Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Spartacus Gods of the Arena: The Bitter End

The finale of Spartacus: Blood and Sand's prequel series managed to surprise me again, which was nice, and was suitably dramatic with enormous amounts of fake blood all over the place. Less sex this week though, everyone was far too busy to have time for that.

We open with Pater's funeral, at which Not!Octavian, on behalf of Max from Neighbours, turns up to demand Gannicus, or ban Batiatus from the Games for good. Xena, meanwhile, smirks and grins evilly with such relish that Batiatus is truly blinded by grief, love or both not to see it. DSG has been mourning his wife somewhat more quietly, while Gannicus prowls around in the background.

Batiatus gives his dad the traditional Spartacus funeral, surrounded by gladiators in their tiny panties. (Other elements of the ceremony, like the death masks of their ancestors, are more accurate). Batiatus announces that he's overturning previous decisions, and no one, not even Big Silly Beard Man, is going to the mines. Then he sets the gladiators against each other to fight in honour of his father, which makes sense, as gladiatorial combat originated in funeral rites and Games continued to be celebrated in honour of the dead throughout Roman history. Crixus is still sulking about Gannicus giving up instead of getting beaten properly, and Gannicus, unsurprisingly, is fed up of hearing about it.

Gannicus tells Batiatus he wants to be sold to Max so he can off him, in revenge for Wife. Batiatus points out the sale will send him to Not!Octavian and he'll be sent off to Nola for who knows how long, but Gannicus has obviously seen Gladiator and is quite happy to wait until an opportunity to stab Max in the back presents itself.

Earring tells Xena she's welcome to come stay with him if she needs to, trying and failing not to look pervy while doing so. He has guessed that Max might not have poisoned the wine, but he suggests Not!Octavian did it instead, and everyone misses the look of panic that crosses Xena's face. Batiatus and Earring go off to scheme together and Xena re-brands Naevia to be her new body slave. Xena tells Naevia she understands why her former slave left, but can't forgive it - but she does promise that she'll only give Naevia to the best men and will preserve her viriginity for a good while.

Earring tells Max and Not!Octavian that Gannicus is being sent far away, which makes Max quite cross, and he is only prevented from skewering Earring like a kebab right there when he's assured the ship hasn't left yet. Not blessed with too many brains, that one.

Batiatus, Gannicus, DSG and Barca hang around waiting for Max to walk into their trap while Gannicus sulks that no one liked his plan. Max, Not!Octavian and Earring wander into the square and are ambushed by the Silly Beard Men, and general violence breaks out. Since they've picked a very dark back alley for this game, it's quite hard to see what's going on, but Barca seems to take a pretty nasty stab wound at one point; the man must be made of steel to have survived that. DSG gets hold of Max but Batiatus has truly gone over to the dark side and wants to torture him first because, being a Roman, he's never seen a James Bond film and doesn't realise it's best to kill people straight away if you really want rid of them.

Earring visits Not!Octavian, who is hanging by his wrists, to have a little chat. They don't seem overly keen to kill him, as they want him to claim that Max has set sail for Antioch, and Earring also has 'personal matters' (i.e. betraying Batiatus) to discuss with him.

Xena is still trying to get pregnant by Crixus, and still claiming she's only doing it out of necessity. Crixus tells her he sees her as a woman unlike any he's ever met before and she chooses to take this as a compliment. Xena demands that he get a shave and a haircut and off come the tiny panties.

Max does not take well to having the ashes of Batiatus' father literally shoved down his throat (and nor would Pater, one suspects, if he knew about it. Clearly, Batiatus is not a religious man, as proper burial was extrememly important in the ancient world, and being ingested by a torture victim probably doesn't count as a proper burial). Max tries to point out he didn't do it, but no one believes him and they stab him and then bury him alive in the foundations of the new arena.

We cut to the opening of the new arena, where Not!Octavian does his job perfectly, though he still manages to put the verbal boot in once more by calling being a lanista 'low'. He also reveals that he's transferred all his gladiators to Earring, which was not part of Batiatus' plan, and Batiatus makes a face as if he's just eaten some bad meat. Earring tells Not!Octavian not to come back while he's alive, which, since he's been offed in the main series, may mean we see him again in season 2. Earring explains to Batiatus exactly what he thinks of him and Batiatus makes the face again - you'd think, after helping him get rid of Max, he'd be more wary of Batiatus really.

