Spartacus: Blood and Sand (“Missio”)

Part 2 of 6
Date of airing: January 28, 2011 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.136 million viewers, 0.5/1 with Adults 18-49

In which Gaia turned into the sex broker of the House of Batiatus, because without her Batiatus and Lucretia would be unable to force the attention of Quintilius Varis. The writers definitely did themselves a favor by creating Gaia and have her drop into the House of Batiatus, because she managed to drive the story forwards within two hours, where the characters are already facing doom and emotional harm. Without Gaia, Batiatus would not have the primus. Without Gaia, Crixus would not have fought Gannicus, which was driving Doctore nuts and angry towards Oenomaus (although the latter is the fault of Batiatus’ hatred of his own father, wanting to get rid of the establishment in the House of Batiatus). Without Gaia, Batiatus would probably not have seen a way to go against Tullius and have his shit-eater student Vettius beat up by the Syrians and the other recruit whose name eludes me (who cares about that guy, now that his throat has been cut out of his neck after the attack on Vettius?), because Batiatus would not have found a way to keep Varis happy or occupied with other thoughts, so in a way you can blame Vettius’ wounds and the dead gladiator on Gaia as well. And while all of the movement in the narrative looks good, when you think about it, how it came to be, and who was behind all that moment, you start to question if Gaia could ever become anything more than the one who steers the story. Can she be her own character with her own emotional depth or will she be too busy to create yet a few more twists on the road?

Unmarked slaves on a murder mission are history quickly.

It has become noticeable how low-key SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA is so far. The first two episodes of SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND already had the titular character trying to defy the norms of establishment and having to pay for it with disrespect and almost-death by the Crixus’ sword, while also trying the best to introduce all the characters, but after two episodes of SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA, all we had to deal with so far was Batiatus’ efforts to get one of his gladiators into a primus, as well as the marriage of Oenomaus and Melitta, now to be troubled by an extramarital rape which will most likely complicate Gannicus’ friendship with the new Doctore. Those are storylines you would normally get within one and the same episode, but the writers expanded it to two hours, showcasing once more that the Spartacus television show likes to create back story. And let’s not forget that these episodes were initially planned to be just one (maybe two) flashback episodes for the second season, if its necessary expansion into a miniseries hadn’t been forced by Andy Whitfield’s illness and later retreat from the titular role.

The low-key narrative of this miniseries does give attention to the character arcs, which in this episode happened to be somewhat fine ones. I don’t know yet whether or not I should care about the extramarital rape and if it is going to trouble Oenomaus’ marriage with his slave wife, but fact is that there is some predictability in the story and it doesn’t get me any more excitement about what’s to come. As previously stated, “Delicate Things” mentioned the dead wife of the Doctore, but for this miniseries she is alive, which means her death is most likely going to be depicted. Leading towards that death by creating a story that could ruin a marriage (and it doesn’t even matter here that it is a case of rape) might be interesting for this very batch of episodes, as well as for Oenomaus, but at this point it only helps the show to take a bit of a distance from the blood and sex and instead focus on a character-based narrative. It wouldn’t hurt SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA at all if it were to focus on the characters a little more in the future and has some of the sex and gore scenes reduced for the sake of a narrative. But then again, maybe we wouldn’t have a story set in ancient Rome then.

Current champion versus future champion.

The aftermath of the beating Batiatus has experienced was great though. The man may have been on the path of evil before, but after he was wounded in the back alleys of Capua, it almost felt like Batiatus was not just beaten for the sake of entertainment and bullying, but also to give him a path towards the villain he will become in SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND. He has already taken action against Vettius, and the fact that the little shit-eater isn’t dead right now could be explained by the fact that Batiatus hasn’t ordered someone’s death yet, let alone killed someone himself. Meanwhile, Batiatus has become the scheming mastermind that we have come to meet and fall in love with during the first season, and once more the man knows how to make sure that loose ends are removed. Having the slave whose name I still cannot recall be killed by Ashur after the deed was done was a gruesome scene (okay, this may have been the first time Batiatus ordered someone’s death, so this episode may have broken new ground with the character) and it proved that Batiatus was ready to do everything to get his bidding done.

