The “Pit of the Underworld” sucks. All the gladiators look down on anyone who fights there, and the other ludus owners make snide remarks if you fight your gladiators there. So Batiatus sending Spartacus to fight there, the latter having “lost the favor of the crowd,” is a fall not only for Spartacus after his debacle in the primus against Crixus last episode, but for Batiatus himself. The only thing it’s got going for it is the sort of Ancient Roman Meets Mad Max: Thunderdome aesthetic, and most people agree that’s the worst Mad Max film.
I remember liking this episode a lot when I first saw it, and 10 years later, I’m baffled as to why that was. A lot of people were baffled a decade ago, recommending instead that you start with the next episode after this. Because “The Thing in the Pit” is just a terribly slow episode filled in with some brutal gore.
Batiatus’ good cheer at Spartacus’ submission at the end of the last episode is all used up by the time this episode starts, immediately after. Now he’s pissed, and he’s threatening to call off the search for Sura, and then comes up with the solution to punish Spartacus by fighting him in the eponymous Pit. It’s a dangerous, disreputable place, where gladiators draw lots to determine what their weapon is, and Batiatus needs a dagger and Barca to protect him. But, also, his creditor is hanging around to notice he’s not paid his debt. Go figure.
The plot goes in circles here, and we mostly get a replay of the previous episode—Crixus goes to have sex with Lucretia and tries to woo Naevia, there’s a major drought in Capua that’s messing things up, Varro gives us some exposition, etc. Spartacus seems to be having a mental break—he keeps hallucinating Sura whispering in his ear, reminding him to kill them all. It’s all a little hokey and overwrought.
And the fights are hardly fun, they’re sadistic. The first fight bids a fair adieu to the guy with “FUGITVS”on his forehead—I think his name was Kurza? I dunno, he’s dead now—as he gets his head smashed in with a hammer and then his face flayed (we’re shown everything). Then Spartacus fights a guy who uses brass knuckles with nails in them and shoves the nails into his mouth to start the fight. This show is happy to sever heads and limbs and throw huge spurts of blood around the place, and sometimes that works. But this is just gore-porn and it’s a drag, especially as the show is trying to tell a bit of a psychological breakdown in Spartacus.
That breakdown ultimately forces Spartacus to arrange a corrupt bargain with Batiatus: he’ll throw his match in the pit (where all fights are to the death) if Batiatus bets the house on him and then finds and rescues Sura. This is a pretty sharp change from the Spartacus to this point, and I don’t know if I buy it. We’ve had multiple Sura hallucinations to this point, so the break with reality I buy, but Spartacus himself has been pretty sure the whole way through. And unwilling to trust anyone but himself. But here he leaves everything to Batiatus’ honor, which is more than a little questionable, especially how much every other character in the episode, from Lucretia to Doctore to the other gladiators to Solonius go out of their way to tell us that fighting in the Pit is without honor. Whitfield does his best, but there’s precious little character development for him to work on and connect some dots for the viewer.
There’s precious little character development all over, save for one fertility ritual Lucretia performs near the end. We’ve had Batiatus mention hoping for the blessing of a son, and Illythia dig at her for “a woman of her age” not having children, but this scene really drives home that there’s clearly something up with the couple’s ability to conceive, and she’s asking for divine intervention.
Ultimately, little of these plots matter except that Batiatus incurs a larger debt when Spartacus doesn’t die in the Pit because instead he saves Batiatus’ life from an attempted assassination by two slaves in the crowd. So where do we end up? Exactly where we started: Batiatus in debt and Spartacus a gladiator. What a waste of an episode.
Finally, a gay sex scene. Barca and Pietros just trying to have a pleasant time as best they can in a wall-less cell. Ironically, though Pietros is presented as a young, shortish youth, the actor is actually 6’1”, way taller than most of the gladiators, so they had to use camera tricks to make him seem tiny. We also see Lucretia and Crixus get it on, with Lucretia wearing the same pasties and chain thing from the previous episode. Does she always wear them with Crixus? I don’t understand why. I guess that’s her “I’m having sex with my husband’s champion gladiator” ensemble. Mine would be nothing.
- Man butt: 0
- Lady butt: 1
- Frontal nudity (men): 1
- Frontal nudity (women): 1
- Spartacus puts his thumbs in a guy’s eyes and the blood splatter hits the camera. I wonder how many denarii for an Ancient Roman Steadicam.
- Pietros is just a nice guy. This is his first speaking episode, to this point we’ve only seen him running around getting practice swords for Doctore or training pigeons with Barca. Here he brings Spartacus food and water and well-wishes. The gladiators are super bro-y about that, too, with Barca claiming he’s not worried about Pietros fancying Spartacus because of the size of Barca’s penis.
- Batiatus heads out to the Pit with a request that Lucretia give Crixus a woman that night as a message to the other gladiators about what they get if they do well. Lucretia says, “I’ll see him well satisfied.” Oh, you cad, Lucretia. You absolute cad.
- Someone in the crowd yells, “rip his face off!” during Spartacus’ first fight in the Pit, which immediately follows Kurza’s death. Dude, you just saw a face get ripped off. How many faces do you need ripped off before you feel like you got your money’s worth?
- Illythia Putdown of the Week: She wasn’t in this episode.