Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Spartacus Gods of the Arena: Reckoning


First up, part 2 of my guest post on walking on Cadair Idris, Snowdonia, is up at Criss Crossing the Globe. And now, on to the latest episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, in which I was both proved totally right and genuinely shocked (in a good way)...

Wife dreams that she and Gannicus have sex, predictably, but I'm distracted by the fact she has a tattoo on her shoulder - tattos in general are pretty ancient, but I can't remember whether Romans ever used them or not. Anyway, she then dreams that DSG kills Gannicus while they're having sex (stabbing him through the throat so that blood spurts all over her just like when vampires get staked in True Blood). She's interrupted at the part where he goes to stab her too because she's summoned to Xena, who's mourning Gaia and upset that Pater wants to wipe all trace of Gaia from existence. Wife helps her to hang on to some of Gaia's stuff.

The wide shots of CG-Capua are really quite impressive this season, as Batiatus and Earring wander down the street chatting about how much they hate Max from Neighbours. Earring is actually doing quite well which is a sure sign he's screwing Batiatus in some way and Batiatus will be pissed when he finds out.

Bigger, tougher Silly Beard Man tells smaller, Gnomy Silly Beard Man that he's starting to pick up some Latin, and therefore demonstrates his deep, deep stupidity and signs his own death warrant. Pater tells DSG to organise a contest to determine who the best gladiators are, including Gannicus even though he's still recovering from injury. DSG is really getting into his still-new Drill Sergeant role, quite literally cracking the whip over them, while the slave who's been being used as a prostitute is upset at everybody, including Naevia.

The gladiators get into their contest, using wooden swords for once, but that doesn't stop them hitting each other hard enough to send sprays of blood arcing artistically towards the camera or onto each others' shields. Rock music kicks in, to show us that we are watching Hard Men Being Hard (pun absolutely intended). Batiatus is not impressed that this is happening without him or that Pater is still insisting he divorce Xena. She is even less impressed, of course. Batiatus still hopes she can change his mind and a proper marital domestic argument ensues which ends with Batiatus really driving the metaphorical stake home when he complains she hasn't given him a child - something he immediately regrets, but too late.

DSG and Wife have a very poetic conversation about the House and the weight of its beams and their dreams and secrets and prayer and sex and so on and so forth. I'm wondering where they got all those candles from, given that they have no possessions of their own (though slaves could be given a small allowance, so maybe they bought them with that).

The contest continues on into the next day and Batiatus shows off that he knows the word 'retiarius' (i.e., that the writer of this episode knows the word 'retiarius'). Crixus has to fight some guy we've never heard of, so of course he'll win, though he still hasn't got rid of the Jesus hair. His fight is interrupted by the arrival of Max, invited by Pater. This causes Batiatus to say, 'Tullius should be hurled from cliffs and yet my father bends knee to suck on cock' which is, I think, my favourite line of pseudo-Latin (it sounds almost like it's come straight out of Martial, a poet who wrote short epigrams that were often very rude). Meanwhile, as Batiatus and Xena continue to watch the fight and just as Xena apologises again for the whole lack-of-baby thing (assumed, as Roman medicine did, it to be her fault), Crixus gets thrown to the ground with his man-parts, covered only by those small underpants-like garments the gladiators wear that I shall henceforth refer to as their tiny panties, laid out before the viewers on the balcony - this may be my favourite part of foreshadowing ever.

Pater starts giving Max the bollocking he deserves, but gets swayed by promises of future glory. Naevia and her unfortunate friend make up, but the friend, somewhat unsurprisingly, has developed a major death wish.

The fights continue, with all the spectator gladiators standing around in a square shape in their tiny panties as usual. Gnomy Silly Beard Man tells Bigger Silly Beard Man that they have to fight each other next and that he's afraid he'll be sent to the mines if he loses. Gannicus tries to release unwanted energy by whaling on Barca, who is unperturbed because nothing perturbs Barca (even the death of his beloved just made him smile a bit less than usual).

