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Spartacus

Spartacus is a drama about a Thracian soldier imprisoned by the Roman Republic around the turn of the 1st century BC. He is sold into slavery and trained to be a gladiator in the city of Capua. STARZ 2010-???

68
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Viewer
69
/100

Episode 1 - Enemies of Rome

1 February 2013

Synopsis: After defeating Glaber and liberating slaves from the mines the rebel army has grown into the thousands. They defeat a Roman army under commanders Cassinius and Furius but cannot capture them. Spartacus is wary of Gannicus’ lengthy celebrations while the common man in the camp begins to feel distant from their Godlike leader. Senator Metellus is sent to ask Marcus Crassus to raise ten thousand men to fight Spartacus. Crassus agrees to fight under Cassinius and Furius but his messenger is captured giving away their location. Spartacus takes the heads of both men while Crassus continues training with a former gladiator Hilarus.

The Good: The producers of Spartacus learnt all the lessons of their own success in this season premiere. Conflict and personality clash amongst the former gladiators, check. A compelling and wise villain, check. A cinematically interesting physical conflict as the high point of the episode, check.

That last point might seem obvious but it really isn’t. Mass battles can make for an entertaining visual spectacle but they very rarely generate much emotion in the viewer. What made seasons one and two of Spartacus so entertaining was that confrontations between two men could be built up to and then executed with an appropriate twist to grab the viewer and suck them into caring about the result. The dual fight scenes as Crassus outsmarted Hilarius and Spartacus took the heads of Cassinius and Furius was terrific. The victory of Spartacus was obvious as three men slaughtered two dozen without much difficulty. However that exaggeration of individual skill worked neatly to underline what a serious threat Marcus Crassus is. Crassus surprisingly asks his slave (and former gladiator) Hilarus to try and kill him and as we were led to believe Hilarius defeats him. As Hilarius is about to kill him Crassus takes hold of the sword swinging toward him, slicing his hands badly, and swings around driving it back into Hilarius. As Hilarius dies Crassus spells out the overall theme of the season: knowledge and patience are the only ways to defeat someone with greater skill. Crassus is thus set up as a worthy replacement for Batiatus, someone smart enough not to underestimate Spartacus and willing to use the real life virtues of the Roman military to wear down and crush the slave army. Now we have to see if in the STARZ version history will repeat itself.

I thought the writers and Simon Merrells did a tremendous job with the character of Crassus. Rather than a simple plutocrat trying to buy his way into history he was portrayed as kind and caring to those around him while unapologetically ruthless in matters of business. As with Batiatus, the addition of kindness to his persona (as was absent with Glaber), make it far easier to care about his story. His genuine concern for his sons, inappropriate attachment to his slave Kore and healthy respect for Hilarius were instantly humanising. Of course he was just as ruthless as our favourite lanista, sacrificing his own messengers along with Cassinius and Furius to take the command he feels he deserves.

The most interesting subtext to this episode seemed to be hints of the potential downfall of Spartacus. As mentioned above Crassus seems ready to respect his enemy and be patient in the way Glaber and others wouldn’t. Then inside the camp Gannicus continues to question Spartacus’ plan and apparent insatiable thirst for revenge. As was the case last season Gannicus, to our modern eyes, appears the wiser man advising against a never ending war with Rome that would almost certainly be lost. We also witness an entirely plausible situation where a man complains (unknowingly) to Spartacus about the shortage of food and supplies. Spartacus is forced to see that the larger his army swells the more the masses view him either as a God or as no different than a Roman Imperator. I really appreciated those scenes for their reflection of believable issues and was very pleased to see Spartacus planning for winter, an insurmountable obstacle in pre-industrial times.

There wasn’t much time for more than a quick check in with Crixus and Naevia, Agron and Nasir and a lengthy shot of Gannicus and Saxa in case anyone was afraid things were getting more blood than boob. The opening battle sequence was well shot as were the flashbacks which explained what had happened since the end of last season. The show still looks amazing and we got a far more detailed shot of Rome herself which was fun to see.

The Bad: Nothing in particular.

The Unknown: Obviously there are plenty of questions surrounding the role of Kore who acted like mother and wife to the clear disgust of the real holder of those titles. You have to wonder if she will be in for a conflict of interest as a slave but serving the Romans.

I suppose it’s worth commenting that all the characterisation here went to Crassus. The rebels all played the parts that we’ve come to expect from them. It’s possible that Steven DeKnight and his team don’t really have an idea of how to write for the former gladiators. Perhaps they think the best formula for them is a simple Spartacus v Crassus battle and everyone else is just a pawn. For what they have set up they may be right.

Best Moment: In the finest traditions of the show the gladiator fight between Crassus and Hilarius provided the twist we were waiting for along with the theme of the season.

The Bottom Line: A very welcome return for Spartacus. Let’s hope the writers can find the balance they struck here in a majority of episodes this season.

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  • This was a good start to the season. Spartacus has never had a problem raising the stakes and tension in scenes. This episode was a good example, despite knowing the results before it even started, tension still sipped into the scene. This built the character of Cassius as it mirrored the actions of Spartacus.

    My major complaint with last season was how the pacing undermined the season as a whole, but I am looking forward to the inevitable ramp up as this series comes to a close. Its nice to have good old Sparty back...and you too Robin :)

    Viewer score: 67 / 100

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 01/02/2013 2:13am (4 years ago)

  • It was patience and cunning that led Spartacus to outsmart Batiatus. It appears that those same traits will aid Crassus in his fight against Spartacus.

    Viewer score: 70 / 100

    Posted by Roberto Suarez, 30/01/2013 12:32am (4 years ago)

  • Crassus really seems like he is a formidable opponent for Spartacus. I cannot wait to see his cunning in action. I will go ahead and watch the premier tonight. Normally I would wait until the morning, since my wife would definitely wake up from the sound of a mass battle. But with the DISH Hopper I can connect my Bluetooth headset, so my bad hearing doesn’t disturb her while she is sleeping any longer. And with the new remote finding feature it has, I won’t have to dig under her for the remote unless I’m positive it’s there, lol.

    Posted by J Paul, 27/01/2013 4:35am (5 years ago)

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