Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, including the most recent, “Revelations.”
While watching the first half of “Revelations,” the eleventh episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I was mentally compiling points that I wanted to discuss in my review, which is par for the course for me when watching TV. I reminded myself that I should really mention how Solonius finds himself falling from the heights of power to being reviled and considered lower than a gladiator, and what a beautiful reiteration of the arbitrariness of Roman society this is. Only last week, he had political power, and now he is outranked by a slave. I also wanted to underline the irony and poetry implicit in the fact that Spartacus and Solonius had both been tricked into their current position by Batiatus, and that they come to a mutual understanding a moment before Spartacus separates his head from his body. Regarding Lucretia, I wanted to discuss the delicious irony that she is repulsed by the idea of Ashur bedding her “loyal” slave, Naevia, when little does she know that the girl has been having sex with her lover for months now.
I also planned on discussing how intelligent it is for the show to paint Spartacus as a flawed human being, despite his heroism. He plans on killing Batiatus, even upon discovering that it would mean the deaths of all of the other slaves in the house, including Mira, until, that is, he discovers that Aurelia, Varro’s widow, is working there now, too. It is an interesting sort of sexism that he wouldn’t consider sparing Batiatus for any simple woman, even one who has been very good to him, but he does upon discovering that it would impact the wife of his best friend.
But then, I got to just around halfway through the episode, and all other attempts at coherent thought completely fled my mind. Sometimes, a show delivers an hour so mindshatteringly I-can’t-think-of-a-word-to-use-because-it-broke-my-brain-that-much that analysis becomes next to impossible, because really, what can be said that would even slightly measure up to the emotional power of simply experiencing this phenomenal, televisual tour de force? Weeks ago, when I read that the episode’s title would be “Revelations,” I assumed that that meant that Spartacus might learn the truth about Sura’s murder this week. Instead, however, that revelation occurred last week, and in this episode, practically everything else that has been kept concealed over the course of the season, because so volatile were these secrets that merely speaking them out loud would ignite a vast series of explosions that could practically be seen from the heavens, comes to light.
Crixus attacks Ashur for touching Naevia, thus revealing his and Naevia’s forbidden love, causing Lucretia to brutally beat Naevia and Batiatus to have Doctore brutally whip Crixus. Using Crixus’ behavior as an excuse to not support Batiatus, Legatus almost walks out on him until Batiatus reveals smug Illythia’s murder of Licinia to him, leading him to strike his wife across the face and leave her in Capua. In addition, Batiatus beheads the guard from whom Naevia had stolen the key, and he even reveals to Lucretia that he has known of her affair with Crixus all along, and that it must stop now. Why, Lucretia even discovers that she is pregnant, though who knows whether Batiatus or Crixus is the father? Meanwhile, Spartacus decides to amend his revenge/escape plan from “Kill Batiatus” to “Kill them all!” In short, the shit hits the fan. In fact, I can think of no other episode of any other television show to include so many emotionally harrowing moments to so many characters in a single episode. Almost a day later, and I’m still reeling from the enormity of what the writers have accomplished–not only a single point-of-no-return but what feels like a dozen.
These are the sort of narrative twists that most showrunners wouldn’t introduce until far into a series’ run, if ever. But Spartacus isn’t just any show. It is a novel for television that has no standalone episodes and no set formula. No character is safe from death, and neither can we grow comfortable in thinking we know what the series is going to be like week to week, because moving the story along is the primary concern, rather than stretching out a premise beyond its natural length for the express purpose of making more money on syndication. It is clear at this point that when the second season begins, we are going to be looking at a very different show, and that is a very exciting thing.
One last point of note: Over the course of the season, Spartacus and Crixus have been set on directly opposite narrative arcs, Spartacus rising in the ranks as Crixus falls, and now, in a rather tremendous narrative move, the show has put Crixus in a directly parallel position to Spartacus at the start of the series. Now Crixus is the one reviled by his masters, whose love has been ripped away from him and sent far away, most likely to be tortured and raped by cruel masters herself. Near the close of the episode, Naevia makes yet another revelation, this time to Doctore, that Batiatus had killed Barca for asking for freedom. It seems like when Spartacus stages his rebellion, he may have at least two more unlikely allies than he otherwise would have.
Next week: “Kill them all!”