Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Spartacus War of the Damned: Mors Indecepta

Dead bodies in snow. Lots of them. Two guys start trying to crawl away up a hill. They don’t last long.

Spartacus wants to know the exact number of the fallen (that’ll take a while to count). The Artist tells them Crassus’ army are on the way (that wasn’t them?) so Spartacus orders those who can’t fight to go to a safe distance and those who can – well, not to suit up, because even though there’s snow everywhere still none of them are wearing tunics, trousers, nothing. But to get ready.

Crixus gets everyone ready for some violence and bloodshed but Spartacus tells them to calm down because he is a giant buzzkill. Also because he’s realised that Crassus’ army aren’t about to advance. He remembers his time in the Roman army and knows they’re not in a battle formation – they’re waiting for Crassus.

Tiberius tells Crassus that Caesar is still on sick leave, enjoying women. Crassus praises Tiberius for not doing the same thing and Tiberius replies with more creepy innuendos. Crassus asks him to move a very important chest out of sight. I really hope he’s testing Tiberius in some way, but no, he’s given Tiberius his armour back and wants him standing beside him in battle (at least this increases the opportunities for Tiberius to die horribly).

Full frontal naked woman – ah, that must mean we’re joining Caesar. He has two of them on the go, as he usually does, though he’s still nursing a bleeding wound. One of the women flatters him by calling his bits ‘Jupiter’s cock’ which is amusing since Octavian later made him a god (though not actually Jupiter).

Gannicus is all doom and gloom over the fact a freezing storm is coming, and Helga’s response is, as usual, to suggest jumping into bed. Gannicus refuses (she tells him he sounds like Spartacus) and seems distracted by Eponine staring at him. Some random dude finds the pirate guy from last episode, calls him a traitor and punches him, but is stopped by the Artist, who apparently wields some authority by virtue of being Number One’s boyfriend (or random dude is just scared of Number One). The pirate dude tries to flirt a bit, but seems mostly interested in fighting Crassus, or so he says – they seem to have him prisoner and he wants set free.

Spartacus – still wrapped in the Kingly Purple Robe of Hubris – goes to visit Boudicca in what seems to be the hospital tent and persuade her to eat because apparently having ridden all the way from wherever and escaped with her life this is the moment she’s chosen to give up. She is feeling very sorry for herself, but Spartacus points out she’s no worse off than the rest of them. She asks how you move past it, and he suggests ‘live’ and help him.

Back in the city, Maid Marian is cooking when Tiberius turns up to sleaze all over her some more. She makes it pretty clear she doesn’t give a monkeys about him, and is pretty relieved when she hears he won’t yet be coming back to Rome with them – until she finds out she’s to stay there with him. She goes to see Crassus, who is unimpressed that Tiberius told her before he could, but she doesn’t have time to explain why she really doesn’t like that idea nor he to explain just what he was thinking before duty calls.

Number One observes that Crassus has put up stands as if they’re fighting for his entertainment in the arena, because like certain other series that tried to make the climactic battle look arena-like, this one has struggled with what to do with fighting outside of the arena. Spartacus, having analysed the formations, has decided Crassus has got over-confident and wants a small group of the best of them to mount a sneak attack in the middle of the storm and kill Crassus in his bed. Crixus disapproves of killing men in their sleep but Spartacus insists (in a fun nod to the Iliad, in which Odysseus leads a party to kill men in the camp because he’s a brain over brawn sort of guy).

The Roman soldiers are apparently incapable of seeing beyond their noses in the storm, even though we as TV viewers can see reasonably well, so Spartacus’ attack team – made up, naturally, of basically the named characters – do OK until they get into what they think is Crassus’ tent and find a naked crucified man with mors indecepta (death undeceived) carved into his body, looking like a particularly gruesome X-File. Crassus is not that daft, Spartacus. Romans who can see better appear and attack in bullet time, so we know this is an important battle, and the soundtrack is quite excited too.

Naevia takes a spear in the leg and goes down, which of course distracts Crixus. Spartacus goes after her and carries her on his shoulders because he is the Hero. They’re nearly out of there when some Roman yells something unintelligible that makes Crixus really mad and he goes beserk and tries to take on several Romans all at once on his own. To be fair, this has worked well for him in the past. He survives (just) and runs off after the others.