There's to be an execution before the Games begin and Naevia's unfortunate friend has been caught and is about to be executed. It's a shame, as it would have been nice to see her again in season 2, but it makes the point - that running away frequently ends badly and deciding to do so is not a simple decision. She does manage to nod goodbye to Naevia before meeting her (surprisingly quick and simple, for a theatrical execution) end.

Barca is still walking, but not fighting, what with the massive gaping stomach wound he got brawling with Max and his men. Gannicus tells DSG he no longer wants to fight and die for the house of Batiatus and DSG tells him to fight in the memory of Wife instead. Crixus, who has finally got rid of the Jesus look at Xena's request, is up first.

The Games are to open with a series of fights to the death between Batiatus' and Earring's gladiators. We see a series of fights accompanied by the traditional rock soundtrack and interspersed with splashes of fake blood flung all over the camera. There's gouging, stabbing, chopping, red stuff flying out in fountains and everyone fights with a helment except Gannicus, so we can see which one he is. The director is so intent on the bloodshed in the arena, we don't even see any women in the crowd with their tits out, though we do get the odd shot of the rich guy's perverted friend doing his best impression of Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator (there are a lot more similarities to Gladiator than usual this week).

Crixus is relishing the idea that once they've got rid of all Earring's men, he will get to fight Gannicus. They then carry on fighting even though it's nightime and floodlights have not yet been invented. It's all very dramatic but not terribly practical, as there's just no way anyone would be able to see them properly. They've also broken out some really special underwear, which is longer than the tiny panties and colour coded so we can see who's on which team.

The gladiators from both houses are gathered together in the middle of the arena and then a fire is lit in a circle all around them (created using oil, presumably, since it pours nicely and petrol also hasn't been invented yet). This does at least explain how the spectators are expected to see them, though it doesn't seem very safe in a brand new, partly wooden structure in a hot, dry climate.

The music gets really quite excited at this point and brings in the choir, and the women in the audience finally get excited enough to get their tits out again. The Sily Beard Men (Big one identifiable by the bandage over his eye) start attacking each other, which doesn't make Batiatus look good at all, and then there's some very dramatic stuff with a flaming net, at which point I'm glad Mum isn't watching this series with me, as she hates fire. The circle of fire, I should add, is behaving remarkably well despite the dry sand it's been lit on. Earring and Rich Perverted guy have a good old laugh at the fact Batiatus' men keep fighting each other while heads get chopped and gladiators jump dramatically in slow motion.

Finally, only Crixus, Gannicus and one of Earring's men are left standing. Crixus gets wounded and Gannicus throws him out of the circle (miraculously, without him touching the flames) and takes on Earring's man. He then get comprehensively beaten, while the crowd get so excited they start brawling with each other. Gannicus is still alive, though, so he nods to DSG and gets up again, killing Earring's man with a spear through the mouth while the choir on the soundtrack get really, really excited. The guy's chin sorts of breaks and falls off (you can hear the cracking sound) and down he goes, and Gannicus stands triumphant in the middle of a carpet of bodies.

Gannicus has won and everyone is very happy except for Crixus and Earring. Earring suggests they should free Gannicus, which is pretty fair, actually, and the crowd go wild. Batiatus makes the bad food face again, as does Xena, and Gannicus looks like he's not quite sure what to do with himself.

Back at the ludus the next day, Xena and Batiatus sulk at the fact Gannicus actually wants to leave, but Xena cheers them by suggesting they focus on Crixus instead. Poor Barca insists he'll join Gannicus one day (sniff) and Crixus is still sulking that they haven't had a proper fight yet, so Gannicus tells him to win his own freedom and come find him - so we'll see Gannicus again in season 2. That's nice, I hadn't expected that. We see Gnomey Silly Beard Man limping in the background, reminding us that he pretty much hates everybody. DSG gives Gannicus his wooden sword, the symbol of his freedom, and he and Gannicus make plans to meet up with Wife and each other in the afterlife (I wonder if there's a designated spot for finding your loved ones in the afterlife, since everyone seems so confident of finding each other there despite what must be some serious over-population).