In the meantime, Crixus was fighting towards championship in Capua and the gods heard his pleas to take that position from Gannicus during a showing for Varis. I loved the sparks that flew when their swords clashed, and I generally loved the notion that Crixus’ fight skills have proven Oenomaus’ status as a teacher in the ludus, which also means Crixus fought so well against Gannicus, he indirectly caused Oenomaus from being removed from arena fights forever. Should Oenomaus be angry at Crixus for being such a great fighter? I was also impressed by the notion that the whole showing in front of Varis led to the death of the original Doctore, although questions remain why Oenomaus had to turn into the new Doctore this quickly in the miniseries. Grated, there is a story to be told with a character on a new path, but this episode teased Batiatus’ unhappiness with the status quo his father left him, and suddenly that status quo was gone when Oenomaus’ sword found way into Doctore’s body. If only there had been time to play with the premise of the status quo being challenged by Batiatus.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (“Past Transgressions”)

Part 1 of 6
Date of airing: January 21, 2011 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.097 million viewers, 0.7/1 in Households, 0.5/1 with Adults 18-49

For almost the entire episode, Batiatus was the happy lanista who really wanted to be more known to the crowd of Capua, who wanted a place past the mid-sun in the arena, and who just wanted to roam the city with the Magistrate. Batiatus wanted to get out of the shadow of his distant father, who still seems to be defining the life of his son, and Batiatus wholly believed that he had one of the best gladiators in town, although the question is if this is in fact true, since we haven’t come to seen more fights than just the opening two in the mini arena, as well as the fight between Gannicus and Otho. Not much for a show in the Spartacus television franchise, especially after SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND has shown where the show could go when it doesn’t have with a lot of story to deal. And to be honest, this episode didn’t have with a lot of story to deal, as the only two important elements were the work towards the rise of Batiatus, as well as the establishment of Gannicus being the gladiator who is champion, and who is the womanizer of the crowd and in his cell.

You could think of Oenomaus’ story as part of the episode’s narrative, but his story seemed more like a reminder to the audience that Doctore was once a gladiator himself and that his fight against Theokoles was in fact keeping him out of the life of being a champion for the House of Batiatus, even if SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND never made use of that back story beyond the episode “Shadow Games.” Remember that the Oenomaus vs. Theokoles fight wasn’t even mentioned in “Legends,” when Theokoles was introduced, so one could beckon to ask why the writers didn’t care much back then to have Oenomaus’ story as a gladiator fallen out of favor due to injury sustained in the arena and instead just have him be the Doctore of the previous season. With that in mind, Oenomaus may have completely shed his past when he took over the mantle of Doctore, barely even recognizing what has happened in his life before Spartacus came through those gates, and I don’t really think that would ever happen. Which makes things interesting for Oenomaus as a character throughout the season, because stuff definitely has to happen for him to never look back. He mentioned his wife in “Delicate Things,” yet here she is, alive and breathing and very much being the chief slave of the House of Batiatus (that means Melitta will die in this miniseries, right?). He is still a gladiator here, so besides becoming Doctore, something else had to happen to turn him into the sometimes brutal teacher of the gladiatorial arts we’ve got to see and love during SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, when Oenomaus is still a pretty cool and chill guy here.

Gaia arrives into the show with horny thoughts of threesomes.

You could also think that Crixus’ arrival in the House of Batiatus is meaningful to the narrative, but the writers were only playing with the knowledge of things to come in his life. Gaia and Lucretia were talking about doing it with a gladiator, and the next scene had Crixus in it. Crixus speaks of wanting to fight in the arena and be victorious and everyone else around him eyes him with disgust. Steven S. DeKnight was working with a few cliches here, which made Crixus’ reintroduction into the series universe rather cheesy. Nevertheless, seeing Crixus in the bottom of the ludus food chain is intriguing on many levels: Not only will we get to see (probably) how he becomes the Champion of Capua, or at least how he becomes the gladiator we met in “Sacramentum Gladiatorum,” but he will also become something of a character throughout these six episodes. He wants to fight and be famous now, but soon he will join ranks with the brotherhood, make friends with the other gladiators, and then become the sexual fixation of his Domina. Together with Oenomaus, Crixus may be going through predictable story movements, since we already know their characters from a future point in their lives, but between this episode and “Sacramentum Gladiatorum,” there is a whole lotta distance and things really have to happen for the characters to be placed where we met them.

