With his victory in the arena still fresh, “Delicate Things” lays Spartacus low, stripping away the pretense of power awarded him after his defeat of Theokoles. He may be the new Champion of Capua, but Spartacus is still a slave and as Batiatus proves in this episode, his life can be thrown away on a whim and without a second thought. This episode is brilliantly constructed, laying the groundwork for the episode’s final moments while lulling the audience into a false sense of security. The repeated fantasy sequences of Spartacus’ escape from the ludus with Sura prime viewers to expect a variation on these scenarios. Sura’s presence is a given—it doesn’t occur to Spartacus, or Lucretia for that matter, that anything will prevent her safe return. It’s wonderful to get these fleeting moments of vitality from the imagined Sura, to see her once more with a sword in her hand, defiant and proud. As the gladiators revel, the camera lingers among the men, emphasizing the physicality and immediacy of the party. Spartacus’ image of his long-awaited wife contrasts this. He longs for her not as a lover, but as a fierce, equal partner who will stand beside him and fight for their freedom. Spartacus cannot imagine his wife cowed, and that makes their nearly wordless, painfully brief reunion all the more devastating.
While Spartacus’ scheming focuses the audience’s attention elsewhere, the rest of the episode prepares the final, brutal reveal. After the previous episode’s dearth of sexual misconduct, “Delicate Things” sees Batiatus once again rape one of his slaves, reminding viewers of his and Lucretia’s casual disregard of their slaves’ humanity. This time however, the nameless slave is allowed a reaction, one neither Batiatus nor Lucretia cares to notice. She pushes down tears and does her best to endure, while Batiatus grips her collar. Whereas similar scenes earlier in the season keep the camera almost exclusively on the Romans, here the slave is given a close-up, highlighting her personhood and starting the episode’s progressive darkening of Batiatus from Spartacus’ trusted ally to his betrayer. Over the course of the season, the suffering of the slaves and gladiators of the House of Batiatus has grown increasingly prevalent and with each crime, the Romans seal their fate further.
Batiatus’ delivery of a mortally wounded Sura to Spartacus is among his most chilling acts, because of its deviousness. His smirking, “My word is kept—they’re reunited” tells the audience he’s been planning this all along, a level of cold calculation that surprises even Lucretia. John Hannah has been tremendous throughout the season and his earlier work humanizing the character makes this moment particularly effective. The viewers have been betrayed along with Spartacus—Hannah presented Batiatus as a likeable underdog, a product of his society of course, but one doing his best to scrape by and willing to treat his men fairly. He orders the death of a child in “Shadow Games,” but does so seemingly in the heat of the moment, in response to an attempt on his life; it is “Delicate Things” that confirms Batiatus’ true lack of a conscience or code. The writers have been playing with the Batiatus and Spartacus dynamic throughout the season, their bond and seeming understanding of each other a unifying thread of the first six episodes. With Sura’s murder, this is swept away, leaving the audience as lost as Spartacus.
There is more than one villain revealed in “Delicate Things.” Ashur, until recently a minor manipulator, moves into the big leagues when he orchestrates Barca’s death. Though his final scene is the episode’s weakest, a disappointingly heavy-handed coda to Ashur’s otherwise subtle scheme, the rest of this arc plays out very effectively, timed to emphasize the constant threat the slaves live under. Batiatus’ most loyal gladiator is not above suspicion and the Beast of Carthage himself cannot fight his way out of the ludus, even with all of the gladiators and most of the guards distracted. Alone or with Sura, Spartacus wouldn’t stand a chance. The cross-cutting between Pietros’ joy and Barca’s death is powerful, as the only happy couple in the House of Batiatus, save the dominus and domina, is destroyed. There can be no peace within these walls not derived from victory in the arena, just as Crixus told Spartacus in “Shadow Games.” Nick Tarabay pairs guile with uncertainty as Ashur makes his biggest gamble yet, and it’s his cruel calculation and later apathy towards Pietros that truly makes Ashur Batiatus’ double among the slaves.
Spartacus’ first five episodes end with battles, all but one a victory for Spartacus and each more epic than the last. It’s easy to see the previous episode and Spartacus’ ascension to Champion status as a turning point for the series, but it’s “Delicate Things” and its gut-wrenching anti-climax that truly sets the stage for what is to come. As much as his victories have shaped him, it is the death of Sura that lays both Spartacus and Batiatus bare. Batiatus has revealed his true character—how Spartacus responds will show his.
How to Speak Spartacus: Sure, you could say, “If you’ll stop talking, I’ll tell you.” But what fun would that be? Instead, say, “All will be revealed when a mouth closes,” as Batiatus does when Spartacus asks after Sura.
- This episode features the debut of the popular Spartacus drinking song, “His cock rages on!” The legend of Gannicus lives on (at least, in the timeline of the show. Viewers watching for the first time are likely very confused by this observation).
- In the midst of the debauchery, Varro walks away from the dice and doesn’t gamble, despite pressure from his fellow gladiators. It’s a great little touch that allows a positive decision from at least one character in an episode filled with tragedy.
- The final image of Sura and Spartacus together is absolutely gorgeous, their last happy, if imagined, moment together a gift from the show before her death is revealed. Cutting back from this to Spartacus looking at the rain is a particularly nice touch, tying back to Spartacus’ dream of Sura and her prophesy that he must save her before the rains come.
- Doctore’s toast with Spartacus is lovely and his emergence the next morning is suitably ominous, but his decision to back off after seeing Sura says the most about him. His respect for that moment between Spartacus and his wife, even after what Spartacus has done, is a credit to the still strategically unnamed Doctore.
- With all of the discussion above of Batiatus’ betrayal of Spartacus, it’s worth noting that Spartacus is ready to betray Batiatus as well, though of course, he intends to release Batiatus and do him no permanent harm. Despite his humbling at the hands of Crixus and his experience in the pits, Spartacus is still rash and must suffer further before he will be able to master this impulse.