The final episode of the most incredible television series of all times is titled “Victory.” In it, Spartacus and companions are slaughtered by the hordes of Rome, after putting up the bravest of resistances. It is a heartbreaking finale all around, with all but one of the main characters in the show’s 4 season run still alive. Why then, title the episode with such an upbeat word?
Something similar occurs in 300, when King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) speaks of victory shortly before facing down death in the form of a rain of steel arrows. Can victory really be found in defeat, or are they just noble excuses to make the audience feel better that the characters they’ve come to known and love did not survive?
In the case of Spartacus, and having watched the entire series multiple times, I feel victory was never achieved. From start to end the story is a tragedy, peppered with rousing moments of celebration, but ultimately ending the way it was always meant to, which was death and crushing defeat. The fact that the series follows a man who eventually leads thousands of people to their death is just another testament to how unlike anything else ever seen this television series really was.
In the case of the endlessly quotable 300, I feel Leonidas was right. Their betrayal at the hand of one of their own only further amplified their epic deeds, and only aid in cementing the support Sparta would receive from the rest of the Greek city states. This, of course, ended up in ultimate victory.