If you like your excessive violence and gratuitous nudity served with a small side of cheese then there is no better viewing than the Spartacus series on Stars. Or Starz. Whatever. The violence is fun, the nudity is fantastic and the bit of cheese it is served with is delicious. Then again, having grown up in the 80’s, I do love a little cheese in my entertainment.
A fusion of Gladiator, Rome and 300, Spartacus Blood and Sand rockets to a climax that is an orgy of raging violence. The final episode is apocalyptic in both its emotional resonance and brutality. What makes it all the better is that the series actually makes you care about the characters and their ultimate fate, whatever that may be. As mush as I can lavish praise on the show, it does suffer from the same problem that HBO’s Deadwood and Rome both did. Historical accuracy.
Game of Thrones is the big thing right now, and it should be. George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire offers everything that HBO could love. Costumes, morally ambiguous characters, nudity, perversion and of course the key to every entertainment’s success, Sean Bean dying horribly. If aliens started studying our pop culture, they’ll probably wonder just what our society has against that man. Unless you have read the books, the best part of Game of Thrones on HBO is that the end hasn’t been spoiled by your eleventh grade teacher. Rome and Deadwood were locked into a certain conclusion by history, Game of Thrones is not. The possibilities are wide open.
This the problem about the Spartacus series. They have to eventually move on from what makes the show so fucking awesome. This magnificent bastard right here.
Batiatus is Spartacus’ owner in the series. If you’ve seen the Kirk Douglas movie or are a fan of Wikipedia, then you know how things turn out for him. The character is played with such charisma by John Hannah that he completely steals the series from the title character. I ended up rooting more for Batiatus than I did for Spartacus. Him and his wife Lucretia (played by Lucy Lawless) outshine the rest of the cast. It’s been a long problem in fiction that the villains are often more interesting than the heroes. The Phantom of the Opera is one of the best examples of this. The Phantom himself is mysterious and fascinating while Christine and Raoul are dull twits. Take this quote from Roger Ebert’s review of the 1925 Lon Chaney film version of Phantom of the Opera.
The characters of Christine and Raoul, played by Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry, essentially function as puppets of the plot. But the Phantom is invested by the intense and inventive Lon Chaney with a horror and poignancy that is almost entirely created with body language.
Spartacus in Blood and Sand on the other hand, is a fully formed and tragic character who has the sympathy of the viewer. He’s an handsome ass kicker, filled with righteous anger who first works to reunite with his wife and then settles on blood soaked vengeance. You couldn’t ask for a better hero in a piece of entertainment. One hopes that a hero of equal depth and purpose eventually finds their way into video games. Yet, for all of his manly brooding, shouting and stabbing the character of Spartacus falls under the shadow of the magnificent bastard trope.
When first watching Blood and Sand, I found myself wishing they had just dropped the Spartacus name and went rogue on history’s ass. I wanted more of Batiatus’ and Lucretia’s political skulduggery. Blood and Sand ended with the slave revolt as history dictates but at a heavy cost. The most fascinating character in the show had to be sacrificed. Thankfully, his comeuppance is epic and dramatic. It was a bittersweet endeavor. His demise was viscerally and emotionally fulfilling, but a bit of a shame as well. It would be the last we would see of Batiatus in the series. Then came Gods of the Arena, a prequel to Blood and Sand.
It was six episodes that revolved mostly around Batiatus and Lucretia. As far as prequels go, with all the problems and short comings associated with them, Gods of the Arena truly delivered. Back stories and motivations were expanded upon of familiar characters, leading to a much richer Blood and Sand. Gods of the Arena came out of a tragic necessity, but the opportunity was seized upon by the series.
I haven’t watched any of Spartacus: Vengeance yet, but I look forward to it. There is still one, truly hate worthy villain who still needs a sword shoved through his throat. It’s a shame that we have to move on from Batiatus, but Gods of the Arena gave us six more episodes of his magnificent bastardry(not a real word, but should be). With that added, the time spent with him feels like just enough and I am ready to move on to Vengeance.
I rate both Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena as highly recommended for some magnificent bastardry(still not a real word) and Lucy Lawless’ breasts. Honorable mention goes to people getting their shit ruined with swords and tridents, which is great but nothing compared to Lucy Lawless’ breasts.