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Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Ep. 1.02: “Sacramentum Gladiatorum” establishes status quo

Spartacus 102

 

Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Season 1: Episode 2 – “Sacramentum Gladiatorum”
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Directed by Rick Jacobson
Originally aired January 29th, 2010

“A man must accept his fate…or be destroyed by it.”

Following a pilot that enabled the world of Spartacus: Blood and Sand to come together, “Sacramentum Gladiatorum” is the beginning of a new life for the man now known as Spartacus. Even as he denies that identity, trying to say his true name out loud, Blood and Sand kicks him from behind and holds him down on his knees. The ability to accept one’s fate is much easier said than done when that fate is so unfortunate as Spartacus’. In a cruel opening sequence, his dream of being with his wife again is brutally cut off by visions of blood and pain. And as the warmth of Capua plagues its citizens with drought and harsh conditions, Spartacus seems to be losing all the warmth within his own body, reduced to a cold shell of his former self.

At least, that’s how much of “Sacramentum Gladiatorum” presents itself. When things seem to be at their worst, they somehow descend further. Even a free piece of bread from the Syrian, Ashur, is an action fulled by greed and bitterness. To a lesser extent, too, Spartacus’ early alliance with fellow trainee Varro is slightly marred by the man’s need to submit willfully to the life of a gladiator to pay off his debts. These details pale in comparison to how the rest of Blood and Sand‘s world treats Spartacus, as he quickly becomes the rival of Capua’s greatest gladiator, Crixus, the Undefeated Gaul, while the ludus’ master of arms, Doctore, throws his whip around. It wasn’t long ago that Spartacus was waking up next to Sura, far away from any Roman. But even Glaber returns to mock the Thracian, claiming that he’s sold Sura for half a coin.

But cruel fates aren’t handed out to Spartacus alone. Immediately, an unexpected parallel is drawn between Spartacus and his dominus, Batiatus. Freedom means little for Batiatus if he’s basically a slave in other senses. Visited by another Roman to whom he owes money, pestered by the ludus’ lack of basic adornments (water for the pool) and denied the patronage of Glaber, Batiatus isn’t shown fighting for his life on a platform like Spartacus but may as well be subjected to the same tests of will and strength. What differentiates Batiatus from Spartacus, though, is the former’s familiarity with this world. A third-generation lanista, Batiatus possesses an inherent understanding of things under his roof and on the streets, shown by his risk in spending so much money on Spartacus. When the investment isn’t looking like a solid one, he seizes the opportunity to feed on Spartacus’ hatred for Glaber and desire to return to his wife. Others might call it exploitation, but the conversation between Spartacus and Batiatus feels more like a discussion between equals rather than master and slave. Batiatus appeals to Spartacus, Spartacus speaks his mind freely and without restraint and Batiatus provides a mutually-beneficial solution. As Spartacus is about to kill Crixus, another of Batiatus’ money-makers, Batiatus calls him off and Spartacus listens. “Dominus,” he says, as Doctore grasps his whip, preparing for the worst. It’s the first we’ve seen of Spartacus being willing to trust someone since being taken captive, and it shows that he’s not willing to let his fate destroy him. If he has any chance to see Sura again, he must accept what’s in front of him.

The sentiment might seem redundant in the face of a slave narrative. Captivity is the fate of so many in this story, so of course having to accept certain conditions seems obvious. But within those conditions are power structures, and just as Spartacus is able to speak freely in front of Batiatus, Doctore comes off as more of an adviser to his master than as a subject. This means that while many of the characters in Spartacus share similar fates on paper, the things they must accept are actually quite different. Ashur, for instance, limps around with a leg brace and, to Crixus, the Syrian is no better than the new recruits who have yet to earn their places among the gladiators. We don’t know what has happened to Ashur, but what we’re shown on-screen is another man who has not let his fate destroy him. Even-tempered when faced with Crixus’ criticism, Ashur takes advantage of his cunning to try and defeat Crixus in a different way.

Similarly, Lucretia could walk around the ludus lamenting the state of it all, but when Ilithyia visits, Lucretia makes sure to try to befriend her while her husband tries to befriend Glaber. “Proper is a word forged by men who would seek to enslave us with it,” Lucretia tells a curious Ilithyia who quickly realizes how interested she is in her new friend and the life of a lanista’s wife, surrounded by gladiators.  So, while this necessity to accept one’s fate is most clearly directed at Spartacus, it reverberates throughout “Sacramentum Gladiatorum,” touching not just the slaved but the slavers. No one of any import is free from conflict, and only those who are able to stand up and deal with that conflict have a chance at survival.

– Sean Colletti

Denarii for Your Thoughts:

– Another fantastic scene this week that shows the relationship between Batiatus and Lucretia in which their foreplay is filled with business talk and aided by their servants. Spartacus has a lot to say about how to conduct oneself in a relationship and what kinds of sexual politics are ideal. This scene doesn’t quite get at those themes fully, but it’s important to note how the series portrays sex and especially when and for what purpose.

– “Tears?” mocks Crixus before his fight with Spartacus. C’mon, Crixus. Nothing wrong with some tears. The ludus mantra is, after all, “Sacred ground watered with the tears of blood.”

– The costuming in this series is also ridiculous. Lucretia’s red hair with her green outfit compared to Ilithyia’s blonde-on-light blue visualizes the differences between the two characters. Despite how manipulative she might sound, Ilithyia is actually just immature and, thus, relatively innocent compared to all the other deceivers surrounding her.

– “Not all ventures end in climax.” “A fact known well to every woman.”

– Spartaspeak 101: “Jupiter’s cock!” – expression of emotion, usually surprise.

– Even though Doctore (played ridiculously well here by Peter Mensah) calls Spartacus a nobody, the recitation of his battle in the arena already sounds like the stuff of legend. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of Spartacus and are watching this series for the first time, it might be best to stay away from books and Wikipedia. DeKnight doesn’t stick to the facts dogmatically, but a huge part of Spartacus is inspired by and follows the actual legend.

– Why Ilithyia is the Best Character on This Show (this might as well be a weekly segment): she doesn’t bother with the “common” dishes that Lucretia has prepared, because they upset her stomach. And she won’t have wine unless it’s Sestian. Instead, she’ll drink water (of which there’s plenty…).


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