SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Missio” Review

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SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Missio” Episode 2 – In the week since I announced to friends and followers that I would be assuming duties as Daemon’s TV “sexpert” on all things Spartacus, I’ve been assailed by faux well-wishers (“Good luck with that!”) and open deriders (“Wear a condom!”) alike. Their intent, one supposes, is to remain secure and sacrosanct atop pillars of educated advancement so as to tout their elite and discerning tastes. “It’s not exactly The Wire,” another acquaintance chortled.

No, it’s not The Wire. But The Wire was not exactly Spartacus either.

Sure, Spartacus glorifies gore, and of course it lingers on every angle of every human appendage ever imagined. And yes, I’ve heard that most vocal complaint: Spartacus has such a blatant overuse of shocking elements that in the end it makes the sex and violence commonplace, even banal. Ho hum!

I think these people are missing the forest for the trees. These appendages, be they hacked or boldly displayed, are tools (pardon that one) with which to tell a tale. O Spartacus, fret you not, for I am come to defend thee!

(Accountant’s aside: Spartacus doesn’t even really need my help, as it seems to be doing just fine in the ratings, thank you. Last week’s season premiere drew 1.1 million viewers, and the immediate re-broadcast drew almost 0.8 million more. STARZ is not complaining.)

The sword-and-sandals Blood in the Sand prequel surged forward with the promise its first episode tantalized us with, picking up with a beaten and bloodied Batiatus licking his wounds. A more furious John Hannah we’ve never seen, and I forgive the out-of-place Scotsman’s lilt he occasionally flashes for the depth we’re getting to see. I love the fact that we got to watch each small defiance add up, each slave’s subtle affront pricking Batiatus’s already-fragile ego again and again, until finally his cup boildeth’d over, giving us that tasty ending .

I love Batiatus. This is a man who is already certain, deep in his heart, that he will never live up to the grand silhouette of his father. (Awesome we finally get to meet this titan Titus next week!) And yet Batiatus struggles for it, stubbornly kicking and raging and screaming at every unfair twist of fate that makes this impossible task all the harder. “You council me to suck the cock that pisses on me!” he rages at Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), his tantrum in full blow. His affronted ego squashes the terror we know is squirming inside him, and he sets forth in his Great Plan.

Here we get to the blood, and the sex, and the casual display of it all. But these things are so offhandedly shown because: They. Mean. Nothing. The grotesque alley throat-cutting of the fellow gladiator n00b was gruesome because the betrayal was gruesome (giving an extremely fit Nick Tarabay the chance to literally flex his new muscles). And yet it meant nothing. It doesn’t matter. This is what we’re told, time and again:

Because they are slaves, it doesn’t matter. Remember it well, kiddies.

By the time Batiatus has finished with his product placement-filled seduction of the self-pleasuring Quentilius Varas (aided of course by Jaime Murray’s sinfully good Gaia), the whole mess is set in motion. We get a literal double penetration cut-scene as Gannicus (Dustin Clare) is forced to put on a virility display with Melitta (a serenely beautiful Marisa Ramirez), whilst Melitta’s unknowing husband Oenomaus (rock-steady Peter Mensah) is forced to put his sword through his mentor, the now-former Doctore.

Sure, we knew the Gannicus/Melitta thing was coming, just from the foreshadowing, just from his lingering eyes. But I didn’t expect it so soon. I also didn’t expect her to succumb to it as passionately as she did. This isn’t going to go well for any of them.

“I have done a terrible thing,” Oenomaus tells Melitta sorrowfully at the end. She can only answer with, “We do what we must in this house.” I have a feeling she’ll be “doing” again, and the doing will be of her own accord, with or without the house’s permission.

If you didn’t stick around for the end, more the fool were you. We’re treated to a celebratory threesome between Batiatus, Lucretia, and Gaia. So what, right? Business as usual in Spartacus land. Gratuitous gratuity!

Not so fast, gentle readers. Because in between lingering glimpses of these writhing, lusty, careless nobles, we also glimpse a few carefully-framed, art-worthy shots of Gannicus and Melitta, their expressions showing the depth of their stunned conflict, being escorted back into their cells, and we see the deeply-etched grief Oenomaus feels for the mentor he just slew. And then we understand.

It matters. Maybe not to the ones it should, not the ones in power, so casually entwined with one another, the ones who so callously end lives with a gesture or a word. It matters to the ones beneath their notice. To these slaves; these people.

To them it really matters.

With the dichotomy we get some quality depth. And we turn the page. Can’t wait for next week. What about you? What say about this week’s episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena “Missio”? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.