Gannicus walks off into CGI Capua and DSG cracks his whip Symbolically to start the day's training. Batiatus handily insists that he never wants to hear the names of Gannicus, Max or Not!Octavian again, which explains why no one's ever referred to them in the main series. Batiatus speechifies about how he looks forward to a better future, and he declares that they'll get just reward for what they've done, and we cut to the Blood and Sand shot of him and Xena lying dead (actually, Xena's only nearly dead, her mouth's still moving) on their own floor, covered in blood and holding hands, while we hear Spartacus declaring that he will see Rome tremble.

This was an effective finale, which surprised me by letting Gannicus escape alive - I thought for sure he was a goner. Presumably, this means he will turn up in season 2 at some point and possibly the truth will come out about Wife and him and even Xena, since no one's caught her yet and on TV, poisoners are always caught by someone, even if they get away with it overall (even Livia 'fessed up to Claudius). It's nice seeing a gladiator actually get properly, legally freed and the final shots are very effective - though the sense of tragedy we were made to feel at Batiatus and Xena's deaths in the first episode is undercut in this last one by the reference to Barca's hopes for freedom and Batiatus' reference to a just reward for all they've done, which does rather put you back on Spartacus' side. I wonder if Gannicus will turn out to have signed up for the army and if he will fight or even kill Crixus (though it would be more satisfying if Crixus killed or just defeated him - I like Gannicus, but I like Crixus more and it's strangely frustrating watching him itch to beat Gannicus all series and never getting to do it). All in all, a good job, though let down for me a bit by things that are daft to the point of ridiculousness - chiefly the final showdown, which was all very dramatic, but totally impractical in an era without electricity or fire extinguishers.

Now that appetites have been thoroughly wetted for season 2, it'll be interesting to see how the show fares without the structure of the ludus and the arena. Hopefully the character conflicts set up here will help to hold the thing together and the CGI artists won't get too overworked having to create actual different locations as Spartacus' group start to move around Italy...


  1. Oh my gawd, your writing cracks me up! This was hysterical.

  2. Right. You've convinced me. I'm going to have to watch these now.

  3. @Vicky - Thanks! :)

    @Ali - they're great, just be prepared for *a lot* of blood!

  4. Okay. I started Spartacus: Blood and Sand, but couldn't get through the first episode because there were too many cliches and cheesy action sequences. Does it get better? Is it ultimately worth my time?

    Also, I've gotten into Steven Saylor's Gordianus books, and you're entirely to blame. Or credit. They're pretty good! :)

    One question I've been dying, dying to ask a Classics expert for some time now was inspired various pop culture portrayals of ancient Rome. See, it seems like whenever they want to show you a sympathetic Roman character living in imperial times, they always make them somebody who wants the Republic back (Maximus in Gladiator, Falco in the MDF mysteries, etc). But is that realistic? It almost seems too much like a projection of modern ideals to me; did post-Augustan Romans ever think in terms of "wanting the Republic back"? How did they think of that period themselves?

  5. A lot of people feel Spartacus gets better around episode 5. I think it does get better as it goes along, but it is built on cliches and cheesy action sequences, so it may just not be your thing!

    Love the Gordianus books - they're so richly detailed.

    A lot of Silver Latin literature (written in the first century AD, in the early Empire) is written by writers with obvious Republican sentiments who do want the Republic back - Lucan's Civil War especially. A lot of people of senatorial class wanted the Republic back because they wanted some power back. But whether someone like Falco, who wouldn't be looking at a political career anyway, would be interested in getting the Republic back is harder to say. it also depends who's emperor at the time! (And whether they keep killing members of the upper classes or not).

  6. Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. I can't see the point of making a guy like Falco want the Republic back then, except for making him easier for a modern audience to relate to.

  7. Oh and speaking of the Gordianus books, I made a TV Trope page for that series. :)


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