But this episode was all about Batiatus and how his dreams of becoming a household name in Capua were shattered with fists and feet and piss, learning for the first time what it’s like wanting to be a prominent figure in the Roman Republic’s entertainment business. All this work to get an elevated standing in the games and then he gets beat to the pulp by young Vettius and his benefactor Tullius, making himself the villain of the season, because apparently SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA needed a villain to counteract against Batiatus. Okay, the show really does need a villain to showcase how Batiatus became the scheming and murdering lanista with dreams of political office, but I’m not so sure Tullius as the villain was necessary for that character development. Then again, how to show that the world in Capua is a different one behind closed doors and curtains than expected, and for Batiatus to learn the violent truth of how power and standing is handled in this town (just in Capua? Or were all ludi and their benefactors antagonistic towards each other like this?), because sometimes it’s actually difficult to create a villain for a character who is supposed to break bad. And SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA definitely wants to tell how Batiatus came to be the scheming killer in the dark alley.

Gannicus can best Vettius’ gladiators absent sight.

Meanwhile, the writers went with Gaia where they could not have gone in SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, most likely due to time constraints and the fact that they didn’t know how the gratuitous sex was being accepted by the viewers and the network. It’s clear that the character is only here to give the show its sex appeal and go a little risky with things. The first thing Gaia does when arriving in Capua was flirt with Lucretia, and the second thing she does is masturbating to Lucretia and Batiatus having sex while also wondering why her best friend isn’t doing it with one of the hot gladiators below their feet. You want more sex in the show? Get an attractive woman into the recurring cast whose only mission is it to undress and have sex with the central characters. It’s certainly a way to spend some time doing nothing and make the target audience wild. I don’t mind that, but here is to hoping that SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA will have sex scenes that are actually part of the narrative. Kind of like Spartacus unknowingly bedding Ilithyia in “Whore,” which led to a great sequence of violence and emotional breakdowns and blackmail that pretty much defined Ilithyia’s way of locking in the crowd to get slaughtered in the season finale.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand (“Kill Them All”)

Season 1, Episode 13
Date of airing: April 16, 2010 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.227 million viewers, 0.6/2 with Adults 18-49

In which an episode of television made its title all the honor it could have given. “Kill Them All,” it says, and a lot of people were definitely stabbed into the afterlife during this hour, as the producers not only used a vast amount of fake blood during the shooting of the episode, but also enough digital blood to make us all wish for a scene that is not dunked in the color of red, just to get our eyes adjusted to normal again. This episode was definitely a highlight of the entire series and put the season to a wonderful closer, during which the gladiators and slaves finally break free under the leadership of Spartacus, and from here on they can either forge their own paths or go with their leader to fight Rome. In this particular case, one could have wondered where the thought of Spartacus to go up against the soldiers of Rome came from, when his previous lusts were all for vengeance against Batiatus about the death of his wife. Did Varro’s death, Crixus’ punishment and the removal of Naevia show him that there is more to his fight against Batiatus than just wanting to see his master dead? Did his lust for vengeance get overshadowed by the general idea of needing to eradicate Rome for ever allowing the death of brothers for the purpose of sport? Seemingly out of nowhere, Spartacus became the leader of this uprising, and all just because he formed a plan in his mind to kill them all and suddenly he had all his brothers beside him in the overtaking and fall of the House of Batiatus.

Mira’s bloody deed is the first step towards the revolt.

The episode definitely needed a few minutes to get to that point though. At first, the idea of using the “x days earlier” narrative device to show the viewers what will happen between the end of the previous episode and the first scene of this episode may have been frustrating, but the writers weren’t waiting for the change back to present storytelling and as it turned out, what happened during the narrative was of interest as well, as Spartacus was pulling both Mira and Crixus on his side, while also depicting how bad the ludus has become under Glaber’s patronage, even though Batiatus was most likely welcoming the leash of Glaber’s soldiers, judging by the anger of Batiatus right before the Crixus’ flaying. If there would have been an opportunity to not begin with the celebration of patronage and instead fill the middle part of the episode with the tension of whether or not Mira is successful in opening the gate or Crixus joins Spartacus, it could have been a more wonderful episode that way. As it stands, breaking up the narrative into two timeframes only demolished the tension Mira’s story brought, although her scene of slicing the guard was by itself a fantastic watch. We have already come to know that Mira is somewhat in love with Spartacus (or at least wants to be reminded by him what it’s like to be loved by a man, especially when in shackles), so she was essentially the first person to join Spartacus’ cause, and she had the hardest part of all to secure the opportunity for Spartacus to make his move. But that part of the story should have been much greater than it was, and interrupting the story of the celebration hindered it to become greater.

