Jun 062013

Spartacus War of DamnedThe second season had a slow start, which reflected the rebels’ debate between enjoying their freedom or liberating all of the slaves. The third season is simply dull, as if all of the producers were more interested in their next projects. Admittedly, the third and final season presented the writers with a difficult challenge. It is common knowledge that the slave rebellion was eventually crushed and all of the slaves were either killed in battle or put to death after they had been captured. The third season was always going to be tricky but there was still potential. There are no records from the slaves’ side of the revolt. No interviews conducted twenty years later, no memoirs written in prison, no Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and no revisionist histories based on records released through the Freedom of Information Act. The producers can have the slaves say whatever they want, but the opportunity for a dialogue between slaves and masters was ignored in favor of more romantic subplots. Love must have been in the air in the writing room because there were really a lot of romantic subplots. In fact, poor Lugo (Barry Duffield) was the sole character to not receive a love interest, probably because he was too tough to need love.

Kill everyone and let the gods sort it out.

MassacreFollowing their victory at Mount Vesuvius at the end of the second season, the band of rebel slaves has swelled into an army. Rather than broadening the rebellion to attract poor, disenfranchised Romans to their cause, it remains a rebellion for slaves by slaves. When the rebels capture a city, they kill every Roman man, woman and child. However, the massacre was not the result of an army running mad with bloodlust and sacking a city. The slaves continued to mistreat even the few handfuls of Romans that Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) managed to save.

Laeta (Anna Hutchinson), the first wealthy Roman who expresses any sympathy for slaves, is introduced, but instead of using her to show that some Romans chose kindness over brutality, she is immediately captured, thus making her viewpoint irrelevant. Actually, Laeta’s character is handled ineptly. If she had mistreated slaves and schemed for her own advantage but found herself mistrusted when she was released, her final fate would have made sense. Or it would have been fitting if she had initially been kind to slaves but the sack of her city drove her to hate slaves. It is as if the writers had plans for two Romans and then rolled them into one very confusing, if attractive, character. To be honest, Laeta is there primarily as a love interest for Spartacus. Admittedly, leading an army is a heavy burden, and a man has needs but more could have been done with Laeta. The rebels captured an entire city, and the writers focused on a single Roman, preferring to spend much of the season dealing with familial unrest in the Crassus household, which brings up the next problem.

The Romans are boring.

CaesarWhile it is natural to sympathize with the slaves, the Romans were always the fascinating characters, the ones you loved to hate. All of the characters with moral complexity have died, and the new Roman characters are merely cardboard villains, and flimsy cardboard at that. Todd Lassance, who plays Julius Caesar, seems to have been hired for his abs; Tiberius (Christian Antidormi), Crassus’ son, spends most of the time pouting; and Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells), the Big Bad, appears far more capable than his later record in the triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar would make him seem. In fact, many viewers probably finished the season with the impression that the slave rebellion was defeated single-handedly by Crassus, who was rich enough to raise his own army and brilliant enough to match wits with Spartacus, even though the slaves were really crushed by a combination of armies sent by the Republic, at least according to the histories written by Romans.

Did I already mention that the Romans are blander than Wonder Bread?

TiberiusIf the producers won’t examine the complexities of slaves enslaving people, they should have ramped up the plotting. There is an abundance of scheming, especially since Crassus’ son Tiberius progressed from pouty-boy to Sir Rapes-a-lot but it never seems believable. Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) would have had them ripping each other to shreds by the second episode without a single strand of hair out of place in her coiffure, possibly a slight sultry glow in the cheeks, never mind Batiatus (John Hannah) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) or Ashur (Nick Tarabay).

Crassus vs Spartacus: Their fight will decide the fate of the Republic

Since the writers pumped up Crassus’ role in the suppression of the rebellion, the man himself had to be transformed as well, but they went overboard, portraying him as a superman. It could be argued that Spartacus has been made into a superman, but nothing is known about Spartacus, other than he was a gladiator in a ludus owned by Batiatus and he led a rebellion of slaves. However, a great deal of information was recorded about Crassus, and the writers clearly tossed most of it in the rubbish bin. Crassus did not fund a massive army out of his own pocket, he was simply assigned command of six legions. Crixus’ army had already been destroyed before Crassus was given a praetorship and told to end the rebellion. However, the debate over whether Pompey or Crassus deserve credit for defeating Spartacus is handled well.

Crassus I realize that kickass swordfights are the show’s primary attraction but do both Crassus and Caesar have to be killing machines able to beat trained gladiators? At one point, Caesar and Crassus slice and dice a group of slaves while the rest of the army stands patiently while waiting for their shift to be over, so they can take off their helmets and have a drink.

