Spartacus: Vengeance – Series Blog – Episode Two – A Place In This World

Yes, we will be using a picture of Lucy Lawless to illustrate each episode. We love Xena.

One thing that Spartacus: Vengeance does rather well is show how Roman society ran on entirely different rules than our own. Turns out your average Roman had core assumptions and certainties that were very different from the stuff we hold self-evident.

Now certain things are universal, it’s only been two thousand years after all. For example like all sensible people, the Romans loved cheese. But they loved it differently. For a Roman a good hearty cheese binge would usually be followed by a good hearty vomiting. Nowadays such behaviour in a restaurant would have the police called promptly (outside of Wales, anyway).

Another way Spartacus: Vengeance illustrates how different Roman society is through its depictions of sex. There’s a classic example of this early in this episode. A minor Roman aristocrat, unaware Spartacus and his merry men are about to storm his house, is happily rutting with a nubile, female slave when he suddenly commands a male slave to ‘insert cock into arse’ so he can climax.

Now this is fairly unnecessary to the plot, but it acts as way of demonstrating to the viewer that the Romans were far more sexually relaxed and label-free than most modern folk (and probably didn’t hurt the ratings figures either). Now this probably paints far more orgiastic picture of Romans than was actually the case -for example I doubt it was as compulsory for women to go bare breasted to go watch gladiators as the show seems to suggest- but all this sexual activity  serves an important role.

In Deadwood, the glorious and profoundly profane swearing wasn’t representative of how they talked in Western times but rather served as an effective signifier of just how bloody gritty things were in the Wild Wild West. Similarly all of Spartacus sexification serves to tell the viewer that they’re watching a society where they don’t know the rules.

And one of the things I suspect it’s quite difficult for the modern viewer to get their heads around is slavery.

Now it’s easy for us to say slavery is evil: not even the greasiest Fox News controversialist is out there gunning up support to bring back human bondage. Our loincloth-swaddled hero Spartacus engenders a lot of sympathy this week by denouncing slavery and helping others move beyond it, however what’s possibly more interesting is way the show explores how the experience utterly compromises the enslaved in a way that even when freed they cannot shake off.

This theme was played out this week through the story of former gladiator trainer Oenomaus. At the end of the last season he joined Spartacus to rebel against his master, but his ties ran much deeper so his shackles are proving pretty hard to break. We watched in flashback as Oenomaus was dumped into the fighting pits of Capua as a young slave, fierce but untrained. Titus Batiatus bought him, trained him and made him believe in himself, which in turn meant he owed a debt of loyalty to him.

Having risen as high as it possible for a slave to rise, in rebellion he essentially rendered all of his earlier life worthless. Peter Mensah (who is always great) does fantastic work here, and looks magnificently malevolent caked in white face paint. And even though he’s ‘free’, he’s still not in control of his destiny, for even as Spartacus and his men scour the countryside and his Roman enemies remain in Capua hamstrung by politics, Lucretia has been playing a long game.

Having spent the episode seemingly embracing her role as mad prophetess, right at the end we saw the mask slip for a second in triumph as her twisted henchman Ashur delivered a kidnapped Oenomaus to Spartacus’s Roman enemies.

It was one of those great moments when a actor reveals galaxies of emotions in a single second long expression. She’s one of many ridiculously talented performers in a show that remarkably continues to improve each week.

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RELATED POSTS: Spartacus: Vengeance Series Blog Episode One

Spartacus: Vengeance episode 2 is on Sky 1 , Mondays at 10pm.

If you have a Sky ID, you can catch up with Sky Player here

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About Ian Dunn
I love avocados, WH Auden and dinosaurs but I don't like effort.

3 Responses to Spartacus: Vengeance – Series Blog – Episode Two – A Place In This World

  1. Pingback: Spartacus: Vengeance Series Blog – Episode Three – The Greater Good « Tellysquawks

  2. Pingback: Spartacus: Vengeance Series Blog – Episode Four – Empty Hands « Tellysquawks

  3. Pingback: Spartacus: Vengeance Series Blog – Episode Five – Libertus « Tellysquawks

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