Spartacus Gods of the Arena: Missio

Like the first season episode 'Great and Unfortunate Things', this episode was much lower on sex and violence than usual and rather more depressing (not to mention difficult to be amused by). As with that episode, this almost certainly makes it a better show, but you can't help feeling a tiny bit of guilty disappointment, because when you sit down to be amused by ridiculous levels of public nudity and people being hacked up in interesting ways and instead are made to really care about the horrible tortures being visited on the characters, it can be a bit of a sobering experience.

Batiatus is still alive, just about, but his appearance is now scaring small children after the almighty beating inflicted on him by Max from Neighbours' minions. (I'm reminded of Max's character in Neighbours, and temporarily amused by the idea of Max suddenly giving up on the whole responsible single father thing and getting in to the hired hit men/organised crime business instead. That could been an interesting development for the character - and actually, I wouldn't put it past Neighbours when it's in an overly melodramatic mood). We skip to a week later, at which point the girl from Hustle comfortingly reassures Batiatus that his wounds look 'less gruesome' (in fact, you can barely see them, at least from the back, though the bare bottom randomly on display was a little distracting). His face is still a bit bruised, though.

Max and Not!Octavian are enjoying some good plotting while our old friend with the fabulous earring goes pot-shopping (actual pots, not drugs, though knowing this show, probably both). Max insists on accompanying Earring to visit Batiatus.

Hustle-girl fancies Crixus, which Naevia clearly doesn't yet since she doesn't know his name. Hustle-girl flirts with a slave-girl we don't know (who is, presumably, doomed). DSG, Crixus and Gannicus engage in gladiator-style pissing contests, which are of course a bit bloodier than the regular kind.

We discover that Silly Beard Man speaks a different langauge, which makes a pleasant change. He speaks it to another man with a silly beard, so presumably they are from the same place, and everyone else must be speaking Latin. Historically, after the Spartacan revolt, lanistas stopped putting gladiators who spoke the same language or were from the same place together, because one of the reasons the revolt was as successful as it was was that the rebels could all communicate. That hasn't really come up in the series though, possibly because the makers don't think blood and tits go very well with subtitles (they obviously haven't seen enough Fellini). There really ought to be more languages around, but they are making up for this lack by going all out on the abbreivated English. I think 'Close f**king mouth' is my favourite short-English-Latin-thing so far.

Batiatus reminisces about his father's greatest gladiators, so of course, we get to see them all (they all have their own colour palette, it's like a rainbow of gladiators. It reminds me of a picture book I absolutely loved as a child, about a little girl who goes on an adventure in a rainbow and visits a series of brightly coloured lands with various exciting flora and fauna - only this version has fewer cute animals and more fake blood.). Earring tries to persuade Batiatus to sell Gannicus to Max, and they argue, but Xena gets between them. It emerges that Quinctilius Varus is coming to Capua, looking for gladiators (not, presumably the Quinctilius Varus, but his grandfather). Batiatus is feeling the strain and decides that all gladiators that surrender will be sent to the mines (a worse fate than the arena, since the work is constant and there's no opportunity to win your freedom, plus the silver was worth more than the slaves so slaves died quickly).

Gannicus boasts that he would beat and kill DSG if it came to it, because he has never seen the Scream movies and doesn't realise that saying things like this gets you an automatic one-way ticket to Deadtown. This worries DSG's wife, while Gannicus feels that, as they are slaves, there's no point worrying about the future since they can't make any decisions, which is a fair point and explains his cheerful demeanor and lack of resentment over his position. After passing Barca snogging in the corridor, presumably to remind us that he's still alive, Crixus tells Gannicus he wants to become champion and Gannicus points out this means he must never lose, which is fairly obvious given Batiatus' current mood.

These are the smiles of two people who don't realise they're in a TV show and are therefore guaranteed much misery for daring to look this happy

At this point, having seen Barca's boyfriend go down to his knees but nothing more than that, most viewers are probably starting to wonder what happened to all the sex. This is a good thing, as the episode is all about plot and dialogue and character, but I'm not 100% convinced everyone in the audience will see it like that.

