“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.”