Crassus is unimpressed that Spartacus has got away and decides that he’s had enough of tricks and wants to finish them off in a proper battle. He puts Tiberius in command, including putting him in command of Caesar, which goes down about as well as you’d expect and looks ridiculous. (Romans did not usually follow boys no matter whose son they were. Octavian is the awesome/financially generous exception to the rule). However, since Caesar is already heavily in debt to Crassus, both financial and otherwise, he doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Crassus also insists that he, having commanded Caesar, took the city, not Caesar. Crassus says they equally have the glory of it but Caesar’s not entirely fooled and not impressed. (We need a sequel series about these two and Pompey and the First Triumvirate. Now!) Tiberius decides to rub it in because he is a suicidal idiot.

Caesar, in the middle of a temper tantrum, runs into Maid Marian, who decides to enlist him in getting rid of Tiberius. Caesar is in a foul mood and doesn’t want to be part of her plots and schemes, but she points out if Tiberius does well Crassus will work with him instead of Caesar, so Caesar demands to know plainly what she wants. And the camera cuts away, of course, because if we ever actually understood what the characters were trying to do TV would be much duller and episodes much shorter.

A bunch of Spartacus’ people are sitting around a pile of something (burning? it’s hard to tell), praying. I’m not sure what or why. Crixus is still sulking even though Spartacus saved his girlfriend, so he takes him outside so they can yell dramatically against the wind. Crixus still thinks they should have just attacked Crassus and points out that Spartacus has been outsmarted. Spartacus, on the other hand, points out that if they just attack from the front, they’ll die. Crixus would rather do so than hang around.

They get mad and Crixus punches Spartacus, which the director gets very excited about, all slow-motion and flying blood. They get into a proper punch-up (more slow motion, heavy rock soundtrack) which threatens to seriously damage both of them before they get anywhere near any Romans. Eventually, having reached a sort-of stalemate with Spartacus on top, Gannicus breaks them up and Number One points out this isn’t the time to fight as the storm is still coming (apparently this much talked-about storm hasn’t actually arrived yet. It’s starting to resemble winter in Game of Thrones).

Crassus is actually a bit narked that the rebels might be wiped out by the storm (gods) before he gets the chance to finish them off himself (there’s less glory in that. Though you can always claim the gods were helping you out, that usually goes down well). Caesar brings Maid Marian to see him. Tiberius catches Caesar outside Crassus’ tent and Caesar warns him not to interrupt at that moment and taunts him a bit.

Crassus tells Maid Marian he claimed the city for her, so she can live there and he can visit her freely without his wife sulking, as a proper mistress by the sounds of things (rather than a random slave he happens to be having sex with). He thinks having her around to help Tiberius will be great. She says she doesn’t want to be blamed if Tiberius screws up, which Crassus, having temporarily taken leave of his senses, insists won’t happen. He is bizarrely unperturbed by the fact she’s openly weeping throughout this conversation and proceeds to enjoy this unexpected treat while the storm lasts.

Number One is unimpressed that the pirate guy is still hanging around and threatens him with a knife, but uses it to free him. The Artist smiles and gets, ‘Do not f*cking cast that look’ in response (but with a smile too).

Helga complains that she can’t find Gannicus as Spartacus settles Boudicca in a tent. Eponine appears to be sitting in the middle of a snowdrift, cutting herself and chanting at the fire… bundle… thing. Gannicus is trying to persuade her to come into a tent and get warm, and when she keels over, he picks her up and takes her to the nearest bit of over-hanging something.

When Spartacus can’t find Gannicus, Helga says she’ll go find him, but Spartacus stops her (he insists that, ‘Gannicus will not fall to wind and ice’ and Gannicus is so awesome that might just be true). Boudicca offers to let Spartacus share her blanket so they can, in the grand tradition of romantic dramas, warm each other. Everyone’s hair and facial hair has that fabulous white stuff so beloved of movies like Titanic stuck all over it.

Gannicus gets Eponine huddled under the random bit of something and binds up her cuts (which were a sacrifice for Spartacus, apparently). Even Gannicus seems to be starting to believe in her gods now. They also huddle together and Eponine, who has seen the romantic dramas, sneaks in a snog. Gannicus, romantic that he is, decides to take off her top layer and expose her breasts in the middle of the snowstorm. To be fair, their subsequent activity (accompanied by insanely melodramatic swelling music) is probably keeping them warm, but really. Maid Marian is naked too, but she is in a well heated fancy tent.

