The Most Feminist Boyfriend in the History of TV: An Ode to Crixus
It is not much of a secret that I am one of those mean, feminist types. Not only that, but I am one of those mean feminist types who views everything I watch through a feminist lens, using my experiences as a woman to analyze the media I consume, analyzing this media with jaded, somewhat tired eyes at how the stories of men are always front and center with no regard for the stories of women. Therefore, it was a bit of surprise to me when I began watching Spartacus, and saw a show that not only told the stories of men themselves, but also showed these same men in the supporting roles of women’s stories. Very rarely do we see such a balance, and it’s one of the reasons why this show is just amazing.
But while I gladly sail on the S.S. Nagron with steady hand, and my heart writes love letters to Ilithyia on a daily basis, nothing has amazed me more than the transformation of Crixus from cocky, undefeated champion of the arena to the wise and giving man who has learned that sometimes fighting means nothing more than standing side by side with the woman he loves to offer support as she comes into her own. In the course of two seasons, Crixus has become one of the most feminist-friendly characters in the history of television, and it has been a marvel to behold.
In the first season of Spartacus, I wasn’t necessarily moved by the romance between Crixus and Naevia. I’m not much of a romantic myself, so while the groundwork was laid for a great romance and the two of them had sufficient barriers keeping them apart, it was not something that captured my interest. This isn’t to say that their arc wasn’t well-written. I honestly feel that everyone in the first season was shadowed by the epic, twisted, complicated and insanely well-written and acted duo of Batiatus and Lucretia. Truly, John Hannah and Lucy Lawless were the MVPs of Spartacus season one, which I say not to diminish the other actors. It’s just that these two are such ridiculously talented actors that almost anyone would have been shadowed by them.
What I did love about Crixus/Naevia was a Catch-22 for me. I loved seeing the change in Crixus, where he went from caring nothing about glory and honor in the arena to being blindsided by feelings that he obviously had no experience in. It was both adorable yet heartbreaking in a way to see him first trying to figure this out, then seeing him struggle to keep this relationship alive while he and Naevia were at the mercy of those above them. But of course, this was at the expense of Naevia, who seemed nothing more than a faceless cipher for the development of Crixus, who had no characterization beyond being beautiful and gentle. At this point, their story in season one had been told millions of times throughout the history of television, so I found myself more enthralled by Batiatus/Lucretia, Ilithyia, and the seeds of rebellion that were slowly being sown.
In the beginning of season two, I found myself salivating for more Agron/Nasir (which, if you know me, this is not a surprise because Agron/Nasir hits EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY NEEDS WHEN IT COMES TO SHIPS TO THE POINT WHERE IT FEELS LIKE STEVEN DEKNIGHT WROTE THESE TWO SPECIFICALLY FOR ME ALONE), and again not as moved by Crixus’ mission to find Naevia. I was far more interested in seeing how Crixus, who once believed in honor and glory as a gladiator much like Oenomaus, would adapt to Spartacus’ ideals, ideals that Crixus had scoffed at in the first season. I maintain that the Crixus/Spartacus relationship is one of the most dynamic, layered relationships on the show, as they are both so different from each other yet share so many parallels. In a way, Spartacus is almost a father figure to Crixus, as Spartacus has already experienced the same loss as Crixus and is removed enough to be able to help Crixus deal with his grief when he believes Naevia is dead. The scene where Crixus asks Spartacus how he was able to handle the shattering loss of Sura is one of my favorite scenes in the series, another testament to how much Crixus has grown over the course of the series.
But then Crixus and Naevia were reunited, and my expectations for the two were completely shattered in the best way possible.
I had no qualm with Naevia being shell-shocked and traumatized once she joins the rebellion. It may not be interesting to watch, but it was necessary. This show, for all its fantastic, almost cartoonish way of cinematography that may be outlandish and fantasy-like, is always true to one thing; realistic characterization. Naevia was body slave to Lucretia, a house slave before that, and had only known the highest level of luxury that a slave could know. Before she was shipped off to the mines, Naevia had never had reason to harden herself, to learn how to emotionally deal with the true horrors of slavery. If Naevia had been ready to join arms and raise swords the minute she was reunited with Crixus, this would have been highly unrealistic and would have had Naevia remain as the personless cipher she was in season one.
So no, I had no issues with Naevia suffering from PTSD. I had no issues with the slow pace in which Naevia began to reclaim herself. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t think that the show would even attempt to bestow growth for Naevia, because I’m jaded and bitter and media rarely allows female characters to grow simply for the sake of so. There are exceptions, of course (Buffy, Xena, Leslie Knope are a few that come to mind), but the general rule is that female characters exist in proxy to the male characters, to fuel men into further characterization.
So the scene where Naevia commanded Crixus to teach her how to wield sword, so no man would ever harm her again, was a great scene. That may have been enough to sate viewers who were tired of Naevia’s “moping.” But the writers did something I didn’t expect, something I didn’t think they would do, something that ended up filling my heart with joy and happiness so rarely afforded to pop culture feminists.
