Spartacus: “Whore”
A
Andy Whitfield, Viva Bianca (Starz)
Andy Whitfield, Viva Bianca (Starz)

Spartacus: “Whore”

Ilithyia teaches Licinia a lesson in manners

After a strong opening to the series that culminated in the epic “Shadow Games” and the devastating “Delicate Things,” Spartacus slowed down for a few episodes, allowing Crixus to recover physically and Spartacus to begin to recover emotionally, while Batiatus and Lucretia put the next phase of their schemes into motion. With “Whore,” the wait is over. The best installment yet, this episode pushes the season into high gear, shocking the audience and uncovering new levels of intensity in the characters and their talented performers, all while giving viewers the most thematically unified and cohesive entry so far.

Even before its stunning final act, “Whore” is something unexpected. Though the series has consistently explored the psychology and motivations of its characters, it has done so primarily a character or two at a time, as prompted by its high-stakes plot. This changes here, with most of the central cast facing questions of sexuality, agency, and rage. There’s no fight in the arena to build towards, making this only the second episode of the series to conclude without a significant skirmish featuring Spartacus. Instead the writers show the psychological trauma of those robbed of their agency and dehumanized, and the aggression that can so easily trigger. From Crixus’ petulant but quickly calmed jealousy over an imagined betrayal by Naevia to Lucretia’s shrieking fury and heartbreak over Ilithyia’s desire for Crixus, the characters’ reactions to the stressors of the episode run the gamut, growing in intensity throughout the episode.

Varro’s response is the least surprising. His shunning of Aurelia, after hearing of her pregnancy, and lack of concern about her assault show him to be instinctual and absolutist. His attack of Ashur, bearer of bad and guilt-inspiring news, is to be expected. Forcing Varro to face the fallout of his abandonment of Aurelia at this point, in an episode exploring sexual shaming, highlights the lingering effects of such preconceptions and adds weight to each of the interactions that follow. Just as affecting is Mira, who represents the other end of the spectrum, a woman so inured to sexual violence that she is genuinely puzzled when Spartacus refuses to have sex with her. The director is far from subtle, underlining Mira’s significance by having the camera return to her again and again, but the house slaves have been so underrepresented that it’s hard to complain.

“Whore” builds tension carefully throughout, the stakes growing with each interaction, mirrored by the escalating passion of the sexual encounters. In the first, Batiatus rapes a slave, as he and Lucretia discuss Spartacus. It’s a business-like scene, with Batiatus receiving fleeting pleasure at best. In contrast, Lucretia’s rape of Crixus is more emotional, Lucretia ecstatic and oblivious to Crixus’ reticence. She’s caught up in her fantasy and happy to believe her slave loves her, but the blocking—which has Lucretia front and center and Crixus barely in frame during their post-coital moment—speaks volumes. Crixus and Naevia’s stolen moment later, on the other hand, is one of parity, a heady encounter fraught with peril. It’s too brief to be romantic, but it’s powerful nonetheless and a satisfying counterpoint to their Pyramus And Thisbe moment earlier.

Completely distinct from the other sex scenes, and completing their progression, is the final act’s intense and sensual coupling of Spartacus and Ilithyia. Unlike the previous pairings, the camera lingers with these two, fetishizing Spartacus’ preparation and the couple’s reveal, their body paint and masks transforming them into embodiments of sexual pleasure. Between the sumptuous red of the curtains, the intensity of the score, and the intimacy of the camera, the episode invites viewers to indulge with Ilithyia as she loses herself in passion, gradually freeing herself of her inhibitions and opening herself unreservedly to pleasure. Spartacus is harder to read as he could be acting, but given his well-established pride and enjoyment of the perks of being Champion, and that his reason for not sleeping with Mira was not out of a sense of loyalty to Sura, but her lack of true consent, it seems fair to take his body language at face value and assume he’s enjoying this hedonistic rendezvous as much as Ilithyia. That all involved manage to convey this level of storytelling with the actors’ faces covered is incredibly impressive.

The timing of the scene is fantastic, with Lucretia brutally pulling the curtain back just as Ilithyia is at her most relaxed and vulnerable. Andy Whitfield and Viva Bianca have had tremendous chemistry in all of their scenes together, but the sudden and disorienting revelation of their identities and the crushing weight that comes with gives them their best shared moment yet. The rage that overcomes Spartacus, with Ilithyia but more significantly, with himself for enjoying his time with her, is frightening and Bianca’s shattered, “Stop laughing,” building into an uncontrollable rage of her own, is riveting. This is the culmination of the episode’s thematic exploration: Ilithyia is the woman destroyed for the crime of embracing rather than repressing her sexuality. Rather than accept this, however, she lashes out, surprising herself and the audience as much as Lucretia with the intensity of her anger. Her brutal slaying of Licinia takes the series off in a new and fascinating direction, giving it new energy and, with the looming specter of Marcus Crassus, even higher stakes.

How to Speak Spartacus: Sure, you could say, “Are you worried? You seem worried.” Or, you could channel Batiatus when he asks Spartacus, “You have concern?” The choice seems clear.

Syfy Slice-And-Dice: This is one of the most re-edited episodes yet, with many scenes reframed or edited to remove female nudity. For example, during Licinia’s mask selection, CGI tunics are added to some of the slaves and Mira’s scenes with Spartacus are reframed and feature CGI-heightened shadows. Lucretia’s milk bath scene is reframed similarly, the slaves preparing Spartacus for his rendezvous with Ilithyia are cleverly cut around or have CGI breast bands added, and in their encounter, Ilithyia’s hair is lengthened to cover her nipples. An extra curtain is added across the reveal of the golden Spartacus, to obscure the episode’s only full-frontal male nudity, and their sex scene is chopped up considerably, with a commercial break added after Ilithyia’s walk towards Spartacus; the entire sequence edited down considerably, greatly diminishing its effectiveness. Batiatus’ rape of his slave is also cut entirely, as are a few other lines of dialogue, mostly for swearing.

Stray observations:

  • The star of the episode is Viva Bianca, but Lucy Lawless is in fine form throughout. Lucretia’s frenzied destruction of her room upon Ilithyia’s naming of Crixus is utterly engrossing, as is her episode-ending cradling of Bianca, and Lawless’ performance in this episode is among her best in the series.
  • There’s some great hair and makeup in this episode, particularly Varro’s swollen face and Lucretia’s wrapped head. It’s rare to see her without her war paint/wig on, but it’s always impactful. Another fantastic visual is the spider-like shadow cast by Lucretia as she looms over the destroyed Ilithyia while she sits in the bath.
  • Given the intense ending, it’s nice to get a couple friendly moments between Doctore and Crixus and see a few of Doctore’s infrequent, but always genuine and kind, eye-crinkling smiles.
  • Once again, Joseph LoDuca does a great job with the score, subtly building tension throughout, starting with Ilithyia’s, “Oh, that little whore.”
  • There are many fabulous quotes in this episode, but two of the best are Spartacus’, “I desire only sleep. And the absence of dreams” and Lucretia’s entertaining, “They must be constantly watched, lest they harm themselves in the simple case of being men.”

More TV Club