After the storm passes, Spartacus and Helga find the group huddled around the tiny fire, dead, all creepy and frozen and zombie-like (but not actual zombies, because this show is crazy, but it’s not that crazy). They’ve lost 1000 people in the storm – but random dude is still. not. wearing. clothes! (I’m sorry to keep on about this but – the plot is all about how everyone’s freezing to death. At least Spartacus has his Kingly Purple Robe of Hubris). Gannicus turns up with Eponine and Helga gives him an ‘I will murder you when I get you home’ look. Eponine decides the fact that the others froze to death when they sat out in as snowstorm is a sign she should have a crisis of faith just at this particular, somewhat inconvenient, moment.

Spartacus says he’s decided Crixus was right after all, while Crixus has changed his mind due to their numbers being 1000 down. Spartacus points out that nothing is ever as it appears with Crassus and suggests that the reason there are unnecessary fortifications on the trench is to hide the fact that Crassus’ numbers are not as great as believed. And if he’s wrong, they’ll embrace glorious death absent Roman swords in their backs, just like Crixus wanted. So our heroes pull down Crassus’ not overly sturdy fortifications and head into battle. It seems there are only a few hundred Roman soldiers there (and Naevia has very quickly recovered from that nasty leg wound). Fighting ensues.

Crassus has to be woken from a bizarrely sound sleep (what did Maid Marian do to him?) and is discombobulated to see a dead Roman soldier just outside his tent. Maid Marian, it seems, has run away to join Spartacus, which of course Crassus blames on Caesar. Tiberius wants to know how Spartacus got over their trench, and it turns out he did so on a huge pile of his own people’s dead bodies. (And now the show has truly become 300). Crassus is grossed out but quite impressed. He is also newly motivated to ‘reclaim what is mine.’

Our heroes attack the Romans from behind their own fortifications, rebuilt on the other side. Spartacus declares that it’s time to get rid of Crassus once and for all and get the heck out of there. End of episode.

A fast-paced episode that keeps things moving fairly well, but only three episodes from the end, I think things really need to start happening now (other than Gannicus exposing Eponine’s boobs in the middle of a snowstorm). Watching Caesar have to defer to Tiberius was almost painful – the little squirt’s horrible, lingering death cannot come soon enough. Still, Spartacus' use of his own people's frozen corpses to get done what needs to be done was both fabulously gruesome and wonderfully practical on his part - a nice, gothic-horror-y touch that lifts the episode a bit and lets it go out with a kick.


Crixus: We shall see Roman blood upon f*cking snow! (How poetic).

Tiberius: Caesar at last rises from the dead.

Caesar: Many a giant has tumbled to the afterlife believing himself too big to fall.

Spartacus: I will not march my people to the afterlife.
Crixus: And I will not die with a Roman sword in my back!

Caesar: Cut circle to straightest line and give voice to what you would have of me. (A man after my own heart).

All Spartacus reviews

Monday, 13 May 2013

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver

Here be spoilers.

I've spent two days trying to work out if there was enough Roman Stuff in this episode to write a blog post about it. There were plenty of bits of Roman decoration in 'Nightmare in Silver's set-up - the Doctor et al emerge into a part of the galaxy ruled by a human Empire with the Doctor's psychic paper claiming he's a 'pro-consul,' the statue of the Emperor found early in the episode depicts him with laurel leaves on his head, the Emperor's spaceship is all marble and columns and bits of Imperial purple. But the story didn't really make that much of the Roman connection.

The position of the Emperor was important, of course. The loneliness of command, the difficult decisions faced by a single ruler and so on were major themes of the episode and Warwick Davis' early sympathy with the person who has to push the button to destroy part of the universe is beautifully played (and, coincidentally, reminiscent of the choice faced by the Doctor in 'The Fires of Pompeii'). But really, his character could equally have been called 'King' or 'Tsar' - in fact, 'King' might have been better. Porridge seems like a reluctant Emperor, which implies he comes from an hereditary dynasty. Roman Emperors were sort of hereditary, sometimes, especially in the early Julio-Claudian period (though even then not a single Emperor was succeeded by their biological son, always adopted sons) but mostly the position went to whoever fought hardest/murdered the most people. This is not a criticism - there's nothing wrong with using existing names and concepts in a fairly basic way to flesh out an SFF world, and vaguely Roman names and concepts makes a whole lot more sense than the random clerical labels Moffat took to using back in 2010 (whose only saving grace was Iain Glenn's fabulous Father Octavian, and even then it would have been cooler to just have him be a pseudo-Roman called Octavian).