But that is just nitpicking from my part, because the rest of the episode has shown greatness. Beginning with the pressure of needing all the elements to be in place for Spartacus to begin the uprising, going over to a few of the character arcs, and finally the chaos and mayhem that transpired in the villa, as pretty much all of the honored guests were sliced and diced into the afterlife, one more elegant than the next. Magistrate Calavius’ wife definitely needed to be shown the door on screen and she definitely got her back sliced off. Numerius was shown who really deserved to die in one of the most powerful murder and vengeance scenes of the entire show. And then there was Crixus, who simply just stabbed Lucretia in the stomach, killing their unborn baby. That scene may or may not have been torture for me, due to the fact how “simple” the actions of Crixus were in that moment. All this time he was under the foot and breasts of his Domina, but as soon as she betrayed him with a baby and a poisoned drink, he was ready to forego whatever they had between them (maybe there was love, before he fell into it with Naevia) and cut off their connection, both in a figurative and literal sense. That Lucretia as even moving at the end of the episode was a surprise, but I guess the producers knew they couldn’t just kill everyone. A second season was likely, and killing off both big names they have hired with John Hannah and Lucy Lawless at the end of the season was probably demolishing all the potential to have one or both of them return. It is definitely not needed in the narrative (Spartacus got his vengeance, Crixus dealt with his problem, and right now Rome, personified by Glaber, is the main villain for the characters), but maybe there had to be a famous name among the cast members in the next season. Maybe the writers’ hands were bound by the network in this case.

Abortions during the days of the Roman Republic were painful and bloody.

At the end of the day, this episode could also prove costly for the show as a whole. The writers have shown so much courage by burning all their bridges behind themselves while also knowing where to write towards, but the way this season has levelled up the show’s greatness within only a few episodes by throwing one twist after another into the narrative, the upcoming seasons may not be able to hold a candle against it. I wouldn’t consider SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND the greatest season of television, although it certainly is part of the competition. It is also fact that a great season of television will most likely not be followed by another great season of television, so here is to hoping that the writers stayed away from what the viewers were so excited about during the past few episodes and just focused on the story at hand. LOST has shown us all that writers looking to the audience to form and mold their show can be a mistake, and the two things SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND is now known for are the famous “tits and blood,” which would eventually turn into the show’s very own and unique genre. But yeah, the greatest advantage this show had was knowing where the story was headed and when it would end. Yet even that could end up to become the curse of the show.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand (“Revelations”)

Season 1, Episode 12
Date of airing: April 9, 2010 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.285 million viewers, 0.7 rating in Households, 0.6/2 with Adults 18-49

“There is but one path. We kill them all.” A promise has been made for the season finale, and according to its title the characters may keep said promise, making for a potentially interesting and almost definitely bloody finale. But while the final scene led the characters straight to the slave uprising under the roof of the House of Batiatus, the remainder of the episode was busy in leading Spartacus to that thought and establish his thinking about how unfair life is for a gladiatorial slave who draws blood for the entertainment of the Romans. Spartacus has been the protector of some of the slaves a few times now, but this episode established that he is ready to take the mantle against the reign of Rome against persons who are considered slaves under Roman law. With each scene it became clearer that he does not like the notion of slaves, and I get the feeling this message was hammered home to him when he saw Aurelia in the villa, acting as if a slave. When it is that easy to become a slave and work for the amusement of a filthy rich Roman, then why hasn’t anyone done anything about it? Why must Aurelia suffer for what Spartacus did under command, when she should have been far removed from Batiatus? Why must a slave be a slave, when everyone should be allowed to live free and happily with their loved ones?

That is also where Crixus and Naevia’s story come to play, and how the former’s flogging and the latter’s removal from the villa may have convinced Spartacus to do something about all of it right now. Crixus was being punished for loving a woman, which according to Spartacus’ new world view was an evil deed done by Rome, while the Gaul suffers under that Roman rule. Spartacus may have come to know said rule after Mira had mentioned it to him during the first act of the episode, showcasing Spartacus’ train of thought throughout the hour: He was possessed by thoughts of vengeance, but he was knowledged by Mira and then stopped by the thought of Aurelia getting killed, who was the one person in this villa to not deserve being sent to the afterlife. Then Glaber came to be involved in Batiatus’ political game and Spartacus realized that Batiatus is not the only one who needs to taste the vengeance of the Thracian. Spartacus won’t be done when Batiatus is dead. Spartacus won’t have ended slavery by killing his wife’s murderer. After Batiatus, it’s Glaber who needs to taste the vengeance. And at the end of the episode, Crixus’ punishment and Naevia’s removal from the village proved to Spartacus once and for all that things have to happen now, and with the German brothers he already has four ears listening.

