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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-???

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Episode 6 - Spoils of War

10 March 2013

Credit STARZ

Synopsis: Crassus' men occupy the city as Spartacus pushes his people out of the north gate. Gannicus and Donar agree to create a distraction and find Sibyl as they set fire to the city. Donar is captured and he and the remaining slaves are prepared for the Carnificina in honour of Caesar's victory. Laeta is restored to her former beauty but then handed to Heracleo as part of the deal he struck. She is branded as his slave but Gannicus and Sibyl free her. Meanwhile Tiberius threatens Kore so that she won't reveal what happened to Crassus. Caesar teases Tiberius about his diminished status and at the Carnificina Tiberius attempts to embarrass him by setting Donar free. Gannicus and his two charges make it safely to the snowy ridge only to find that Crassus has built a wall to trap the rebels there.

The Good: Despite the weaknesses of last episode the writers did set this up to be quite the epic. There was no pause for breath as the Romans poured into the city and carried the action while the rebels huddled for warmth on the ridge.

As happened last season Gannicus took the action hero role that Spartacus has had to put aside in favour of leadership. Of course there is an inherent silliness in his ability to survive multiple attacks by Roman soldiers and safely get Sibyl and Laeta out of the city. However the writers recognised a basic truth about their story and stuck to it. That truth is that we can get wrapped up in the visual spectacle of one on one fights far more readily than we can in massed battles. As Spartacus, Crixus and friends fought the Romans at the north gate I shrugged at the ease with which they were able to escape. Gannicus' survival was itself even more implausible and yet far more enjoyable to sit through.

Gannicus is just easy to enjoy. He selflessly offers to stay behind and when asked how he will distract the Romans he responds "I have no f*cking idea!" With Crassus, Tiberius, Caesar and Spartacus all trying to outthink and manoeuvre one another Gannicus stands as a pleasant contrast of simpler virtues. Sibyl's adoration of him is a simple and old fashioned story but one that just about works to convey to the audience what a reluctant hero he is. His decision to kill Heracleo was actually a foolish pause for revenge rather than a high minded attempt to free Laeta.

The Heracleo subplot was interesting and one of a number of moments that made me wish the show wasn't rushing through the whole Spartacus epic this season. We get the answer that it was Caesar who negotiated with the Cilicians and now Heracleo claims Laeta as his prize which follows on nicely from the same request being made to Spartacus (403). I can more easily believe that Crassus would have sold her into slavery once we saw him ruthlessly acquiring the whole of Sinuessa and given her appearance as a collaborator. Once Heracleo has her alone he reveals two intriguing ideas which sadly his death ends here and now. First was the suggestion that the patriarchal Romans treated their women as no better than slaves. An exaggeration yes but not an unfounded one and with Tiberius abusing Kore it's one Heracleo would have no trouble justifying. The second was the idea that Heracleo wanted a partner in his labours and the respect of others for gaining a civilised wife. Again I could imagine interesting stories surrounding Heracleo's character if the show had run longer with Laeta having to choose whether to do a Daenerys Targaryen and make the most of a bad situation. Instead she will resume her potential as Spartacus' love interest and Heracleo was given a suitably brutal send-off.

I also enjoyed Tiberius' performance in this episode. His turn into a brutal schemer has been abrupt but I think his acting was very good as he darkly threatened Kore and then sneered at Caesar's taunts. He then showed off his father's cunning in freeing Donar to try and embarrass Caesar. The writers showed us with Batiatus and Solonius that they know how to present Roman double dealing in entertaining ways. Not only the Caesar-Tiberius feud but also Crassus smoothly bribing Metellus to allow him ownership of a whole city. This was far closer to the historical Crassus than the seemingly honourable man who arrived in the first episode of the season. Between the two sides of him we continue to witness a terrific performance. I loved his assessment of how he and Spartacus stand (see Best Moment) and his comment that greed is merely what the jealous call the ambitious was wonderfully self-justifying. Then true to character he jumps on Donar's unexpected suicide and tries to turn it into a victory for Rome by claiming that the rebels were afraid of Caesar.

Donar's suicide was a moment that should have meant more than it did. It was a clever idea to show us the rebels' commitment to undermining the glory of Rome. However if it were Agron, Nasir or even Lugo in that position it would have meant more to us. The sadistic punishment of pulling a man's arms off using chains was as horrific as anything we've seen.

The site of Crassus' wall keeps the pace fast for next episode where presumably Spartacus is able to gain one final victory and blast through the Roman lines.

The Bad: The confusion from last episode did continue in the first ten minutes. Apparently plenty of slaves were still in the city and hadn't made it to the ridge yet which wasn't clear. Then we got Spartacus, Crixus and a few others able to hold off dozens of legionaries in tight spaces which just shouldn't happen. The sight of Crassus fighting rebels in single combat was equally silly.             

The Unknown: The rebels really need to start wearing more clothes if they are going to live in the snow.

Best Moment: I think a major underlying problem with Spartacus as a whole series is the inability of the producers to pick a moral narrative and stick to it. They portrayed the institution of slavery as suitably horrible in season one but through the sympathetic portrayal of some Romans they made admirable attempts to show humanity in all its variety. As the seasons have gone on though the producers have failed to define the show as either a "Romans were horrible" or "all humans have flaws" type of story. Too often they have leant on individual Romans being cartoonishly cruel rather than portraying the Roman state in a particular light.

If the writers had attempted the "all humans have flaws" line then Crassus would have made a compelling two-season character. I really enjoyed his speech to Laeta about Spartacus: "Each believes himself the hero, the other villain. It is for history to decide who is mistaken. Till such a day we shall play our parts upon the fortune stage." It's a comment from our modern world, not the Gods-inspired world that those two men actually moved in. However it does capture the essence of a contest which to us is so far in the past that we only attach it with significance given the perspective our own time lends us.

The Bottom Line: I'm sure more could have been mined from such wonderful wordplay on another version of this show. However we will never see it. Steven DeKnight's strengths have instead been in bitter rivals pulling the rug out from one another in the midst of dramatic acts of violence. This episode was packed with both and felt epic because of its unrelenting pace. It's far from great television but it was very entertaining throughout.

('DiggThis)

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