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David Hines [userpic]

SPARTACUS: episode 7

March 7th, 2010 (11:17 am)
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Hey, remember when I said that this show featured male-male sex "as part of a devoted relationship?"

AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The thing is, I don't really feel like laughing.

This is an odd place for me to be in, because the kind of activist so many of you guys are, I'm not. Politically, if we're not on the opposite side of the fence one of us is at least halfway over it, and a lot of the stuff that you (and a lot of fandom) take as a given, I disagree with, sometimes deeply. I am a straight white cisgendered guy whose politics are fairly conservative, which makes me a little unusual in a female-dominated, pretty heavily leftist, pretty heavily queer section of modern fandom.

Which means, of course, that I have to write a review of SPARTACUS that talks about the show's gay guys getting fridged one-two-three.

I'm not going to use the terminology or arguments you'd expect me to, because I'm not that sort of activist. But I do read that stuff, because -- and look, I know this is a weird concept -- *I do not have to agree with people ideologically to learn how they would like to be treated.* Sometimes I read somebody's post and disagree profoundly but still come away having learned something useful. I'm never going to be a postmodern feminist, say, but I've learned a lot from their arguments and complaints that I can use to make myself a better writer. There does remain a gulf, because I'm not in this to challenge my own assumptions in order to bring about something like a religious conversion so that I'm saved from the original sin of white male privilege (seriously, y'all, what is with so many people putting on the hair shirt and grimly vowing to write more women? just *write more women.* it ain't rocket science. it ain't like eating vegetables. good grief). I'm not trying to attain earthly salvation or make a testimony; I am in this as a writer who wishes *to better serve my audience.*

Which I don't think Spartacus is doing as well as it could, right now.

Quick recap: While Batiatus fridged Spartacus's wife Sura to leave Spartacus focused on the arena, Ashur's machinations over not wanting to pay a debt left Barca dead, also by the hand of Batiatus. The death was covered up, and Barca's young lover Pietros was left to believe Barca was freed and had abandoned him. Doctore and Crixus, however, know Barca well enough to suspect this story is a lie. Doctore, not being flat on his back with injuries, is playing detective. Meanwhile, moved by Sura's death, Varro sends a letter to his wife; she is able to visit, and he learns she's pregnant by another man. (The circumstances are murky, and it's not clear if we're meant to believe her story or not.) And Spartacus, initially reluctant to portray a Roman general famous for Thracian-killing, embraces his name and his role as a gladiator -- but not before the abandoned Pietros, subject to abuse and rape from another gladiator in Barca's absence, hangs himself, and Spartacus comes to grief from Batiatus for throwing Pietros's abuser off the very dangerous cliff that makes up one border of the gladiators' traning yard.

…yeah.

Most of the episode is pretty good. Doctore gets some good airtime investigating Barca's death, and Varro gets his first scene ever showing him to have a life outside of Spartacus. (I still say he's doomed.) Spartacus went through the "I am not a gladiator!" thing yet again, which was dull, but the end of the episode resolves that angle, and his attempts at protecting Pietros were nicely played. All told, this was the second episode in a row where he was something resembling an interesting character. The downside is that this was largely done by reducing Pietros to a storyline, rather than character, part. Spartacus wasn't raised up (as he was in the last episode); other characters were beaten down.

My live-tweets:

Woohoo! Time for #Spartacus! 10:01 PM Mar 5th via web

[Disclaimer] Yes, #Spartacus, the intensity of the content is to suggest an authentic portrayal of Rome! BECAUSE THEY HAD SLO-MO SPURTING BLOOD THEN. 10:02 PM Mar 5th via web

Hot sex scene [with actress Erin Cummings being orgasmic]. Hey, look, it's Erin's Cummings. Ha, I kill me. #Spartacus 10:03 PM Mar 5th via web

#Spartacus doesn't know her name [in the flashback scene], because these characters NEVER SAY EACH OTHER'S NAMES. Wish they'd do that more often. It helps us out. 10:05 PM Mar 5th via web

[Funeral pyre scene] Hey, #Spartacus, all those guys carry torches for your wife. (OK, enough wisecracks.) 10:06 PM Mar 5th via web

Seriously, we hear names of #Spartacus, Crixus, all the time, Batiatus sometimes. If I didn't look online, I wouldn't know who TF Varro was. 10:08 PM Mar 5th via web

Batiatus has had two really good scenes in a row. Nice to see John Hanna getting nice material. #Spartacus 10:10 PM Mar 5th via web

Oh, man, Pietros. I'm glad the show isn't dropping him. [HAH.] #Spartacus 10:11 PM Mar 5th via web

