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David Hines [userpic]

SPARTACUS: BLOOD & SAND: a helpful primer

February 22nd, 2010 (11:12 pm)
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Have you guys noticed that fandom wants a bunch of incredibly contradictory things?

Fandom wants unbreakable, unshakeable friendships that are deep and complete and true, and fandom wants intense love-hate relationships that aren't so much mature as fraught. Fandom wants characters of color in interesting roles, but often ignores them and writes endlessly about the pretty white boys. Fandom wants women in strong roles, but doesn't want them getting in the way of the slash. Fandom, in short, is absolutely bugfuck, which is why it's at its own throat every other Sunday.

Well, there is one show that has pretty much *everything* fandom has been clamoring for, God help it, and it is SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND.

No, the show is not actually any good. This has never stopped fandom before.

SPARTACUS is, I repeat, a pretty crap show. But it has a stoic, intense, emotionally unavailable hero who has a protective, emotionally supportive, and physically contrasting male best friend; it has a hero who has nothing to do with the women, because they are physically separated and because both the powerful female leads hate his guts, so the women literally *cannot* get in the way of the slash; it features two socially powerful women who make no bones about seeking out their own sexual satisfaction, often graphically; it has male-on-male sex, portrayed as part of a devoted relationship; it has a fairly diverse cast of actors who originate from Ghana, Australia, Lebanon, and more; it features slavery, which becomes a fanfic AU for *every* fandom, as an integral component, with powerful women using men as sex slaves; and it has a ton (quite literally, at least 2000 lbs worth) of well-muscled men who walk around for whole episodes wearing nothing but loincloths and baby oil. Sometimes they forget the loincloths.

Fandom, are you sold yet? This is a show where you can see, in the span of a few minutes: 1) two guys fucking, 2) a gladiatorial pit match featuring a one-armed ring girl with large breasts and a swinging penis, which is shown in close-up, and 3) a man's head being hit with a massive hammer so that it bursts like a watermelon at the climax of a Gallagher show, and if you don't watch Starz (who does?) all of it is available to you through the wonder of streaming Netflix.

I stress again that this is not a good show, but I don't think I've ever seen a series so determined to entertain. If you don't like what you're watching, don't worry; something different and probably even more batshit will be on your screen if you just wait a bit. So here is a Spartacus primer. You will probably need it, not because it is a complicated show -- c'mon, it's all pitfights and titties -- but because there are a hell of a lot of characters, and they never address each other by name. (Hey, writers, *fix this.* Yes, I can go online to find out who the fuck all these people are, but I shouldn't have to. Have them address each other by name every so often. Like, with their first lines of dialogue in each goddamn scene.) Until they fix this, here are some Cliff Notes for you.

This is Spartacus:

spartacus

Do you know why I know who Spartacus is? Because the other characters *say his fucking name when they talk to him.*

Spartacus is the main character. This is half of what's wrong with the show: the guy has three things to do, and they are 1) eat 2) pit-fight and 3) complain. (Oh, yeah, and gladiator training, but that doesn't count because the show has a Gladiator Training Montage every other --

LOOK OUT HERE COMES ONE NOW

spartacus

spartacus

spartacus

Ahem. Sorry about that.)

Anyway, Spartacus is a classic case of a Protagonist with an Insoluble Dilemma. Spartacus doesn't want to be a gladiator, which is a problem for us because that's why we're watching the show. So he can't make progress in solving that dilemma unless and until the writers feel like turning the series upside down, but they haven't given him any short-term goals like "make the other gladiators stop hating me" or "play this guy off against this guy." Andy Whitfield, the actor playing Spartacus, isn't bad, but he doesn't get a lot of interesting stuff to do and (being enslaved) the character doesn't get to make too many meaningful decisions. This makes Spartacus by far the least interesting character on the show. He's basically there for mental real estate: viewers and critics are more likely to pay attention to a show called SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND than a show called BLOOD AND SAND; essentially, the showrunners are using Spartacus to get the crowd's attention, which, ironically, is *exactly* what his owner Batiatus is doing on the show, and the weirdest thing is that the show is at its least interesting when Spartacus is actually onscreen.

You can pretty much forget about Spartacus, actually.

sura

This is Sura. She is Spartacus's wife. She was in the first episode, and then got fridged (dragged off to be raped by Roman soldiers, then sold into slavery). Spartacus wants to find her, but for now if she appears it's as Spartacus's hallucination, a vengeful ghost instructing him to "kill them all."

