This episode, like the previous one, continues to take the horrible things inflicted on various slave characters seriously, which is good, but rather depressing. We also get a couple of fights in the arena, but even these are a bit low on mad gushing fountains of blood and actually not quite as powerful as DSG's melodramatic rain-battle in the previous episode - I get the sense the show is saving itself up for the finale...
Batiatus gives his troops - sorry, gladiators - an inspiring speech and declares DSG to be Doctore, and appears to give Gannicus some kind of promotion. Everyone is inspired.
The abbreviated English is all over the place now, which is kind of cool - though it is reaching the point where I expect people to start talking about how 'I shall stick sword of mine into the belly of my opponent and then drink wine of Batiatus' or even 'blood of the having-been-stabbed gladiator pours by/before a group of males which may or may not include some women', just to make it sound really like Latin.
Batiatus is in a good mood, which given he's having a threesome with two beautiful women, has bested his business enemies and has a magically swift-healing face (the bruises are gone, there's just one scratch left) is not really surprising. The mood is slightly dented by the arrival of his father, who does not appear to be remotely amused (perhaps he's wondering why he, an Antipodean, has managed to produce a Scottish son).
Batiatus' father is very cross, and Xena flies into a panic, hoping that a fancy dinner will somehow placate him (and correctly pointing out the power of the paterfamilias over them all). Meanwhile, the Silly Beard Men, having received the Mark, experience the joy of initiation rituals and overreact, while Crixus appears to be auditioning for an Easter film, running around with an enormous plank of wood on his shoulders. He still hasn't cut his hair and beard, which increases the sense that he's about to be crucified - presumably he's going to have an Important Haircut when he dispatches Gannicus in the last episode. All the gladiators, and Wife as well, seem to like Pater very much, possibly because he wasn't in the habit of making them rape each other or fight to the death on a rich person's whim.
Pater throws his support behind DSG when Barca starts kicking off, so Barca and his worse half turn their attention to sexually harrassing Crixus, which displeases the Silly Beard Men. Pater meets up with Max from Neighbours and Not!Octavian who as good as accuse Batiatus of the whole Not!Octavian-beating-nicking-Varus'-business plot from last episode. Pater happily goes along with them and doesn't seem to have enquired what exactly happened to Batiatus' face that prompted all this, which introduces me to the novel experience of feeling sorry for Batiatus.
Gannicus gives Crixus a pep talk and gives him a tip on how to best Barca and/or his worse half (that'll come in handy later). Gaia starts reminiscing about Gannicus' sexual prowess and Xena shows an unusual degree of humanity by suggesting that they possibly shouldn't discuss Wife's emotionally traumatic rape in front of her. At this very moment, Varus turns up with a friend wanting to use the household as a brothel-come-live-pornography-factory and threatens to take his business elsewhere if they don't oblige so Xena, trying to avoid putting Gannicus and Wife through that again, offers a gladiator and a virgin (both the offered virgins actually look reasonably happy about it at this point - either they fancy every gladiator in the ludus or they're confident the rich pervert will pick someone good. Later developments suggest the latter). Clearly whatever happens in the rest of this series is so traumatic that it hardens Xena and Batiatus into the virtual pimp and madam they've become by the main series, as she genuinely looks uncomfortable with this arrangement.
Earring is cross with Batiatus for plotting without him and Pater has made a deal with Max and Not!Octavian which involves Gannicus not appearing in the Games, off with a fake injury, and others being paired against each other - Barca against someone random, and Crixus against Barca's worse half (given the absence of said worse half from the main series, we can guess how that will end).
Crixus. I think this might be his Determined Look (not to be confused with Constipated, though the two may be quite similar).
Varus' hideously creepy friend (who has no virgin slaves in his house, and it's not hard to guess why not) examines Naevia and Doomed Slave, who is obviously going to be chosen because Naevia was still a virgin at the beginning of the main series - though given the way she's sexually assaulted here before he chooses, she hardly gets off scot-free. He then gives directions to the pair of them in a dark and creepy room while explaining why he picked the grossest gladiator in the ludus to the weeping girl. I can only assume he's going to die really horribly at some point because he's one step down from Satan on a sliding scale of evil.
