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'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' Prequel Season, Episode 5 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Feb 18th 2011 11:02PM
['Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' - 'Reckoning']

It makes sense that the fifth episode of this prequel season would be the most compelling one yet. It took four or five episodes for 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' to fully gel, and while 'Gods of the Arena' didn't have the same pacing or tone issues that the first season did when it began, 'Blood and Sand' still needed time to build up the stakes for the characters.

The stakes were high in the melancholy, wonderfully crafted 'Reckoning,' and many characters were forced to make difficult, if not tragic, choices.

What added to the pathos was the fact that the characters knew the prices they'd be paying for those choices -- up to a point. Lucretia couldn't know how much damage she'd do by poisoning Titus' wine, but by now, she should know that pursuing vengeance always brings unintended consequences.

Still, she started from a place of self-sacrifice, or as much self-sacrifice as she could muster. Of course, she couldn't wait to have Titus out of her life, and she'd been helping that process along for years, as it turns out (it's a great credit to Lucy Lawless' masterful performance that it both was and wasn't a surprise that Lucretia has been poisoning Titus for years).

She had no love for the man, but she didn't kill Titus due to her own personal animosity. She did it because she knew her husband couldn't do it. Say what you will about those two -- their love is real, and they both showed it in 'Reckoning,' in their own twisted ways.

She proved her love for Batiatus by making two huge sacrifices: She took it upon herself to kill Titus (and, unwittingly, Melitta), and she let a dirty gladiator paw her body in hopes of giving Batiatus a child. Both are things she wouldn't have done had she not felt forced to. They ensured her survival, of course, but she did these things so that she could remain with her husband, and both deeds cost her something.

And if the look on her face in Titus' death scene was triumphant, her grim, humiliated expression in her scene with Crixus was just as eloquent. Lawless was on fire in this episode, easily transitioning from grief over Gaia's death to fury at her father-in-law's obstinance to abject hurt at Batiatus' badly timed remark about her inability to give him a child.

All those emotions were real and raw, but Lawless knows how to give great melodrama as well. She can play the nuances of the small moments, like the quiet scene in the pool, but she can amp it up for the big operatic moments, like Lucretia's scene with her detested father in law. From the moment she told Titus she was "far worse" than he'd ever thought, she was Bette Davis in a toga, all regal fury and manicured revenge. It's tough that we won't have John Hannah's Batiatus around in the next season of 'Spartacus,' but it'll be fabulous to observe a cornered, desperate Lucretia when the next chapter of the story unfolds.

Speaking of Batiatus, he was ready to sacrifice all in this episode as well: He was willing to give up the ludus and his ambitious to keep his wife at his side. There was really never another choice, though Hannah did a typically sensational job of playing the ambiguity of the arena scene. Batiatus wanted to be the kind of guy who could brain his father and finally take revenge for the years of put-downs and insults, but he couldn't do it in the end. That's a good thing.

If nothing else, 'Gods of the Arena' has reminded us that, whatever terrible things they've done, Lucretia and Batiatus are human beings capable of being wounded. At a few points in 'Blood and Sand,' they were taken to some extreme, somewhat overly villainous places. Even though it's meant as something of an origin story for the characters and the events of 'Blood and Sand' haven't been undone by 'Gods of the Arena,' this prequel series can still serve as something of a corrective to some of the excesses of 'Blood and Sand.' Their vulnerabilities only make these characters more compelling.

Of course, it absolutely makes sense that Lucretia and Batiatus were more cynical in 'Blood and Sand,' because cynicism is what often follows the loss of illusion. All the characters in 'Reckoning' gave up a cherished dream in this episode: Gannicus lost to Crixus on purpose because he had given up his fantasy of being with Melitta; Ashur gave in to the idea that the only way he'd stay out of the mines was through treachery; Titus realized his son wasn't a perfect copy of his old man and that Lucretia couldn't be shamed out of the house. As Lucretia and Batiatus did, everyone faced facts as they were, not as they wanted them to be, and that created the sense of resignation that pervaded the well-paced hour.

The biggest tragedy of it all is that the character who had done nothing wrong got the most awful outcome. Doctore's one measure of comfort, his wife, was ripped from his life, thanks to choices that began with the very masters he obediently and loyally served. When you think about it, 'Spartacus' is one big Mobius strip of pain: If Lucretia hadn't forced Melitta to have sex with Gannicus, those two wouldn't have fallen in love, and Gannicus wouldn't have eventually chosen to leave the ludus rather than live with his unrequited desire. And because he chose to leave, Melitta came to him for a farewell encounter, which, unknown to her, would be her final act. Because of the greed of the House of Batiatus, more lives are broken, as more will be in the future.

Were any of these characters in control of events? Will they ever learn that the more grave the action, the more serious the unintended consequences? Those seem to be the central questions of the drama, which manages to wrap those serious questions in a tasty coating of sex, violence, desire and ambition. Thing is, I wouldn't count on Lucretia or Batiatus learning much. After all, Lucretia just gift-wrapped a nice present for her husband: A gold-plated reason to take out his arch-enemy, Tullius. And so the cycle of vengeance and unintended consequences will go on and on.