However, the writers took a step too far into crazyland with the creation of a bond between Crassus and Spartacus. Just as Ashur schemed to manipulate the system to his benefit, rather than overthrow it, Crassus uses the slave revolt to advance himself, while still recognizing the similarities between himself and Spartacus. Except that there were no similarities. Although his family did not possess great wealth, Crassus was the son of a senator and former consul, so he was hardly the social outsider he is portrayed on the show. While the screen Crassus is correctly described as the richest man in Rome, his wealth was due to political connections, not a brilliant mind. As one of Sulla’s leading supporters, Crassus had gained most of his fortune by purchasing for a fraction of their real value the estates of families who had been on the wrong side of the civil war between rival consuls Marius and Sulla, which had occurred a decade before the slaves’ revolt.

The Glory of Rome

RomeThe message that the Roman Republic was built on a foundation of human misery has been replaced by a tame afternoon soap opera, where everyone is going through the motions. The decision to avoid scenes in Rome, other than the Crassus household, deprives the viewer of the opportunity to watch members of the Senate, a key forerunner of modern democracy, debating how to best vanquish a rebellion of slaves who only want their freedom. Yes, it is true that three seasons and one prequel have probably succeeded in ensuring that the idea that the Roman Republic had expanded through conquest and slavery is so predominant that it would penetrate even the haze of testosterone and fixation with breasts that is the mind of a horny fourteen-year-old boy. However, instead of shining a light on the fundamental flaw of the supposedly democratic Republic, the writers emphasized: friction between Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Spartacus; friction between Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and everyone; the love triangles of Agron (Dan Feuerriegel), Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor) and the Cicilian pirate Castus (Blessing Mokgohloa), and Gannicus (Dustin Clare), Saxa (Ellen Holman) and Sibyl (Gwendoline Taylor); the attraction between Spartacus and Laeta; and the relationship between Crassus and his house slave Kore (Jenna Lind).

Does anyone want to share?

In the second season, the slaves were fighting for survival, so there was little time to explore their feelings and deal with personal issues. With slaves imprisoning Romans for the first time, conditions seemed perfect for a dialogue between slaves and oppressors, especially the Romans who were too poor to own a slave. Not every Roman could afford slaves, and life was undoubtedly hard for the free Romans who lived at the bottom of society, but they were still part of a social structure based on taking away freedom from other human beings, usually foreigners. There was no need for all of the slaves to sit around a sharing circle passing around the speaking stick. Seriously, no speaking sticks. Most of the slaves could be savages, thirsting for revenge and unable to verbalize their pain, a single slave talking about his or her experiences would be enough. There was a brief scene between Mira (Katrina Law) and Ilithyia in the previous season, where Ilithyia complained of her confinement, and Mira commented that now she knows what it is like to be a slave. Since both a former domina and a favored house slave ended up in Spartacus’ army, I am honestly amazed that it never occurred to the writers to have them to share their confusion and different perspectives.

HeracleoFurthermore, the show is recycling plots from previous seasons. Once again a noble Roman woman is callously handed over to an ally in recognition of his valuable assistance, even though the leader only has contempt for the ally. The script is fine but Heracleo (Vince Colosimo) looks like he emerged from some porno from the 1970s like Akbar’s Ass-Thumpers III.

Enough with the slow-motion violence.

I thought that the series would move away from the hybrid mixed-martial arts/sword-fighting to show disciplined Roman legions fighting against the slave army, basically The Republic Strikes Back, but all of the battles are fought by the same 8-10 lead characters who chop their way through an endless stream of expendable legionnaires who seem incapable of staying in formation, while the remaining thousands of slaves roar encouragement. Make no mistake, I root for Team Spartacus, not Team Crassus, but I had wondered how the producers would handle the shift from stylish, bloody gladiator fights to complex battles between armies that employ widely different fighting methods. Apparently, they decided to ignore the issue, choosing instead to have gladiators fly through the air in slow-motion. I have the feeling that the writers ran out of ideas for a full season, so they simply stretched out the fight scenes. Worse, all of the major characters have to be killed by one of the three major Roman characters, once again relegating entire legions to computer-generated background scenery. Slow Motion Violence

The producers don’t respect us anymore.

On the surface, Spartacus appeared to be a simple sex-and-sword show. There is nothing wrong with sweaty sex scenes and gorgeous sword fights, it is like watching porn without the stigma and with much, much better acting. However, hidden within all of the hard, naked bodies and the streams of blood spurting towards the camera was the provocative message that the Roman Republic, one of the earliest examples of democracy, was built on a foundation of human misery, where a quarter of the population were slaves, so you felt that you were learning something as you watched your porn and wicked-ass swordfights. Faced with the limp storylines of the final season, I am hurt to realize that the producers don’t respect me any more, offering obligatory scenes of writhing naked bodies and copious amounts of blood but withholding the social criticism. Worse, I found that my attention would drift and I would start thinking about younger, newer shows like Vikings. A depressing end for such an amazing series.