Apparently, according to Announcer Woman, this episode is 'sexy and raunchy' - what, more so than usual?! The review below contains spoilers and is probably a bit less witty and sarky than usual, for reasons which will become clear...
Spartacus certainly seems to be more popular following his victory over Theocoles, which is nice, but poor old Crixus is in a bad way. Looking like Messala in his final scene in Ben-Hur is not a ticket to long life.
It's nice to see Xena horrified by the murder of Aufidius and his family. In the first few episodes, she seemed to be yet another Livia/Atia, sex-mad like Atia and cold as Livia, but there's more humanity under there, even if she concedes the problem John Hannah had (or at least, so it seems until her next scene). Spartacus, meanwhile, still doesn't quite seem to understand the actual concept of slavery, which seems unlikely for someone who grew up in the ancient world. Barca has slightly more realistic ambitions, to buy freedom for himself and his boyfriend, but his plans are no doubt equally doomed.
Xena has acquired quite some bath - she looks like Cleopatra, though possibly the Carry on Cleo version. Also, she and JH are apparently once again too lazy to do their own foreplay, and Xena gets off on watching JH rape a slave girl in her bath - this is pretty excessively kinky, even for her.
I like the scene with Spartacus and Neighbours Reject discussing the geography of the Bay of Naples - this is the first real bit of foreshadowing of the eventual rebellion that we've seen. It's immediately followed by some rather more obvious foreshadowing, which is all the less effective for being a thousand times less subtle. It finishes on a nice bit about opportunity though, which is effective even if it did make me think of Pirates of the Carribbean. It also reminds us that Drill Sergeant Guy could stop Spartacus' escape attempt - so, presumably, when he finally rebels, he'll have to either get Drill Sergeant Guy on side or get rid of him.
We keep being treated to Spartacus' fantasies about his violent escape - it seems that, since there is less fighting in this episode, we have to see repeated images of escape fantasies instead. This seems a shame to me, for two reasons - firstly, it will make the eventual rebellion less different and exciting, and secondly, it makes the show 'blood and tits' again, insisting on violence and sex where character and dialogue would be more appropriate. Spartacus' snaky new armour and equally new abilty to wheedle important young Romans are nice though.
At last, we get back to poor Crixus, still bleeding all over a table in the back of the ludus somewhere. Not for long, though. The posh kid reminds me of the kid from Gladiator, though it remains to be seen if he will be as much trouble as Lucius Verus was.
Barca's betrayal and the living little blonde boy are a nice twist, assuming the boy is genuinely alive, but oh look! a Roman orgy. Clearly, it had been too long since we'd seen one, though Spartacus has an ulterior motive and Drill Sergeant Guy isn't interested. Meanwhile, poor Crixus, the character I'm really interested in, lingers in a coma, and I am feeling distinct concern for Barca and his boyfriend (whose name I can't remember) as well. Spartacus, on the other hand, just lost all my sympathy in using his dying comrade as a tool in his plan, though I suppose Crixus might have agreed, given the opportunity.
I like the bit with the Falernian, though poor young boyfriend doesn't catch the threat in the bit about being brought closer to the gods, nor has he quite followed what's going on, poor kid. I'm warming to Drill Sergeant Guy as well, while wondering what religion/cult he belongs to, which involves wearing a stole. I hope Spartacus feels very, very guilty for being such a traitor to all his fellow gladiators (well, except for Neighbours Reject, who's in on it, but who's not happy about the plan either).
Oh dear, there goes Barca - now I'm really upset, the two gladiators whose names I actually knew are both dead or dying! Hmpf. I was really starting to root for Barca and his naive boyfriend as well. I'm guessing Drill Sergeant Guy will survive his encounter with some serious medicine, but the comaraderie will be ruined - how on earth will Spartacus lead an army when he's betrayed everyone around him?!
Surprise, surprise, the boy is dead after all and now JH feels really guilty. Good. It's very hard to be funny about this episode, though - it's so tragic, just one disaster after another. If Crixus dies, I think I'll be left with just Neighbours Reject and Drill Sergeant Guy to care about. Plus, we finally get to the disaster we've been waiting for for six weeks - dear old wifey is, to absolutely no one's surprise, dead as a doornail, or she is within a few minutes of bleeding all over Spartacus, anyway. Mum and I think John Hannah arranged it, and so does Xena, who seems OK with it.
In some ways, this episode was a bit of a case of one step forward, two steps back - for every instance of character development and real connection, there was a bit of gratuitous violence or almost-gratuitous sex (the prostitutes were, I have to acknowledge, part of Spartacus' plan). It's also terribly depressing, as just about everyone ends up miserable (even Xena and JH seem to feel a little bit guilty about poor old Barca). But then I suppose, since the series leads up to a rebellion, it does rather have to be a story of one disaster after another, though I'd expect to see Spartacus, the eventual leader, bonding more with his fellow gladiators by this point. It's also a shame to lose two central characters in one episode. All in all, a good episode, and it certainly moved the series forwards in leaps and bounds, but, well, a bit of a downer, to put it mildly. And I still don't know what's going to happen to Crixus!