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'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' nostalgia recap: Blood and honor

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “The Red Serpent” | Aired Jan 22, 2010

When the promos for Spartacus first started showing, they promised a blood soaked historical drama in the vein of 300. And while Steven S. DeKnight’s (Buffy, Angel, the upcoming Daredevil) show does owe a certain visual ode to Zack Snyder’s film, it slowly but confidently becomes its own bloody, profane, yet emotionally powerful take on the Spartacus legend. So hold on to your binge-watching seats, because this is going to be an intense ride!

From its opening sequence, you know this is not going to pull any punches in terms of visceral thrills. In fact, like the gladiator matches it depicts, the show’s style and tone goes all-out with pretty much everything. It’s a great place to start—the holding cells of the arena in Capua and a closeup of Spartacus (the late, great Andy Whitfield) as he listens to the roars of the crowd. This shot introduces us to him and to this brutal ancient world.

And before the sound intensifies, we flash back to a meeting—or, rather, a council between a group of Thracians and Roman soldiers led by commander Gaius Cladius Glaber (Craig Parker). The majority of the episode and the crux of this alliance that the Romans form with the Thracians is: A group of barbarian hordes is approaching and endangering different territories. Glaber convinces the Thracians to join them and ultimately set out to war.

It is during the “goodbye” scene that we meet Spartacus’ wife, Sura (Erin Cummings). There is a very effective moment when she discusses her dreams, including that of Spartacus dying. One of my favorite scenes in the episode is this goodbye scene because it effectively establishes this relationship (which is obviously key)—but it also gives us a lot of these interesting character traits (like Sura’s menacing “Kill them all” statement to Spartacus) that tell us a bit of who these characters are.

Then we have the campaign sequences, which, to director Rick Jacobson’s credit, have a great graphic intensity to them. While the heavy use of green screen here doesn’t always gel that well, at least it helps create this cohesively stylized world. One of the signature elements of this series, in addition to its liberal use of gratuitous sex and violence, is, without a doubt, the language.The dialogue, while incorporating as many cuss words as humanly possible, at times feels ancient, giving the show a very cool, unique vocabulary.

After showing several of the campaign’s battles, we finally get a peek into what is going on with Glaber. And to his surprise, he finds out that his wife, Illythia (Viva Bianca), is helping him get the best out of this campaign. Since Glaber ultimately doesn’t care at all for the good of the Thracians, he and his wife come up with this idea to change course in an effort to stop Mithridates. This deliciously presents a theme of ambition, greed, and thirst for power that doesn’t sit too well with Spartacus and his men.

After Glaber makes his true intentions clear, Spartacus and his army definitely speak their minds about it. It’s a great scene, not only because of this act of defiance by Spartacus, but because it gives us a hint of the idea of rebellion, and standing up for what is just. Spartacus and his army didn’t sign up to serve the greedy ideals of Glaber, so the very effective and simple “no” is the catalyst that sets everything in motion. It’s this tiny spark of defiance that changes everything.

And indeed it does, because after that, things get progressively worse for Spartacus. The reunion between Sura and her husband is effective It starts as a horrifying situation for Sura, since she meets face-to-face with multiple barbarians, which escalates as soon as Spartacus arrives. The choreography in here is great, but what makes it such a rewarding scene is the fact that they’re acting like a team—almost like a gladiator team. We understand just what their relationship is all about, and that they will protect each other to the death. After that, Sura and Spartacus create a campfire and discuss what’s next. Both Cummings and Whitfield are really great in this scene; there’s an emotional sincerity and intimacy that creates a very earnest, and ultimately tragic, moment. This is where DeKnight shows that he’s a Joss Whedon alum. Right after their absolute moment of happiness between Sura and Spartacus, the morning after, Glaber appears and everything is lost. Sura is sold into slavery and Spartacus is to be used in a gladiator fight.

The episode’s last act actually introduces characters and situations that will drive the season. While in a presentation conducted by Illythia’s father, Senator Albinius (Kevin J. Wilson), we meet notable characters like Crixus (a pre-Arrow Manu Bennett), Solonius (Craig Walsh Wrightson), and, of course, our favorite manipulative and twisted couple: Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah).

Following the party, there is fantastic fight scene between Spartacus and Solonius’ men. I love the idea that it is his wife’s call that ultimately gives him the power to keep on fighting (literally) for his life. It’s a victory that feels like a gigantic accomplishment for him—and it’s only the beginning, since at the end Batiatus him to be a part of his ludus and become a gladiator.

Overall, it’s a great and exciting start for a series that escalates its storytelling so well.

Interesting Tidbits

  • Andrew Chambliss, who serves as story editor for this season, has written for shows like Dollhouse, and was the main writer behind Buffy‘s season nine.
  • One of my favorite aspects of this show is without a doubt Joseph LoDuca’s awesome score. It’s bombastic when it needs to be, but also intimate when necessary. The rousing, historical, epic feel is tremendous.
TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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