Spartacus has something for everyone. Its full of half-naked beefcake, unapologetically unreconstructed old-school males with a decidedly traditional attitude to sex and decapitation. Pecs are rippled, abs are oiled, European accents are chewed, and swords of all kind are unleashed at least five times an hour. The whole thing is so pumped full of testosterone it’s a miracle that everybody’s hair hadn’t fallen out by the end of season one. So, that’s the ladies and the Glee fans catered for.
Then you add the women, beautiful voluptuous firebrands that come in two flavours, the self-interested political manipulator and the fiercely loyal soul-mate, each equally as capable of sticking the knife into an enemy’s back and twisting it deliciously while exposing a breast or two for good measure. This keeps the red-blooded males happy too.
Then there’s the violence. Graphic with a capital G, it’s the cartoonish splatfest of Tarantino at his most gleefully extreme and will be keeping an entirely different demographic very happy indeed. There is literally nothing that you won’t be able to see here. A season three highlight had Spartacus slice off the front of someone’s head, allowing the viewer to watch a poor man’s brain slide slowly out of its cavity and plop onto the ground. Last night’s episode had flying severed heads and faces reduced to bloody mush. Lovely.
Lastly there’s the dialogue, a cod-Shakespearean spiel that lends itself to the expressive profanity of which the late Quintus Lentulus Batiatus was the resident poet laureate. “At last the Gods remove c**k from f***ing ass” was his epithet of choice when things would take a turn for the better. ”Once again the gods spread the cheeks and ram c**k in f***ing ass” was more often heard though as things rarely went perfectly right for John Hanna’s weasel of a lanista and his masterpiece of a wife Lucretia. The language isn’t just for insults though. The writers use the format to come up with phrases of romantic expression that would make the Bard himself blush with pleasure. So this keeps the high-browed literati happy too. As I said, something for everyone.
Batiatus met the end of Spartacus’s sword in a blood-soaked season one finale but his was such a great character the makers of the show elected to tell his backstory for season two while they waited for good news from Spartacus himself Andy Whitfield and his battle against cancer (a battle that was tragically lost after season two had wrapped). After Batiatus’s exit it was left to his wife to be a big bad for season three so Lucy Lawless stepped up to the plate and abandoned all restraint. Her Lucretia in season three was both tragic, sympathetic, and utterly unhinged, doomed to be used as a sex slave and religious figurehead, and finally coming into her own as an instrument of vengeance for her dead husband. Like some kind of dark Xena she left an indelible mark on the show and her absence leaves a big gap to fill for the fourth and final season.
Talking of gaps, the biggest one was filled at the start of season three as it was left to Australian Liam McIntyre to fill the late Andy Whitfield’s sandals as the story resumed its onward course after the Gods of the Arena prequel, a massive task as Whitfield’s own portrayal of Spartacus was remarkable.
Both muscular and emotional, Whitfield was entirely convincing as a man burning with anger against the people that took his wife from his side and tortured by the uncertainty of her fate. It’s fair to say that McIntyre struggled at first to match this intensity. Lighter both in physical bulk and charisma it took time for him to establish himself fully but he was finally able to bring some added subtlety to the role and take his place as the leader of the rebel horde before season three had finished. Now as we start season four he’s in full vengeance mode, virtually a god to his followers and a jumbo-sized thorn in the side of the romans. It’s going to take someone truly special to bring him down and we’ve met him already.
Rich, powerful, and shrewd, Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells, left) is unlike any of the romans we’ve met so far. He carries none of the superiority complex bred from generations of slavery, preferring to judge each man for their actions rather than their status. He’s also seemingly compassionate and reasoned, yet obviously ruthless as his plan to gain full control of the legions tasked with bringing Spartacus down was finally revealed. It’s a clever move by the writers after season three’s over-the-top villainy, promising to introduce a slightly more cerebral level of conflict for this final season. However, fans of the show needn’t worry about Spartacus becoming too cerebral, not while Dustin Clare’s Gannicus and Manu Bennett’s Crixus are around to roar and strut and generally be the kinds of men our girlfriends secretly wish we would be. Real men with chiselled jaws and thunderous thighs and biceps that could take your eye out. Gladiators on a mission. We know how it ends of course, anyone with google can review the history being told here. It doesn’t matter though, all that matters is the journey and the signs are that it’s going to be a great ride.
Should I review future episodes? Your will, my hands!
All images courtesy of Starz