You don't need to worry about remembering her. I had to look her name up.

glaber

This is Glaber, who arranged for Spartacus's wife to be dragged off and raped by Roman soldiers and for Spartacus to be sold into slavery as a gladiator. Spartacus, when a soldier in the Thracian auxiliary, was part of a mutiny that screwed Glaber's career. He's the Big Bad, I guess, but in practice he's not actually in the series much, so you can pretty much ignore him. I had to look his name up too.

varro

The dude on the right in the picture above is Varro, played by Jai Courtney. He's the only character who has less to do than Spartacus: he is Spartacus's best gladiator friend, and only appears in scenes where he is being gently supportive of Spartacus and warm and loving and a close true pal and yeah, he's gonna die, but in the meantime he pretty much exists solely to be slashbait. That physical contrast thing slash writers love? Spartacus has close-cropped dark hair. Varro has blond curls. Yeah.

I had to look his name up, too, because THESE CHARACTERS NEVER SAY EACH OTHER'S FUCKING NAMES.

This is Crixus:

penis

Oh, sorry, that was a penis. This is Crixus.

crixus

You see why I get confused. But you know why I know his name? BECAUSE THE OTHER CHARACTERS FUCKING SAY IT, WRITERS.

Crixus and his penis are played by Manu Bennett. Crixus is the hot-shit gladiator in the stable of which Spartacus is a member. He is a Gaul, he is undefeated in the arena, and he is fucking Lucy Lawless, who is the wife of the guy who owns him, and he is *also* in love with her handmaiden, who is terrified that Lucy Lawless will find out, so Crixus's life is interesting and complicated, which means he would have been a better main character than Spartacus. Also, he is naked a lot. If there is full-frontal nudity in the episode you're watching, odds are really good it is Manu Bennett's block and tackle, to the point that I'm surprised when the dude has any clothes on. At Comicon, Lucy Lawless mentioned to EW's Michael Ausiello that there's one member of the cast who "insists on being naked. We're like, '…okay… nobody's really asking, but if you must, I guess we have to shoot it.' I think that person thinks it'll… y'know, surprise the person they're acting opposite, but it really just makes you go -- *mimes trying to prevent laughter* -- … er, you don't have the reaction that was perhaps desired by that person. *shrugs* They look good."

THAT WOULD BE MANU BENNETT RIGHT THERE.

crixus

Crixus is my bet to become the fan-favorite character on the show.

batiatus

This is Batiatus. He owns Spartacus, and Crixus, and, well, most of these characters, when you get down to it. He's played by John Hannah. He's also heavily in debt, which sometimes results in people trying to kill him. Spartacus saved his life on one of these occasions. He's engaged in a cock-measuring contest with a rival gladiator owner and with some other powerful dudes. He is a decent guy who is more than capable of slaughtering an entire family when he feels threatened. So, er, decent when you're on his good side, I guess.

He would have been a better main character than Spartacus.

lucretia

This is Lucretia, Batiatus's wife. She is played by Lucy Lawless. She has her own thing going on -- in addition to her husband, she's fucking Crixus, in part because he's a big hunk of man and in part because she's trying to get pregant and very sensibly is trying to maximize her chances. She also is involved in minor political machinations in her own right, by tending a poisonous friendship with Ilythia, about whom more later.

She would have been a better main character than Spartacus.

(As you may be gathering, there are a *lot* of characters on this show who would have made a better main character than Spartacus.)

Naevia

This is Naevia, played by Lesley-Ann Brandt. She is Lucretia's handmaiden. She models jewelry for Lucretia, and serves as a fluffer when Batiatus and Lucretia do it. (Really. She does.) She has feelings for Crixus, but is in an awkward position because Lucretia treats Crixus as *her* personal fucktoy, and Naevia has been in service to Lucretia literally all her life. Not to mention that there are penalties for displeasing the boss. She would (arguably, yes) have been a better main character than Spartacus.

Brandt, BTW, has great screen presence; there was a scene early on where she was in the background just standing there being servantly and I kept looking at her thinking, "Who is *that?!*" I've had that reaction to an actress once before: the flick was THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, and the actress was Anna May Wong --

OH CRAP TIME FOR ANOTHER GLADIATOR TRAINING SEQUENCE

spartacus

spartacus

spartacus

Sorry about that. Where were we?

Doctore

This is Doctore, the gladiators' trainer, who was a gladiator himself before career-ending injuries. He doesn't really do a lot other than yell at Spartacus and serve as Batiatus's sounding board on things gladiatorial -- like Varro, he's there to do things in service to other characters and the storyline; he doesn't really have his own interests. He's played by Peter Mensah, who was kicked into a pit by Gerard Butler in 300. Mensah has charisma out the wazoo, but he's too often relegated to being the professional shouter.

