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“On steroids!”  “Industrial Strength!”  That’s two ways of indicating that Spartacus:  Blood and Sand contains more graphic violence, sexuality and profanity than your average television show.Ever!  Three really.  The title of this post plays on the profanity scripted into the language of the show to highlight the sanitized lamenesses that shocks and awes the modern television audience into watching televison.

Just behind the spectacular visual delights (for every taste in every segment of the cult and casual audience) tendered in the frequent display of boobs, copulation, violence and male nudity and slowmotion bloodsplatter-by-the-pint, there are abundant verbal pleasures to be derived from the high level (but accessibly sub-Elizabethan) of elevated speech, by Juptier’s cock, and nuggets of arcane and timeless profanity welled up from far too many decades of  Standards&Practices beating the freaking heck out of broadcast versions of adult reality.

And under the XXXpletive level of engagement are fascinating instances of artistic license that intentionally join the graphic novel to moving visual storytelling with classy restraint and hightech abandon — to sublime effect, from time to time.

And under those strata of evolving visual and narrative sophistication is a layer of reasonably-subtle moral ambiguity in which Power flip-flops constantly while rolling downhill in consequences that reverberate in all directions, something like this:

Crixus’ secret love for Naevia (while he’s recovering from his encounter with his legendary destructive, very-nearly-lethal nemesis, unretired Theokales) has significantly damped the pleasure Lucretia’s always taken in Crixus’ fucking enthusiasm — so Lucretia’s is less-resistant-than-ever-before to Batiatus’ reluctant contemplation of dumping an over-the-hill Crixus (former champion of Capua) on the even-more-minor-league market, somewhere else in the Roman world.  Naevia, overhearing management’s disturbing ruminations, and putting two and two together, and dreading separation from Crixus, persuades her secret lover to redouble his customary efforts in the satisfaction-guaranteed bouts of fucking of Lucretia, despite Naevia’s profound distaste for Crixus’ sexual and romantic duplicity.  Chicks!?! The thing here is that each and every character  has a reliable moral compass that points constantly in whatever direction happens at the moment to seem reasonably warranted. 

 There are no moral absolutes nor completely-inflexible codes in a brutal universe of Power, domination, appeasement and betrayal — which makes for fascinating character development, situations and complex, multifaceted, provisional resolutions, alliances and fusible bonds that burn at a variety of rates.  This is the soap opera layer of Spartacus:  Blood and Sand; a layercake composed of beefcake, cheesecake, graycake (homoerotic), angel&devil’sfood, poundcake(as in thump), techcake, cusscake, naughtycake and miscellaneous forms of fetishcake…it’s adrenaline&thought-provoking pornographic entertainment for the entire family, designed to stimulate every taste and every demographic.  Pornography (to my mind) is utilitarian entertainment.  It’s primary objective is to addict those who partake in it, so a pornographic motivation exists everywhere in entertainment, education, religious worship, political engagement…and political expediency leads to confrontation with moral order which is only beginning to emerge at the end of season one as a counter to the numerous and contradictory exigencies that have dominated the beginning of the story of a legend in the making.  Until I learn otherwise, I’m predisposed to call that legend Steve DeKnight.

If Mad Men mirrors contemporary American culture from the distant, politically incorrect remove of 50 years, Spartacus:  Blood and Sand does something very similar, but it mirrors “our” modern liberation from the oppressive, arbitrary lowest-common-moral-denominator confinements of broadcast television.  Whether the soul and conscience of the era depicted (about 100BCE) will be Julius Fucking Caesar of Jesus Fucking Christ, has yet to be specified, but this show is clearly designed to give every possible segment of the viewing audience massive chunks of delight, family-style.  Jumbo!  Full-on!  Balls-out…!  To the max?  Not yet, but I’ll bet DeKnight is working on it.  Hence, my  emphasis on “our” liberation; content creators and audience, paying intense attention together on the same very same page, because we’re all in this together.

The 4-DVD set became available from NetFlix last Tuesday.  Having streamed the season weekly last spring, I wanted to experience the series again more continuously and immersively.  And I’d hoped to explore the horse’s mouth for clues to the show’s intentionality — Special Features reserved to Disc 4 — no commentaries, but several interesting features.  Clearly, the first job of a showrunner is to keep flying.  You can’t teach much with a show that can’t stay on the air.  I think that misson was accomplished, but now I need to look into old rumors of the unavailability of Andy Whitfield for health reasons.

Datelessly, per IMDb: 

  • “Production has been halted on the Sam Raimi-produced show while heading into its second season, due to star Andy Whitfield being diagnosed with cancer. Whitfield has been diagnosed with early-stage Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and will begin undergoing treatment immediately. With the first season of Spartacus completed, production will be delayed on the second season.”