The Silly Beard Men have eaten Barca's worse half's pigeons, which results in a brawl in the canteen (sadly lacking in sloppy food to throw around in a food fight). Crixus refuses to join in because he doesn't yet wear the Mark (or, maybe, because he's the only sane one there and has no desire to join in an extra beating). Pater and Batiatus interrupt to give them their instructions for the Games, which the gladiators then choose to discuss while wandering around naked, treating us to excellent views of Barca's backside and Crixus' manhood. Clearly we'd seen too many breasts and not enough of the last chicken in the shop so far this episode. Gannicus continues the Wise Mentor advice, possibly hoping to die nobly fighting a monster on the cliff edge or something equally apporpriate to a Mentor character.
Xena is not happy about all the pimping being in vain and starts pouring Pater wine - I'd be careful about drinking that if I was him. He declares that the fight between Crixus and Barca's worse half will be a test of which of him and Batiatus is a better lanista. And with that, we finally get to the Games themselves, where Crixus gets one last pep talk from Batiatus - the man must be running entirely on the power of inspirational speeches, since we've seen much more of that than of actual combat training (which mostly consisted of verbal and sexual abuse from Barca).
The first fight begins and Barca nearly gets the audience, then throws his opponent right at them before Varus grants life - which leads to boos, thus ensuring the death of Barca's worse half, while Pater keels over in a fit of coughing (bet it was that wine). Max and Varus insist that he address the crowd while standing right on the edge of a high platform and I half expect them to push him off. The crowd boos Crixus (who is wearing fabulous Mercury-wings on his helmet) and cheers Barca's worse half, though they can't be that excited, as no one has got their tits out yet. Barca's worse half's helmet has horns on it that make him resemble the Highland cow from Neverwhere.
Crixus bleeds early, which is Rule of Television No, 702: In any fight, the eventual winner must bleed first so that it looks like he's in trouble, to make sure the rest of the fight is sufficiently tense. We go into slow motion as Barca's worse half nearly gets him, and Crixus gets that final burst of energy always seen in these things, jumps up, follows Gannicus' advice by making sure his opponent loses the spear and does for his opponent in one stab wound, without even needing audience approval. Said opponent's last words are 'Barca has taught you well', which is sort of sweet. Crixus does that champion arms-in-the-air thing he did so often in the main series and back at the ludus, he gets the Mark at last. Gaia points out that Crixus might be quite attractive to Xena and Barca tells him he fought well, which is short for 'I'm pretty upset that you killed my partner, but I know you only did what you had to and you're clearly pretty handy with a sword, so let's be sort-of friends'.
Pater declares that all the excitement has persuaded him that he should stay put until he dies, which gets him a narrow-eyed Plotting Look from Batiatus. I'd recommend deadly nightshade Batiatus, I'm pretty sure that's one of the tasteless and quick poisons.
The introduction of Batiatus' father introduces an interesting new dynamic into this episode, but the really interesting parts are Xena's reactions to her increasingly seedy and abusive use of her slaves and gladiators. She looks uncomfortable and slightly ashamed, but remains determined to do what she has to to keep Varus' business, and her expression in response to Gaia's comments about Crixus is a nice bit of foreshadowing of their relationship (which, of course, she somehow convinced herself was mutually affectionate in the main series). We can see how she goes from a relatively normal person who only slept with her husband in the first episode of the prequel series to the madam and adulteress she has become by the main series clearly, hardening herself to the perversion she's facilitating while starting to see the attraction of gladiatorial sex for herself. (As a sign of her more innocent outlook, she also has much nicer and more natural-looking wigs in this prequel series). Whether Batiatus' transition from ambitious man to cutthroat pimp and murderer will be as well dealt with remains to be seen - there's something rather pantomime villain about that last look he gave his father that suggests his transformation may be rather less subtle.