberius invites them in to be slaughtered, taking on his birth name again, Nasir. Spartacus clearly missed his calling to be a motivational speaker.

It turns out it was Ashur, the intensely annoying gnomy little man from season 1, who saved DSG, and he takes him back to Haldir, promising to bring them Spartacus - and he's clearly in cahoots of some kind with Xena. End of episode.

Not a bad episode by any means - I especially like the theme of the difficulty of finding a place in the world (the tragedy for these people is that they never will) and of the fact that not everyone wants to be freed, because sometimes, if you were treated reasonably well, there are worse things than slavery. Even the blonde, who clearly didn't particularly want to have sex with her master, is no better off, since now forced into prostitution or starvation. Spartacus waxes lyrical about freedom all the time, but he has yet to convince everyone that they want it.

It still feels a bit like the show is setting things up though. The pieces are still being moved into place, Gannicus hasn't shown up yet, and I really wish they would just find Naevia already so Crixus would shut up and stop whining about it.


Haldir: It is the fault of Seppius. This quote isn't particularly funny, I just like it because it sounds so much like Latin!

Number One: And how do you propose we train this wild little dog?
Spartacus: As Batiatus and Doctore trained me
Number One: ...and that turned out so well
I'm actually warming to Number One, when he's not calling Naevia worthless.

Paris Hilton (re Xena): Is it wise to allow such unsteady hands to play with knives?

Pairs Hilton (when nothing much happens): Hmm. Perhaps another goat?

All Spartacus reviews


  1. I think I enjoy your reviews more than the actual show (and I enjoy the show very much because I'm a sucker for sword and sandal shows). Thanks too for mentioning the ancient world's "real" take on slavery. At least the way they're skirting it isn't too obnoxious. Meanwhile, I crack up every time you talk about Paris Hilton--so perfect!

  2. Thanks! :) I'm so glad people are still enjoying them. I get so annoyed by the representation of ancient attitudes towards slavery - though at least in Spartacus' case, I can take it a bit better - but still! (One of the essays I've set my students this term is 'was the Spartacus revolt a slave revolt?' - I'm interested to see what answers I get!)

  3. Great recap Juliette! I loved this ep, many classic lines and most definitely felt like the show was back on its feet after the sewer crawling first ep.

    Bring on Ep3!


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