Making sense of the bloodiest postmodern show on television, Spartacus.
The turgid downstairs action might be worth it, if its point were to secure some of that coveted man-child demographic that made such a hit of 300(whose fight scenes Spartacus blatantly copies) and thereby subsidize the sparkling upstairs action for viewers with an interest in human speech. But this, alas, is one area in which the creators of Spartacus felt they had to answer directly to history instead of using its presumed intensities to implant their helpful suggestions. And so, late in Season 1, even as a warm bond seems to be forming between the new champion Spartacus and his owner Batiatus, and another persists between the old champion Crixus and the amorous Lucretia, betrayals slowly emerge to set the rivals against their master and his wife.
History requires Spartacus to start a slave rebellion in the ludus. The Starz series about him fulfills this obligation in a metatextual bloodbath. With all the upper-class friends of Batiatus and Lucretia present upstairs, Spartacus persuades Crixus to join him in revolt. What happens next cannot have ever happened on TV before: the worst, dullest characters on a show rising up, as a class, and slaughtering the show's best and most engaging characters. The creators and their second-tier pay network, then, seem to be doubling down on that man-child demographic—and so telling everyone else to get lost, go read a book or something.
But hope lives for these viewers. First, Starz plans to run a four-episode prequel to Spartacus ahead of Season 2 (which was delayed by Whitman's diagnosis of, and successful treatment for, non-Hodgkins lymphoma). It will focus on Capua's gladiators, pre-Spartacus, and thus revive our beloved Batiati. Second, Lucretia's most devious frenemy, Ilithia, survives Season 1's climactic slaughter, presumably to scheme through Season 2. As played by the lively and pale-haired Viva Bianca, Ilithia is a scream, half-sane at best and sexy as hell. It will be great to see her carry her half of the anarchy, though she'll need to be careful about coming off all clever and literate in her duplicity, lest she offend the vengeful gods that rule her show and they summon their hero Spartacus to hunt her down and give her a bunch of those hyperreal injuries they like so much and which he's so good at inflicting.
Correction, Oct. 12, 2010: The article originally included the incorrect last name for the actor Andy Whitfield. (Return to the corrected sentence.)