Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Party Favors": wheels of chance

Quick Take: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Party Favors"
"Spartacus is merely the beast that you ride upon." Lucretia to Batiatus

spartacu - john hannah

Review: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Party Favors"
(S0110) I had this review somewhat drafted, but with the final scenes I had to stop and turn it all on its head. Let me say this: the many cries that Spartacus: Blood and Sand is a 300-derivative, T&A romp are hard to dispute. It is that. But really, it's a lot more at the same time. It's a gripping and blood-soaked epic of ancient times, where life and death mean little, and fortunes and dizzying rises to power and falls to disgrace are plotted by those in the shadows, or cast off to the will of the gods.

I'll say this, too: for all its gratuitousness and camp, this show is one of the best on television right now. It's flat out great storytelling. I'm guessing that most are too timid to call this fact out for what it is for fear of being labeled a perv or a low brow. So be it.

Speaking of fear: for fear of burying the lede (and as they say in the newspaper biz, if it bleeds it ledes), the scene in which Ilithyia orchestrates the death of Varro –with her body and her cunning and her will – is one of the most striking and effecting I've seen in a long time. It's a "power move" of epic proportions – even more so than Russell taking out Tyson recently on Survivor: Heroes and Villains, I dare say – one that Lucretia and Batiatus and poor pure hearted Spartacus could not have seen coming.

The craft in how this event plays out too is a stroke of brilliance. Ilithyia (Viva Blanca) is cast as a pawn stemming from the wild events of "Whore," in which Licinia (Brooke Harmon) is murdered by Ilithyia in a fit of rage after the Lucretia – in a well orchestrated move in her own right – positions Spartacus to make love to the cousin of rich Crassus right in front of Ilithyia's jealous eyes.

Victories had seemingly abounded for the House of Batiatus, as Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) pressed her advantage over Ilithyia in the wake of the latter's impetuous murder of Licinia.

The conflicts that have been swirling throughout the season came into sharp relief in this episode: Spartacus and Crixus (Manu Bennett) are selected to fight each other for an "exhibition" match to please Numerius, the son of the magistrate, who is coming of age and will have a toga-related ceremony that seems to be something akin to a Roman-style Bar Mitzvah. And Batiatus invites Colonius (Craig Walt Wrightson), a chief rival now down on his luck, so that he may cram his turn of fortune down the latter's throat.

And just as Batiatus and Lucretia are anxious to press their victories – letting them ride on the great wheel of chance, perhaps – so to Spartacus acts as cocky as we've ever seen him: gloating over "former" Champion of Capua Crixus (was I the only one thinking about the Champion of Philadelpia getting soft circa Rocky III during those scenes?), and even one-upping conniving Ashur (Nick Tarabay) over a board game in front of a wildly approving Batiatus.

The seeds of deceit and dark triumph both are set when Ilithyia finds herself alone – very alone if you can dig – with young Numerius. The latter, for all his starry-eyed wonder at the site of gladiators, is easily hoodwinked by Ilithyia… a fact we see tragically play out during the climactic exhibition fight.

Numerius, who has been given the power to order the gladiators around during his special Big Boy day, switches out Crixus for the unsuspecting Varro. Varro and Spartacus give a good show, giving the crowd the hint of blood and sword clash that they're looking for.

Then, the hammer drops. Most of us are probably familiar by now with the thumbs up / thumbs down gesture of Ancient Rome: up means life, down death. Numerius chooses death for Varro at the end of what is literally a light workout for the gladiators, simply due to Ilithyia's sweet advances.

The deception is complete, as old Darth Vader informed us Return of the Jedi.

As is often the case, things are not quite as clear as they seem. Lucretia has been put in her place, Batiatus has lost a gladiator who was fighting alongside his Champion in the arena (and his striving for political office seem all for naught as well!), high riding Spartacus has lost his only true friend, and Varro has lost his life, and with it the ability to truly reconcile with his wife and children.

To top it all, the magistrate says of his son: "He calls for bloodshed without hesitation. Such boldness will one day lead him to the Senate." This is ancient Roman life (and a hell of a drama to boot).

As Bob Dylan sings: things have changed.

More thoughts on "Party Favors":

  • I noticed for the first time that in the little disclaimer the show runs before each episode about "extreme sensuality" and brutality and such, it capitalizes the first letter in Intensity. Cute.
  • "They roar your name." – Varro to Spartacus
  • There's a return to a very 300-like sensibility in the opening gladiator scenes. The final slave/mutant-guy that Varro (Jai Courtney) and Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) take out is reminiscent of the stylized Persians who got after the Spartan lads in that flick. I can't help but notice, too, that Spartacus has very much embraced his Roman personae and the fame that comes with his ever more spectacular victories in the arena. Gone, for now at the least, are dreams of his slain wife and his Thracian people. So is Batiatus' (John Hannah) victory and return to prosperity complete?
  • There's a nice moment when Varro reunites with his wife, whom he believed to be dead. This reunion is far better than the last, when Varro cruelly called his wife "whore" (in the episode of the same name) for being raped and impregnated during his gambling-fueled enslavement.
  • Speaking of conniving Ashur: everyone sing together now, "someone's got a secret! Someone's got a secret!") That secret being: Crixus and Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt) having a bit of a liaison.
  • I much enjoyed the scene in which Batiatus and Spartacus "bro out" together. I mentioned last week that theirs is a complicated relationship. An odd friendship of sorts, a bond perhaps, now exists between master and slave, or aspiring noble and the Champion of Capua, dependingon how one looks upon it. It's perfectly clear of course that Lucretia thinks exactly this...
  • "Spartacus is merely the beast that you ride upon." Lucretia to Batiatus
  • There's so much to discuss in any episode of Spartacus that it should not go overlooked that the fight scenes are awfully well done. This episode in particular featured a swath of training scenes at the ludus, and it's particularly cool that the shield's edge is often used as a way to fend off an attack and even cause a striking blow at the opponent.
  • "He calls for bloodshed without hesitation. Such boldness will one day lead him to the Senate." – The Magistrate, of his son Numerius (Lliam Powell)

    Video: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Party Favors"
    Here's the audio to Bob Dylan's Things Have Changed:

    Recap: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Party Favors"
    Spartacus and Crixus are set up to fight in an exhibition match for Numerius' birthday - but Crixus is intent on blood.

    From Around the Web: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Party Favors"

  • IGN - Spartacus: Blood and Sand continues to surprise me week after week. It's slowly crept up to the top of my list as a must watch show and one that I've found myself recommending to anyone who asks me what they should be watching.
  • Tubular - Alright, there are only three episodes left this season and the body count has gone insane. I didn't expect Varro to die, let alone get killed by Spartacus. Okay, I'm lying, I kind of expected that to happen eventually.
  • After Elton - Batty takes Spartacus aside as Crisco leaves and shows him the new statue he made of him. Well, not exactly a statue. It's a bust of his head on a column, with a certain extra appendage that we can't show you because we're a family site. Oh, those Romans.
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at] 

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