Coming off the heels of “Shadow Games,” you’d expect some bit of a decrease in quality, and while I don’t think “Delicate Things” matches those highs, I do think it continues the win streak.
We pick up immediately after the fight. Spartacus is the new “Champion of Capua,” a declaration which gives both Lucretia and Naevia concern. As does Batiatus’ comment that “Crixus will always have position, should he live,” which prompts a visit to the medicus to threaten his life if Crixus dies.
With his new status comes a separate cell for Spartacus, just off the training ground, and fancy new armor and a new fighting style (two swords, coooool). And the promise that Batiatus will find and bring his wife to the ludus—in fact, he’s already located her in Neapolis.
But Spartacus quickly learns that he won’t be able to have Sura in his cell, she’ll be Lucretia’s slave in the manor, and he’ll have to spend years fighting in the arena to buy his freedom. So he begins to hatch a plan.
We get this plan in the form of a sepia-toned flashforward, and it’s pure wish fulfillment: Spartacus slashes his way through Batiatus’ guards, or takes Batiatus hostage, or in one sequence, rides off with Sura on a noble steed. The only voice of reason here is Varro, who keeps throwing monkey wrenches in Spartacus’ happy little escape fantasy, such as the fact he won’t have weapons, or that Doctore will stop him and then kill him.
Spartacus maneuvers this plan into being with a number of clever deceits, some of them contrived by the writing, some of them not. He buys wine and sex workers for his fellow gladiators, so they have a batshit party (really an orgy) and will be incapacitated the next day. He lucks into discovering the magistrate’s starstruck son has bought a Thracian dagger, then invites him to the ludus for a special training session just so he can steal it. He poisons Doctore’s wine with a handful of the medicine the medicus is using to keep Crixus asleep. Everything goes off nearly without a hitch, until Sura’s cart arrives, which leads to a wonderfully tense moment as Spartacus moves towards Batiatus’ exposed backside, while we learn that Doctore has not been disabled and moves to stop Spartacus. And then Batiatus steps away to reveal the cart driver is bloodied, and Sura has been mortally wounded, where she dies in Spartacus’ arms.
But this episode isn’t really about the resolution of the Sura storyline. It’s about heel turns. We’ve got a bunch of them. There’s Spartacus’ profound betrayal of Doctore—the trainer of gladiators doesn’t drink to victory, but eventually accepts a cup of wine to drink to Spartacus’ wife, after sharing fond memories of his own. It’s a nice look into Doctore’s mind, and the two are almost friends for most of the episode.
Almost equally disheartening is Ashur. We’ve known Ashur is a wheeler-dealer, and always looking to get ahead. But we’ve never really seen him as dishonorable to this point. Here he becomes a snake. At the end of the last episode, Barca bet against Theokoles, and now he wants the money he’s won from Ashur so he can buy freedom for himself and Pietros. Meanwhile, Pietros has learned of Ovidius’ killing and the death of his young son by Barca’s hands—Barca assures him he never killed the child. It’s a story that comes back to bite him. Ashur overhears, goes to the market to make a deal, and a messenger arrives during Spartacus’ training session to inform the magistrate that the kid is alive. Only they find the boy dead and return to Batiatus’ house to demand answers.
By then, of course, Batiatus has freaked out, drawn Pietros up to verify that the child is alive, then summoned Barca on the pretense of allowing him to buy his freedom with his winnings from Ashur. Barca tells a different story here, one later verified by the magistrate: he did kill the son, he just lied to Pietros. By then it’s too late. Ashur stabs him in the back before he can finish his story for Batiatus, and he’s quickly subdued by the guards and then Batiatus slits his throat in the middle of the villa’s indoor pool. For him, and for Pietros, freedom is a myth, meant to placate those would attempt to escape. It’s a dramatic counterpoint to Spartacus’ plan; Barca, the loyal enforcer, ought to be rewarded with loyalty, but instead he’s met with the knife. As Lucretia says, attempting to get your freedom is a betrayal in and of itself.
And it’s Batiatus who gets the full conversion to bastard here. The entire episode, Lucretia warns him against reuniting Sura and Spartacus, but he pledges to keep his word. Then, as Sura gasps her last in Spartacus’ arms, he turns to Lucretia and notes, “my word is kept. They’re reunited.” Earlier in the episode, Lucretia chastized him for keeping secrets, like the murders of Ovidius and his family, from her, and here she’s once again brought face to face with a murderous secret—one further in line with her own thinking, certainly, but a dark one nonetheless.
Most of this episode takes place against the backdrop of Spartacus’ orgy. It’s mostly hetero, with two lesbian encounters (we can probably safely bet, given the gladiators are all men and the women are all sex workers, that this is performative) and then a couple of gay encounters as well, which are mostly “blink and you’ll miss them.” The camera doesn’t focus them in the center like it does the hetero and lesbian couples, it sneaks them into the corners.
There’s one extremely uncomfortable sex scene before that—Lucretia is taking a bath and Batiatus shows up to talk and have sex, but instead he’s told to have sex with one of the slaves washing Lucretia. It’s a rape, and it’s clearly played as one; the pain and humiliation on the woman’s face is apparent. The disclaimer that plays before each episode notes that there is “incidental” nudity and sex, due to the portrayal of ancient Roman culture, and it does feel, frankly, incidental, like he’s using a piece of furniture. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it is, ultimately, a naked woman on film for entertainment, and even if we see John Hannah’s naked butt, that’s clearly not the same level of exposure or humiliation for him as it is for her. On the other, the show is trying to be relatively accurate in this regard, and this kind of daily inhumanity was a feature of chattel slavery all over the world. Plus, neither Lucretia nor Batiatus have completed their heel turns by this point in the episode (we’ve just seen Batiatus go scorched earth on vengeance), and I think it’s a good reminder that these characters might have some of our sympathy, but they’re also the beneficiaries of a deeply horrible system.
- Man butt: 2, including John Hannah.
- Lady butt: 2
- Full frontal (men): 0. Surprisingly little penis at this orgy.
- Full frontal (women): 16.
- I believe this is the first rendition of the gladiator anthem “His Cock Rages On.”
- I don’t know why no men hung dong at the orgy. My best guess is you’re not allowed to show erections, even on Starz.
- Spartacus takes a huge handful of sleeping powder from the medicus’ bowl and puts it in Doctore’s wine. It seems like he could’ve easily killed the guy or, worse yet for his plan, alerted Doctore to the plot when his wine tasted off.
- Illythia Putdown of the Week: No Illythia! This is a crime. Ashur’s witty, but he’s not catty.