BINGE-WATCHING: SPARTACUS S1, S2, S3 & S4

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Warning: Absolutely NSFW

Spartacus is an American television series produced in New Zealand that premiered on Starz on January 2010, and concluded on April 2013. The series was inspired by the historical figure of Spartacus, a Thracian gladiator who from 73 to 71 BCE led a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic departing from Capua. Executive producers Steven S. DeKnight and Robert Tapert focused on structuring the events of Spartacus’ obscure early life leading up to the beginning of historical records.


The Death of Spartacus by Hermann Vogel, 1882.


Marcus Licinius Crassus crucified 6,000 of Spartacus’ followers on the road between Rome and Capua. 1878 painting by Fedor Andreevich Bronnikov.

After the completion of the first season titled Spartacus: Blood and Sand, production for another season was delayed because lead actor Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with early-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma so Starz produced a six-episode prequel mini-series entitled Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. When the actor’s cancer recurred and he later died on September 2011, Starz had actor Liam McIntyre take on the role of Spartacus in the second season titled Spartacus: Vengeance. On June 2012, Starz announced the third and final season, titled Spartacus: War of the Damned.



Spartacus: Blood and Sand

The story begins with an unnamed Thracian’s involvement in a unit of Roman auxiliary in a campaign against the Getae (Thracian tribes that occupied the regions of the Lower Danube, in what today is Bulgaria and Romania, ancestors of Romanians) under the command of the legatus, Claudius Glaber. In 72-71 BCE, Roman general Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus, proconsul of the Roman province of Macedonia, marched against the Getae, who were allies of Rome’s enemy, Mithridates VI of Pontus. The Getae frequently raid the Thracians’ lands, so the Thracians are persuaded by Glaber to enlist in the Romans’ service as auxiliaries. Glaber is persuaded by his wife Ilithyia to seek greater glory, decides to break off attacking the Getae and directly confront the forces of Mithridates in Asia Minor. The Thracian, feeling betrayed, leads a mutiny against Glaber, and returns to find his village destroyed. The Thracian and his wife Sura are captured by Glaber the next day; the Thracian is condemned to die in the gladiator arena for his crime, while Sura is taken away, condemned to slavery. The Thracian is shipped to Capua in Italy, a center of gladiator training. Against all odds in the arena he slays the four gladiators appointed to execute him and becomes an instant sensation with the crowd. Senator Albinius commutes the punishment from death to slavery. The prisoner’s true name unknown, Lentulus Batiatus, the owner of a ludus in Capua, suggests to name him Spartacus, because he fought like the ferocious Thracian king of that name.

Noting well the Thracian’s fierce raw talent and popularity with the masses, Batiatus purchases him for training within the walls of his ludus under the tutelage of Doctore, a former gladiator and fellow slave. He is befriended by Varro, a Roman who sold himself into slavery in order to pay his debts and support his family. He is harassed by more senior gladiators, notably Crixus, an undefeated Gaul, and Barca, a Carthaginian. Spartacus soon learns that Sura was sold to a Syrian slave trader. Batiatus, who has been unable to control Spartacus during his first days of training, promises to find Sura and reunite them in exchange for the promising neophyte’s cooperation in the arena.

After many near-fatal ordeals and much further training Spartacus attains the status of a living legend and is named the Champion of Capua. Batiatus arranges the purchase of Sura, but she is delivered mortally wounded, supposedly having been waylaid by bandits en route. Her murder was secretly ordered by Batiatus to keep Spartacus loyal and focused. Spartacus casts off his heritage as a Thracian and forgets his dream of freedom, becoming content with life as champion.

The turning point comes when Spartacus is set to fight his only friend in the ludus, Varro, in an exhibition match celebrating the coming to manhood of the Capuan magistrate’s son, Numerius. Ilithyia, who has hated Spartacus since he embarrassed her husband Glaber by his mutiny, seduces the young man and convinces him to demand death for the loser of the match. Spartacus wins (as expected), and when the young man gives the thumbs down, Batiatus, wishing to ingratiate himself with the boy’s powerful father, forces Spartacus to comply and kill Varro. While suffering from both his wound in this match and his remorse and sorrow over having to kill his friend, Spartacus has fever dreams that lead him to suspect that Batiatus arranged Sura’s death. He is able to confirm this by forcing Batiatus’ man, Aulus, to confess the act. Knowing that it is all or nothing when it comes to resistance of his enslavement, he resolves to kill them all and lead a revolt against the ruling house he once fought for.

