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Spartacus: “Great And Unfortunate Things”

Andy Whitfield (Starz)
Andy Whitfield (Starz)
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Halfway through season one, Spartacus has already taken its lead on a tremendous journey, the first chapter of which concludes in “Great And Unfortunate Things.” With the loss of Sura still fresh, the Thracian contemplates suicide and acts out before ultimately embracing his new life: As the final moments of the episode effectively demonstrate, the free man is gone; now he is Spartacus. The character’s true name is never revealed and is only referenced a few times in the series. It’s fitting that one of these is here, as Spartacus remembers his first and last nights with his wife and decides whether to join her in the afterlife. As Batiatus notes, Sura was the heart beating within Spartacus’ breast. With her gone, his name is the only remnant remaining of his past life—it’s not something to casually throw aside. Yet history knows the man as Spartacus and having characters call him by two different names would be unwieldy, to say the least. The writers’ solution is elegant, using his reaction to Sura’s death to prompt the Thracian to adopt his Roman-given name and move one step closer to his eventual fate, and the execution of the idea, putting Spartacus face to face with a projection of his former self, is incredibly effective.

“Great And Unfortunate Things” is a transitional episode, closing off the arcs from the first half of the season and preparing those that will fuel the second half. Along with Sura, Barca’s absence is strongly felt and the fallout for Pietros is immediate. It would have been easy for the writers to stretch out both Spartacus’ grieving process and Pietros’ despondency and victimization, but they instead push forward, emphasizing the dangers of the world. Less than a day after being left alone, Pietros is raped and beaten and though he previously seemed to be well thought of by the gladiators, no one steps in to defend him. Eka Darville makes Pietros’ despair painfully palpable and his suffering and suicide are particularly difficult to see as the ever-smiling Pietros had been a rare beacon of light within the ludus. Fortunately however, while Pietros may be gone, the ripples from Barca’s death are just beginning to be felt. Paralleled with Pietros in this episode is Aurelia, another of the gladiators’ loved ones, left behind and victimized. The world of Spartacus has been a grim one since the pilot, but this episode’s loss of Pietros and darkening of the usually chipper Varro removes two of its few points of levity.

Thankfully, two happy developments counter some of the episode’s bleakness: Crixus is improving and Doctore smells a rat. As a foil for Spartacus, Crixus plays a key role in the series. Spartacus is still rash, killing Gnaeus on impulse, and there are few characters on the show that he respects enough to listen to. Crixus is one of them, and it will be good to have him back among the gladiators. As for Doctore, his initial beaming joy at sharing the news of Barca’s freedom speaks well of him. There are few people in the ludus who would be so genuinely happy for someone else. The fact that it takes just one line from Crixus refuting that Barca would leave Pietros behind and one discrepancy between Ashur and Naevia’s stories for Doctore to become suspicious is even more telling. Doctore’s sparring with Spartacus shows the intensity of his anger, when he’s provoked. He’s a fierce opponent and while Ashur may be cleverer, Doctore is determined. With so much suffering in this episode, it’s nice to have something, and someone, concrete to root for.

While this episode continues the season’s strong showing, it does have one frustrating weak point: There’s an inordinate amount of repeated exposition. Peter Mensah handles Doctore’s exposition-heavy sparring sequence well, but even the usually fantastic John Hannah can’t make the blatant dialogue in Batiatus’ conversation with Sura’s killer feel natural. This scene drags and while it may have a purpose later in the season, it bogs down an otherwise compelling hour. On the whole however, this is another powerful installment for the series and with Spartacus focused on the future, the season is poised to take off in its second half.

How to Speak Spartacus: The next time something doesn’t sit right with you, instead of a generic, “It seemed odd,” try Doctore’s more colorful, “The news found me surprised also.”

Stray observations:

  • The scoring of Doctore and Spartacus’ sparring session is fantastic, building the energy of the moment and contrasting starkly the lyrical love themes elsewhere in the episode.
  • The attention to detail in the costuming and makeup is impressive, one fun touch in this episode being the tan line on Spartacus’ back from where his one armed shoulder armor usually sits.
  • Having Spartacus play a Roman and execute Thracians may be on the nose, but it works and having Spartacus be aware of Rufus by reputation, though in a very different way to Batiatus, is a nice quick line of dialogue.
  • For the man who captured and condemned him and Sura to slavery, Spartacus doesn’t mention Glaber very frequently. It makes sense for Spartacus’ rage at Sura’s death to be fueled toward Glaber and while he is not much of a presence on the series at this point, how this affects Spartacus’ future interactions with Ilithyia should be interesting.
  • Batiatus continues his villainous ways, but the most entertaining bad guy moment in the episode belongs to Ashur, who nonchalantly snacks while he watches Sura’s funeral.
  • There are a number of lovely shots in the episode, but the transition from Sura’s funeral pyre to Spartacus’ hand in the water is particularly beautiful.