Watch Spartacus on Starz Friday nights, check local listings.
Oh Spartacus. I have been waiting so goddamn long for this prequel shit. If you fail me, there will be much sobbing and flailing and rending of garments – no pressure or anything. It’s already bad enough that this season will be Spartyless.
A quick Season One recap prefaces the episode: scenes from the last episode’s wholesale slaughter at the villa, including Sparty’s hotass leap from Crixus’ shield up to the balcony; Barca’s betrayal and death; the murder of magistrate Calavius; Solonius’ death in the arena; Sura’s murder at Batiatus’ command; and Batty’s last stand against the rebel gladiators. (What, no Ilithyia? I am disappoint.)
WELCOME TO SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA. This episode suffers greatly from Pilot Exposition Disease, wherein every single moment/conversation/interaction is wildly fraught with importance and meaning, both for now and for in the future. I had to watch the damn thing 5 times to figure out everyone’s names and connections. Yes, internets, such is my epic dedication to gladiator porn.
We open with a gladiator fight scene featuring a messy decapitation within 10 seconds, and let’s face it: that’s exactly what we’re here for. Well done indeed. We’re in Capua, but it’s not quite the familiar Capua we remember from last season. This Capua, I think about ~10 years earlier, has run-down streets, a grubby little marketplace, and a small pokey arena that looks rather like a cockfighting pit somewhere in rural Guatemala. (so many tacky jokes, so little time. LOL COCK.) The real arena, CGI’d off in the distance, is still under construction.
Our old friends Batiatus and Lucretia, standing at the front of the crowd, are young and fresh-faced and rather adorable – I’m thinking it’s due both to soft-focus shooting and to a judicious pre-filming application of botox but ymmv. Good Solonius, also present, appears to be Batty’s childhood beffie. Mystery! Drama! Intrigue!
And what’s this! Entering the tiny arena, in slo-mo and to terrible screeching-wailing guitars, we see the immeasurably annoying rockstar gladiator Gannicus, pride of the House of Batiatus. God, he looks like such a dudebro fratboy, ratty leather thongs in his long dudebro hair and all. He should be off doing kegstands and roofieing cheerleaders, not masterfully wielding dual swords and wearing leather greaves.
Naturally, the crowd goes wild. When Gannicus’ opponent gets in a lucky sword-slash to his upper arm, old Ganny busts out the tired old action movie trope of “look incredulously at your own spilled blood, then become WILD WITH RAGE!” He angrily throws down his swords and proceeds to kick the guy’s ass mano a mano, dudebro style. The more I watch this scene, the more I am simultanously repulsed yet intrigued. Nevertheless, ou sont les Andy Whitfields d’antan? Sigh.
Lots of slo-mo leaping and slashing and hacking and whacking and audience tit-shaking later, Gannicus dramatically (douchily) cuts his opponent’s throat. Alas, the important duders Batty wants to impress enter the arena only moments too late to witness this victory, eliciting much tooth-gnashy despair and the prerequisite bellows of “JUPITER’S COCK!”
The camera keeps cutting between the trio and a beautiful dark-eyed girl in the crowd, so I can only assume she will end up being someone important. It’s not as though this show is capable of subtlely, after all.
Batty, Lucretia, and Solonius wander through the grotty, cramped, nude-slave-filled market, discussing Batty’s archnemesis, a fellow lanista named Vettius. Young whippersnapper Vetty is apparently a bigwig in town; a smarmy little rich boy hobnobbing with wealthy merchants and powerful magistrates alike. The primary point of contention is that, unlike Batty and Solonius, Vet’s gladiators get to fight later in the day, after the noonday sun is less hot and exhausting – a clear mark of his influence in Capua. Batty and Solonius want to shank him as badly as they want to be him.
Along the way, they run into Gaia the Hotass, a newly-widowed old friend of Lucretia, in town for an extended visit. The girls scamper off giggling and gossiping, leaving Batty and Solonius plotting to further their social climbing. Tullius, a rich local merchant and crony of Vet’s, is increasing his influence around the city by funding the construction of the new arena and providing workmen slaves from “all corners of the empire”, and they scheme to land on his good side, no matter what the cost. As they bitch and moan in the public toilets…
(You know, for all the campy overblown ridiculousness of this show, the random background attention paid to fiddly little historical details makes me nerdily happy. So you can imagine my horror/delight upon seeing Batty take a leisurely crap at the public toilets and then casually wipe his ass with the communal sponge-on-a-stick. Oh Historically Accurate Poopstick. You made my goddamn day.)