What the Roman theme does do which is quite interesting is present the Empire in a positive light. Throughout the history of film, it has been common to depict Empire as evil, an over-bearing hotbed of depravity ruled by a succession of Caligulas. Porridge's good, noble Emperor-in-disguise has much more in common with pseudo-medieval fantasy kings or princes or princesses who like to dress as commoners and run around incognito waiting for brave young stable-boys/peasant girls (delete according to gender and sexual preference) to show them what they're made of. Following the positive references to Rome in Oblivion, the Romanist in me is very pleased, and hopeful that more and more productions will open up representations of Rome (ancient or science-fictionalised) to explore different corners of what being Roman means, beyond 'evil' and 'depraved.'

I was also interested to note that the waxwork from which Angie recognises Porridge shows the Emperor wearing a laurel wreath (along with a more Victorian-looking coat and a fur lining that looked like Blackadder's cat-fur thing). In Roman statues, Emperors are very rarely shown wearing laurel wreaths - though they do wear them on coins (thank you to Penny Goodman for that bit of info). What do you mean, that's not interesting?! OK fine, here's something else - a lot of Roman statues were known for being very 'warts 'n' all,' but there were also phases during which statues, particularly of emperors, would be more idealised, and I did like the idea that everyone was distracted from recognising Porridge because the artist had made him taller.

I hope we see Emperor Porridge again, and not just because I can blog about it - that character, and Warwick Davis' performance, were the saving grace of what was otherwise a bit of a 'meh' episode. I've been a fan of Davis ever since he played Reepicheep (one of my favourite Narnia characters) way back in the BBC Prince Caspian/The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Porridge is played with a fabulous mixture of humour and pathos (almost enough to save the episode from the negative impact of the two children, whose characters were both intensely irritating, and both badly acted. I feel mean for saying that, but it was really off-putting). My reaction to this episode largely fits how I feel about the series overall - I'm honestly not sure how I feel about season 7 of Nu Who. I've been enjoying it, especially since Easter, and I like Clara, but I find the way she runs off with the Doctor every Wednesday and comes home a bit strange - I miss the days when companions got on board the TARDIS and were trapped, Sliders-style, trying to get home for years and years...

More Doctor Who reviews

Monday, 6 May 2013

Spartacus War of the Damned: Spoils of War

I hadn’t forgotten Spartacus! Unfortunately sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day, but it’s a bank holiday here today, so what better way to spend it than watching half-naked men attack each other? Properly Roman behaviour, I think.

When we left off, Surfer Caesar had just revealed himself to the rebels and was facing off against a group of our heroes while Crassus’ forces broke down the gate with a huge battering ram. And so the start of this episode is all fighty, fighty, fight. All the named characters still seem to be alive.

Crassus enters behind his battering ram and Surfer Caesar welcomes him. More fighting. Also some fire. Bullet-time fighting. Spartacus fights with two swords, because he is the Darth Maul of ancient Rome (and we all know what happened to him). The Artist is conspicuous by his absence so Number One runs off to find him. Gannicus offers to lead a distraction while the others get away, which Spartacus tries to refuse, but unsuccessfully.  No need to worry Spartacus, Gannicus is perfectly capable of taking on half the Roman army by himself, because he is Gannicus.

The soundtrack, which is feeling particularly multiple-personality-disorder-y today and keeps switching genres, sounds kind of like James Horner’s Titanic soundtrack for a moment.

Number One picks up the Artist and a pirate, while Eponine runs whimpering after Gannicus, because that is her job. Our guys have set the city on fire, but Crassus keeps going anyway, because he is quite fond of fire in the right circumstances (he used to have buildings set on fire, then buy the land and the neighbouring buildings cheap, then have his army of slaves put out the fire – that’s how he made his fortune).

