Fri
Jan 25 2013 12:00pm

Spartacus Returns For its Final Season

The War of the Damned begins tonight as Spartacus fights his last battle on Starz’s blood-soaked hit series.

To non-viewers, Spartacus comes across as a violent, pornographic 300 knock-off with delusions of David Milch-esque dialogue. To be sure, that was my initial impression when watching the first three episodes of the first season, Blood and Sand. I kept watching for that so-bad-it’s-good vibe. Then, during episode four... Spartacus actually became good. Really good. And got even better by mid-season. The devious mind of show creater and former Buffy scribe Steven DeKnight—and the flawless performances of John Hannah and Lucy Lawless—elevated the show to a roller coaster of shifting sympathies, stunning and cruel betrayals, and steamy romance all framed in a graphic novel look.

I would go so far as to say the first two seasons of Spartacus, set in the gladiator school before the famed slave revolt, are an even better upstairs, downstairs drama than Downton Abbey. Here, the stakes are so high because the lives of the servants are literally in their masters’ hands. It’s class warfare at its bloodiest.

Spartacus should also be praised for its broad embrace of sexuality, rare even on a cable network. Sex is as integral to the show as violence, presented as, by turns, matter-of-fact and gratuitous. But it’s always inclusive. Straight, gay, and polyamorous relationships are all treated with respect. The unexpected romance between gladiator Agron and a male body slave, Nasir, for example, is portrayed as tenderly as the love between a hetero pair of the same social makeup.

Sadly, despite solid ratings for cable, what brought Spartacus wider attention was the unfortunate illness and death of the series’ original star Andy Whitfield. Newcomer Liam McIntyre had huge sandals to fill as the new Spartacus but did an admirable job as the show’s story led the former gladiators out of the ludus and into war against Rome itself. I’m hopeful that this year McIntyre can fully disappear into the role.

Barring that, the supporting cast is excellent. Of particular note are Spartacus’ right-hand-men Agron (Dan Feuerriegel) and the charismatic Gannicus (Dustin Clare.) Manu Bennett, most recently seen as the Orc captain Azog in The Hobbit, returns as the most romantic rebel leader of all, Crixus. Marcus Crassus makes his eagerly-awaited appearance as the Roman general tasked with bringing Spartacus down. Fighting at his side is a young upstart named Julius Caesar as he’s never been portrayed before.

While I’m sad to see the series go, I’m okay with DeKnight’s decision to voluntarily end the show so it would go out on a high note. Dramatically, if not historically, considering the ultimate fates of those involved in the Third Servile War. DeKnight has turned his eye towards new projects including Incursion, a gritty space opera with lots of creature FX. I’m excited to see what fresh fan tortures has in mind and there’s a definite dearth of R-rated SF around, but after the graphic novel action, dust, decadence, and blood of Spartacus, space seems so... sterile by comparison.

I’m hoping my expectations are proved wrong once again.

 

Spartacus airs Fridays at 9 P.M. ET/PT on Starz. Watch the first episode for free on their site.


Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com. She covers True Blood, Game of Thrones, and is also an avid gamer. She has also covered tech and TV for Geektress.com and Action Flick Chick. Follower her on Twitter @tdelucci

14 comments
Sean Dowell
1. qbe_64
Comment was oddly edited when posting. Reposted below.
Sean Dowell
2. qbe_64
3 things I've learned while watching Spartacus.

1. Being surrounded by naked 20 years olds, a 40+ Lucy Lawless after three kids is fearless to be naked as much as she is, and absolutely gorgeous.

2. Liam McIntyre is a poor substitute for Andy Whitfield, Sorry Liam, you're no Andy. And would it kill you to have done 10,000 sit-ups a day for three months straight to get Andy's physique?.......(checks earpiece), Okay, I'm being told that it actually would killed him.......moving on.

3. Living in Ancient Rome is like being Tom Sizemore. Weeks at time living in grinding poverty, interspersed with day to week long benders/sex orgies.

So excited for the last season!
Scott Silver
3. hihosilver28
I don't mind Liam looking different than Andy. But Spartacus is a completely different character under Liam and he just doesn't have the gravity to pull it off. Really disappointed by Spartacus:Vengeance.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
Andy brought a vulnerability to the role that Liam doesn't even try for. Andy sold Spartacus as an everyman pushed to his breaking point. McIntyre doesn't really seem to carry the characters history with him.

I have hopes he'll disappear into the role this year, but if not I've got Gannicus, Crixus, Agron, Naevia and Saxa to wow me instead.

