Oh Spartacus! How I love thee!

I did a bad thing last night, I watched about four episodes of Spartacus: Blood And Sand in a row. I think I finished at about 1:30am. By the time the last episode had finished – the one where Varro died – I was almost breathless with excitement. I was raving about it this morning to Lisa over breakfast.

For those of you who haven’t caught an episode of Spartacus yet, here’s the deal: Spartacus is a Thracian slave who’s been sold to a Roman ludus. A ludus is a training academy for gladiators. The ludus is owned by a foul-mouthed Roman named Batiatus played by a gleefully vile John Hannah and his wife Lucretia played by Lucy Lawless.

The orgy of on-screen sex and violence is as graphic as anything I’ve ever witnessed on television. Limbs severed, blood seeping down the very screen when the gladiators are in full combat, serially naked women wandering around the ludus and of course, the barely-clad gladiators and their rippling muscles.

I’m not going to be coy and pretend I don’t enjoy the sex and violence. That’s half the show’s appeal. For the gladiators who endure and dish out brutality in the arena, naturally there’s going to be a healthy amount of sexual aggression as part of that balance. In one scene, Batiatus is in the bath house talking to his wife, when he simply grabs a passing slave girl, bends her over and has his wicked way with her. All while continuing his conversation with his wife. It’s partially funny, partially disgusting, but the fact that Lucretia doesn’t even bat an eyelid shows that this is an accepted part of their society.

The show’s writers constantly keep us guessing as well – when Batiatus agrees to locate and bring back Spartacus’ wife, we’re surprised when he keeps his word. But when the carriage rolls into the ludus yard, it’s clear all is not well. Spartacus opens the carriage and his near-dead wife rolls out. She dies later, but unbeknown to Spartacus, it was Batiatus who ordered her execution. It’s those machinations and the ruthlessness of this gladiatorial world that keep the show intriguing.

The last episode, for instance, showed the bond between Spartacus and Varro. Varro was a gambler who joined the ludus to settle his debts. He took Spartacus under his wing and became a companion for him when no-one else would speak to him. The vile Ilithyia sees this and – by seducing a Roman senator’s son – sets it up so that Spartacus wins a display battle between the two and is forced to kill Varro.

Even when the young Roman makes the call for Spartacus to finish Varro, the audience are hoping against hope for a reprieve. Surely Spartacus won’t slaughter his only friend, whose wife is waiting for him to settle his debts and rejoin him? There’s a tense stand-off, more political than anything else – will Batiatus order the execution of a promising gladiator to stay in favour with the senator? Of course he will.

Spartacus stands his ground though, but as he stares at Batiatus in disbelief, Varro reaches up and pulls the blade into his neck, slicing through his own jugular. Well, there was clearly no getting out of it, and Varro nobly took his own life. Spartacus drove the blade deep into his chest to end his suffering, but the events of that night are clearly going to have ripples and repercussions down the line.

What’s truly tragic is that the senator dismisses Batiatus’ political aspirations and walks off, making Varro’s death even more meaningless.

I’m hooked. I can’t wait to find out how the sordid love triangle between Lucretia, Crixus and Naevia will resolve itself. Will Batiatus discover that his wife’s been enjoying regular hide the sausage sessions with the fallen Champion of Capua? And will Spartacus continue to be so cocky with Crixus now that Varro is dead? Is there a chance for romance between Spartacus and the slave who was made to offer herself to him?

I could recap a thousand things I’ve loved about this series so far – the scene where Lucretia tricks Ilithyia into having sex with Spartacus (who she despises) is an absolute classic. She substitutes Spartacus in place of Crixus – who Ilithyia had requested – and then sets it up so that a Roman noblewoman sees the lewd act, humiliating Ilithyia. When he finds out, Spartacus tries to strangle Ilithyia, and when Ilithyia is teased a little too nastily by the noblewoman, she grabs the lady by her head and cracks her skull open against the marble floor. It’s brutal, but compelling stuff.

The latest episode is on Bravo tonight at 10:00pm. Be sure to catch it – though if you’re of a squeamish demeanour, you have been warned!

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