So, I have to admit something. I really like Spartacus. The show. Yeah, that one. The one with the big blokes screaming and swearing and cutting up Romans in slow motion.
Partly I love this show because it is so daft, so overthetop. The dialogue is atrocious. I’ve never understood why they decided the characters should talk like this. It is as if a fifteen-year-old is trying to write Shakespearean. I mean I remember when I was young and asking my mum about how people spoke in medieval times. But this stuff is just ridiculous. Even if it were how they spoke, it just sounds daft. “Clear mind of anger before enemy gain advantage.” “We must strive to free self from beneath heel.” Their heel! Just say it. Just say a normal sentence!
But the dialogue is entertaining. Especially because they keep talking about cocks. If they aren’t showing them in this show, they talk about them. They also love to talk about ramming cocks into arses. They do that a lot too.
The action is turned up to eleven. Maybe further. Lots of blood gushing. Heads and arms coming off. People being impaled. It is gory and wild and almost silly.
So okay, here’s where it really works. The action is pretty good. I have sat watching an episode at times waiting for something to happen, but when it did, I was never disappointed. Fights are well choreographed. I especially enjoyed the way they depicted gladiator fights in the first series by showing the view from those within a helm or close ups of them sweating and grimacing behind a metal mask.
Another thing I like is how basic the plot is. We all know the story of Spartacus. Yet they have thrown in their own subplots and these are equally as straightforward. Crixus has a woman he loves and later seeks her. Romans plot and scheme, with houses feuding and ambition burning. People hate and they bond and they betray and they plot and they kill and they support each other. It is all very basic and very understandable, with often near primal desires being acted upon. You know what is going on in this show. More to the point, you understand why characters want what they want and why they will strive so hard to seek it.
Characters are a strong point in this show too. Spartacus was more interesting in the first series, since then he has become the noble rebel leader. I guess it had to be. But others have enough about them to carry the burden. His relationship with Crixus has always been a strong part of the show – fierce rivals, then friends and brothers in revolution, yet they still argue a lot. Crixus is suspicious yet loyal, blunt yet not stupid. Gannicus is all laughs and smiles and twirling two swords, but you can tell he is slowly feeling the cause and will likely end up a hero. Other big brutes surround Spartacus, I often forget their names, and they have their moments, if not many. The show at least presents a fractured army, with Gauls and Thracians and Saxons bickering. You get more of a feel for the character of the slave army this way. The Romans are fairly simplistic, lots of scheming and demanding things for the Good of Rome! Mind you, I am loving Crassus in this one. The actor is really good but they have made him very clear in a short amount of time – he is ambitious, ruthless, far more clever than most and he understands, even admires, Spartacus. He is not the simple baddie we have had in the past.
But you know what I really like about Spartacus? It is satisfying to watch. They give you bad guys who are weasels and you wish to see them get their comeuppance. Trust me, they get it. Swords thrust down mouths (oo er, missus!) or beheadings and more. They see everything they tried to gain taken from them and then are struck down. One got flattened by a flaming boulder. Oh that smug sod really deserved that one.
I love Game of Thrones too, but I find it far less satisfying to watch. People I want to see ripped apart for their betrayals or skullduggery are soon characters I just cease to care about as they continue to exist for whatever reason there is. I want to see justice done while I’m still mad about it. Soon that passes as matters develop. New betrayals take over. Villains stub their toes and die of infection rather than any real poetic retribution. I find myself wondering if I should bother to get worked up about these things any more. Of course, a sane person would say there was never a reason to get worked up about fictional characters, but hey, fuck sanity.
If Joffrey had been in Spartacus, that little shit would have had a spear shoved up him and he’d have been spun round till he squealed.
Maybe that’s the strength of Game of Thrones. It denies us what we want so we keep seeking it. But then again Spartacus pays up and I find myself enjoying it more. The sex scenes are so funny sometimes. People get so worked up about shows with sex and violence in them. Spartacus has orgies that end in massacres. Everything is turned up to eleven. Once you get that, once you understand this show is just a wild ride, you can enjoy it. The dialogue makes me chuckle. The action has genuinely made me laugh and cheer. But most of all, I give a damn about the characters and want to see them get what they deserve. Not least because they often do.
Oh, and one last thing. Fair play to this show for not just having homosexual relationships but full on displaying them. Men kiss and fuck with the same passion as men and women, and women and women too, although that is less surprising. This show knows what gets young men watching; women getting it on with each other is an obvious trick. But there are men having sex and men in love. There are plenty of cock shots too. To be fair to this show, it is fairly even handed in displaying both genders sexually. But it is genuinely pleasing (and I say this as a straight man) to see men being shown as passionate lovers with each other. Too often a show is keen to have women bare all while anything male is only hinted at with maybe a quick kiss.
So yeah, Spartacus the tv show is full of stylised, almost silly violence and elaborate sex scenes, but it is wild and primal and entertaining. Oh, and a lot more characters of note are killed off. As I watch through the third and final series, knowing how things ended for the rebellion, I find myself excited to see how this will end.
Okay, one last last note: as I’ve been writing this, I’m watching the fourth episode of Spartacus: War of the Damned. I’ve just seen Roman soldiers beaten to death by their own men as punishment for retreating in an earlier fight. This is the infamous decimation. At the same time, the gladiators and slaves have had enough and just slaughtered all the Roman citizens they had taken prisoner when they captured this city they are now in. Again, this show holds nothing back. I just watched this likable young man be pummelled to death. It really gave a feel for what this would have been like for Roman soldiers. The rampage in the city is well done also. You see our usual heroes behave like savages. We are seeing that not all is so clear cut as slaves = good and Romans = bad. Oh, and the look on Crassus’s face as he watches his son kill his best friend was, well… Like I said earlier, I’m loving this character and the actor. He is portraying a superb mixture of cold ruthlessness with deeper humanity. He feels for his son even as he knows this must be done.
Anyway, that really is the end now. Back to the show!