… a convenient fight breaks out among some slaves across the way.
It’s Our Man From Gaul – Crixus, looking raggedly delicious with long, filthy Aragorn-esque hair; he’s one of the aforementioned worker slaves of Tully’s. Batty sees both the promise of wild brawly violence in Crixus’ eyes and a chance to ingratiate himself with Tully, so Crixus is purchased at extravagant cost and sent off to the ludus.
Mmm, the ludus. We’re treated to a one-two combo punch of gladiator training sequence (ohoho it’s an uninjured Ashur! Barca! a heavily-scarred Oeneomaus! Gnaeus the jerkface gay rapist! naked muscles glistening sweatily in the hot sun! oh god I love this show) interspersed with Gannicus and two delighted slave girls engaged in a slo-mo ass-smacking orgy. Those terrible wailing guitars are getting one hell of a workout in this episode, and we’re less than 10 minutes in. I am reluctantly forced to note that Gannicus both is and has a fantastic ass.
Post-orgy, the slave girls are collected and sent back to the villa by the same lovely dark-eyed girl from the arena, who turns out to be Oeneomaus’ wife, Melitta. He and his wife are so wonderfully, adoringly in love, it is blatantly obvious that she will meet a messy end. We learn that Oenomaus – presently just a gladiator and not the whip-wielding ass-kicking Doctore of the ludus – is still recovering from his legendary fight with Theokoles, and has not yet reentered gladiator training, though it has been almost a year since their fight.
We also learn (or re-learn) that he is one fine-ass looking mofo, goddamn. (Seriously, the training scenes from the Season One DVD where Peter Mensah is flipping a tractor tire around like it ain’t no thang and giddily playing with his whip (alas, not a euphemism) are fapbait extraordinaire. Hnng.) (Yes, I own the DVD. WHAT OF IT.)
Rounding out the last of the familiar faces, we see Naevia upstairs, giggling with her beffie Diona and the orgy slave girls about, naturally, the size of Gannicus’ mighty mansword. Heh. Rather presciently, Melitta cautions her against giving up the virginal sweet lovin to any douchebag gladiators lest the tender flower of her innocence be bruised. Heh: redux.
Lucretia and Gaia the Hotass lounge together in the triclinium, drinking and snickering over Gaia’s blatant golddiggery – she shamelessly admits that her late husband died broke due to her greed for pretty, pricey things. Oh Gaia, you strumpet, how I adore you. Lucretia clearly agrees, inviting her to stay at the villa for a while. The girls share some smoldering glances and a few Snogs of Sexytimes Foreshadowing.
Prequel Lucretia is so young and idealistic, it’s absolutely fucking adorable. She’s patient with everyone, and sweet-tempered to the female slaves, with kind words for Melitta about Oenomaus’ injuries in the arena. Most entertaining of all, she heatedly refutes Gaia’s claims that the gladiators are hot sexy mens worthy of lustful attentions. Dear me no, young Lucretia is outraged and repulsed – repulsed! – by the thought of laying with any man but her beloved husband, “let alone a filthy gladiator”.
I must admit that I cackled rather obnoxiously at this, as Crixus is even more ridiculously attractive this season, and we already know that she soon falls prey to his sinister filthy attraction. Oh how I lol’d. Newsflash, Luce: You will crave his filthy gladiator cock like whoa.
Continuing with the total lack of subtlety in this show, the next scene opens with a wide-eyed, long-haired, earnest-faced Crixus, flung into a cell with the other new recruits, Ashur included. Crixus is something of a sweet, naive goober, tossing his hair and dreamily declaring his intent to be the BEST GLADIATOR EVAR OMGZ!!!1!! Oh Crixus, ilusm. Let’s make out.
Ashur is twattish, as we’ve come to expect, but it’s a friendly, matey sort of twattery. I’m pretty psyched to see his backstory, as he was a fantastic antagonist last season. I’m hoping there will be an actual reason behind his douchebaggery, and not just a convenient plot point, but I think that might be a bit too much to ask.
Meanwhile, Batty and Lucretia are on the terrace, scheming to make Tullius notice them, really notice them! Lucretia suggests passing him a note in study hall a chance encounter in the market for yet more sucking up. In return for sharing this clever ploy, she asks that Gaia be allowed to remain in the villa for a while. Lucretia, you cunning minx.
Batiatus agrees, and shows his thanks by boning her quite masterfully on the table in his office, while Gaia watches from behind the curtain and lets her fingers do the walking. You just know they’re working up to a slo-mo waily guitar threesome. It is infuckingevitable.