24 Sep 10 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I was on board with 300, and I liked Rome, and John Hannah is a terrific actor (he played Inspector Rebus in the original British series). But I was really disappointed in how stupid this series was. I mean (spoiler) they poison Crixus, but just a little, so he’ll lose to Spartacus but can still hack through half of John Hannah’s army?

    Isn’t there a difference between an exploration of morality and an exploitation of morality? You don’t see anyone espousing an ethical philosophy of any real distinction; “fight for honor” and “fight for freedom” are the only two options, and they both involve naked roid monkeys fighting giants and demi-devils. It’s a distinction without difference.

    But great article. Maybe I’ll have to reconsider. And I think, last time I heard, they were going to make a prequel with John Hannah and Xena Warrior Princess while Spartacus recovers.

    Comment by Sam W | 24 Sep 10 | Reply

    • Hiya, Sam!

      I had to revisit 300 after the first pass through this series because I didn’t find 300 particularly memorable. Hannah seemed inexplicably under-utilized here, so I followed him back to Rebus (and loved it — the Hanna version only!) then New Street Law (less love) and MI-5 and Wire in the Blood and In Treatment; all interesting variations on point of view and perception.

      Ultimately, they toss you off the air for underperformance, and the excellent point you raise regarding exploration/exploitation barely matters if you don’t have sufficient audience to justify the production of the entirety of the story. I have faith and confidence in a production group that has produced a surprisingly and remarkably engaging tale in spite of the hype and the hyper-junk that’s presently drawing and annoying audiences. But I’ve placed an untoward excess of faith in content creators previously. None of which were Milch, Chase, Simon nor Whedon. I’m eyeballing DeKnight in that context, and finding/anticipating supportive reasons to do so.
      Coulda skipped Rome, but I wanted to see exactly why HBO diverted Milch to Deadwood. I think they made a big fat error.

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 24 Sep 10 | Reply

    • And more directly/explicitly, YES there are important differences between the exploitation and exploration of moral order, but the outrage and annoyance I’ve been finding in IMDb reviews and elsewhere indicates to me that generations raised on entertainments steeped in stultifying censorship are easily exploited by a show like this one…but I’m more interested in the stuff that makes ME flinch; exploitative moments in the series that provoke my own moral exploration — I think exploration and exploitation are intimately related. And that that resultant controversy is generally good, especially when it broadens horizons and leads to greater media literacy and an appetite for the undiscovered countries; Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet…you know?

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 24 Sep 10 | Reply

      • Sure. I’m not talking about “mere entertainment” vs. “high art,” but when Deadwood throws an act of violence up on the screen, it matters, it has consequences. I’m not so sure that Spartacus even intends for any sort of human connection with the chum that the two main characters hack up every week. The series seems to just revel in being…I dunno…empty. Is that your point?

        Comment by Sam W | 24 Sep 10

  2. Almost. First you get their attention with a 2×4, then you begin to teach…media executives and young, bloodthirsty savages alike, but mostly the (ThumbsUpOrThumbsDown)executives. And rather than playing to any preordained demographic, put chum in the water for everybody — and see who comes back for a second bite.

    Consequences (Spoilery): Barca and Pietros were lovers. I did not delight in a couple of guys taking pleasure in one another, but the wanton ruin of their romance left a vacuum in my heart despite any homophobic tendencies I express by looking away from the screen when one held the other tight.

    And sex and violence and profanity on television is RIDICULOUSLY cosmetic, forever. So over-the-top all-of-the-above is comparatively all right with me.

    Doc Cochrane probed the bullet hole in the skull of the miner Trixie murdered (in self-defense) and Bullock hanged Michael Parks’ kid on his way out of Montana — meaningful deaths that set tone (for the audience) in the minutes of the first episode, but I don’t know that the deaths of those men were in any other way meaningful, consequential, significant. Feeding daily corpses to Wu’s pigs is irreverent and horrid, but mostly it gets the attention of people whose attention is necessary to keep the cocksucker flying. And that’s Job One; keep the show (in a tiny but very busy) market on the air.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 24 Sep 10 | Reply

  3. Getting past business-as-usual. Let’s see if this pastes:

    Ella Fitzgerald & Marilyn Monroe listening to jazz at Hollywood’s Tiffany Club in 1955 (via

    “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo (who had refused to book Fitzgerald because she was black), and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard… After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

    -Ella Fitzgerald

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 24 Sep 10 | Reply

  4. My first-pass review from last April

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 24 Sep 10 | Reply

  5. […] Spartacuss […]

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  6. […] Spartacuss […]

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