Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Spartacus, including the most recent, “Whore.”
I have to hand it to Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Every time I decide that it couldn’t possibly get any more shocking, twisty, or jaw-dropping than it already is, it proves me wrong. The latest episode, “Whore,” climaxes (no pun intended) with a scene that is probably the most gruesome, horrific to date, and that is saying a great deal for a show that, in the previous episode, depicted a full-frontal shot of a naked man being crucified, his cock having been cut off before he was nailed to the cross. What is even more impressive than that truly insane moment itself, however, is Lucretia, who manipulates the events that lead to it, and handles the fall-out masterfully as well. We knew that she was a shrewd, political schemer before, but we couldn’t possibly appreciate quite how good she is at what she does until this event occurs.
Lucy Lawless, always wonderful, turns in an absolutely brilliant performance this week, when we finally get to see what Lucretia looks like when she is in a true rage, the result of Illythia’s request to bed Crixus. She screams and tirades, throwing and breaking her possessions, while–for the first time on the series–not even a passing thought to her vanity. Wearing a skullcap instead of a wig and practically foaming at the mouth, she is absolutely terrifying. We have seen her smile and laugh away Illythia’s passive aggressive, condescending treatment of her in the past, but Illythia has gone too far this time. All of the fury towards her that she has suppressed since the series began explodes out of her in this scene. And if she is this venomous towards Illythia‘s desire to have sex with Crixus (who she is extremely possessive of during their sex scene in this episode), one can only imagine what fate would befall Naevia, should she ever discover their love affair.
After Lucretia has had her meltdown, however, the wheels of her mind begin to turn, and she comes up with a plan to put Illythia in her place while retaining her own social standing. She had already improved her social circle in the previous episode by using Illythia to get to her even wealthier, snootier friends, and in this episode, she invites the wealthiest, snootiest of them all, Licinia to her house, which Illythia doesn’t like at all. Licinia wants to have sex with Spartacus, likely due to having been able to ogle him in the previous episode, ironically at Illythia’s behest. Illythia, always trying to keep up with the Joneses herself, then asks for Crixus, once Licinia has gone, knowing how much it would hurt Lucretia.
The manner in which these liaisons are arranged allows Lucretia’s plan to fall into place extremely smoothly. Lucretia allows for anonymity by having both the gladiator and the woman wear masks, so it is a simple thing for her to get Spartacus to have sex with Illythia, without either of them knowing it. What could be more humiliating to Illythia than learning she’s been screwed by the slave whom her husband and she detest most of all (while also allowing Lucretia to lash out at Spartacus)? Oh, yes, having that moment of revelation be witnessed by a society woman who could forever ruin her reputation. Licinia cruelly laughs at her, and in that moment, the fear of her reputation being tarnished, mingled with anger at being treated the way she has always treated people she considers her inferiors–people like Lucretia–causes her to erupt. She lunges at Licinia and–there is not gentler way to put it–smashes her face off.
Once she allows the shock of what she has just seen to settle in, however, Lucretia ingeniously uses the horror of the situation to her advantage. Her original plan would have made an enemy out of Illythia, which wouldn’t necessarily have been too bad for Lucretia, since she would be trading up, friendship-wise, for Licinia. As far as Licinia goes, the simple fact that she was bedding a gladiator behind her husband’s back would give Lucretia leverage against her, should she ever need it. Now, however, Lucretia realizes that Illythia has now put herself completely at Lucretia’s mercy. Lucretia not only hasn’t lost her as a “friend” but practically owns her, being one of the only people in the world who knows (a) that Licinia was there, (b) that Illythia was there, and (c) that Illythia committed murder. In one fell swoop, and not even her own (though she certainly set things on their course), Lucretia has attained the political power she has always wanted, in the form of control over the wife of one of the most powerful men in Rome.
Other events occur in the episode, of course–Crixus returns to the arena almost fully healed, Varro tries to send word to his wife that he wants to start fresh and then gets into a fight with Asher, who claims to have found no people, only blood at Varro’s home, Spartacus repeatedly turns away the slave girl Lucretia has sent to have sex with him, until he lets her spend the night on the floor to save her life, Batiatus has one of Solonius’ men beheaded–but the impact of Lucretia and Illythia’s plot is so cataclysmic, it all but completely eclipses all else. And, really, Lucretia is so intimidating, I wouldn’t dare make her share the spotlight with anyone else, particularly for this episode. Brava, Domina!
Next week: Crixus wants to kill Spartacus. What else is new?