Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Ep. 1.03: “Legends” and how to honor them

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Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Season 1: Episode 3 – “Legends”
Written by Brent Fletcher
Directed by Grady Hall
Originally aired February 5th, 2010

“In the world of a gladiator, a man’s fame and glory constructs its own truth.”

Though Spartacus claims interest in neither fame nor glory, “Legends” submerges him into the storied tradition of the gladiator he is being trained to become. As the episode opens, Spartacus dons what little attire he has, wrapping Sura’s cloth around his arm in a scene that plays like a pre-fight ritual for one of the legends of the arena. Though “Legends” is designed to make it clear that Spartacus is not that person–not yet, at least–it’s no small step in the man’s journey. To become something great, one must understand and appreciate greatness. That is the logic in Spartacus, which doesn’t let its characters taste glory for very long without deserving it.

One who has tasted extended glory in the world of Spartacus is Crixus, who becomes a much more dynamic character here. Rather than just being the schoolyard bully, Crixus’ back-story is orated like an epic poem among the other tales of legends (notably Barca, The Beast of Carthage, and Theokoles, The Shadow of Death). Crixus, who faced The Gargan Twins in the arena willingly, has earned the status of Champion of Capua, which everyone else who isn’t Spartacus seems to recognize and respect. The most enjoyable aspect of the Crixus-Spartacus dynamic at this stage is that the series is clearly not giving its main character any favors. He’s basically been lucky to remain alive, and as his fight with Crixus in the arena shows, being a great warrior by Thracian standards does not translate easily into being a gladiator. “Shall I begin?” Crixus mocks after Spartacus has expended energy trying to find a weak spot, failing in spite of Doctore noticing at least ten different times Spartacus could have gained advantage. And even though Spartacus makes it out of the arena alive by virtue of Batiatus’ pride of wanting to prove his investment worthy and Spartacus’ plea for mercy, it’s suggested that time has run out in trying to turn the Thracian into a true gladiator protege.

“Legends” further lets Crixus stand in the role of viewpoint character by thrusting him into a tangled story of romance. After a noticeable exchange of glances between the Gaul and Lucretia in the previous episode, it’s made explicit that the two have a standing appointment in the ludus. Crixus’ mechanical speech during their conversation suggests some reservation, but at the same time, honoring the ludus takes on many different meanings–pleasing its domina may be one of them. Simultaneously, Crixus makes romantic overtures to Naevia, Lucretia’s personal body slave. On the one hand, it feels somewhat early to be humanizing Crixus so strongly, but on the other, Spartacus himself is hardly established, so this calls into question what “hero” and “villain” really mean as far as this series is concerned. Everything about how Crixus conducts himself–from swallowing pride by asking Ashur for a favor to giving Naevia a necklace to looking at her in the arena (even though Lucretia thinks his gaze belongs to her)–is convincing in showing a genuine human with real feelings. He may be clumsy with words, but his intentions are good. That, to me, shows a true champion. Being the best fighter is one thing, but being able to exhibit compassion alongside relentlessness gives Crixus’ peers someone worthwhile to look up to, even though they don’t get to see his softer side.

While “Legends” paints the picture of what it means to be legendary, Spartacus and his friend Varro forge their own paths together in hopes of attaining real success. Both are driven by love and show huge potential–both as fighters and as friends. Punished like misbehaved children, as they exchange words in a pit of god-knows-what, their friendship truly begins to blossom, since neither is so hot-headed that he can’t express an opinion to the other without descending into fisticuffs. Though Spartacus is the one who the show’s gaze and the people of Capua are more interested in, it’s Varro who acts as somewhat of a mentor by trying to teach Spartacus about the arena’s history and how to make the best of his admittedly awful situation. Varro knows when to criticize Spartacus, but he also knows when and how to motivate and encourage him. He’ll need all of that if he ever plans on seeing Sura again, since he’ll need to play the game of gladiator.

It’s circumstance and cunning that allows Spartacus the honor of being allowed to participate in the final match of the games with Crixus. That may be the only extension of goodwill the writing gives the character, since he would otherwise have a longer path to same necessary failures. It may seem speedy being given a remarkable duel between rivals, but “Legends” does the required legwork in using Crixus as a foil for Spartacus that is neither simple nor unbelievable. Spartacus’ signal for mercy, too, further develops his character in a similar way to his acquiescence to Batiatus as “Dominus” after his trial. He has his ideals, but they can be bent to accommodate different circumstances. It doesn’t make Spartacus weak; it makes him smart. And if he has any advantage over Crixus in this episode, it’s that he’s able to get to where he wants without the help of anyone else. But can cunning alone make a legend out of a slave?

– Sean Colletti

Denarii for Your Thoughts:

– “You must spend coins to receive coins.” As much as Batiatus surely loves hearing his own wisdom spoken back to him, this whole Spartacus purchase isn’t looking so good right now.

– Trying to seduce Ilithyia into the role of powerful ally, Lucretia juxtaposes a magnificent blonde wig with a deep red dress and purchases an extravagant emerald necklace, but…

Why Ilithyia is the Best Character on This Show: emeralds are apparently out of style, and Ilithyia makes sure to point that out to Lucretia. Also qualifying for this segment is how, after Lucretia puts on a suspect show in the ludus, Ilithyia says “Can he do it again? Make him do it again.” The way that Ilithyia is actually a child is absolutely amazing.

– “It is no easy task to sever a man’s head. You must find the right angle.” Noted and stored away.

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