Ilithyia will have to staffer now.

And damn, was I emotionally impressed by Crixus and Naevia’s story during the final act. I wept a little when Naevia cried for Crixus and she moved towards him with her broken face, her cut-off hair, her surrendered behavior. She was saying goodbye to him, because she knew that both their paths have come across a brick wall from which there is no overcoming. And when Naevia was removed from Crixus, I was even more impressed by the way Manu Bennett depicted the sadness and emotional suffering of his character — I don’t think Bennett has ever been this good this season, but as it turns out, the breaking point of his character arc was always this scene, right after the flogging. All this time Crixus was the champion, dreaming of victory in the arena, the cheers of the crowd, but now he tasted the love of a woman, and that was ripped away from him ever so harshly. He will never be the same again.

Let’s not forget though that this was just another one of Ashur’s move of manipulations, to prove that he is the smartest of the all, who could do anything he wishes because he actually knows how to make his knowledge usable for his own good. Yet still, his greatest wish of becoming a gladiator once more is far removed from possibility, because Batiatus had to remove him from the ludus, begging the question whether or not Ashur could still be considered a slave. If a slave is smarter than its master and becomes his right-hand man, is he still being seen as the slave within the villa? And what else does Ashur have in his pocket to use against anyone he doesn’t like? Since Batiatus destroyed his hopes of being a gladiator again, does this also mean Ashur could make a move against Batiatus, or is he too much of a puppy for the man who is close to feeling the wrath of Spartacus?

The titular revelations definitely did a number on the characters though, and not just Crixus and Naevia, both suffering the consequences of their normal human actions now. Even Ilithyia can stop dreaming of a better life in Rome with her husband after being driven up a wall like this by both Batiatus and Lucretia. That her secret of being Licinia’s killer was revealed like that was a great twist, especially now that it changes the story Ilithyia is in. Glaber has never been the more important character of the show, since he has been quite one-dimensional over the course of the series, but there was always something about Ilithyia and now she will suffer as much as Batiatus’ slaves do, because from here on she has to face the wrath of the House of Batiatus for not coming through with what Batiatus and Lucretia asked of her. Stab those two in the back and you might find a sword in your own back — but this time literally.

Crixus and Naevia will have to separate from now on.

And of course, there was Naevia mentioning words about Barca’s so-called freedom, which has turned into a story returned to the fold with this episode, so that the season finale can go with a little more than just its titular killing of everyone. It definitely gives pause to think about how Doctore is going to be involved in the finale, and that he won’t just be the character on the side having a weird face because he doesn’t think what is transpiring in front of him looks good on his master. Doctore will be actively involved with what is going to happen, and Barca’s demise is going to help him do that. And for Naevia, coming out with that knowledge was one little “fuck you, assholes” to her Dominus and Domina, who have stolen her away from her greatest love. She gets taken down by her masters? Well, better take them down with yourself and burn down the entire house in the process.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand (“Old Wounds”)

Season 1, Episode 11
Date of airing: April 2, 2010 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.130 million viewers, 0.7 rating in Households, 0.4/1 with Adults 18-49

In which Spartacus has a few fever dreams, during which he solves the case of his wife’s murder, uncovers the villain behind the plot, and starts forming a plan to move against Batiatus. This episode was essentially “CSI: Special Victims Unit: Ludus of Rome,” because it was only here to ring in the season finale of the show and to explain how Spartacus turned from a gladiator and the Champion of Capua to the leader of the slave uprising. An episode that took its time to get to that point, because the writers still took very much care of the creation of back story. As it turns out, SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND is proving what can be done with a 13-episode season while also having to follow a tight narrative — every moment of this show is planned to the fullest, every scene has a back story that carries the following scene or story, and there is no time wasted with non-necessities. Okay, maybe the fight scenes are a bit long at times, and maybe you can trim one or two sex scenes from the narrative, but this is still the Roman Republic and a story about slavery, and that imagery needs screentime as well.

Saying goodbye to your greatest love beyond walls of freedom.

