Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Spartacus, including the most recent, “Mark of the Brotherhood.”
After the dramatic high point of the “Delicate Things” and “Great and Unfortunate Things” double whammy, it’s no surprise that the next episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand would be a more low-key affair. After lulling us into a false sense of security that nothing terribly shocking will occur within the hour, however, those tricksy writers–never ones to rest on their laurels–trick us again and deliver one of the most disturbing scenes of the series to date.
For the majority of its span, “Mark of the Brotherhood” is a transitional episode that deals with the fallout from the previous weeks. Spartacus is the Champion of Capua now, and the on-the-mend Crixus is having trouble acclimating to a world in which his enemy has usurped his position. Batiatus is considering selling him, and even Lucretia is starting to lose faith that he will ever be himself again, though that is mostly due to the fact that he has been holding back during sex with her, out of love for Naevia. Meanwhile, Batiatus has purchased a crop of new slaves, one of whom Lucretia manipulates Ilythia into purchasing, Segovax. This episode replays what it is like when one is first inducted into the ludus, from a very different perspective than the first time, when we observed it through Spartacus’ eyes. Now, Spartacus is the old pro, the big man on campus, while these men are experiencing the hatred of the other gladiators. Their treatment of Spartacus in earlier episodes clearly wasn’t personal. Like in a fraternity, all newbies have to experience a hazing. Segovax’s story is particularly sad, however. This slave longs for freedom just as much as Spartacus did when he first arrived. In fact, he devotes himself to learning as much as he can from Spartacus, in order to gain his freedom. In the end, however, when Ilythia, after being humiliated by Spartacus in front of her friends, dangles the possibility of freedom should he murder Spartacus for her, Segovax takes the bait and seals his doom.
It is at this moment that his tale tragically dovetails with Crixus. He had started to accept the fact that he was going to be sold, particularly after miserably failing in a fight against Spartacus, when Naevia convinces him to put more of himself, so to speak, in pleasing Domina. He takes her advice and shortly afterwards fully reclaims his groove when he finds Segovax strangling Spartacus and comes to Spartacus’ rescue again. The last time he saved Spartacus’ life, it ruined his own, when he received no credit for Spartacus’ victory against Theocoles. It is rather poetic, then, that this time, he restores himself, at least to some degree, in Batiatus’ eyes and secures his place in the household. When Spartacus expresses surprise at Crixus’ actions in saving him, Crixus reiterates a point he made last week. He may dislike Spartacus as a person, but the oath they both took makes them brothers, and he is loyal to that brotherhood. A warrior of Spartacus’ status deserves to die an honorable death. In the end, Spartacus is saved but poor Segovax dies in agony and shame–crucified and his cock cut off–the price for not accepting his fate, as Spartacus had advised him. What makes Segovax’s death particularly powerful is the indication that this could very easily have been Spartacus’ end, had things gone differently. In fact, if the story follows the same trajectory as the film (which it mostly hasn’t so far), it will be.
Other moments of note:
- Spartacus convincing Varro, who has been gambling and whoring out of anger for his wife’s actions, to curb his recent behavior. He puts things in perspective for his friend, pointing out to him that his wife never would have been in the position to become pregnant by another man had he not gotten himself in such crippling debt. More importantly, at least he has a wife to return to one day.
- The scene introducing Ilythia’s awful society friends doesn’t only demonstrate that shallow socialites have always been the same–ostensibly friends with one another but actually vicious and predatory and ready to devour one another at the slightest sign of weakness–but also shows us how tenuous Ilythia’s grip on her social standing actually is. Whether or not someone is in favor can be just as arbitrary as who is and isn’t a slave in this society.
Next week: Spartacus goes a-whoring?