Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena, including the most recent, “Missio.”
A second week of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena brings us more of the sex, violence, decadence, and emotional manipulation we’ve come to expect from Blood and Sand and the first episode of this prequel series. As with the premiere, the reason this show works so well is not only because it so perfectly captures the milieu as its parent series, making it a perfect way to revisit the show while it’s on hiatus, due to Andy Whitfield’s health woes, as well as to spend more time with characters who would otherwise not be able to appear again, but because it allows us to see how the people we know from Blood and Sand came to become the people we know from Blood and Sand. And in each case, the changes in the characters over the years reflect Spartacus‘s central themes–that of the callous and senseless hedonism of ancient Rome that not only corrupts otherwise good people but turns others into slaves due to the arbitrary nature of birth and circumstance. In so doing, it also makes an indirect comment on our own society and its distribution of power. Whether one is rich or downtrodden is often dependent on luck.
Another major theme of the series explored here is the exact nature of slavery–what it is to live in a society in which people own other people; what it is like to be completely subject to the whims of a master; what it is like to own another human being and to be able to command every aspect of his or her life, and what the effect on both people might be. In last week’s episode, we saw Quintus Batiatus hesitate to allow Gannicus to fight blindfolded, but the betrayal and attack on him has caused his heart to begin to harden. This week, he starts to play dirtier, and to also begin to play with peoples’ lives in order to forward his own ends in a much more frightening manner than he had in the past. This includes ordering the attack on the young man who attacked him in “Past Transgressions,” and then the murder of the gladiator who he had ordered to do it, in order to keep him silent–the same gladiator he had arbitrarily punished earlier in the episode. Later on, he orders Oenomaus’s wife to have sex with Gannicus–a good friend of both of theirs–to fill the whims of a potential investor. Meanwhile, this is crosscut with a battle scene in which the current Doctore battles Oenomaus, because Batiatus has stripped him of his title due to his questioning Batiatus’ behavior and passed it to the Doctore we know. Oenomaus kills one good friend, as a result of Batiatus’ orders, while at the same time another good friend fucks his wife. Two friendships potentially destroyed by Batiatus. It is so painful to see such a loyal servant and confidante as Oenomaus treated so inhumanly by Batiatus, both directly and indirectly. His life means nothing to him. At the end of the day, he is his property.
Although, again, this all does seem more worrisome behavior on Quintus’ part than in the first episode, perhaps the main point to take from this is that an institution in which he is capable of doing this has always set him on such a path. As relatively innocent as he might have seemed in the first episode, he was still a slaveowner, which in itself is monstrous. It will certainly be fascinating to see what comes of the effects of his actions in the coming weeks. What strain will it put on Gannicus and Doctore’s friendship; on Doctore’s marriage? What kind of effect will the threesome with Gaia put on Batiatus and Lucretia’s marriage? Is this yet another step towards Lucretia becoming a social-climbing manipulator like Gaia? On a separate note, it is also fascinating to see Crixus make his first steps towards becoming the renowned gladiator he will one day be. It is also interesting that his life was spared by Gaia of all people, as, again, she is the one who Lucretia will come to emulate–Lucretia, who will one day carry on an affair with him.
It is fascinating to see all of these puzzle pieces falling into place.