It was quite the quiet episode, with barely anything happening. You could say that Batiatus’ scheme against Solonius was a major story of the episode, and while it was, it never really felt like the major story of the entire show, albeit being the major story of Batiatus’ character arc. You could also say that Batiatus’ plan for blood and revenge on both his arch nemeses went on a little too quickly, but then again, Ashur has been playing with all of us. For a few episodes now he has been having quiet word with Solonius about Batiatus’ plan to make a move against him, and all this time we were allowed to think that maybe Ashur was no longer the villain for Batiatus and that he may actually have been close to changing sides. The fact that Ashur was just playing a role for Batiatus opens up the question of what Ashur really wants and how he sees himself in the House of Batiatus. He wanted to be back as a gladiator, but was all but rejected by his master, yet he was still given the opportunity to take part in a conspiracy that would have Batiatus ram his cock in the asses of all the people who have wronged him, and at the same time no less. Batiatus knows that he can count on Ashur for scheming his way to politics and revenge, but that would also mean Ashur has no dreams of a life outside these walls, and I can’t quite buy that.

No matter what, this episode has proven who Batiatus really is. He has a Magistrate killed for the sake of letting his arch nemesis run into a dead Magistrate with a dagger. He gets wronged for whatever reason and he sees the matter answered in literal blood within the next episode. Although you are also allowed to ask the question why Batiatus was successful in trapping Calavius into his trap when he needed almost the entire season to take revenge against Solonius. Was it always the plan to have Solonius be seen as the murderer of a politician in Capua, for a quicker or more painful punishment in return? All in all, Batiatus has truly turned into the villain of the story with this episode. He killed a Magistrate, he succeeded in his revenge ploy against Solonius, and the titular character now knows who is behind the death of his wife. People know what Batiatus is capable of now, and it’s only a matter of time until those who were wronged by Batiatus will exact revenge on him. Spartacus is pretty close already, since he has been living in the belly of the beast for a long time, and his “I am myself again” showed that he is definitely scheming up something to answer for Sura’s death.

Solonius has finally sprung into the trap.

Meanwhile, Crixus was in a separated storyline and it dealt with his resurgence in the arena. It was a nice little storyline, but nothing really that could have been of any worth. It has become noticeable how the writers were more and more focusing on Crixus’ relationship with Naevia — the two had softcore porn sex for the first time on-screen (predictably being watched by a still scheming Ashur, who will use those to gain even more favor with his masters or to take revenge on Crixus once and for all, who is after all guilty of whatever he did to Ashur’s leg), and Crixus was more than disappointed and saddened that he was unable to celebrate his victory in Pompeii’s primus with the woman of his dreams. All this was essentially just a story for Crixus, with one or two scenes that prepared whatever is to come out of the revelation that Ashur was watching live porn at the stairs to the ludus. And still, this episode seemed to be focusing on Batiatus and Spartacus only, and this even after Spartacus’ CSI dream was kind of the C story in the episode, taking the least amount of screentime (as if the producers have decided to give Andy Whitfield a day or two off by just lying on the table for half of the episode, or slowly walking around in front of multiple greenscreens and acting shocked and puzzled and mysterious). I would have loved it to see Crixus more in the center of the episode, instead of just putting his arena resurgence in here for the sake of his character arc. But the writers seemed to have been distracted every time Crixus was in the middle of his story. One can be allowed to forget that the B story was all about him, because the other two stories were more exciting than Crixus’ return to former glory.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand (“Party Favors”)

Season 1, Episode 10
Date of airing: March 26, 2010 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.265 million viewers, 0.6/2 with Adults 18-49

Ashur is not the only scheming motherlover in Capua, because in this episode he got some attractive competition. Ilithyia’s way of manipulating herself for Numerius’ attention, so that she can be the editor of his editorial decision of the exhibition match during his birthday party was stunning to say the least, although it does open questions whether Numerius will ever be a great leader in the Senate or even in war, when he gets courted by Ilithyia for the sake of revenge this easily. If Numerius does what the woman who just took his virginity (I assume he hasn’t had sex before the moment in the pool) says, then it wasn’t him who edited the exhibition match, which means he can always be manipulated into doing someone else’s bidding. Ilithyia knew that instantly, although fact is also that she was easily able to wrap the kid around her finger by just dropping her robe and joining him in the pool. It was an image that made me quite happy — celebrating a birthday in the villa of Quintus Lentulus Batiatus might not be such a shady idea.

The nether regions are always of importance in the Roman Republic.

