Blood and Sand, the first season of Starz’ hit show Spartacus, got off to a slow start, but it was a necessary slow start. The series begins with an unnamed Thracian listening to a Roman legatus, Claudius Glaber, try to recruit the Thracians for a war. The unnamed Thracian demands to know “to what end” the Thracians are to go to war, and then proclaims that if the Thracians go the Romans must help them kill all of the Getae (a barbarian like people).
This unnamed Thracian lives free, and has a beautiful wife named Sura. Things don’t work out with the Romans after Glaber’s wife, Ilithyia, convinces her husband that he seeks greater glory by breaking off from the Getae mission to pursue the armies of Mithridates in Asia Manor. The unnamed Thracian tries to tell Glaber that the Getae are heading towards the Thracian villages, but Glaber is adamant that they’ll march towards Mithridates. The unnamed Thracian will have none of that, and attacks the Romans and runs off towards his village. He returns in time to save his wife from a group of Getae, but his village has been set ablaze.
The next morning, Glaber and his men snatch a naked Sura from the Thracian’s arms and take both as prisoners. Sura becomes a slave and is sold to a Syrian, while the unnamed Thracian is to be executed for his “crimes” against Rome. That is until he kills the four gladiators who are trying to execute him, and is granted life (as a slave) by Senator Albinius and a reluctant Glaber. Quintus Batiatus, the owner of a ludus, purchases the Thracian and dubs him Spartacus.
Even though the start is slow, I think it was necessary to show some backstory of Spartacus and make him more sympathetic. He was a warrior, yes, but more importantly he was a free man with a lovely wife and a dream of children. His wife was taken from him, and he was thrust in the brutal world of a gladiator as a slave. By episode three though, things finally start picking up and really never looks back.
Batiatus, played by John Hannah, is such a wonderful character that at times appears to be somewhat decent but made twisted by the sick world that was Roman high society. At other times though, he appeared downright evil. In the end, he was the one guy on the show above all others that you loved to hate but didn’t really want to see anything happen to since he was so darn entertaining. Batiatus had, at least somewhat, gained the trust and loyalty of Spartacus, but set in motion his own downfall and a lot of trouble for Rome when he bought Spartacus’ wife and had her killed moments before she was reunited with Spartacus.
Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca were both fantastic in their roles as Lucretia Batiatus and Ilithyia Glaber. The two appear as friends, and yet each has an obvious disdain for the other and are always scheming behind the others back. Any time either of these women are on the screen, something entertaining is happening.
Andy Whitfield was also a great Spartacus. He has since passed away way too young due to cancer, but he really made the Spartacus character his. While the guy who assumed the mantel for season two and the final season (Liam McIntyre) did grow into the character, it’s hard to think of Spartacus as anyone other than Andy. He looked the part, and more importantly played the role almost perfectly.
Blood and Sand has a lot of spectacular moments in and out of the arena with Spartacus, Crixus, and the others (and of course a lot sex and naked people everywhere), but nothing from season one could top the season finale “Kill Them All.” The entire season built to that moment so wonderfully, and yet when it finally happened it was nothing short of stunning. That’s one, of maybe a handful, of television episodes where I went “Wow!” and would rate it a 10/10 if I were using that scale to rate a single episode.
The third and final season begins tomorrow night. At this point in the game with the end in sight, it’s probably best to pick up the previous seasons on Blu-ray (or DVD) and watching those before the new season if you haven’t seen any of them. And this is a great Blu-ray release; a lot of entertaining and informative special features and expanded episodes. When I first watched this season, I did so in standard definition. Spartacus isn’t meant for SD, as this Blu-ray release showed me. It has beautiful picture quality. A must own set as far as I’m concerned.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand gets a four out of five: GREAT.