One of the trends that movies went through was the sword and sandal epic adventures. With bloodshed, physical confrontation, women in diaphanous gowns and Machiavellian intrigue spanning governments and families there the genre provided action, drama and romance for a generation. While the audience’s infatuation as waned to a degree the Statz premium cable network has taken on the challenge to bring their customers back in time to when life was cheap, given up in pursuit of entertaining the disgruntle masses and bored patricians. As the popularity of ‘The Hunger Games’ and Battle Royale’ demonstrate are culture is on the of once again appeasing the disgruntled popular with Panem et Circense .it appears we are getting perilously close to gladiatorial games with blood sports on ESPN. Even in our more civilized culture the juxtaposition of the patrician elegance and plebian brutality appear to fascinate audiences. We may be watching from the comfort of our living room on a high definition television but the lure of the coliseum is still very much present. Starz has been addressing this primal need for vicarious death matches with several series roughly revolving around the famous gladiator and leaser of the Roman slave rebellion, Spartacus. In the last season, under consideration here, ‘Spartacus: Vengeance’, s follow-up and second season to the predecessor, ‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’ it continues the exploits both in the arena where death is ever present and the bedrooms, a place of lust, desire and political maneuvering. The same caveat that always is relevant for historically based entertainment; do not accept this series as a source of historical fact. Although the producers have made a concerted effort to retain some modicum of accuracy first and foremost this is a form of entertainment. There are numerous sources of facts easily available at the library. With that stated Starz has become exceptionally talent in presenting this type of drama. HBO’s acclaimed ‘Rome’ only managed to last two seasons but the green light for the third season has been approved and titled ‘Spartacus: War of the Damned’
As this second season gets underway the slave revolt is strongly underway. The escaped gladiators have mounted a campaign of terror against their former owners. The intrinsic problem with creating a warrior caste to kill and be killed for the sake of amusing their owners has become painfully honest; The Roman society has created the perfect killing machine in the persona of the gladiator; expert and all forms of taking a life with little or no regard for the lives of others, or themselves. The Roman ruling class has started to realize the weapon their forged has now turned against them. Roman troops lead by Praetor Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) has been dispatched to intercept the band of rebels commanded by Spartacus (Andy Whitfield). The hatred of Glaber is personal for our hero; he is the man responsible for the enslavement of Spartacus. This sets up the moral dilemma for the rebel leader. The core of his being screams out to avenge the death of his wife and child against the man who took them from their home and sold them into bondage and preserving the rebellion he was instrumental in setting in motion. This ongoing plot dichotomy forms the emotional core of the season. It takes the center of the story beyond the rebellion as it grows in strength and scope by depicting the personalized motives. While these motivations are demonstrated through the titular character they are found in each of the freed slaves. This practice literally ripped families apart not just for fiscal expedience and the maintenance of an upper class opulence, factors shared in more recent formal acceptance of slavery; in this case it reduced the value of human life to Nil. This series manages to retain that breech of human right against the backdrop of a culture in the midst of a drastic paradigm shift in sensibilities. The lesson the Romans are forced to learn is don’t teach men to die for your amusement; they will quickly learn to kill you for theirs.
Lucy Lawless returns to her role as Lucretia. As the wife of the Magistrate, Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah), she enjoys an unusual amount of power and influence, really enjoys it. the Roman men may pontificate in their robes on the Steps of the Senate or go off to battle in their ornate armor but much of the real power in this society is wielded by the women lounging in their bed chambers pulling all the strings and devising machinations that blends the political acuity of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli with the perchance for human life of Tomás de Torquemada. If you think our politicians are riddled with corruption and scandal they are like a grade school class election compared to the Romans and Lucretia is a certified grand master of this chess board. She utilizes her influence, wealth and sexuality in as deadly a fashion as a gladiator wields his Gladius and shield. It is gratifying that this series will continue on. This season had the feel of the middle act in a trilogy. The emotional mood is darker than the previous season. Now that the rebellion has exploded beyond its original scope the men that were formerly property are not only can determine their own lives leaders including Spartacus are nor changed with the life and death of their former slaves. This season teaches Spartacus that it is one thing to be a free man but quite another to be a military commander fight to overthrow a debased and amoral culture. The ramifications of his actions begin to weigh heavily upon him.
Like its predecessor the presentation here is stunning. While not an historian’s dream it does hit every high-water mark expected of a sword and sandals epic. Broadcast on an upper tier network has afforded the show runner the necessary latitude to through caution to the wind regard blood, gore, dialogue and nudity. This would not be able to reflect the hedonistic society under the restrictions imposed by the FCC. This permits this production to portray this violent culture as realistically as feasible within the realm of entertainment. The scripts, direction and acting are once again on the highest order. HBO and Showtime have some serious competition with Starz and original series like this is why.
Starz Studios: Spartacus: Vengeance