And with this episode, Spartacus lost his one and only friend. Granted, he has gotten another friend in Mira who respects the man who respects women, but forcing the death of Varro is going to emotionally destroy Spartacus, and since the season has only three episodes left, it has to be the inciting incident of him becoming the leader of the slave uprising. For three episodes he has been the Champion of Capua, living his life as such, diminishing his dreams of a life outside the ludus, having accepted and made friends with the fate and gods of his late wife. For three episodes the character of Spartacus has been a gladiator, one who does not concern himself with the premise of freedom or being the leader of an army against the Roman Republic. Three episodes are plenty for the character to be as far removed as possible from where he will end up eventually. Three episodes in a 13-episode season is quite the time to give Spartacus the opportunity to be the Champion of Capua — it’s almost like the writers knew that giving pause for back story was necessary to understand the character later on, as was the case during the weirdly distant pilot episode, which did not have a single second set in the House of Batiatus. We’ve had one episode of a nameless Thracian being the soldier, husband and, when it concerns Legatus Glaber, traitor and coward, giving back story to Spartacus’ time in the ludus. Now we’ve got enough back story of Spartacus as the beloved Champion of Capua, which means it’s time for him to realize his true potential.

And he already started doing so during this episode, when he was defending Mira against the guard. For a moment he smelled what it’s like to boss a guard around, no matter his status, and for a moment Spartacus became the protector of the slaves who are being used and abused by common Romans. Spartacus did not care what would happen to him when he burned the Roman, he probably did not even care what Mira would think of his heroic actions. Spartacus just did what he thought was the right thing to do, and he did that while still having resigned to the fate of the gods. Imagine what he is capable of doing when he finds his other fate.

Numerius is just another slave hater.

Until the point that saw Varro dead on the floor of the villa, the episode happened to be quite intriguing when it came to be about the friendship between the now-dead gladiator and the titular character. Spartacus and Varro were never this buddy-buddy with each other, and I’m almost sure that it was not just to make it easier for Ilithyia to come up with a plan and best Spartacus for once, before he can snap back with a humiliating comment about her husband, but to also give Varro a chance to be the character he was supposed to be for Spartacus, before his time was up. He was after all a gladiator, but the beginning of the episode saw him in the arena for the first time, as if the writers remembered that Spartacus (and Crixus) was not the only gladiator who also likes to fight in the arena. In hindsight I would have loved if SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND had shown the fighting skills of some of the other gladiators (especially Barca) besides the two main attractions, but now I realize that there barely was time to do so. And it’s something the following prequel miniseries made effort to fix, but if it hadn’t been for the health blow of Andy Whitfield, we never would have gotten to see that.

Batiatus’ plan for political office have been smashed into millions of pieces in the meantime, and all he could think of at the end of the episode was the promise of blood. He lost one of his most promising gladiators at the hands of a kid that needed the head of Batiatus in his ass, just so Magistrate Calavius can smell how much Batiatus has been dreaming about the Senate, and then Calavius had the audacity to say “No” to Batiatus’ future plan. It’s like Calavius decided not to be the strict father to his own boy when Numerius turned his thumb into the unexpected direction, while he actually behaved like a strict father to Batiatus by telling him off about his ambitions. I can understand fully why Batiatus was pissed about what just transpired here and I wouldn’t even mind if he turns into the most ruthless villain in Capua because of it. Yes, it makes Batiatus small in the bigger picture, because he cannot keep himself together after this kind of disappointment, but damn, I would think badly of the Magistrate as well after being treated like his son in that instant, while his actual freaking son is taking away one of my gladiators, wasting away all the coins I put towards said gladiator’s training and development. Death to Calavius and Numerius, immediately! No one screws with Batiatus like this.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand (“Whore”)

Season 1, Episode 9
Date of airing: March 19, 2010 (Starz)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.109 million viewers, 0.7 rating in Households, 0.4/1 with Adults 18-49

Katrina Law immediately made it into the starring section of the closing credits, which means her character Mira is going to be important for the remainder of the season, and probably not just because it kind of looked like she could become Spartacus’ love interest. I remember, after I first watched the episode I liked Mira from the beginning, which may or may not have something to do with the way she was introduced to the audience (mostly in naked fashion). But the thing is, Mira became an instant ally to Spartacus, who connected to him on a somewhat emotional level (by learning that he does not desire flesh like probably any other gladiator in the ludus, showing respect to the woman instead of taking her whole) and who trusted him enough to give her a task, so he can give Varroa calm mind about his missing wife and son. If Mira is able to give Spartacus this much trust in her first-ever episode, it means the writers definitely had to plan with her as part of Spartacus’ army in mind when the slave uprising happens. And if not, she is definitely just the love interest for the Champion of Capua, leading Spartacus to leave behind dreams of the past and approaching a present and future that could spell fortune on an emotional basis for him. Besides that, Katrina Law is an attractive woman and as it turns out that she is also a good-enough actress to develop a character in spite of the constant nudity she had to go through during this hour. I mean, was she ever not naked in any of her scenes?