Once again in the spirit of pointing out the obvious, Batiatus has to explain the difference between slaves and recruits to his current Doctore. He then compares Xena to Venus and she tells him he's blaspheming, which is nonsense, Roman religion didn't work that way. If comparing beautiful women to goddesses was blasphemy, there would be no time to punish murderers, robbers and so on because the courts would have been completely tied up prosecuting poets.

Hustle-girl has decided to try to snare Varus as a husband while Batiatus' minion distracts Not!Octavian from a planned meeting with him (and they're really getting carried away with the abbreviated English now, everyone seems to have entirely forgotten that English actually has a definite article 'the' and indefinite article 'a', even if Latin doesn't. What I really want is for someone Greek to turn up and start speaking in a ridiculously verbose manner with no abbreviations at all, to reflect the fact that Greek does have definite and indefinite articles). Batiatus' minions do for Not!Octavian as Max had done for him, though they nearly get carried away and kill him - luckily Silly Beard Man has more self-control, but the minion who let the guy see his face gets his throat quite spectacularly cut. No simple line of gushing blood is enough for Silly Beard Man, he practically rips out the whole of the guy's neck. He's obviously missing the usual level of blood and guts as well.

Varus appears and he looks sensible and fairly sane so far - that won't last. Xena and Hustle-girl persuade him to come to their villa where they ply him with wine and all three of them convince him that Not!Octavian's gladiators are rubbish, Batiatus' are much better, and wouldn't he like to hire the men he needs from Batiatus instead. Varus asks for a demonstration and Hustle-girl suggests Crixus should fight Gannicus, even though he's not even marked as a gladiator yet (and is sporting a pronounced limp). Varus then insists that, rather than using wooden practice swords as even Batiatus points out is only practical, they should fight with proper swords.

Considering all we've seen so far this episode is a brief glimpse of Batiatus' bottom, Barca kissing his boyfriend, one cut throat and a few memories, I was expecting this fight to be quite something. It's actually fairly tame, though, since both of them have to survive this episode - Hustle-girl saves Crixus, but annoys Batiatus by focussing more on her marriage plans than on gladiator-shopping. Xena encourages him to trust her, which is bound to end badly as well. Though I guess I should stop saying that, since this is all ultimately leading to the bloodbath we saw at the end of season 1 anyway.

Batiatus takes his temper out on his Doctore and fires him from the position, then tells Gannicus he has to go do whatever Varus wants him to do. Varus decides he wants to watch Gannicus have sex with DSG's wife because he's too tired to do it himself. Given that they've allowed her to get married, Batiatus and Xena actually look a little embarrassed about this, not that that stops them. They're clearly much less into rape and sexual abuse at this point than they would be by the time of the main series. Meanwhile, the old Doctore gives the mark to the Silly Beard Men (Syrians apparently) without the oath, and when DSG challenges him, picks a fight with him with the steel swords still lying around from the earlier demonstration.

Feeling the need to make up for lost time, the director now gives us close-up shots of Gannicus' backside while he shags DSG's wife, and Varus masturbates, all while DSG has an especially dramatic showdown with the old Doctore in the rain which ends with him spearing the guy just as everyone else reaches their happy moment. That's two episodes in a row that have put together images of sex and fighting - perhaps they needed more time for plot and dialogue but didn't want to lose either sex or violence, so started just putting them all together... To be fair, though, this scene is rather well done and although the rain, darkness, cliff edge etc in the fight is a bit over the top, it works on a dramatic and emotional level.

DSG has to 'fess up to Batiatus, but Batiatus acknowledges that it was his fault really and agrees to send his wife along 'when she's finished her duties'. Which currently consist of getting dressed and feeling guilty while Batiatus orders her not to tell DSG. She goes away to wash, and she would be sitting in the bottom of the shower looking miserable if the Romans had had showers.

Hustle-girl, meanwhile, joins Xena and Batiatus for a threesome and the director tries to use the last minute or so to make up for the unusually low amount of sex in the rest of this episode. The final scene, though, belongs to DSG and his wife both feeling guilty, as she reassures him that they do what they have to do in that house.