In related unfworthy news, we have yet another gladiator training sequence: Crixus is getting battered about by Ashur; Gannicus is staggering about in the shade with a wicked hangover, bro; and Oenomaus cracks open an amphora of whup-ass on Barca in an attempt to prove to a passing Batiatus that he is ready to return to the arena. Oh boys. Unfortunately, Batty is more interested in having Oenomaus train with Crixus.
Crixy puts on his earnest “gladiator lessons, hooray!” face and Oenomaus, predictably, smacks him onto his ass in the sand. “WHAT’S MY PRAENOMEN, BITCH,” Oenomaus inexplicably does not bellow. I think Crixus’ lower lip almost trembles a little.
YOU GUYS. I fucking love this wee bb Crixus. Season One Crixus was a bit of a smug jerkface, somewhat like Gannicus is now, actually. (Obviously the smug douchebaggery comes with being Champion of Capua.) Prequel Crixus, like Prequel Lucretia, has ~feelings and convictions; they’re less bitterly jaded and more foolishly idealistic, which should be laughable but is instead really fucking appealing. Two snaps in Zorro formation to Manu Bennett and Lucy Lawless for making these characters both entertaining parts of the ensemble AND fascinating on their own merit.
Anywhoodle. Batty and Solonius are off to the market for some primo sucking up to Tully. Of course, mid-smarm, little jerkface Vet shows up and rouses Batty into a boastful frenzy about the vast superiority of the House of Batiatus. Batty’s caught out mid-rant, smugly insisting that any one of his gladiators could beat one of Vet’s, blindfolded. Vet is so totally down for this challenge that he arranges it for the very next day, in the center of the marketplace. Surely there is no way this can go horribly awry, right?
In what is easily the saddest scene of the episode, Batty calls Oenomaus up to the villa that evening to discuss whether or not “the Champion” is ready for the next day’s fight. Oenomaus, thinking himself still champion, is fucking overjoyed at his presumed return to the arena. BUT NO. Batty is talking about Gannicus, and oh my god, when Oenomaus’ expression goes from “omg yays!” to “ohnoes sadface” in 5 seconds flat, I just want to heal his epic angst with cuddles and pie and endless, endless sexytimes.
Proving my firm belief from last season that Oenomaus is the only legit Good Person on this show, he gives up this opportunity to cut down Gannicus and argue in his own favour. His reward for this is a slo-mo lusty night with his wife, and I am forced to go have a quick lie-down.
Naturally when Doucheicus and Batty arrive in the market the next day, Vet’s waiting with a gladiator, a blindfold, and the greatest quote of the episode – “words fall from mouth like shit from ass”. Oh Batty. See where your prattling leads? I had to pause the episode here to see if there was a way to actually embed the drama button in this recap somehow, but alas it was not meant to be. Oh life, so unfair.
As this is the pilot episode, our twatty champion is, of course, triumphant, despite the blindfold. Was there ever any doubt? Hell no. The magistrate congratulates Batty, and, even better, Tullius acts all impressed, inviting Batty for a drink later in the evening. Batty is elated and giddy, with stars in his beady little eyes. Now they can finally be together! He returns to the ludus to doodle “Mr & Mr Quintus Lentulus Batiatus-Tullius” on his Gaius Marius Trapper Keeper and change his Facebook status to SQUEE.
While Bats prances off to his first date with Tully, Lucretia and Gaia the Hotass stay behind at the villa, to get high on the finest Cypriot opium and fuck the night away. Yesss. And here come our old friends, the Wailing Orgy Guitars.
The girls enjoy their slo-mo sexytimes, but poor Batty is not having nearly as much fun. No, this was not the first date he had in mind. Instead of Tullius helping him enter his men into the opening games of the new arena, Tully wants to buy Gannicus for dickhead Vettius’ ludus instead. Oh, the betrayal! The generous offer of 200 denarii does not go over well, and Batiatus ends up with one dead slave and a bag over his own head, on his way to an epic beatdown, complete with Tully’s piss and Vet’s spit on his face. Batty’s given a few days to change his mind or be forever banned from the games. Ouch.
Looking back (okay, ahead) to Batiatus’ dealings with magistrate Calavius in Season One, it is wildly obvious that both these guys are going to end up messily dead, and I am totes psyched to see them eaten by lions or whatevs. HURRY UP, SHOW, we only have 6 episodes! I have a feeling each one is going to be ridiculously action and orgy packed. YAYS.