It will be hard this year not having Lucretia and Illythia to anchor the villains. Part of what made the drama of the previous seasons work, is because of the history these characters had. Now, Crassus is coming into they story, and while he's been brought up before when Illythia bashed his niece's brain in*, he hasn't really been a presence. I worry that it will detract from the drama. I'll still be watching though, cuz I love this show.

*I imagine if the show had gone on longer, Crassus would have been brought into the plot more organically , through his niece's murder.
Theresa DeLucci
5. theresa_delucci
@2 re: Tom Sizemore. That is possibly the best thing I've read all year. (Okay, so it's only January. But still. Hilarious.)

What bothers me about Liam is yes, he doesn't have the gravitas of Andy. And it's hard because Andy was the Spartacus that was taken by the Romans, forced into slavery, and united everyone to revolt. When Liam-Spartacus talks about his lost wife and his fallen friends... dude, you weren't there! But I've been rewatching the whole series ahead of tonight's premiere and on re-watch, it sits with me better. He's not great, but passable. Frankly my main thought is, fuck cancer for stealing away such a great young actor.

Vengeance is by far the worst of the three seasons, but there were a lot of great moments, too. Everything with Illythia and Glaber was spot-on. Adorable Agron and Nasir kisses. I do mostly watch for Gannicus these days.

@4 Like you, I loved the history of villainy built up between Illythia, Glaber and Lucretia. Now we'll be getting new characters and I was just thinking how they're going to really, really need to introduce these new characters well to make me give a shit about them. Or love to hate them.

I also really wish Naevia wasn't replaced, too. At least they had all that meta-dialogue about her not being the same woman from before she was sold to the mines. Heh. She is just awful and it makes me not enjoy Crixus as much, when he was one of my favorites.

Sidenote: watching hours of Spartacus a day with your partner makes for hilariously dirty comments around the house. Batiatus had a mouth so foul, he'd make Al Swearengen blush.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
I was iffy on the new Naevia, but I really don't think the original actress could have pulled off where her character went. And neither did she apparently, because she pulled out of production after GoTA.
Theresa DeLucci
7. theresa_delucci
I think the loss of original Naevia was more of an availability thing than a creative choice. The second season was in limbo after Andy's cancer returned and the start of the new season's bootcamp conflicted with filming of her pivotal role in... Zombie Apocalypse. /facepalm

Original Naevia was just stunning, the new girl is hot in a really generic way. Totally distracting.

I also find it hard for any woman but Mira to pull off the transition from house-slave to ass-kicking warrior woman.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
I thought I read an article that stated the actress was just too uppset ot continue after learning what Naevia would go through in Vengeance. But yeah, I did have a hard time buying the new Naevia as badass, though of course her fight with Ashur helped with that, showing how little she actually could do in a fight, and showing how she could still be resourceful(and all the hugs for Crixus for realizing that it was something she needed to do and staying the hell out of it, instead of lunking in to her rescue).

And my heart is still broken over Mira. I loved that the love affair fell apart, but she was still devoted to the cause, there wasn't this whole, well now she must BETRAY HIM plot to go along with it. Then she was fridged :(
Theresa DeLucci
9. theresa_delucci
Another little heads-up for Spartacus fans: Jai Courtney (the gladiator formerly known as Varro) will be playing Bruce Willis' son in the new Die Hard movie. Without the blond curls he looks a little like Tom Hardy.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
That was bugging the crap out of me!! I saw him in the previews and I couldn't figure out who he was! YAY Varro Lives!
Constance Sublette
11. Zorra
You are right about what is good about this show. But it is pornographic and the violence is part of it. I literally can't watch a lot of it.

Don't get me wrong -- the good things about it are really good, and I like it. But I think it goes too far in graphic detail, i.e. porn as violence and sex.
Chris Nelly
12. Aeryl
I can completely understand why it's not some people's thing, especially when it comes to the way violence is depicted on the show. In many ways, it follows the 300 visual look, but that's because 300 was literally recreating comic panels, which use the stylized violence in art to emphasis action scenes it couldn't depict. Now television and graphic design have allowed this unholy marriage of stylized violence and action.

But when it comes to the sex, one thing I noticed was how the scenes of consensual and non consensual sex are showed VERY differently. The consensual scenes of Spartacus and Sura, Crixus and Naevia, Agron and Nasir are all shot with soft light and close angles, very stylized. But the scenes of non consensual sex are not stylized in any manner. There is no attempt on the behalf of the makers to titillate the viewer. Are there viewers who are titillized? Yes, but I don't fault the story for that.
phuzz
13. phuzz
Never watched the series, but the board game of this show?

Bloody Fantastic!
Theresa DeLucci
14. theresa_delucci
There's a board game???? I only have the exercise DVDs.

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