In the next instalment of the ‘Late to the Show’ series, Luke Addison looks at Spartacus…
“One day Rome shall fade and crumble. Yet you shall always be remembered in the hearts of all that yearn for freedom.”
Starz’s Spartacus is the tale of the legendary gladiator of the same name, taking up arms and rebelling against the Roman empire in a bid to win freedom for himself and thousands of other slaves. The story is well known by most, the name synonymous with courage, bravery and self-sacrifice, not to mention instilling images of the now classic scene from the film – you know the one.
With the final episode of the last season airing recently, the roller coaster ride throughout history has come to an end, and what an end it was. Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that when watching the poorly crafted pilot, I had no idea of the journey I’d be shown and the emotional toil it would inflict.
As already mentioned, the pilot and following two or three episodes aren’t the greatest, perhaps the worst of the whole series. However, once the show gets going and finds its feet, it is unlike any other show I’ve ever watched. Many say that it has a similar tone to the movie 300 and, to be fair this is undeniable, with the excessive gore and slow-motion action scenes quickly become charming instead of annoying. Talking of charming, the dialogue in the show is definitely unique and unlike anything I’ve heard before; sometimes cringe-worthy, sometimes hilarious, but always interesting.
Starting with the betrayal and capture of Spartacus, the audience is greeted with their first look at the main man, played by the late Andy Whitfield [for the first season]. Sold as a slave and bought by Batiatus (played by the fantastic John Hannah), Spartacus is transported from honoured soldier to lowly gladiator, training amongst far greater warriors than himself and fighting for his life daily.
The first season ‘Blood and Sand’, introduces characters who will be with Spartacus in his crusade throughout the saga, including Agron, Crixus, Oenomaus and Ashur. Without giving too much away, not all of these are as accepting of Spartacus’ ideals as himself, providing plenty of friction and conflict, especially between Spartacus and Crixus.
By the end of the first season of the show you’ll have watched characters scheme, kill and be killed – including some of your favourites – and seemingly sleep with everything that moves. It certainly does a fantastic job of setting up the rest of the story, and the finale will keep your adrenaline pumping throughout the hour long episode, perhaps even long after.
Unfortunately, Andy Whitfield died shortly after the end of the first season, prompting Starz to rethink their strategy and come up with a prequel season – ‘Gods of the Arena’ – which introduces Gannicus and an untrained Crixus, the former trying to win his freedom and the latter vying for ‘glorious title and prestige’.
This season contains some of the most entertaining scenes – for example, Gannicus beating another gladiator in a street brawl blindfolded, drunk and without a sword – as well as providing an interesting insight to some of the pre-established characters like the devious Ashur, Crixus and Oenomaus.
Being six episodes long, it’s just long enough to wet your appetite for the continuation of Spartacus’ story – soon to include the mighty Gannicus – without having any ‘filler’ episodes. It seemed every episode had someone being gorily dispatched or some overly explicit sex scene to keep you entertained – makes me sound like an impressionable teenager, I realise.
The second season of Spartacus’ story, ‘ Vengeance’, sees the rebels attempting to strike dire wound to the Roman empire, but with being small in number and having to evade capture, this proves difficult. With a newly dispatched Roman commander looking for them, the slaves find it increasingly hard to move around the city, often running into trouble and providing street savagery for the viewers.
After the death of Andy Whitfield, the title role was filled by Liam McIntyre who, to be honest, had some big boots to fill. Whilst the second season wasn’t as good as the first, it still had some fantastic moments, be it the rescue of Crixus’ love Naevia from the mines – an unimaginable feat – or the double crossing Ashur creating his own ‘A-Team’ of exotic gladiators.
The second season seems to quickly become the beginning of the end, with the introduction of Gannicus into the fold of Spartacus’ army, the recruitment of a large number of Germans as well as the tale of the legendary Spartacus inspiring thousands of slaves to break free of their chains and rise up with him, providing him with the army he requires to fight the legions of the Roman Empire.
Of course, like every season of Spartacus, the finale was fantastic, keeping viewers fixed on the edge of their seats with several main characters biting the dust in surprising, sometimes tear jerking circumstances. With the promise of bigger and better things to come in the third season, the anticipation hit as soon as the finale ended – at least for me.
‘War of the Damned’ is the last season, and the body count dwarfs that of the previous three, with large, army sized battles being a regular occurrence. This season sees the introduction of Caesar – yes, that one – and Marcus Crassus, both of whom are tasked with bringing down the now monumental slave rebellion.
Whilst initially a bit slow to get going, the season soon picks up when Spartacus and his fellow slaves sack a city and take it for their own, starting off a chain of events that result in a spectacular attack to regain it by Crassus. This is but one of the many times Crassus and Spartacus meet one another, however Spartacus eludes capture and continues his escape towards freedom.
Conflict isn’t just contained between the two warring factions, with Crixus and Spartacus clashing on several occasions, a suitable reminder of the first season’s tension between the pair. This leads to a memorable parting of the two late on in the season and the events that follow allow the final pieces to fall into the place for the finale.
I’ll have to stop myself from writing too much about the last episode, as I don’t want to give anything away, but it certainly allowed the show to go out with a bang. It not only made up for previous lacklustre episodes, but cemented Liam McIntyre as every bit of Spartacus as Andy Whitfield was and, for the record, it had me in tears several times. If the tears weren’t flowing, the adrenaline was pumping as limbs were severed and heads decapitated with blood flying constantly.
One particularly well done scene involved Spartacus rushing up a hill to attack Crassus, dispatching between ten and twenty of his body guards before facing off with the man himself. Of course this is what the entire season had been leading up to and it didn’t disappoint whatsoever, with a lengthy battle between the two causing myself – as well as many others – to physically shout at the screen at different times. However, for fear of having already spoiled too much, I won’t say anymore.
Following history loosely means that the more knowledgeable history buffs know the whole story already, but that doesn’t spoil everything the show has to offer. It’s undeniable that the show relies heavily on the violence, but it’s much more than a show with sex, violence and ‘funny dialogue’. It manages to make you care for the characters knowing full well they could be killed at any moment and, unlike other shows, the deaths can hit you pretty hard. I’ve always become invested in my favourite shows, and this one was no different, however this time I found myself becoming invested in characters I already knew the fate of, which made it all the better. I think that’s a credit to the actors and to the writers that it managed such a feat.
In short, if you like your television shows gory, sex filled and to have an intriguing story, this show is for you, however, if you’re some sort of prude or easily offended, stay far away from it.
Luke Addison is an aspiring film journalist with a passion for all things television and film. Follow him on Twitter @Novo_Slev.