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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 2 - A Place in this World

8 March 2013

Synopsis: In flashback we learn how Oenomaus was recruited by Titus and developed his sense of honour. In the present he fights in the pits waiting for death. At the ludus Glaber needs more men and so goes to Seppius to request his support. Lucretia makes a sacrifice to the Gods and is seen as blessed by the people of Capua. Spartacus and Crixus take control of a villa and begin freeing its slaves. One slave, Tiberius, tries to kill Spartacus. Spartacus insists on training him to be a soldier. Mira worries about her relationship with Spartacus and the kind of freedom the new slaves are acquiring.

The Good: This was quite a complex episode. It didn't leave me with a satisfied feeling but it accomplished a lot.

Oenomaus received more attention than any other character so we can start with him. He has always talked of the honour that fighting in the arena brings and here we learn something of how that was instilled in him. His devotion and gratitude to Titus helps us understand his loyalty to the house of Batiatus and explains why he took the 'demotion' to Doctore with the dignity he did.

Spartacus meanwhile tries to take on the role of Doctore himself at the new villa his people occupy. I liked the different issues thrown up by the new freed slave society. First you have the reluctance of some slaves to accept freedom or even disliking this change because of their loss of favour. The story of Tiberius was predictable (as he learns to kill Romans) but solid and acted as a microcosm of the mindset change which will go on amongst the new slaves we meet. The link between this story and Oenomaus' was interesting. Tiberius points out that by fighting for Spartacus he simply swaps one master for another. Spartacus (as Titus had done) chose to frame his recruitment through free choice. Only by offering Tiberius the chance to betray him could he ensure his conversion was real.

Then you have the problem of hierarchy where the gladiators feel they deserve special treatment because they risked their lives to secure everyone's freedom. This was handled particularly well with the blonde slave girl's story. We meet her as she is lying with her Dominus and by the end of the episode she has given in to the advances of Rhaskos. In both situations she has used the only currency she has available to ensure her survival. It was a great illustration of the complex social relationships that the new society will have to deal with. It also made an obvious point about the likelihood that people would just imitate the Roman society they had been freed from. Spartacus has already begun to develop a furrowed brow from trying to change everyone's perspective on how they should be living.

Elsewhere we got lots of small moments advancing overall characterisation. Glaber and Seppius argue bitterly over how to catch Spartacus because the ultra-competitive Roman society sets them against one another for advancement. Similarly young Seppia begins to throw her youth in Ilithyia's face. Ilithyia considers ending Lucretia's life before she can reveal to Glaber what went on between his wife and Spartacus (a night she still recalls with pleasure). Ashur returns to buy his way back into favour by once again betraying Oenomaus. Mira tries to find out if Spartacus can really love her but doesn't find out one way or another. We got to see a little more from Agron who came across as a more reasonable guy than he did last week. The suggestion that Naevia will be a broken woman after being used as a Roman sex toy is not a pleasant thought.

Finally I did like the idea that Lucretia would be seen as a local saint by the Capuans because she survived the slaughter. Our understanding of the ancient world suggests that incidents such as these would definitely have been used as indications of the favour of the Gods.

The Bad: The action sequences lacked purpose and grew tiresome. Oenomaus' struggles in the pit never seemed likely to be his end and the villa scenes were understandably one sided. Gruesomeness for its own sake doesn't make good television.

The Unknown: Lucretia's memory loss continues to walk a tight rope until we know more about her mind. Her glances at Ashur and teasing talk with Ilithyia could imply that she remembers all and is biding her time. Or they could mean she remains confused and will be someone else's pawn for once. It could become irritating but remains intriguing for now. I did think that more could have been made of Ilithyia's sudden impulse to kill her. Perhaps I'm wrong but I felt the moment lacked the gravity it might have had.

The ancient world was filled with talk of honour in a way that is alien to us and so I had no problem with Oenomaus and Crixus being so convinced that dying in the arena had something worthwhile attached to it. However I'm still not quite sure why Oenomaus decided to dedicate his life to Titus' house. Perhaps it was simply because he was treated with kindness and respect and he had nothing else to fight for. By the present day though he has had a wife and friends and seen that the House of Batiatus long ago lost its honour. It seems slightly odd then that he would choose to end his life in the pits. I hope those flashbacks help shape our understanding of his motives in the present because they felt slightly redundant.

Best Moment: The blonde slave girl explaining to the surprised Mira that she had chosen to sleep with Rhaskos was a well constructed scene. If Mira hadn't spent so long hearing Spartacus' viewpoint then perhaps she would have more readily understood this girl's perspective. She doesn't know whether this rebellion will succeed. Her best chance of survival is to gain favour with one of the armed men in the group. It was a clever subversion of what you might expect to happen.

The Bottom Line: This episode didn't have a singular focus or memorable emotional impact so it may not stand out in the future. It did however put in place many building blocks on which the season will be constructed.

('DiggThis)

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