At long last, Spartacus and Crassus meet for their final encounter. An epic conclusion to an epic series!
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Having been a die-hard fan of HBO’s “Rome”, and bitter over it having had such a short run, I intentionally avoided “Blood and Sand” when it first aired, assuming it was just a cheap ripoff trying to follow the triumph of what “Rome” was packaged up in the gaudy excess of the movie “300”‘s visual style. And really, how could any series airing on Starz be any good?
Aside from a few promos, I hadn’t watched any of the show until I randomly stumbled on the first airings of “Gods of the Arena”. The first line I heard was “words fall from your mouth like shit from ass”, followed by the scene in which Gannicus fights blindfolded in the Capuan market. I was immediately hooked, stopped watching the episode in question, and started in on the first episode of “Gods of the Arena”.
After what I would consider a somewhat faltering start to the series in the first two episodes of “Blood and Sand” the producers righted the ship and became much more confident and assertive in their storytelling and style. Having done so strengthened the prequel series and they did an incredible job weaving the prequel season and the first season together. I would probably have been slightly disappointed in “Gods of the Arena” had I watched “Blood and Sand” first, as I assume most viewers likely have, but the prequel is incredibly well done if it is watched first, with all of the reveals in Season One having yet to be paid off.
Having had some time to digest the series as a whole, my two primary complaints about Season 2 and parts of Season 3 have crystallized. The first is that the action became more cartoonish and less fraught with peril. In “Gods of the Arena” and “Blood and Sand” death seemed to lurk around every corner and the consequences of even the smallest action could spell doom. In “Vengeance” and “War of the Damned” it seemed as though each set piece battle strove to outdo itself in unrealistic silliness and yet our heroes almost always emerged unscathed. Strangely enough, it was when “Blood and Sand” first truly flirted with unrealistic violence that was my favorite moment of the entire series: while I could watch the “in another life we may have been as brothers” exchange between Spartacus and Crixus from Season One on endless repeat and still get a little choked up each time, my absolute favorite scene is from near the end of Season One when Glabur forces Spartacus to take on his 6 or so personal guard in the pool inside Batiatus’ villa. The tension in that entire scene is incredible and the coreography and the way in which it was shot was simply spectacular.
My second complaint is Liam’s performance as Spartacus. It’s somewhat unfair to bury him under the weight of unrealistic expectations when trying to assume the mantle of what was unquestionably a star-making performance by Andy in Season One, but I can’t help but say that Liam’s performance in aggregate was mediocre. That having been said, Liam absolutely blasted it out of the park in the series finale. He was unfalteringly great in “Victory” and he should be damned proud of the work he did there. My only regret is that it wasn’t until the very last episode that he fully met the challenge of the role…I would have loved to see more of that Liam playing Spartacus.
As my final observation on the series, I was disappointed they didn’t include a picture of Lesley-Ann Brandt as Naevia in the end credits. And speaking of Naevia, I thought her death in the finale was intended to be something of a parallel of her friend Diona’s death in “Gods of the Arena”. Diona had attempted escape but was captured and executed in the arena, with the same sword stroke that Caesar delivered to Naevia, her eyes fixed on Naevia as she looked on in pity and horror. Naevia met the same end, with the word “slave” ringing in her ears, only her searching eyes found no solace in a friendly face to share her grief. A tragic ending for a broken character.
And one last observation that just struck me as I re-watched some select cuts from “Blood and Sand”:
In my favorite scene from the series I mentioned above – the penultimate episode of Season One titled “Revelations” – Spartacus is forced to take on 6 of Glabur’s personal guard in a pool using only his practice swords. The first soldier he fights is the same soldier that is one of the two brutes Tiberius has as his guard during the rape of Caesar and the first captured Roman soldier that fights Spartacus in the games to honor Crixus (the penultimate episode of Season Three, and the series, titled “The Dead and the Dying”) – the one who proclaims “I will not fight” and is immediately dispatched by Spartacus.
Whether they are intended to be the same character I have no idea, but it’s definitely the same actor. If this was an intentional decision, it’s one hell of a subtle parallel between the seasons.
I’m not sure if this has been mentioned before, but there is apparently a documentary about Andy Whitfield’s battle with cancer in development:
There was a corresponding Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the completion of the film which looks like it fully funded last July, so I’d assume they are pretty far along with it but haven’t seen any information on an estimated release date. It looks like it could end up being a pretty powerful piece.
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