selenak: (Romans by Kathyh)
[personal profile] selenak
Furtherly fannishly catching up: Spartacus ended its last season, with its unique mixture of trash and high drama. Since it was the last season, and for all the, err, liberties they take Stephen DeKnight and friends weren't about to go Quentin Tarantino on us in terms of who eventually wins and who loses the confrontation between the slave rebellion and the Romans, I was especially curious to see how they'd face that, given that for all the tragedies happening in the previous two seasons and the Gods of the Arena prequel, they also balanced this with both personal and larger victories.

Having killed off all its previous antagonists, both Roman and not (Ashur!), War of the Dammed introduced Crassus - who'd been referred to in dialogue pretty much since the show started, but was never seen on screen - as a strategic genius who respects his enemies. (In the sense not not underestimating them. Not in the sense of seeing the justice of their cause.) Crassus has always gotten the least bit of fictional attention among the three triumvirs (with Caesar getting the lion's share and Pompey the next largest part), not least because of the way he died and because multi millionaires of the ancient world did apparantly not fire the imagination that much); I can think of only two memorable fictional versions, Colleen McCullough's in her Masters of Rome series (where the first two installments focused on Sulla and Marius are great and then she makes the mistake of Gary Stu'ing Caesar into boringness, but her Crassus, otoh, is a believable and three dimensional character, seemingly placid but ruthless and very smart behind the "ox" exterior), and of course Laurence Olivier in Stanley Kubrick's film (where Crassus basically gets to embody Roman decadence, though combined with military efficiency). This Crassus mostly falls into the "worthy opponent" type of major antagonists, with his sidekicks, a young Caesar and Crassus' fictional son Tiberius (historical Crassus had two sons, but neither of them was called "Tiberius", more about that later) getting the more dastardly villain roles, though they, too, are three dimensional. One thing Spartacus always had going for it is that it managed to keep the balance between making its villains believable, interesting and three dimensional, with their own sets of problems and conflicts, and yet at no point excusing or letting the audience forget what makes them villains. And for all that Crassus, as mentioned, mostly gets the "worthy opponent" type of narrative, the show also makes it clear that he's part of the system (and a top part at that) based on oppression, rejects his attempt to equalize a personal tragedy with what the slaves went through, and lets him exit the story at his most ruthless and chilling (the famous cruxificion of the captured survivors of the rebellion along the Appian Way made even more gut wrenching through whom Crassus includes among their number).

What made the show something beyond endlessly new ways to gorily kill people (oh, and sex scenes) was that despite the high killing rate of its regular cast per season, it made you care about its characters, and that holds doubly for its heroes. What with the slow mo killing (though they abandoned the Zack Snyder aesthetic mostly this season) and the nudity even when its freezingly cold, I would never call it realistc, but emotionally it did does some amazingly true-feeling things with trauma, affection, growth, and this was especially true for Naevia and Crixus. Vengeance had Naevia go from traumatized victim of multiple rapes to warrior able to confront and defeat her first rapist; War of the Dammed showed this by no means meant she was healed. (Nor, for that matter, was Crixus, whom I've seen called "the most feminist boyfriend ever" elsewhere, and I can see the point.) The show let Naevia go to some pretty dark places, which included victimizing others, and pointed this out, but it also let her struggle through this. The climax of Naevia's arc in s3 is when, at a point where she has already lost Crixus and has his killer at her feet, she's offered by Spartacus the choice of either getting her vengeance and killing the guy or allow him to be traded against two hundred captured fellow (ex) slaves. Naevia ends up choosing the lives of others, fitting the season's general theme of the major rebel characters, starting with Spartacus himself, moving from vengeance as a goal to seeing life (in freedom) for their fellows as the more important aim. The season and show finale is called Victory in various layers of meanings, one of whom is that the show does let a part of the former slaves escape and find new lives, and those who die know they made it possible. Among the escaped are also the only romantic couple which makes it out alive and together from s2, when they got together, to the finale, one of whom is in fact the only s1 character still alive when all wraps up, full stop: Agron and Nasir, aka the canon m/m couple 99% of the existing fanfiction is about. As both are fictional characters, not fictionalized versions of historical ones, their fates were up in the air and I imagine fandom must have rejoiced when DeKnight made everyone's hopes come true and let them survive. The Agron/Nasir romance wasn't perfect, which again contributed to its emotional reality; this season Agron went through a phase of acting like a jealous ass, but both the show and Nasir reproved him for this, and he was duly repentant. And it was dealt, both in terms of screentime and explicitness, on the same level as the het relationships of the show.