For the slaves, there's this question as well: "What price will you pay for love or for freedom?"

Think about poor Gannicus: He had existed for years without knowing what real love was, yet when he found it, it was under the worst possible conditions. And then, as the capper to his ill-fated affair, Melitta died in his arms. Every time a character on this show comes close to contentment, fate intervenes to break hearts and destroy dreams. 'Spartacus' creator Steven DeKnight learned well from his old boss, Joss Whedon.

Dustin Clare was terrific in the episode, whether he was almost wordlessly communicating his love for Melitta or experiencing the realization that their relationship would never work. But his best moment was his uncomprehending stare at Lucretia's reaction. Gannicus was just beginning to realize that, yet again, a slave had merely been a pawn in some game played by his "superiors." There's no doubt Lucretia felt pain at Melitta's death, but her first instinct, as always, was for her own survival. It was left to Doctore to throw his wife off the cliff just as Gaia was discarded the week before.

I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Gannicus willingly dies in the 'Gods of the Arena' finale next week. He's been deprived of love, friendship and freedom. What more is there to live for? But if he does squeak by and survive, I hope both he and the escaped slave Diona join Spartacus' slave uprising.

They'd certainly be motivated members of the team.

A few stray observations:

• When Doctore shouted "Gladiators, attend!," he sounded like the Doctore of old, the one we knew from 'Blood and Sand.'

• I do hope we see Jessica Grace Smith, who played Diona, again. She did outstanding work in a small role. And if we do see the character in future, I hope it's not in some horrible, tragic circumstances. Damn it, allow me to hope her life doesn't get worse!

• No wonder nobody likes Ashur. Sure, he's a survivor, but he's willing to sell out anyone, anytime. Even if you can understand his reasons, his lack of honor isn't exactly attractive. But every show has to have a villain you love to hate, and Nick E. Tarabay certainly plays the ludus' most self-serving, slippery character well.

• "I only wished to make you proud of me, father." A line that could have been corny coming from anyone else is, of course, weighted with depth and meaning coming from John Hannah. I'll say it again, I'll miss this actor when the new season arrives. Perhaps Batiatus has an identical twin we've never met?

• When we saw Lucretia come out dressed in Gaia's wig, we knew it was ON, am I right?

• So what has to happen next week? I'm guessing Tullius will die in some way or other, and Gannicus will probably die as well. Will Doctore find out about Gannicus and Melitta? In a way, I hope not. The one comfort he might have going forward is that his wife was true to him.

• Speaking of Gannicus, clearly the Missio he gave was to Melitta, not really to Crixus. Poor Gannicus.

• And speaking of Melitta, her offer to pretend to do Titus' bidding in the matter of purging Gaia from the house was just one way in which the slave was kind to her mistress. Despite her thoughtfulness, Melitta lay dead a few hours later. But 'Spartacus' reminds me another of my favorite shows, 'Downton Abbey.' No really, I'm serious. Both dramas demonstrate how something approaching friendship is almost possible across class lines. But both programs show how fraught with danger and disappointment those relationships can be.

• Please be sure to check out my recent interview with Peter Mensah, who plays Oenomaus/Doctore. That story also has some thoughts from 'Spartacus' creator Steven DeKnight.

'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' airs 10PM ET Fridays on Starz.


Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Ricardo Leal

"It's tough that we won't have John Hannah's Batiatus around in the next season of 'Spartacus,' but it'll be fabulous to observe a cornered, desperate Lucretia when the next chapter of the story unfolds."

Come on! You are a respected journalist. Do you really need to show spoilers in your reviews?!?

March 28 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DavidKashfi

A great review. I much anticipate seeing Lucy Lawless in season 2, she is very talented and by far the most beautiful gorgeous and sexiest woman of all time and I love her forever.

February 27 2011 at 12:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jesus Lopez

Great review! I just wish that I had caught that last episode, at least now I will never have to miss another one since I got the Sling adapter from DISH Network. I actually have and work at DISH and with the Sling adapter; I can stream live and recorded TV from my android phone. The best part is that it can be used anywhere I have 3G service or wifi. Also you can use it with an iPad or laptop and other mobile devices! I am excited to catch this week's episode, I wonder if Gannicus will die.

February 24 2011 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
HaroldL

thanks mterrific and mo ryan for that update , much appreciated.....so a couple of commentsbelow gave us hints....more lucy lawless in season 3...true or untruth.....and quentis in or out...

