Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his merry men are back for a new season of the Starz original series. This season sees Spartacus and the other escaped gladiators on the run from the Roman senators and magistrates that would see them return to the arena.
I tried to get into Spartacus in the early days, but thought it was too similar to Zack Snyder’s 300. The styles of both are very similar: a ton of violence, gratuitous sex, and more slow-motion per-capita than any show should ever need. I find the slow-motion particularly annoying. It’s completely over used, as the show feels obligated to emphasize every action sequence (even if it’s just someone fainting into a pool) with mind-numbing slow-motion. I can’t really see the purpose in it. It doesn’t make these sequences more intense, it doesn’t make the effects look any better, and it even cuts down the show’s already limited believability. It’s one thing to convince your audience that you’re a legendary fighter. It’s another to simply demonstrate that you’re a good, well-rehearsed actor executing a fight scene. Slow-motion consistently reveals the latter as characters effortlessly switch between targets, and even pluck disarmed weapons out of thin air to dig into someone else. It gets more than ridiculous at times.
Now, I’m all for sex and violence on TV. However, these are the only tools in Spartacus’s belt. The structure of the show is simple enough. We open with a battle, then cut the tension with an orgy, then another smaller battle, and maybe a sex scene between only two characters, and then a battle to round things out. It’s sad how slight of an exaggeration this is. There is a lot of room for decent drama here. The characters aren’t bad at all. Some of them are downright fascinating. Viva Bianca’s character Ilithya emerges this season as an evil genius, alongside her friend and ally Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and her sometimes estranged husband Glaber (Craig Parker). All of the performances are really strong and it’s a real shame that these characters don’t feel like they’re being utilized to their full potential in the series. Nick Tarabay’s disturbingly evil portrayal of Ashur also stands out as remarkable.
On the heroes side of things, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena victor Gannicus (Dustin Clare) returns to effectively steal any scene he’s in. His relationship with Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) in the wake of his affair with Oenomaus’ wife creates a really interesting dynamic between the characters as they fight on the same side. Again, this isn’t being capitalized on completely.
I suppose what I find really annoying about the series is how obviously structured it is. When three gladiators enter an arena, and we know two of them, and one is just thrown in, then it’s pretty obvious who’s going to die. They might as well brand the doomed characters with red Star Trek uniforms. On top of this, when two characters face off in a fight to the death, it is always obvious who will prevail; no matter how unlikely the victory would be. A dual between Ashur and Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt) late in the season stands out as the best example of this.
Maybe someday the producers of Spartacus will decide to stop making horror porn, and let their already amazing cast of characters be a part of something worthwhile and exciting; something the history of television can be proud of.
Special Features include several behind the scenes featurettes including one on the special effects of Episode 205 and another following Liam McIntyre onset. Other special features include a blooper reel, “the Legend of Spartacus,” and a trailer for the upcoming Spartacus: War of the Damned.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment on September 11.
Spartacus: War of the Damned comes to Starz in January 2013