I was re-watching Gods of the Arena this week, and I realised what it is about this season that's making it a little lacklustre, for me. Not that I'm not enjoying it, but it just doesn't quite have the oomph that Gods of the Arena did. I think that the reason is that it's almost totally without anything joyful or exhilarating.
Spartacus has always been a dark show, thanks to the subject matter, but that always used to be balanced by the excitement of victories in the arena, and by various parties and enthusiastic love affairs. OK, so this is all a fancy way of saying sex and violence - but joyful sex and violence, that allowed the characters to experience emotions other than despair or misery. The new season has had to leave the arena behind (though I think it's no coincidence that the best episode so far went back to the arena) but that isn't the only problem. Where Batiatus and Xena used to have a happy (if slightly twisted sometimes) marriage and put on various events, all the Roman characters are now completely miserable pretty much all the time. Maybe Xena will cheer up when she steals Paris Hilton's baby...
Our heroes among the rebels are no better either. There are three romantic relationships going, but they all lack that sense of joy and fun that you want from a screen romance. Crixus and Naevia are held back by Naevia's (understandable) trauma, while the other two relationships are just underdeveloped. One week we were wondering what Number One's sexuality was, the next suddenly he and The Artist are an item. Similarly, Spartacus had been resisting GirlFriend's advances towards the end of Season 1, but now they're a couple, with no particular explanation. They're a fairly bland couple as well, since Spartacus is clearly still hung up on his dead wife (I'm starting to think GF should give him up and find someone more interesting, or just strike out alone). Basically, our heroes need to have a big party (Gannicus could be sent out for wine) and our romantic couples need to either examine and celebrate their feelings for each other, or just give up and break up.
This episode goes some way towards addressing some of these problems. GirlFriend both thinks about her relationship with Spartacus, and she tries to convince him that they all need to let off steam every once in a while. But it all goes horribly wrong, Naevia gets attacked again (at least she can fight back this time) and despite a new love affair starting, both parties involved are too miserable in general terms to really seem happy.
The episode opens with Number One and some minions freeing a boatload of German slaves (which is nearly ruined by Number One showing off his (modern) German, unaware that one of the slavers speaks it too). For some reason the subtitled German is written in as abbreviated a form as the English/Latin is spoken, which makes no sense if they're speaking modern German, a language perfectly capable of using as many articles as English. Maybe it's supposed to indicate an older form of German? Maybe the writers didn't think it through... We have another new blonde woman as well, to replace the one that got killed last week.
Gannicus is having money troubles, since he didn't actually carry out the last job he was hired to do. He also wants his wooden sword back, but is told to ask Haldir for it. Haldir has obviously found himself at a loose end because he's had time to shave and is now speechifying. Quite how Gannicus thinks he'll get away with appearing without anyone realising he knows where Spartacus is, is a mystery. Haldir is going to crucify anyone who mentions Spartacus' name and has one of his own unfortunate women crucified on the spot to prove it (I'm not sure they crucified women in Rome... oh well). Haldir claims Paris Hilton dobbed her in and PH agrees out of fear of him. The nails are bashed correctly into the woman's wrists, by the way, not her hands, as shown in many a Catholic crucifix - if you bashed the nail into the palms, the weight of the body would pull the nail right through the hand (depending on how much rope you used in addition). Gnomey Guy spots Gannicus, who finally works out that this might be a good time to leave.
Crixus is training Naevia in sword-fighting. The pair of them finally look reasonably happy, huzzah! The Artist thinks Spartacus loves GirlFriend, but she knows that's not really true, so she's less happy. But then DSG emerges and even he looks reasonably happy. It's a miracle!
Crixus’ mood is spoiled, however, by the appearance of hordes of Germans. Half this episode seems to be about racial tension between the French and the Germans which is… a few centuries too early? To be fair, it could be accurate. (And yes, I know the modern French are descended from Franks and these are Gauls, who are different. So perhaps it's about racial tension between the Germans and the Welsh...).
Gnomey Guy has now apparently taken to raping Xena on a regular basis and making her call him ‘Dominus’. He seems to have caught her tendency towards self-delusion as well, having convinced himself she’s starting to enjoy it and bought her a present – a brand new red wig he wants her to wear. The whole thing is unbelieveably creepy – Gnomey has somehow managed to go from irritating to a little bit awesome to slimier than Slimer in three episodes.
Haldir is trying to comfort Gladiator Groupie over the death of her brother, while PH is complaining about the abrupt crucifixion of her slave. Out in the training square, a bunch of new recruits have come in and Gladiator Groupie informs everyone she wants vengeance, not justice – in particular, she wants the people who killed her brother to die horribly. Blissfully unaware of who that was, she flirts a bit with Haldir and is persuaded to stay at the House of Death for a while. Paris Hilton indicates her disapproval by emphatically over-pronouncing the letter t in the phrase, 'your presence offers great comfort'. She confesses to Xena that Haldir does not appear to be as weak as she thought, while Xena insists she must look after the baby. Both of them have had just about enough of beng abused by their respective men.
Number One confesses to Spartacus that he deliberately rescued a boatload of Germans instead of an equal load of Gauls, and Spartacus points out he could really do with men who speak Latin, and to please bear this in mind in future.