The Silly Beard Men fight each other and Gnomy, on the ground, begs for the chance to end up standing - and takes the oppportunity to blind his opponent when he gets up. We are treated to a close-up of this delightful event, with the bloody eye socket displayed for the camera in all its glory, sticky red stuff flying everywhere. In the absence of head chopping and so on, presumably a bit of extra non-fatal goriness was required.

Gannicus tells Wife he's caught her looking at him and flirts sleazily. They have this conversation with bars between them, which I suspect is Symbolic. Wife tells him she loves her husband and he sulks, just in time for DSG to appear and demand to know what was going on in the Barca-fight, when Barca almost got him.

Xena has sent for Crixus to be a sperm donor. Clearly, she's ahead of Roman medicine in the area of fertility treatment, in that she knows the man might be the problem, but since she thinks Gauls are especially fertile, not that far ahead (maybe this is the source of all the stereotypes about the French being great lovers?) She orders Crixus to remove the tiny panties and have sex with her and they have extremely uncomfortable sex which neither appear to be enjoying at all.

Batiatus doesn't catch them because he's out in the practice area arguing with Pater (perhaps having everyday conversations outside is why Pater has that nasty cough? No, it's poison). Finally fed up of the constant insults, Batiatus grabs a plank to whack him with but stops when the old guy says he loves him. It turns out Max will give them a place in the Games if they give him Gannicus. Batiatus thinks about it for a minute or two, then gives Pater the plank as a 'memento' (surely Pater must have an inkling what he was going to do, since that's a pretty weird memento).

Batiatus joins Xena in the bath and because this is Spartacus, the water only comes up to her waist, where on most other shows she would be sitting with it up to her shoulders for modesty. Batiatus tells her they must leave, since he still refuses to divorce her. They then have a really sweet moment where they just touch heads which is much more tender than all the sex.

Crixus and Gannicus were equal in the contest and need to fight to decide who's Champion, but Pater has already decided to sell Gannicus to Max, despite DSG's objections. Pater eventually agrees that if Gannicus wins, he can stay, but if Crixus wins, Gannicus goes. DSG runs straight to Gannicus to tell him and then the fight begins. Batiatus tells Pater they're off but Pater tells him to stay and watch the contest first and admits that actually Batiatus was right about both Crixus and Gannicus. Down below, blood is flying about all over the place and since they both have much the same hair, it's really hard to tell who's been hurt.

Naevia gives her friend some of Gaia's stuff and tells her to run away - a risky business, as the penalties were horrific if caught. She'll either be caught and we'll see her horribly punished, or she'll turn up in season 2, since she promises they'll meet again - I'm hoping to see her again in season 2 myself.

Pater's still coughing and asking for water, and Gannicus is getting distracted by sex flashbacks in the middle of the fight, which is never good. Luckily he then gets that burst of energy people always get from seeing the object of their affection in the crowd in sports movies, but at that point the flashback gets to the bit where Wife doesn't want him and he lets Crixus whack him upside the head with his shield and surrenders. Crixus isn't fooled and wants to know why he dropped his guard but of course Gannicus doesn't tell him.

Suddenly, Pater drops to the ground coughing and spluttering (it's poison I tell you!). Batiatus runs off to get herbs and DSG joins him, and the most Antipodean-sounding Roman doctor you've ever heard leaves Pater with Xena, which is a really silly move. Wife leaves them completely alone when she asks to be allowed to go and say goodbye to Gannicus. Xena starts telling Pater how much she loves Batiatus, and Pater feels bad about all the being mean to her and says,

'Tell me you're not the serpent I thought you to be'

She replies,

'I am not. I'm far worse'

Then follows an absolutely brilliant scene where Xena reveals that she's been Up To No Good all along. Ever since her marriage, she couldn't stand the way Pater treated Batiatus so she's been poisoning the wine to make him sick (Hah! I knew it!). In fact, she made him sick enough to move away in the first place. She's now put enough in the latest wine, which was sent by Max, to kill him. Her grin at this point is fantastic. Her plan is that it will be obvious he was poisoned, and Batiatus will blame Max and take vengeance - thus avenging Gaia. It's a fantastic scene and Xena really becomes almost Livia-like in her Machiavellian scheming (high praise from me I assure you).