"They'll kneel to suck the cock of my good fortune!" #Spartacus #actualspartacusdialogue 10:13 PM Mar 5th via web

I will give the show credit for this: they are doing a good job of showing the in-stasis plotlines in varying ways. #Spartacus 10:15 PM Mar 5th via web

BTW: GLADIATOR TRAINING SEQUENCE #Spartacus 10:15 PM Mar 5th via web

You know what would be nice in this scene with Varro? IF SOMEBODY WOULD SAY HIS FREAKING NAME. #Spartacus 10:18 PM Mar 5th via web

Two things I like: Varro now has a life outside of #Spartacus, and Varro's wife is not happy with him. 10:20 PM Mar 5th via web

Also: SOMEBODY SAID VARRO'S NAME. Finally! #Spartacus 10:20 PM Mar 5th via web

Oh, yeah! Crixus knows Barca wouldn't leave Pietros. Called it. #Spartacus 10:25 PM Mar 5th via web

Good scene with #Spartacus and Varro. Though Spartacus being reminded he is a gladiator is getting old. Rather see him think around it. 10:26 PM Mar 5th via web

Nice parallel themes of abandonment in Pietros's and Varro's storylines. #Spartacus 10:27 PM Mar 5th via web

OH YAY ILYTHIA #spartacus 10:27 PM Mar 5th via web

Oh, show, don't you -- GODDAMMIT, SHOW. Triple fridging with triple toe loop. #Spartacus 10:30 PM Mar 5th via web

Show's problem: other characters are more interesting than #Spartacus. Show's solution: render more interesting characters pawns & kill em. 10:33 PM Mar 5th via web

This is not intelligent work, show. #Spartacus 10:34 PM Mar 5th via web

I do have to say that I *really* like Doctore as a detective. #Spartacus 10:35 PM Mar 5th via web

Bad move, Doctore. You should have kept your suspicions quiet. #Spartacus 10:38 PM Mar 5th via web

"You kiss my cheek only to finger my ass!" #Spartacus #actualspartacusdialogue 10:40 PM Mar 5th via web

Geez, does the audience ever stop their orgy? #Spartacus 10:42 PM Mar 5th via web

I have to say that I would feel pretty bad-ass if people ever called me "The Bringer of Rain." #Spartacus 10:44 PM Mar 5th via web

AND HERE COMES THE BLOOD #Spartacus 10:46 PM Mar 5th via web

QUICK TIME FOR JUST ONE LI'L MONTAGE #Spartacus 10:50 PM Mar 5th via web

"I am #Spartacus!" Oh, c'mon, *everybody* says that. 10:51 PM Mar 5th via web

RT @abovethelaw5 Yo were those two extras jus fuckin in the arena...thas like 2 ppl fuckin in the stands at Lincoln Financial durin a Eagles game #Spartacus 10:52 PM Mar 5th via web

Can't even imagine what the reaction on AfterElton will be tomorrow. #Spartacus just kicked its gay fans in the nuts 2 weeks in a row. 10:53 PM Mar 5th via web

RT @eliteprince last week Barca died...now Pietros...why should i watch Spartacus anymore?? #spartacus 10:55 PM Mar 5th via web

@eliteprince I bet there are a bunch of folks who are going to be asking that. Losing them like that definitely makes it less fun for me. 10:57 PM Mar 5th via web in reply to eliteprince


I'm a little surprised how annoyed I am about the deaths of Barca and Pietros -- two characters in a show that, I remind you, is not actually good. I think that's because they were actually likeable and interesting characters (a hell of a lot more so than Spartacus himself), played by likeable and interesting actors, and they had a lot of potential. Yes, their deaths are tragic, which was clearly the desired effect, but it also reduced them to props in the worldview of Spartacus -- their purpose is to suffer beautifully and make Spartacus sad, or serve as motivation for him to act, later. This spends capital the wrong way, and also feels like an over-correction: "Oh shit! These supporting characters are more interesting than the hero! BETTER KILL 'EM OFF NOW."