Not only did Naevia become of the hero of her own story, but Crixus became the supporting character of her story. For many women who bear any sort of strength, it is an unacknowledged, universal truth that many men fear that very strength. Whether it be physical strength (being taller, having more muscles, knowing how to protect oneself) or mental strength (being more intelligent, being more clever and witty) or emotional strength (having control over their emotions, having self-confidence, knowledge that they are wonderful and worthy of respect), society trains men from birth to fear women. Women are bombarded with messages every day reminding us to keep that strength hidden, for fear of being branded as unfeminine and unworthy of love and respect. We are told to hide our intelligence, to keep our opinions to ourselves, to defer and be agreeable, to smile on command, to be beautiful without trying so hard, to hold our tongue, to make sacrifices that are never demanded of men. We are told that the very thing that drives us to live in a world where we are hated is a detriment to finding love, happiness, and the feeling of being whole.
But Crixus not only grants Naevia’s request and begins to train her, but is enthralled by Naevia as she learns and becomes fierce and dangerous. It is apparent in every scene in which we see them training, when she raises her sword and lands a blow, when she refuses to back down when Crixus bests her, how hard she tries and how hard she fights. The actors deserve much credit for this, for being able to convey so much with very little dialogue and screen-time; like the actors who play Agron and Nasir, the actors who play Crixus and Naevia convey everything with their eyes. We don’t have to be told that Crixus is falling more in love with Naevia as she becomes whole, because we see it in every interaction.
All of this wonderful, subtle character development for both Crixus and Naevia comes to head when Ashur (which oh, one day I will write a giant long manifesto about Ashur too. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE CHARACTER ON THIS SHOW THAT DOES NOT GIVE ME FEELS) brings Glaber’s surrender terms, and Naevia declares that she’ll be the one to have his head. The horror and fear on Crixus’ face tells the entire story, but he does not stand in the way. This man, this monster-sized killing machine who could gut Ashur like a fish in five seconds, understands that this is something Naevia must do, without Naevia having to explain it. This man, who is not necessarily the brains of the Spartacus army, easily realizes that this is not his war to wage. He steps aside, and merely watches as Naevia steps forward to slay the first demon that holds space in her dreams.
The parallel of this scene and the scene in the season one finale where Crixus stabs Lucretia just DESTROYS ME WHEN I THINK ABOUT IT. Crixus understands that taking Ashur’s life is something Naevia needs to do because he, too, needed to seek vengeance against his rapist, too. I’m sorry, it may not have been as forceful as the sexual violence Naevia was subject to, and I love Lucretia, but she repeatedly raped Crixus. He was given the choice to sleep with her, or face death, and there was no consent on his part, therefore what Lucretia did to him was rape. I’m not so sure that he consciously realizes this, but I do think he subconsciously recognizes Naevia’s feelings of hopelessness, of pain and suffering, because he too has felt them in similar manner. Stabbing Lucretia brought him a small sliver of peace, and he knows that killing Ashur will bring the same to Naevia. Don’t mind me, I’m just drowning in the Parallels River without a life jacket.
The part where he stops Spartacus from coming to Naevia’s rescue is divine, because you can see it on his face how much he wants to rush over and help her, but no, Naevia will do this on her own. She will do this because she’s earned the right, because she can do this and doesn’t need anyone, let alone another man, save her. Even though it pains him to watch her suffer and bleed, he stands to the side, merely watching and offering support. And the pride on his face when she severs Ashur’s head, and their conversation afterwards (AGAIN ANOTHER PARALLEL TO THEIR FIRST CONVERSATION THIS SHOW DOES PARALLELS SO GODDAMN WELL MMM THE PARALLELS ARE DELICIOUS AND RICH) cements that there is not only love and lust between them, but respect.
And it just boggles my mind, how the show managed to completely humanize Crixus and turn him into someone both capable of killing Roman shits and handling his feels like a motherfucking boss. It is beautiful to see the undefeated Gaul not only become the supporting character, but CHOOSE to become so, and in no way considers this to be weak. That right there is the most important aspect, that Crixus does not view himself to be weak because of his love and respect for Naevia. He rightfully understands that relationships must have balance, must be a partnership, that it is his duty to stand beside Naevia and let her blaze her own path, just as she stands by his. He handles his own shit (and how much do I love that even though he becomes a supporting character in Naevia’s story, he still has his own story as well), she handles her own shit, and they come together to help the other deal with their shit.
These two slaves, pigeonholed into roles by those who wish to demean and debase them, are both free, both their own person. They both have demons, but they are strong enough to face them alone, and they are strong enough to face them together.
And for once, I am moved by the story of the beast learning to love, because Crixus doesn’t just learn to love. Even though he lives in a world where men like him are considered to be savages, even though he is a man who takes life, he learns how to give…and how to give freely.
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