SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Beneath The Mask” Review

spartacus gods of the arena episode 4

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Beneath the Mask” Episode 4 – Well let’s get this first part out of the way:

Meanwhile, back on the set of Caligula

Yes, yes, if the critics of the Spartacus series wanted more ammunition, more proof that this visceral series is more about tit and less about Titus, they needed only to gaze upon the unhallowed halls of House Batiatus this very night. Their eyes, undoubtedly, were filled. Sex, sex, sex!

Naked people writhed as far as the eye could see; the women jiggled, with merkins of varying color and shape on display, and the men swung low (sweet chariot!), covered only by the masks that gave the series’ 4th episode its title. All that was missing for a Caligula revisit were the naked, romping frames of Roddy McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirren. And maybe a willing horse or two.

Once or twice I even had flashbacks of Eyes Wide Shut. Thankfully, Tom Cruise wasn’t seen stumbling about with a dumbfounded look.

Alas, critics, that’s all you get. Unless you want to come at me with the “senseless violence” charge. This is a freaking gladiator show. We expect to see chopped up fingers, (very nearly) severed arms, and tragically dead noblepersons. Leave us to our entertainment, highbrows; churls though we be, we are happily sated!

And whilst you avert thine eyes, miss you the creation of some good old fashioned tragic, operatic art.

I spend a large chunk of time extolling the virtues of the players–the actors who strip cloth and skin away for your viewing pleasure, and certainly a swath of credit must continue to go their way. Lucy Flawless continues to shine as Lucretia, her pride being stripped clean with each blow that the house she married into (apparently jumping station if daddy Titus is to be believed) suffers. She’s Lady MacBeth, though with some semblance of heart, some remainder of good still within. Lucretia does a kindness to Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt) by hiding her away, yet I fear the protection of the girl’s virginity does not sit well with dead-eyed Diona (Jessica Grace Smith, playing the broken role so well I almost hear Evanescence songs each time she comes into frame). I fear that will not end well.

The romance-that-should-not-be, Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and Melitta (Marisa Ramirez) was stoked to life once more. Come on, lads and ladies, if you didn’t get swept up in Melitta’s angry, gasping question, “What would you do if you were my husband and you learned of such a thing?” then surely you jumped for Gannicus’ response: “I would kill us both.” (Snarled with an arrogantly curled lip before laying waste with a Gone With The Wind smackdown of a kiss. Boo-yeah.)

Yeah, that’s not going to end well either. Can’t wait to see how.

But enough of the actors. I have extolled their virtues well and fine, friends. I want to throw kudos behind the scenes. Savvy direction (Brendan Maher) and sonorous writing (Seamus Kevin Fahey & Misha Green) are delivering the real goods here. The language, even with the fahks and the shets and the cahks inserted in strange counterbalance, plays to a lyrical sway of words given both weight and depth by their delivery. Actors are often credited for finding chemistry with one another, but here the love is in words taken from page and made real. This is chemistry! When Peter Mensah (Doctore Oenomaus) speaks, I hear every weighted word. And he’s only half of the reason.

No, it’s not Shakespeare – it’s television, man! But it must be said how fully I am immersed. The episode ends, the credits roll, and I blink my eyes in the near-dark of my man cave, forced back against my will to a safer world.

And I think to myself, This is the best show on television right now. Who knew?

To the “Shakespeare” scoffs I want to say this: No, I’m not placing this work so high in that particular sky. But to the critics who rage at the ostentatious displays of life well lived and death fairly purchased, who cry out accusations of gratuity and camp…

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is not camp. Go see True Blood if you want camp. Spartacus is a play, my friends. It is an opera, and instead of spilled crimson silk to act as blood we get CGI splatters. Kill Bill had fountains of blood set to song; we have the same, only it’s brighter, wetter, and appears to be spattered across the insides of our television screens.

The quickened, impossibly-lit sky you see racing past may as well be the fluttering of background canvas. Our theater experience is complete.

And where next? Two episodes remain. Gaia (the winsome Jaime Murray, going out in style) does not.

As a sneering Tullius (Stephen Lovatt) whispered to Lucretia of Gaia, “She holds my reply. Go to her. And see it delivered.”

And so our first true noble falls; as her lifeless corpse tumbled over the cliff side, and as Lucretia looked on, eyes wet with a new kind of hate, I knew this was only the beginning. Many more nobles will see their ends come, with hastened fury.

Two episodes left, Sparty Animals! This is gonna be great.

Follow me on Twitter, Spartacus fans! That’s @Axechucker, if you know what’s what.