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Spartacus, Episode Four on Deck Tonight

Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Starz latest venture into scripted drama, heads into the fourth hour called “The Thing in The Pit,” tonight (Friday, Feb. 12) at 10p.

SPOILERS ahead:

Be forewarned, “The Pit” is unusually bloody and violent.  After a poor showing in the arena, Spartacus is assigned to fight in the dreaded pit, a lawless underworld of human savagery where gamblers bet on death – a place so notorious that even Doctore, Batiatus’ most trusted slave and trainer in the Ludus (gladiator school), warns his master that involvement in the pit brings dishonor to the family.

From first few episodes, it wasn’t clear if the series would develop into more than a blood and sex soaked ultimate cockfight.

Spartacus is still blood soaked.  “The Pit”  gives new meaning to the term “tear your face off.”  Whew!  Turn away, or DVR and fast forward…

Nevertheless, “The Pit” is the episode I’ve been waiting for, to a certain extent.  It’s the first where most of the actors finally seem comfortable in their skin, and the cast is starting to gel.

I’m not precisely sure who penned this episode, although Wikipedia indicates it’s Aaron Helbing & Todd Helbing.  There’s a lot to like: the introduction of more character facets, that sense of confident plot trajectory, and dialog that’s quite good in places.

Debt: it’s driving both Batiatus (who inherited the Ludus), and his wife Lucretia to take desperate measures. “I want everything, but can afford nothing!” says Batiatus.  He’s borrowed money from some unsavory characters and the consequences will likely reverberate through season one.  John Hannah plays Batiatus as alternately desperate, enraged, compassionate, brutal, insecure, even foppish.

And, oh, my, there’s one male/male pairing that will set LiveJournal hearts aflutter – a briefly glimpsed gladiator/slave relationship between Barca and slave boy Pietros.  Given the tendency of fanfic writers (mostly women) to transport their fave male characters into what’s called AU (alternative universe) settings – including historical backdrops involving slaves – omg!!  the Spartacus sand(box) will probably provide source material for years.

In other words, it’s CANON, people.   (not fanon.  Click here to read up on the difference…)

Many fans will surely demand more of these two, although – apologies for being a pessimist – I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers take the easy road and off Pietros as a set up for revenge motive, or revolt, or…whatever.

Lucy Lawless as Lucretia is also a pleasure, especially her softly facetious delivery. Lawless was hemmed in by weak dialog in the pilot, but now the writers have given her lines worth delivering while exploring the nuances of her character

“I should wash.  I smell of death,” says Batiatus after he returns from a particularly brutal night of gambling in the pit.  To which Lucretia replies, “No, you smell like a man!”  And that tells you at least some of what you need to know about this woman.

The gladiators are forming alliances, the strongest of which is Spartacus’ budding friendship with Varro, a Roman citizen who sold himself to the Ludus to pay off gambling debts.  The co-dependency between Spartacus and Batiatus is evolving into an intricate love/hate.  They certainly exploit each other to get what they want, but Batiatus is drawn to Spartacus, apparently for reasons he cannot fully explain.

My recommendation: DVR the episode if you’re squeamish, so you have the option of fast-forwarding though some of the extremely violent scenes.