Meanwhile, Gannicus tells Wife he couldn't stand being around her and chose to leave in the grand tradition of superheroes who Leave Because They Love You So Much, so of course she tells him she feels the same and they start to have sex - but are brought to an abrupt halt when Wife starts choking up blood because she's been drinking from the same wine as Pater. Poor Gannicus is left with her spluttering blood all over the place.

Pater tries to choke Xena (he's tough, that one) but of course he's far too weak to succeed. He dies crawling dramatically across the floor in a pool of blood. Wife, despite being equally bloodied, is in a more graceful traditional tragic heroine position, cradled in Gannicus' arms.

Gannicus carries Wife's body out to Xena, who had no idea the slaves had made off with the wine (silly her - all waitresses/servants/slaves drink up the leftover wine, she should have known that). So Xena is genuinely horrified and orders Gannicus not to tell DSG Wife was with him. Batiatus and DSG return to find everyone in uproar and all the linen covered in some blood stains that probably won't come out. Just about every male character roars in a grief-stricken fashion at some point, and the wailing woman Cleolinda refers to as Our Lady of Soundtrack Sorrow oohs and aahs away in the background. End of episode.

This was a brilliant episode, easily the best yet, of either series. We all knew Wife wasn't going to make it to the end of the series, but I'd assumed that DSG would catch her and Gannicus at it and she'd kill herself, or some such. Her sudden, horrible death comes almost out of nowhere and is both shocking and sad. Xena reveals herself to have been the cold-hearted bitca we all knew she was from the very beginning, though her grief for Gaia, love for Batiatus and horror at Wife's death are all real, so she still retains some sympathy. She's most fun as a character, though, when she's grinning evilly at Pater while she does the traditional bad-guy 'you're-dying-anyway-so-why-don't-I-tell-you-and-the-audience-the-whole-story' thing. Batiatus is still much softer than his main series character but presumably he'll let his dark side out when he goes after Max next week. Every character this week felt fully rounded and I even almost welled up in a couple of places. Let's hope next week's prequel finale will be just as good!

6 comments:

  1. Daniel Stewart20 April 2011 11:37

    Agreed it was a brilliant episode.

    Your comments about their clipped language (possibly mimicking the abruptness, for want of a better word, of Latin) in a previous review had me laughing out loud this week and last. A particularly good bit last week, actually, when Batiatus and Pater were in Neapolis was the father saying something like:

    Let us seek libation, to wash taste of shit from mouth.

    It was so wonderfully short it made me hysterical. I always realized the characters on the show spoke strangely, but since you put that together with its debt to Latin, a new layer has been added to the show.

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  2. Oh yes, that was a good one too! I do love the weird Latin-style English, though I prefer it when they hold back a little especially in big scenes, as it can take me out of the story a bit!

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  3. Super review Juliette. This was a great episode, and whilst I too got an inkling of Xena becoming a "poison is Queen" as soon as I heard Pater's first cough, I too was shocked by the death of Dottore's wife.

    Having sex flashbacks during any activity other than sex definitely is never good! ha!

    I think you'll like the finale, it's pretty epic and definitely left me looking forward to the follow up series.

    H

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  4. I love the dialogue, too. Your allusion to Martial is spot-on.

    Street scenes brilliant as usual, too. I cheered at the black sow & piglets in the road (in my 6th Roman Mystery, The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina, some black sacrificial piglets make a break for freedom) and I did a double cheer when I saw chickens. Free-range chickens always gets the production designer of any historical story an extra star.

    Despite using gimmicks like the Dream Sequence shocker (which totally works) this show continues to surprise and delight.

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  5. P.S. Even tone-deaf moi was jolted off the sofa by "Medicus's" Australian accent! They obviously chose him for his look. Should have employed a little ADR!

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  6. Absolutely! I'm not normally bothered, as I know they're Romans and didn't speak English anyway, but an accent as strong as that is just too off-putting!

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