With a decidedly sexual twist on the cliché, on the night before he goes to war, Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) ties a ribbon over his wife’s (Erin Cummings) leg and tells her to keep it close to her thigh – that thought will warm them both at night.
“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” admittedly stimulates the mind, but in which direction? Sure, it proudly totes a barrage of sensual gluttony and several, talent-studded big names, but the true mastermind of its appeal is humor – however unintentional.
Covering the origin of the Thracian warrior’s conversion into the gory globe of gladiators, the series premiere serves to address the state of its contemporary Rome and the growing dissatisfaction among the surrounding tribes, sowing the seeds for an expected future rebellion.
This is an exceptional relief, because the story already has a foundation of brilliance: True events. A real Spartacus once existed who inspired the will of millions and led one of the biggest slave revolts in history, effectively immortalizing his indomitable spirit and noble cause.
This is especially fantastic because the rest of the show’s qualities so desperately need it. With dialogue wooden enough (such as the gem adorning the lead) to carve a horse for vengeance-driven Achaeans, and oodles of video-game-blood, something has to carry the weight of quality.
Then again, who doesn’t love video-game-blood? With a premiere more reminiscent of a long trailer for a video game than a genuine prologue, success seems imminent, so it’s no surprise that it was renewed for a second season before the first episode even hit the small screen.
It does try, however, (and takes itself incredibly seriously). The costumes are stunning, and a particularly pivotal scene involving the hero’s wife is oddly (or intentionally, considering the Roman antagonists) reminiscent of the “Rape of the Sabine Women.”
But it’s this very genuine effort that makes this episode seem so comedic, especially since only a handful of the actors are capable of delivering lines untainted by the camp-factor. Scenes that are meant to incite viewer pathos almost beg for a claw-wielding, striped sweater-clad mass murderer to ha-cha-cha his way onto the screen, at times making “The Red Serpent” feel more like “Freddy versus Jason” (with Lucy Lawless). (Or, “Evil Dead,” considering one of the minds-behind-the-show is Sam Raimi.)
And yet, it holds tremendous potential. Leading man Whitfield holds such conviction in his sensitive, blue orbs that few can question his authenticity – he embraces it all from within, and it reflects in his eyes – the struggle, the courage and the honor, and the return of Lawless is always cause for celebration.
So the question is whether the series’ bittersweet premiere is more like fruit or wine: will it improve with age, or simply rot?
We’ll have a whole two seasons to find out.