SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Past Transgressions” Review


SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Past Transgressions” Season 1 Episode 1 – The STARZ prequel to SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND doesn’t pick up where the original series left off. Rather, it gives a more fully-formed backstory to the sweat-and-sand saga as only STARZ can: with copious amounts of spurting blood, naked skin, and a joyous sense of eye-popping mayhem. Notably absent is the star of the first season of Spartacus, Andy Whitfield, who’s off fighting that cancer thing again (his replacement—Liam McIntyre—was just recently announced for the next season). But also absent, or at least muted, are some of the more comic-booky visuals that made the original either ridiculous or psychotic fun, depending upon who you ask.

“Gratuitous gratuity” is the only way I can describe last year’s Spartacus. Most of the people I’ve talked to agree with me: Spartacus: Blood and Sand started weak, but it had a strong and… actually quite startling ending. With Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, it’s obvious a little more thought has gone into it—most notably how the scenes were framed, shot, and edited. A little more money probably went into it as well.

My first chuckle of the night had to go to the parental warning that popped up, denoting the show as “A HISTORICAL PORTRAYAL OF ANCIENT ROMAN SOCIETY.” Now … while I’m not fully versed in the lives and times of the people of first century B.C. Italy, I think it’s fair to say silicone did not play a prominent role, least of all stuffed inside the breasts of their women. And while Gods of the Arena has a much smaller degree of plastic than Blood and Sand had, it’s still there. But hey, I get it; if you throw a handful of silver coins at any number of naked model/actresses, eventually one is going to bounce straight back into your face. It’s like the old saying, when you swing a cat by the… long tail in a room full of… rocking… chairs…

Okay, that parable just wandered away. Call it rookie nerves.

(Yeah, I’m new. Axe here. Hello!)

I really liked “Past Transgressions.” It gives us a softer, gentler Lucretia (a superb Lucy Lawless), with her pre-B&S brown hair and her almost-innocent eyes, and it gives us a nice strong dose of Batiatus, embodied by good ol’ John Hannah, still the master of withering panic despite playing it a far cry different from his desperate days back in those Mummy movies.

We get the intro of Crixus the Gaul (an intense Manu Bennett), whose wild eyes and hair hearken back to Whitfield’s Spartacus. He plays it so well he’s almost unrecognizable as the peacock we loved to hate from the first season.

And Spartacus: Gods of the Arena gives us one swaggering rock-star of a gladiator—fabulous mullet included—named Gannicus, played by Aussie newcomer Dustin Clare. This dude is the WWE and the UFC all rolled into one badass motherfarmer. He eschews a shield to fight with two weapons, employs more barehanded techniques than Chuck Liddell, and wins his last fight of the day—blindfolded—by grabbing the head of his opponent and SAWING the dude’s NECK across the blade of a STUCK SWORD. Over and over and over again.

I mentioned he’s blindfolded, right?

… It’s awesome.

Honorable mention goes to the cut-scene where we’re watching a bound and hooded Batiatus get the crap kicked out of him by nasty thugs (under orders from Tullius, smugly overplayed by Stephen Lovatt)… whilst back home Lucretia engages in opium-fueled lesbian copulation with Gaia, her you-already-know-she’s-trouble house guest (played by Jaime Murray—or as I call her, that hot British pyromaniac chick from Dexter). Gaia sports the über-fake cherry red hair Lucretia will eventually aspire to in B&S, which is a nice little detail.

(Lucy Lawless with another woman. Tip o’ the hat, Xena fans!)

I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Suffice to say Spartacus is either your cup of whiskey or it isn’t. But if Spartacus: Blood and Sand didn’t sit well with you, you may still want to take a gander at Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. Sure, there’s still blood—a lot of it—but at least it’s not of the Mortal Kombat variety. Blood was not used as a scene backsplash, or as artsy exclamation. (There were times in Spartacus: Blood and Sand that spattering blood was akin to an Adam West-era Batman POW! or WHAM! or WHONKK!)

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either. But your mileage may vary.

I was entertained.