SPARTACUS GODS OF THE ARENA Reckoning Episode 5 Photo

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “Reckoning” Episode 5 – We opened on Melitta’s nightmare, where she dreamed a horrible scene; caught by her husband in the arms of Gannicus (Dustin Clare). When I saw the brutal way Doctore Oenomaus (the stern Peter Mensah) dispatched the two illicit lovers, I hedged my bet that it would happen similarly in reality — only with Melitta (the luminous Marisa Ramirez) dying first.

That sort of happened. But mostly not.

What a brutal episode. And it’s only going to be all the more brutal in the season finale next week. Except with a hell of a lot more gladiators. What’s the over/under on this death count? Am I crazy or does that look like something akin to death rugby? Talk about breaking in a new arena the right way!

But that’s next week. This week had more than enough to talk about; “Reckoning” indeed. Where do I start? We had to know Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay, still excelling at playing the snake-in-the-grass role) was going to somehow triumph over Dagan (Shane Rangi). Especially since we saw Ashur alive and limping in Spartacus: Blood & Sand and didn’t see Dagan. Add to that the fact that Ashur is probably the most legitimately deceitful character in the series, next to the outright-evil Tullius (Stephen Lovatt) … well, this show wouldn’t get half the perversion it does without its antagonists. I would have guessed Ashur somehow triumphant even without that knowledge.

Ashur gets mocked by other gladiators as Dagan beats the crap out of him in the practice yard, partly in payback for last episode’s “accidental” mistranslation (“As would you if your brother presented your ass to a Roman for rough pleasure”), and partly because Dagan, no prince himself, is finally learning the tongue and realizes he won’t be needing Ashur for much longer. So it wasn’t a shock that Ashur cheated to gain his victory. The hulking Syrian lost his eye, lost the fight, and was dragged off in shame.

Ashur got his modicum of respect. The snake lives on.

The series’ star continues to be Lucy Flawless (Lucretia), who believably plays a woman walking a very delicate tightrope; falling off on either side would spell her doom, yet Lucretia’s public face shows only the barest of hints at the emotion beneath. It’s when she’s alone with her husband Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah, his fahks and shets ever present), or her trusted servant Naevia (Leslie-Ann Brandt, sadly opting out of the next season of Spartacus: Blood & Sand) that we see the intense pressure that’s been laid upon her.

And how interesting was it, Lucretia’s first “seduction” of Crixus the Gaul (Manu Bennet)? She wouldn’t even look at him. What a difference five years makes!

On that note I really liked that rare moment of intimacy between Lucretia and Quintus, sharing a bath after they’d both come to terms with the fact that they were going to be exiled from House Batiatus. “My hand would not,” Quintus said sorrowfully, in short and simple apology for his inability to take his father’s life. After the moonlit talk he and his father Titus (Jeffrey Thomas) shared, you had to feel his opportunity for some quality patricide was gone.

A good thing his wife had his back! I loved the slow crawl of emotion we saw in Lucretia as she explained to the dying Titus that she had been poisoning his wine all along. Her words came slowly at first, letting each one drive home on the dying man, and slowly sped up as her certainty and excitement took flight. It wasn’t so much reveling in the moment as letting the moment add to her strength. She was so alive in the victory that morality had no place on her face.

And she killed Melitta too, showing true the hazards of double-edged swords. I would argue that Melitta had as much a hand in it as Lucretia, which makes it even more tragically apropos; alas, Melitta, she who had long been stronger than Gannicus in reigning in her desires … finally Gannicus was the stronger one, accepting defeat and allowing the loss to Crixus so that he would not have to bear Melitta’s averted eyes any more. If Melitta had not let her moral compass slip, just for that one moment, for that one last “goodbye” tryst … if she had not taken the wine to numb her mores …

If, if, if. I wonder if Gannicus suspects Lucretia’s hand in the poisoning. He would have to, else his fury would be directed at his new master Tullius, for who else would take the blame for the poisoned wine? It was his gift; his was the hand that delivered it.

Deeeelicious. What a great series. I’m going to be depressed when it’s done, and that’s only a week away.

My final — and MASSIVE — tip of the hat goes to Joseph LoDuca, the series’ music composer. He’s been fantastic all season but for “Reckoning” he brought his A-game. The deep, heartbeat-themed bass lines, thrumming over and over again, slowly, as the rest of the music wailed its sorrow, giving song to the rivulets of lifeblood seeping away from Titus and Melitta, in concert…

That MADE the scene for me. It was still in my head up until the credits rolled.

(Aside: I just confirmed on Twitter with show honcho Steven DeKnight that LoDuca wrote the score for the entire show – everything, including the badass crunchy groove that always comes at the end credits. Faaaahk that’s good. I never leave my couch until the credits are done.)

This ride has been breathtaking. Let’s end it well, boys! FIRE and BLOOD!

Friends, Romans, countrymen; follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker, you vile plebes!