Plus, it hurt the audience. Sometimes you want to hurt your audience in a good way, true. But I've been following the discussion on AfterElton.com, where one of their staff guys was doing recaps complete with annoying cutesy nicknames for everybody, and I was struck by how much the commenters there were affected by, not so much by Barca's loss, but by his presence when he was there. They liked Pietros, sure, but they *loved* having Barca. They had a gladiator! A guy who was badass and strong and brave and was completely accepted and admired by the other gladiators, who liked him and joked with him and saw his relationship as something real and important to him! Having Barca, and his relationship with Pietros, made them *happy.* And seeing their happiness struck home for me, in a way that seeing people being happy and thrilled by Jack and Ianto never did. (The difference for me, I think, is that TORCHWOOD IS A PIECE OF NUCLEAR DOGSHIT THAT SHOULD BE ATOMIZED, and Ianto's actions in "Cyberwoman" were so horrifyingly stupid that, had I been in charge of Torchwood, I would have hauled him out the back and shot him. I couldn't be pleased by a relationship between two characters I think are useless morons.)

And then Barca was killed, and Pietros hung himself.

And the third gay gladiator, whose name I never caught because THE PEOPLE ON THIS SHOW ALMOST NEVER SAY EACH OTHER'S NAMES, was killed by Spartacus in revenge for his driving Pietros to suicide.

I've put my helmet on, myself, when it comes to representions of my own self-image (or aspirations thereof) in the media. I mean, Jewish characters are on TV almost as rarely as Asian men, but at least we don't get killed all that often. I've pretty much given up looking for characters who represent some aspect of my politics who aren't villains. I happen to like and respect traditional masculinity and manhood, and our culture is deep in thrall to the cult of the man-boy. But y'know, *at least I never get my hopes up.*

That's the thing that really sucks about this one: SPARTACUS let the gay media know there was gay content, got everybody excited, let 'em be happy -- and then waved a hand and went, "Nah, fuck ye." Even if the storyline gets a hell of a lot of mileage out of that angle, it'll be hard to make up the potential the series lost and to make a good-sized segment of their audience feel like it's really their show again. No matter how much naked, oiled-up wrestling Crixus and Spartacus do.

(My GF, who had zero interest in the show until I idly mentioned that it had hot guys fucking, says, "They'd better kidnap some more slaves who are good-looking and gay." Memo to Steven S. DeKnight.)

On a side note: y'know who's watching this show? Black people. Black folks frigging LOVE Spartacus. If you're following the #Spartacus hashtag on Twitter, you know what I'm talking about -- going by userpics, most of the people live-tweeting their reactions to the series are black. That's an interesting intersectionality. If I were show-running SPARTACUS, I'd add some new black characters of varying degrees of prominence in Season Two. (Also, I would give more screen time to Peter Mensah and Lesley-Ann Brandt, but that goes without saying. Loved that they had a scene together this week; as long-time readers know, one of my joys is seeing different groups of characters interact. Mensah does mostly gladiator scenes and Brandt's scenes are all with Lucy Lawless or Manu Bennett, so seeing her and Mensah together was a fun change.)

There is good stuff in the episode: Peter Mensah's Doctore gets more to work with than he has so far, and Manu Bennett has some good stuff for a guy who's flat on his back. (I understand why they've got Naevia watching over him, but I wish that job had been Pietros's; Crixus was friends with Barca, so it would have been cool to see the two of them work together and figure out what happened to Barca. If I'd been writing it, I would have had Spartacus try to bounce Naevia for Pietros, which would have created more friction between Spartacus and Crixus.) But the loss of Barca and Pietros really sucks, and as I mentioned above, it takes a good bit of the fun out of the show for me.

Comments

Posted by: doctor_alice (doctor_alice)
Posted at: March 9th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)

From your description I am sort of wondering whether Spartacus is headed down the same road as 24, as far as its record of killing off characters. If so I don't think that would be a good idea for several reasons. First, it's been done. Everybody's gotten used to the idea of characters dropping like flies; it isn't fresh or startling anymore. Second, there's one character you know will *never* die no matter what: the main character (Spartacus/Jack Bauer). That removes a lot of suspense. And lastly, as you point out, you run the risk of alienating your fan base. Not smart for a brand new show.

Posted by: naked and articulate (sihaya09)
Posted at: March 9th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)

Hi! I got here pretty much through your primer post, then poked around some. Anyhow, THANK YOU. I am so glad that I am not the only person in fandom being deeply troubled at the rapid fridging of all the openly gay characters. You hit the nail on the head when you said they were just there, ultimately, as window dressing for Spartacus's woe. The real tragedy is that Barca could have been so much more.

Posted by: naked and articulate (sihaya09)
Posted at: March 9th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC)

Crap. doctor_alice, I didn't mean to reply to you. Apologies!

--Christina, who has a bit of a fever and should probably go lie down.

Posted by: Crystal (acousticdryad)
Posted at: March 9th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)

They do add a black man in Episode 8, but you're not going to like the outcome there at all. I thought it was fairly lame.

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