As for these, winner and undefeated champion for most affecting remains Crixus/Naevia, though in varying degrees I cared for them all, except for Gannicus/Sybil, which was a bit of a pointless last minute addition, with Gannicus' earlier fuckbuddy type of relationship with Saxa, who as a bisexual warrior was basically his female counterpart, being more believable. Speaking of Saxa: Spartacus with Agron, Saxa, Lugo and some others is that rarity of a show produced in English which includes a number of sympathetic (and one unsympathetic) German characters in their multicultural number who at no point fall into the cliché type of role usually handed over to Germans (if they show up at all). It's a minor aspect, but it's appreciated, Mr. DeKnight and Mr. Tappert. Dankeschön!

Another rarity: a few weeks ago there was a post making the online rounds about how for all that many a grimdark narrative (fantasy, historical or both) that insists including m/f rapes insists this is because of realism, there is a notable lack of rapes without female victims despite the fact that said narratives often present situations where it would likely occur (one example given was the Nightwatch in Game of Thrones, since the recruits actually include a lot of rapists, who aren't allowed to have any contact with women). Not true for Spartacus, and since it had canon positive m/m relationships, m/m rapes, when they occur (a notable one was in season1, and now in this season), don't come across as a statement about homosexuality but about rape as an instrument of power. In War of the Dammed, the rivalry between Crassus' son Tiberius and Caesar culminates in Tiberius (with the aid of some other soldiers) raping Caesar as a way to humiliate him and gain the upper hand. It's rape as power player, presented as such, and as opposed to what a lot of fanfic would do when writing the popular "villainous or morally ambiguous male character gets raped" trope not used to subsequently woobify Caesar or excuse his actions. (Much like Lucretia's abuse at Ashur's hands in s2 did not negate what she herself did to Crixus, Naevia and a lot of others.)

S1 established that "Spartacus" is a name Batiatus picks for his new gladiator; we never find out what his real name was before he is thus newly named, and the acceptance of the name "Spartacus" mid season 1 is a crucial transitionary point. S3 has two different emotional pay offs for this. The teaser scene of the show finale with multiple characters carrying out raids declaring themselves to be Spartacus is both a homage to the most famous scene of the Kubrick film and a clever twist (since they do it as part of a strategy to confuse the Romans as to which part of the rebel army the real Spartacus is with); it's also symbolic for the fact that "Spartacus" has become an idea, which, much like V in Alan Moore's story, can be embodied by anyone. As for the "original", in his death scene, he tells Agron and Nasir he looks forward to hearing his real name again at long last when he finds his wife in the afterlife, which makes the most expected thing of the whole finale - the death of Spartacus - emotionally poignant. And then we get to the credits, which bring back all the many dead (and few living) characters through all the season, slaves and Romans alike, culminating in a shot of the original actor to play Spartacus, who died tragically of cancer, Andy Whitfield, and his earlier mentioned mid-s1 "I AM SPARTACUS" scene. It was the perfect homage and wrap up of a show that, for all its over the topness in gore, mysteriously shaven nudes and baroque dram still managed to tell the story of a huge ensemble of characters in a way that made me care about nearly all of them, and yet consider the ending for each to come at a right time for the tale. I wouldn't call it "must" tv - especially if your violence tolerance level is low - but it ended up emotionally envolving me in a way shows that are objectively better and have been praised as tv masterpieces, like, say, Mad Men never did.


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