Romans attack our heroes as they’re trying to get away, and more fighting ensues. Surfer Caesar tries to grab Spartacus but Spartacus gets away thanks to a portcullis-y-thing. Crassus decides to leave off chasing Spartacus for now in favour of hunting down any remaining rebels in the city. Gannicus and Eponine, having decided that this is not a suicide mission however much it might look like one, hide under some floorboards.

Surfer Caesar cuts his hair and shaves, which is very disappointing. Historical accuracy can take a long walk off a short cliff, I liked the surfer look! Crassus is confident in their victory, though Caesar is concerned that Spartacus is still alive and they are all going to end up like Haldir. Eponine nurses Gannicus’ wounded hand and tries to make him feel better about their impending deaths, while Boudicca is brought back into what remains of the city and taken under Caesar’s pervy little wing.
Sure, it's much more Roman, but is it as cool?

Crassus tells Maid Marian she can stay with him now, to her immense relief, while Tiberius taunts her about having raped her with the most horribly inappropriate double entendres the series has yet produced. Crassus, for whom personal relationships are not a strong point, misses everything and gives Tiberius a promotion, but tells him they’ll be honouring Caesar as the victor of the battle, since he wants Caesar’s allegiance. Because Tiberius is still a stroppy, jealous child, he sulks at this.

Further adventures of Gannicus and Eponine under the floorboards. As Romans search the building, Eponine asks, ‘Is there nothing we can do?’ ‘There is but one thing,’ says Gannicus, ‘pray.’ Of course, he doesn’t mean this literally, rather it’s a set-up for a trick, as she prays and then Gannicus kills the guy who comes after her. He leaves her with a knife and heads off to find a way out.

Tiberius threatens Maid Marian some more. It’s very unpleasant.

Boudicca gets a bath from another naked woman, both standing up in knee-deep water while the camera lingers lovingly over both their bodies (it’s been ages since we some full frontal nudity in this series, now I come to think of it). The other woman is still naked even as she’s dressing Boudicca, though it’s the clothed and made up Boudicca that Caesar thinks is a ‘vision’ to rival his ‘beloved wife’ (how beloved is open to debate, though Caesar does seem to have been pretty attached to his first wife, refusing to divorce her when ordered to by a dictator and suffering for it). The soundtrack has now slipped into Memoirs of a Geisha, which might be significant.

Crassus quizzes Boudicca on Spartacus’ character. She is unimpressed when she discovers he won with the help of the Pirate King (or is it another pirate? They all look kinda the same, all long hair and big cloaks). It turns out that Crassus has sold her to the Pirate King as a reward for helping him take the city (which he is not legally in a position to do, but no one’s arguing).

More female nudity! Tiberius finds two random women fooling around with each other – turns out they’re with Caesar, which is unsurprising.  At one point Caesar stands in the most awkward position (back to the camera, twisting and pointing so we can see his face but not his meat and two veg) because apparently we’re allowed full frontal female nudity (and get an eyeful of the third such in this episode) but men have to stop at the backside this season. Hmm. Tiberius whines and Caesar explains why he is superior to Tiberius in every way (which, let’s face it, he is) and orders some oysters (of course).

The Pirate King insists that Boudicca would be no better off with the Romans because, as a woman, she’s no better than a slave to them. Since she seems pretty well off, that’s not entirely true, and Crassus really has no right to be bargaining her off the way he has, but maybe the Pirate King isn’t an expert on Roman law. Anyway, the point is rendered moot when he brands her as his slave, thus ensuring that she’ll need a freedman’s ring or equivalent if she wants to move freely and not be crucified as a runaway slave. Gannicus and Eponine turn up before he gets any further and the Pirate King spends an inordinate amount of time trying to justify himself and threatening Eponine, but all Gannicus does is point out that she’s not his woman and go for the attack (one on... several, but it’s Gannicus, he could take on an army of orcs if he had to).

The Pirate King holds a sword to Eponine (proving that Gannicus does care whether she lives or dies), but gets no further because Boudicca jams his own branding iron through his throat, which is pretty cool. Boudicca, well aware that she has little choice now that she’s stuck with a slave brand, tags along with Gannicus and Eponine as they make their escape.