Gannicus has gone back to some of his favourite questionable women, one of whom is pleased enough to see him that she offers him a freebie. He tells her that no man is free (how true). She tells him she thinks Spartacus is truly free and he tries to get her to stop saying things that might get her crucified, but too late – Gnomey has overheard. Gannicus is rude to Gnomey, who then takes him on a trip down memory lane to the tail end of Gods of the Arena, and adds that without his rudis, the wooden sword symbolising his freedom (and with a brand) Gannicus can’t prove that he’s free. And with that, it’s back to the House of Death for both of them.
Haldir thinks it’s as suss as anyone with half a brain would that Gannicus is still alive. Xena tries to stick up for him and Haldir gives him back his rudis, but on condition that Gannicus becomes his minion and leads his troops against Spartacus. Haldir insists that Gannicus is free to choose to do what he wants and gives him a few days to decide, then sets one of Gnomey’s minions to follow him and crucify him if he tries to leave.
DSG has cheered up mightily, but Number One and the Germans have gone off hunting by themselves, which has put Crixus in an even worse mood. When Spartacus and Crixus find out that the Germans attacked someone on the road, they get even crosser. Number One wants to take on the Romans, which Crixus points out they aren’t exactly ready for. Number One apologises to Spartacus but gives Crixus the side eye.
Xena is out doing her messiah act when she spots Gannicus wandering around the street, doing his second favourite thing (drinking). His friend from the other night is, of course, being crucified in the alley (looking already dead, which is rather quick, crucifixion takes days). Xena tries to warn him about Haldir, though the misinterprets it as a threat. She makes her meaning cleaerer by flat out asking him to kill Haldir (not overly wise as Gannicus is drunk and talking rather loudly). She explains that Spartacus has a grudge against Haldir and might go away if Haldir is killed. She suggests a plan of attack while Paris Hilton is being taken away to Rome that night.
The Germans are enjoying German Fight Club while the German Blonde proudly boasts of her ability to swear and wrestle like a man. Everyone except Crixus seems to be enjoying themselves, and Naevia tries to persuade him to look on the bright side. Even DSG gets dragged in to play with some half-naked women. Spartacus whines that they don’t have time for fun and GirlFriend points out that everyone needs a little fun every now and again (she's so right).
Xena tells Paris Hilton that she’s set Gannicus on Haldir, and will have him killed afterwards. Not a good idea Xena. PH has what she wants now, she probably wants to hang on to her husband. She certainly has no further need of Xena. As Paris Hilton leaves, she clearly thinks about telling Haldir everything, but restricts herself to a quick kiss and telling him ‘you shall be missed’ instead.
One of the Germans starts harassing Naevia and looks about to assault her so, understandably, she stabs him. Number One rushes in when he sees what’s happening but Crixus doesn’t realize what started it and watches him get beat up for a while. Luckily Naevia enlightens him and in he jumps, so within minutes there’s an all-out brawl, in which GirlFriend ends up fighting German Blonde, presumably because the producers wanted a bit of girl-on-girl action. So far, this appears to be the entire purpose of German Blonde's character.
Spartacus kicks one guy into a fire and saves Number One from the nasty German by literally chopping off his face. Like, from the mid-chin up. Which the camera lingers on for absolutely ages. It’s like they’d run out of interesting ways to chop people up, and nasty things to do to people’s faces, and sat down and brainstormed exactly how they could do something even worse than anything we've seen over two and a half seasons. And, having come up with something, they wanted to show it off for as long as possible.
Spartacus tells everyone to obey him and not brawl or attack each other, and tells them if they refuse to obey him, they should leave (by now the dead guy is face – what’s left of it – down on the ground, to save on the special effects budget). The Germans are sufficiently impressed that Spartacus killed the big guy that they decide to stay (Spartacus looks really smug at this point).
Back at the House of Questionable Women, Gannicus is playing with his sword. No, the wooden one. No, literally, the type with splinters. Xena, meanwhile, is taking a turn around the villa like the women do when they're bored in Pride and Prejudice, swirling her new blue dress in a suitably dramatic fashion. Gladiator Groupie has wandered into Haldir’s room for a bit of extra-curricular activity – the first so far this episode, so we get to see a bit of it, though not much before an unfortunate soldier has to walk in on them and tell them the wagon taking Paris Hilton to Rome has been attacked by Spartacus. Apparently Gannicus decided to go for the wife, rather than the husband.
There’s a close-up on a bit of intestine lying on the ground and a lot of dead Romans, including the guy who was tailing Gannicus, who has been killed with Gannicus’ rudis through his throat. No dead Paris Hilton though – she’s too valuable a hostage (and our heroes are not in the habit of killing pregnant women). End of episode.
This episode seemed to be trying to lift the mood a bit in places, which is a good sign. We just need someone to have a party that doesn't end in people getting their faces cut off. Or smashed in. Or peeled off and worn as a mask by someone else. Or pulverised with a big wooden beam. Or slowly chopped up for entertainment. Or... seriously guys, just stop with the faces. George Lucas has an arm obsession, try that out for a while, at least that one's vaguely logical (cause you, er, dis-arm the opponent by doing it).
German: We hunt. Catch meat! (I just like this because it sounds like an old Friends quote that always makes me laugh - 'Men are here. We make fire, cook meat. Put out fire by peeing on it, no get invited back!).
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