There was an astonishing lack of either blood or tits in this episode, by Spartacus' standards. This series is also taking the issue of slaves forced to have sex with their masters or with each other much more seriously than season 1 did. Where, previously, we've watched Batiatus casually rape slaves while chatting to Xena, Naevia getting Xena started and various slaves ordered to have sex with each other and it's been presented almost as background noise, here the dilemma of a slave in such a position is fully explored and the implications for DSG's wife are shown to be serious and traumatic. This was a good, solid, dramatic episode and the series seems to be heading in the direction of some quality drama - though if they're going to become too serious, they're going to need to start putting some jokes in soon, or it'll start to get really depressing.


  1. I am very glad someone is picking up on the issue of slave rape in this show. Like you I found it one of the particularly disturbing things last series; the violence is one thing because (for the most part) the Gladiators actually embrace what they are doing and there is a certain... acceptability almost to two guys trying to kill each other when they know the rules of the game.

    But yes, the slaves have absolutely no choice in what they do - as they rather clumsily fore-shadowed in the Oenomaeus / Militta / Gannicus conversation near the start of the episode.

    I would say that it's great that they are actually presenting this as an every day occurrence - it's one of the biggest traumas of life as a slave, and now we're having it delved into.

  2. That's true - as long as they treat it seriously, it's good to see them looking into it properly - the way slaves were flung about for the titiallation of the viewer in the previous series was a bit of a problem (I don't mind so much when it's consensual and men and women get equal exposure, as it were, but when it's rape, that's more problematic).

  3. Yeah I completely agree with that as well. For example, I didn't have any problem with any of the Crixus / Naevia romps in S1, because they both wanted it.

    I did have a problem, particularly, with one scene when Batiatus has sex with a slave in the bath in front of Lucretia (for the latter's enjoyment). I think that, although we were clearly meant to feel sorry for her, there was no further examination of this. I get that they can't go into every slave's traumas because there'd be no time left for anything else, but I think that now they are acknowledging what this does we know that it is something that concerns the producers.

    Incidentally, I know I really should not feel this way, but it always seems worse to me when the victim is a woman. I know that really shouldn't matter, but it does feel that way to me. Case in point, despite the fact that Crixus really didn't want to be with Lucretia in S1, it didn't have the same effect on me as the Melitta / Gannicus incident last night. I don't know why that is - perhaps just out-dated thinking.

  4. At last! I've finally figured out how to comment on your blog. You're my favourite (non-politics) blogger. As a non-classicist I hope to learn as much as I can from your witty writing.

    'It reminds me of a picture book I absolutely loved as a child, about a little girl who goes on an adventure in a rainbow and visits a series of brightly coloured lands with various exciting flora and fauna - only this version has fewer cute animals and more fake blood.)'

    May I ask the title of said book? I have a niece who is six. I'm sure she would love such a story.

    Thank you


  5. Thanks Sam! I wish I could remember the title of the book - I read it in the school library when I was about six or seven and haven't been able to find it since. It was about a little girl who was born under a rainbow, and on her seventh birthday, she gets to go on this magical journey through the lands of the rainbow, and the illustrations were all beautifully coloured in the colours of the rainbow. If anyone knows what it's called, please tell me, I'd love to find it again!

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  7. 'magical journey through the lands of the rainbow'

    I promise you I'm not being sarcastic, but that sounds WONDERFUL.

    On an unrelated note, did Romans really go about shouting 'Jupiter's cock!' and 'Juno's cunt!' like they do in HBO's Rome and Spartacus. They've very much become my favourite curse words.

  8. The book really was wonderful, I loved it so much! If only I'd owned it, rather than just reading it in the library!

    I don't know much about Roman swear words - most forms of literature don't include many, though I'm sure specialists in epigrams would know more, they're often extremely rude. They had equivalents for all the usual types of swear word I think, and certainly plenty of sexual naughty words that come up in the epigrams. I think they might have said things like 'Not even Juno's cunt could persuade me to do that' or 'His cock's bigger than Jupiter's' (if they were lucky!) but whether they used those precise phrases, I'm not sure - any epigram experts know the answer?!

  9. Wow, didn't enjoy your retelling of the series/episodes. Its beend done before but way better.


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