I believe it was the great Krusty the Clown who once said... "holy crap." This was the most stomach-turning bit of TV ever, but that hardly matters since it's also some of the most exciting stuff I've seen in years. The rest of the episode had the usual interesting developments (Brutus working his way to his fateful "et tu" showdown with Caesar, etc.), but can we really talk about anything but Pullo and Vorenus in the arena? Now, we knew sentencing Pullo to die in gladiatorial combat was like tossing
Brer Rabbit into the briar patch, but what a sequence just the same. The beauty of this show is twofold here: It doesn't shy away from showing us the horrors of close combat or pretend people died cleanly or pleasantly, given the weaponry of the time. But it also presents us with characters so well written and acted that it's... butchery with a heart? Ray Stevenson has done a winning job as Pullo since Episode 1, but I have to say that I think Kevin McKidd often has the harder job with Vorenus since the character's lack of humor could easily make him flat and unsympathetic in the hands of a lesser performer. So when McKidd has to show us the torment Vorenus is going through while watching his friend fight for his life against completely unfair odds, all the while knowing it's against his political interests to help him, it really is an accomplishment. And when he at last enters the ring to stop the final gladiator from killing Pullo, his bloody duel is an amazing capper to the brilliantly staged carnage before it. (And how great was Stevenson's portrayal of a man who's hit bottom but still has too much life in him to go quietly, even when he thinks he just wants someone to end his freefall for him?) My own personal measure of how good it was: I am, as I've written many a time, a complete wimp when it comes to gore. Yet I rewound and watched it again. Completely disgusting, people and one of the most heart-pounding rounds of TV watching I've ever had.