Locked gates can’t keep those two lovers apart.

The episode was stunning again, following the creative thrust the show has been going through ever since the victory over Theokoles. Also, this episode was what completely sold me to SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, even if “The Thing in the Pit” already did it. That episode may have sold the show to me with its violence and splendid acting from its main star, but this very episode managed to convince me that the twist and turns in the narrative can never be trusted to be predictable, and that there is always a surprise behind each and every scene. Spartacus bedding a proper Roman woman may have been half a porno movie, but the surprise reveal of Ilithyia behind the mask was a shocking one, and a twist no one could have seen coming. And it didn’t stop here: When Ilithyia smashed Licinia’s brain and killed her in an instant, the show entered a new level of violence, where the blood and gore wasn’t just delivered to look cool and violent, but where said blood and gore follows a path in the narrative. Ilithyia killed someone and now she is more humiliated than ever. Ilithyia killed a proper Roman woman and the cousin of a Senator, which means she can be blackmailed now. That is probably something Lucretia had in mind when deceiving Ilithyia by giving her Spartacus, and who knows, maybe Lucretia turned out to be even more happy that Ilithyia murdered Licinia, because now Glaber’s wife can be controlled a lot better. Lucretia was pissed that Ilithyia always went over her, but now Lucretia has control over her best friend. That may favor her most than it could Batiatus’ mission to reach the Senate of Rome. But it also spells trouble, because now there is another dead Roman in the skeleton closet of the House of Batiatus, which could bring them all down.

It’s such a shame though that the intimate nature of business for the House of Batiatus wasn’t properly developed here. Maybe the writers decided to go at it a little slowly and carefully, because the thought of gladiators also being used for sexual favors to please Roman women is certainly a new one, and a premise the show could dive into a little more if there happens to be time. The thing is just, there are only four episodes left this season and those episodes have to prepare the slave uprising. Besides that, too many skeletons are being pushed into the closet, and bringing folk into the villa to share anonymous intimacy with a gladiator may be something Batiatus and Lucretia won’t risk. The depiction of the intimate encounter was pretty great though. First of all, it was the preparation that I liked, as Spartacus was turned into a sex god for the Roman woman, with a great score and wonderful editing accompanying the scene. Every time there was a percussion moment in the score, the preparation scene was cutting to a new image, which happened to be a great idea to put some versatility into a scene that was essentially just leading to yet another softcore porn scene. In addition, the writers knew that they had to make use of said softcore porn scene, and you will remember it not because of the fact that it was softcore, but because it was part of Lucretia’s scheme to gain control over Ilithyia. Bring me one viewer of the show who can tell me the images of the sex scene and not give attention to the twist and violence that followed the sex scene. That is how you bring attention away from the thing that made SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND bring to the audience’s attention in the first place.

She can sleep here tonight, but only on the ground.

The rest of the episode was solid enough. Crixus and Naevia shared moments of love and affection, which means the writers did not concern themselves with the threat of Lucretia finding out about their illicit affair, even though the threat dangles above their head ever so daringly. Also, Varro got a bit of attention with his ongoing storyline of the search for his wife and child, although it has become obvious how the writers gave one or two scenes of note to Varro, just so that particular story can develop. Sometimes SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND is as quick as a flash when it comes to story developments in episodes, but for reasons yet to be revealed, Varro’s character arc takes time. A lot of it. I must say though, I liked his desperation a lot more in the previous episode, because it actually threatened him mentally. In this episode it only threatened him physically, and it’s not like he paid a big price for smashing up Ashur and spending a night in shackles he could not break. By the way, the fact that Ashur did not immediately lose that fist fight with Varro means two things: Ashur is strong enough to get back into the arena and not immediately die, and Varro is too weak and distracted right now to win a proper fight.