SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Paterfamilias” Review

spartacus gods of the arena episode 3

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Paterfamilias” Episode 3 – Now that I’ve contented myself to sit back and fully enjoy the joyful mayhem that is the Spartacus series, I can see its excellence all the clearer. Probably no series has had the “senseless sex and violence” tag (fairly or unfairly) so quickly affixed. From the comments I get from various people, it’s still trying to overcome those accusations.

Which is why I was glad we got “Paterfamilias” today. Granted, compared to most shows, this episode could still be called violent. But when you compare it to the Ghost of Spartacus Past, this episode was nearly bloodless. Which isn’t to say it didn’t stack on the horror. The slow terror that was the two-man rape of the virgin slave Diona (a tragically good Jessica Grace Smith) was all more horrifying because it was done so casually, disdainfully. Most violent rape scenes don’t come across as emotionally scarring as this one did. We were as guilty as Lucretia (Lucy Lawless, par excellence), sitting back and watching it happen right before our eyes. And we couldn’t look away.

(Worse for Diona that it was orchestrated by a Roman noble in guyliner and an emo version of the Caesar haircut.)

I think the overt violence was pared back on purpose, helping the impact of Diona’s rape. Creepy. And who would have ever guessed House Batiatus would have become Voyeur Central? The creeps are coming out of the woodwork now.

The one seemingly-gratuitous sex scene in “Paterfamilias” was merely a setup for that record-scratching Stop Everything moment where daddy Titus (Jeffrey Thomas, walking the wire between disdainful and doddering) stumbles onto his son, the younger Batiatus (John Hannah) en coitus with semi-permanent-houseguest Gaia (Jaime Murray) and Lucretia. I’m a little amazed Murray doesn’t have permanent scarring after seeing how hard ol’ Hannah was chewing on her teat. (And I wondered, at the time, do they have insurance for that?) The whole scene was too artfully framed and too pretty, too dreamlike, to last long without being extremely cheesy, so coitus interruptus is exactly what made it work. (Please note that interrupted sex is only great when it’s not happening to you.)

The main (pardon) thrust of the show was the destined ascension of Crixus (Manu Bennett, continuing to impress, though he at times looks like a bug-eyed Henry Rollins playing some psychopath’s version of Jesus), which, because this is a prequel, we knew was going to happen anyway. Still, I like that they are taking the time to show us how he did it; Spartacus: Gods of the Arena revels in its prequel status … and, I don’t doubt the continued success of GotA has aided to the number of sales the Spartacus: Blood & Sand DVD’s and Blu-Rays have enjoyed of late. I own that now too!

One person who has also impressed the hell out of me is Lucy Lawless. This prequel Lucretia is filled with all sorts of shifting, conflicted emotions, and Lawless lets us see them all. This Lucretia is not as hard-edged (or crazy) as the B&S Lucretia, and Lawless plays her with a younger spirit. It’s not just the makeup, hair, and wardrobe departments taking what appear to be nearly ten years off her age. She’s doing it with body language and with her eyes. Never have I seen such uncertainty from a Lucy Lawless character. (I actually thought she was on the downslide after her forgettable turn on Battlestar Galactica, but color me incorrect, and until she disappoints I am now going to refer to her as Lucy Flawless!) I can’t wait to see more development as she hurtles toward the Lucretia we know and hate.

Another thing that probably goes unnoticed is the dialogue, which really does let the imagination wander to the days of Roman yore. Not just the semi-archaic words the script-writers have thrown onto the pages, but how they’re used. Uncommon syntax, certainly, but delivered in such a way that even words we have never heard before are understandable within the context of what’s happening in the story. (No, of course the Romans did not actually speak with those words. But the spirit, I believe, remains true.) Put it this way: the Romans would sound far worse if they were all, “Yo, Vinnie!” instead of “Ave, Vincentus!” The language flows, and to my non-educated ears it sounds natural.

Well, except perhaps for one character. Seriously, does anyone curse half as much as Hannah’s Batiatus? He almost strings together more expletive-laden sentences than Deadwood’s Al Sweringen. Hannah gets that look, nostrils flared, arms waving about, and he’s growling in that peevish voice, “They faaaaaahking pess and shet in my faaaahking house while they faaaahking ram their greedy cawks up my faaahking ahss.!”

(Come on, I pretty much got that right. You can hear him in your head right now. Admit it, you can. My Batiatus impression, on paper, is dead on.)

Granted he’s a dude that gets mad an awful lot. And mad people curse. And I’m glad they don’t say “frak.” But still … I’m going to put a penny in a jar every time Hannah blurts an f-bomb, and at the end of the episode I’ll have at least enough to buy one beer at happy hour.

If I had one regret with “Paterfamilias” it was a lack of Melitta and Gannicus, though I’m also glad they’re letting it simmer for now; letting ’em both stew for an episode or two, basically. Still liking Dustin Clare, who looks like he could be Colin Farrell and Bo Derek’s lost love child, raised on the Aussie coast and made to wear his surfer hair in braids like mom did in the movie 10. He’s the anti-Crixus, like Andy Whitfield’s Spartacus was, but with a swagger so casual its almost lazy.

Spartacus: still one big, bloody pile of awesome. This is easily sating my hunger for HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones. Too bad we’ve only got three episodes left.

A lot can happen in three episodes. A lot of people will die.

I’ll watch! Who’s with me?!?!?!

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