In order to get his revenge, Spartacus enlists the help of Crixus and the rest of the gladiators to defeat the house of Batiatus once and for all. A battle to the death between Crixus and Spartacus is arranged for the Capuan elite at the ludus. Doctore (whom Batiatus refers to by his real name, Oenomaus) confronts Batiatus about Barca’s death and Ashur’s hand in it. Spartacus gains support from Mira who is tasked with opening the gate to the villa from the training area. Crixus resists aiding Spartacus in hopes of reuniting with Naevia; however, after learning he was weakened to ensure Spartacus’ victory, at the last moment he joins with Spartacus. Doctore initially stops Spartacus from killing Batiatus. In the ensuing chaos of the gladiators’ killing of the guards and some guests, Crixus persuades Doctore to join him with Spartacus, while Illithyia escapes and has her guards seal the door to the ludus from the outside. Doctore, making good on his word, tries to kill Ashur but his intended victim eludes him. Crixus grievously wounds Batiatus’ wife, Lucretia, with a sword stab to her abdomen, piercing her womb and killing their unborn child. Aurelia kills Numerius after revealing to him that Varro was her husband, and Spartacus finally kills Batiatus in front of the seriously wounded Lucretia. After the massacre, Spartacus vows to make Rome tremble.



Spartacus: Gods of the Arena

The mini-series features the history of the House of Batiatus and the city of Capua before the arrival of Spartacus. The main story opens not long after Quintus Lentulus Batiatus becomes lanista, manager of the House’s slaves and gladiators, when he takes over his father’s ludus.

Batiatus is quickly discovered to have grand ambitions, beginning with the stepping out from his father’s shadow. As the story progresses, Batiatus continues to seek greatness for the House under his leadership, as well as recognition for his own name. By his side stands his devoted wife, Lucretia, who is willing to help her husband achieve his goals regardless of the cost. Batiatus soon places all of his fortunes on one man whom he believes will bring fame and glory to the House of Batiatus, his best gladiator, the Celt Gannicus. Gannicus is a skilled warrior almost without equal, who wields his dual swords in the arena with great prowess. However, Batiatus’ opponents would not sit idly and allow his ascent to greatness without challenge.

Purchased as an undisciplined and disheveled recruit in the first episode, Crixus the Gaul initially endures mockery and threats of death, before eventually rising to become a gladiator of skill and fame second only to Gannicus. As Batiatus fends off repeated attempts by his professional rival Tullius to obtain Gannicus, his relationships with his father Titus and friend Solonius begin to suffer the strain of Quintus’ relentless ambition. Former champion gladiator Oenomaus reluctantly retires from combat to become Doctore, while Syrian recruits Ashur and Dagan become fierce enemies as Ashur tries to prove himself worthy of being a gladiator. Veteran gladiators Barca and Gannicus accept the rising star of Crixus but fear that their own careers will suffer, as the machinations of Batiatus and Lucretia to court Capua’s elite end in tragedy for several members of the household. Against all of this, the city’s splendid new arena nears completion and with it the opening games that will make men into gods. When the arena opens Solonius’ and Batiatus’ gladiators compete with each other, Batiatus’ gladiators prevailing in the contest. Gannicus again proves himself to be the champion of Capua and the god of the arena and by virtue of his win against Solonius’ gladiators, becomes the champion of Capua and gains his freedom.



Spartacus: Vengeance

After the bloody escape from the House of Batiatus that concluded Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the gladiator rebellion begins to strike fear into the heart of the Roman Republic in Spartacus: Vengeance. Praetor Claudius Glaber and his Roman troops are sent to Capua to crush Spartacus’ growing band of freed slaves before they can inflict further damage. Spartacus is given a choice between satisfying his personal need for vengeance against the man who condemned his wife to slavery and eventual death, or making the larger sacrifices necessary to keep his budding army from breaking.



Spartacus: War of the Damned

This final season of Spartacus began airing January 25, 2013 and concluded April 12, 2013. This season follows the final struggle between Spartacus and Marcus Licinius Crassus. Crassus pursues Spartacus as he struggles to feed his ever growing army of former slaves. Spartacus wins several victories against Crassus’ forces and continues to frustrate the Romans. The series culminates in a direct all out battle between Spartacus and Crassus.



The premiere episode of the series set a record for Starz, with 553,000 viewers on their network, and another 460,000 on Encore, where the show was available only that weekend. For the rest of the season the show had an average of 1.285 million viewers.

Critical reception of the first episode was mixed; the review aggregate website Metacritic which assigns a normalized average score out of 100 gave the show a score of 54% based on 22 reviews. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly gave it the grade B+, saying it “might prove to be the not-at-all-guilty pleasure of the season.” Barry Garron of the Hollywood Reporter suggested that with “such thin stories ... it’s small wonder that sex and violence are used to take up the slack.” Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times wrote that John Hannah as Batiatus “keeps the show grounded with a persuasive portrait of a man engaged in a stressful daily business” and called Whitfield as Spartacus “handsome and buff and smart and beastly.” Mark Perigard of the Boston Herald gave the season finale a positive review, rating it a B+. He commented on the improvement of the series throughout its first season. Source.

Watch Spartacus Season 1, 2, 3 & 4 online.

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