Crassus, Caesar, Tiberius and the others are enjoying watching the few rebels who are still alive and didn’t get away be torn limb from limb because all that James Horner-style background music has put them in a Braveheart mood. The other random Roman who keeps hanging around but whose name and job I’ve completely forgotten asks after Boudicca and is told that she’s left. He is horrified to discover that Crassus plans to keep the entire city for himself, because clearly he doesn’t know Crassus very well.

One of Spartacus’ captured men goads Tiberius about how a Roman should face him in single combat instead of executing him, so Tiberius announces that Caesar will dispatch the guy personally and sneakily unties the dude first. Caesar is less than impressed with Tiberius, but he first declares the honour and glory for the fight to Rome in general rather than himself or Crassus, then successfully avoids being killed, calls Tiberius a boy, and defeats the gladiator dude in an almost fair sword fight (except Caesar’s wearing armour and the gladiator dude is not) because he’s Caesar and he’s awesome. The soundtrack has now switched to computer-game style chords mixed with power chords, and I want to see a version of Street Fighter where you can fight as Julius Caesar against Random Gladiator Dude.

Gannicus and the girls walk through some Romans, Gannicus covered up with an exciting hooded cloak but the girls, unhelpfully, not and of course Caesar recognises Boudicca while the soundtrack goes sort of electric-guitar wild west or... something. Fighting ensues and Gannicus ends up riding away on a horse with Eponine while the soundtrack switches to The Hunt for Red October, looking like a knight in shining armour, because he is even more awesome than Caesar. Boudicca has to follow on her own horse behind them and gets run through the side with a spear, but Gannicus literally tramples the Romans underfoot and rides away, having defeated them through the sheer force of his awesomeness.

Caesar has his various scratches fixed up in a nice warm room, in contrast to our heroes, who have withdrawn to a snowy mountain, which is uncomfortable for them, because although they have found some cloaks from somewhere, they still don’t seem to own too many clothes (Helga is bare-armed). They are all very pleased to see Gannicus, though Eponine and Helga are less pleased to see each other. Boudicca has somehow made it too, bleeding all over her horse and according to the Artist, still with a chance of survival (perhaps the freezing cold sealed the wound?!)

Spartacus shows Gannicus their new problem – Crassus has driven them to this frozen ridge, across which he has built a sodding great wall and ditch, from behind which his army can attack them. Spartacus has by now started to work out that this rebellion may not be going to end well...

I liked this episode, especially Gannicus’ positively heroic escape from the city with Eponine riding behind him like a medieval damsel, though I’ll miss Caesar’s surfer look. Let's face it, any episode featuring copious amounts of Caesar and Gannicus being awesome is going to go down pretty well with me.

I especially love that this series, and especially this episode, has used Crassus’ genuine personality quirks and vices to show his particular brand of dodginess, instead of attributing generalised supposedly Roman degeneracy to him. Crassus in Kubrick’s Spartacus seemed to have little in common with the real Crassus and represented the various ways in Romans were imagined to be degenerate and generally naughty in the 1960s, but this character is recognisably the historical Crassus – he’s ambitious and he’s greedy, and those are his only really major vices (the fact that Crassus’ main flaws are fairly common and socially acceptable in our own society is probably the main reason they aren’t depicted in him so often). This is in contrast to Caesar, about whom there were all sorts of rumours historically, so his voracious sexual appetite is more reasonable, historically speaking, and the producers can get their degenerate Roman sex in there (though I hope we see a better male to female nudity ratio next episode). I just hope Crassus’ horrible and unhistorical son meets a suitably sticky end, preferably at the hands of Boudicca or Maid Marian.


Helga to Gannicus: Do not die.

Crixus to Gannicus: You mad f*ck! (I think that’s Crixusian for ‘thank you’)

Crassus: Caesar is blessed with storied name and shall one day rise to shame the very sun.

Boudicca on Spartacus: He is not the beast one would have thought him.
Crassus: And in place of horns and sharpened claw?

Crassus (on himself and Spartacus): Each believes himself the hero, the other villain. It is for history to decide who is mistaken. Till that day we will play our parts upon Fortune’s stage, as each of us must.

Crassus: Greed is but a word jealous men inflict upon the ambitious.

Caesar: Must Julius f*cking Caesar risk life to kill every last rebel himself?!

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