Barca

This is Barca, one of the gladiators, played by Antonio Te Maioho. He's known as "The Beast of Carthage," because he's a Carthaginian who was the sole survivor of a massive gladiatorial battle in which he killed his own father. (Look, it's SPARTACUS; just go with it.) Barca is also something of an enforcer, and the gladiator Batiatus unquestionably trusts; when shit goes down, Barca's the guy Batiatus uses as a bodyguard. His boyfriend is Pietros, who I thought was a gladiator but is apparently some sort of waterboy who tends the gladiators, but hell, I'm lucky the show has deigned to let me know the boyfriend's name. This is the boyfriend, just so you know:

Pietros

Everybody knows they're a couple, BTW. They're totally up front about it, and we got to watch Barca screwing Pietros briefly. Pietros had a big grin on his face at the time.

Ashur

This is Ashur, played by Nick E. Tarabay. Ashur used to be a gladiator, but was wounded. Now he works as a bookie, an assistant to Batiatus, and as the ludus's resident dog-robber. If you want it, Ashur can get it, but you can't trust him to be quiet about what he finds for you. He's barely in the series, but he's bought a necklace for Crixus, which Crixus gave to Naevia, who refused it, and then gave to Lucretia when it caught her eye. Which means that Ashur knows more than he should.

And finally: this is Ilythia.

ilithia

Folks who read me back in the day will know what I mean when I say: mmmmmmmm, *Ilythia.*

Ilythia is Glaber's wife. She is from a politically powerful family, so it is good for Lucretia to be her friend. But Ilythia is a nasty, nasty piece of work, by which I mean SHE IS EVIL AND BUGFUCK CRAZY.

Ilithia bugfuck

She's played by Viva Bianca, who comes across like a mad scientist decided to splice Alexandra Tydings and Hudson Leick and turn the crazy up to eleven. Bianca is the best thing about the series, flat-out, in large part because she clearly knows *exactly* how ridiculous this is and is playing it to the hilt. Her scenes with Lawless are magnificent, because she and Lawless bring out the best in each other's performances: Bianca plays Ilythia with glorious frenemy viciousness, while Lawless becomes, by turns, remarkably manipulative and heartbreakingly vulnerable. They take turns screwing each other over and trying to corrupt one another; Lucretia, for her part of this, has introduced Ilythia to the sweaty, muscled joys of gladiators, which are rapidly becoming Ilythia's new obsession. Except Ilythia doesn't just like fondling them: she likes to watch them bleed.

I am very fond of Ilythia.

My predicted pairings, if the fandom materializes, are Crixus/everybody, and Ilythia/Lucretia, with a bit of Varro/Spartacus. I/L is a potentially scary pairing; it's like two really manipulative tops getting together and one of them getting outmatched only to do some twisted topping from the bottom. Who gets outmatched will depend on the fic.

Yes, exactly

(This picture pretty much sums up the Ilythia/Lucretia relationship.)

RPS, if there is any, will involve the Kirk Douglas. This is because, according to the Torch Online, some actors with full-frontal scenes wore a prosthetic penis for visual augmentation. They named it in honor of Mr. Douglas, who famously portrayed Spartacus for director Stanley Kubrick.

Yes, the behind-the-scenes reality of this show is bizarre, too.

It's funny: the two shows I'm following right now are shows that I don't actually think are good. I'm watching LEVERAGE, which makes me like it less and less, and I'm watching SPARTACUS, which is just straight-up crud but makes me like it more and more. I think a lot of people I know would enjoy Spartacus for exactly what it is, so this is me telling you: if you like absolutely insane junk TV, watch it. It's surprisingly fun.

(If you want more info, there are picspams (here on DW). ETA: Now there is a helpfully illustrative vid. To Lady Gaga. It focuses on the porn and excludes much of the fleshripping, so bear in mind as you watch it that *there is plenty of crazy that isn't even in there.* Here on Dreamwidth, or here on LJ.

Comments

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)

If you like bad TV, and you are in fandom, SPARTACUS is for you. It's like TORCHWOOD, except they aren't in charge of saving the world, and they think about things other than sex.

...it's really a lot better than TORCHWOOD, actually.

Posted by: DUCKS CAN'T TALK. (very_improbable)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
coffee

I actually don't like bad TV, mostly, so it's been a lonely time in fandom for me. :) But I think I could watch this sucker, now that I know how the hell to watch it. (I've seen billboards for this show, but I think my brain just ignored the word "Starz" because, seriously, Starz?) (They should make YES YOU CAN WATCH IT ON NETFLIX much more prominent in their advertising.)

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