Spartacus was an education in not judging a book by its cover. Or a TV series by its seemingly overdone 300 slomos, gratuitous tits and violence, and the frequency of people using "absent" as a preposition. (*shudder*)
As a very smart man recently said, also on the Twitters, "Other TV series use tits and violence to distract from how stupid they are. Spartacus uses tits and violence to distract from how smart it is."
A friend from work recommended the series to me. I watched the first episode and rolled my eyes. "Really, Matt? Really? Back when I had no pubic hair I might have loved this, but I am an adult now! I LIKE ADULTY THINGS!"
He then threatened to punch me repeatedly if I didn't watch the rest of Spartacus. He's a 6 foot fuck-me-he's-tall Ginger Giant from Northern England who grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, the world capital of being stabbed repeatedly for no reason at all. So I watched the rest of Season 1.
I've been thinking about the third insight, insight into real live people, real live human nature. Of the three I think of it as the writer's insight; it is, I propose, where writing fiction and designing games overlap. I have a thought like "when you're losing an argument, THAT'S when you throw a punch," so I design a game around it. If I were a novelist, though, I'd write a novel around it instead.
So I was thinking about Spartacus in those terms. It's clear that the writers have, like, a theory of human nature, a guiding principle or body of principles that let them write with such breathtaking confidence. I was thinking about "people never accept their circumstances," but then, no, in fact people in Spartacus DO accept their circumstances, and way too readily, when they favor them. It's not quite that, it's broader, it accounts for both. But here's a thing I CAN say: when someone finally submits to you, that's the moment that you start to trust them, but it's also the moment that you can't trust them ever again.
So what you have in Spartacus is a vast playing-out of this, in permutation upon permutation. Who imposes their will, and how; who submits, and how; who trusts whom, and how, and what comes of it; and all this across lines of class, status, sex, station and relationship. What happens to a friendship when one friend imposes his will on the other? A marriage? Master & slave? Colleagues? Lovers? Parent & child? When both are men, both are women, across sex lines? When there's a third person involved?
So that's cool, the show has a pretty interesting thesis going and they're doing well by it. But THEN, every single time you think they're about to misstep, every time they do something risky and you're pretty sure they're about to blow it, instead they don't. It's SO FUN to watch them hit it, dead on, time after time.
Personally I found the first few episodes of Blood & Sand terrible. The next few episodes were just kinda bad. The second half of the season (roughly eps 7-13) suddenly become quite darn good. But Gods of the Arena? Wow, that was just awesome begining to end. In my opinion GotA is better filmed, better choreographed and better acted than B&S. Also ridiculously less over the top in its violence. But more importantly I also found it better written, more consistent and considerably tighter.
So, I dunno, I can under no circumstance recommend anyone watch the first half of B&S, I can reservedly suggest watching the rest but I will recommend GotA to anyone anyday, except if they hate tits and blood so much it will blind them to the played-to-a-hilt drama.
I also wonder what will happen with season 2 and onwards. Absent John Hannah the show will lose a lot, and the Roman politicking was a big part of the draw, I wonder if they can keep the same gravity with a bunch of runaway slaves.