February 21 2011 at 11:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
HaroldL

i just dont see how you can write quentis and lucretia out of the spartacus series....they are the series and storylines outside of the gladitors themselves....those two are the ultimate badboy and badgirl couple....bonnie and clyde if you will.....i remember another one of my favorite scenes from season 1 blood and sands....when quentis was pushing for a senate seat or something amongst the big wigs and was entertaining the big time roman soldier at the house of batiotis who could push it through, and his wife whom were staying in the house all along.....months earlier killed a lady who was tortuing her after she mistakingly slept with spartacus in the house of batiotis..... she was tortuing her , about things such as "wait til this gets out that you slept with a slave, and especially to your husband who's of status" long story short....she killed the lady wit her bare hands whom was making the threats and teasing her, quentis and lucretia disposed of the body....a roman citizen killed in the house of batiotis......at laeast we thought they disposed of the body......upon the big time roman soldiers departure and letting quentis know he could not help him and letting him know he didn't think quentis was senate material almost mocking him.....lol....what did quentis and lacretia do.....right....go get a box , lift the lid and in it sat the hand of the lady , the big time roman soldiers wife killed....and quentis being quentis gave him a choice...reconsider or this package will find it's way to your doorstep in rome....wow.....those two are the series....i've read alot of the comments below...........they are replacing andy whitfield and finding a new spartacus, lacretia and quentis are still alive for season 3 , they are not.....season 3 will pick up from where we are now or it will pick up from season 1......to be honest , i'm good either way.....both storylines were a dead tie to me going into season 3 and we still have the finale friday.....who knows friday may be the tie braker and afterwards everyone may feel like screw going back to season 1 for season 3 and lets continue with the prequel for season 3....

February 21 2011 at 11:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AJ

I didn't think it was impossible for Spartacus to improve on episode 4, but once again they stepped-up and delivered another astounding episode that had me on the edge of my seat the entire way through.

Lucretia was a revelation in this episode. Lucy Lawless' portrayl of the various sides of Lucretia's personality was remarkable. Everything from the tenderness with Batiatus in the hot-tub to the venom with Titus on his death-bed was perfectly performed and just played so well on-screen.

I can't wait for the next episode. I really hope we see the origins of Ashur's injury. I have a pretty good feeling that we'll see what happened between Crixus and Ashur in the games to celebrate the opening of the new arena.

As for Gannicus' fate, the historical records of Spartacus' rebellion provide a pretty clear indication about the future of the character.

I'm disappointed about the news that the actor who plays Naevia may not return for season 2. If she does leave the show, I hope they decide to simply kill off the character instead of re-casting the role. What made Naevia so endearing was her portrayal and importantly the chemistry between Naevia and Crixus. I'm not sure they would be able to capture that with another actor. And the way the character exited the first season, it would be easy enough to "reveal" that Lucretia actually had Naevia sold into certain death at the mines or similar as opposed to simply sold as a house-slave to another family.

I'm also completely invested in Lucretia's fate in season 2. We saw from the portrayal of Gaia in the prequel that a widow doesn't have many options in Ancient Rome. And we now know that Lucretia doesn't come from a good family. Her infamous role in Spartacus' rebellion as the Domina of the ludus will also be to her detriment in trying to find shelter and a new husband. It's possible that Iliythia could end up nursing Lucretia back to health since Lucretia knows a number of damaging secrets about Iliythia, but I'm not sure how plausible that is and I'd almost prefer to see Lucretia having to scratch and crawl her way into a position to be able to seek vengeance against Iliythia for locking the ludus doors.

Also, where is the merchandise for this show? I'm a complete geek when it comes to celebrating my love for TV shows in the form of calendars, action figures, etc but Starz don't seem to be exploiting the merchandising possibilities for the series at all (apart from a few t-shirts and mugs).

February 20 2011 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Summers

You know what would be Coolest way to enter into the third season, if there is one en route, If Spartacus makes an appearance during the third or fourth Episode. Keeping everyone in suspense and what not While Crixus looks for his love, which I bet will be a vain effort, Someone Spartacus actually trusted becomes like his right hand man in forming a underground rebel in Capua and somehow, just somehow Asher uses his wit to gain a powerful position among Capua and becomes the main protagonist himself, although I doubt his Villainous activities would be able to cast a shadow over Legatis Glabor. And what would even more intense is that he appears just when his band of Ex-gladiators now rebels just finish taking over a small roman camp and they leave the Commander alive just so Spartacus can show and speak all calm like. Remember, Spartacus is someone who isn't ignorant to the ways of war, his match of chess(?) With Batiatus was implication of that.

Either way, personally second season just went into the wrong direction, and the fact that they are wrapping things up on the 6th episode means they are trying to hurry back into the main story with Spartacus, I cannot possibly understand how they could answer every ones questions and solve every problem in just 1 hour, they have to show how Soleus becomes Batiatuss' enemy, How Talius is dealt with, How Ganicus dies or is removed from the arena, and many other things that can't come to mind at the moment. But, Fortunately, while it did go into the wrong direction to me the story itself didn't disappoint, the many twists and exciting, suspenseful scenes that leads up to the big dramatic scenes is what captured my attention and kept hold of it. Anyways, I hope The actor who plays spartacus gets well and rid of that cancer and I hope he is able to continue playing Spartacus because he is pretty damn awesome.

February 20 2011 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David Summers's comment
park

"Either way, personally second season just went into the wrong direction, "


Why? The backstory's were amazing as was the acting. It gave Lawless and Hannah more time to shine.

February 21 2011 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
park

, although lucy lawless will return in S2, she will probably be killed. She is too evil to live LOL
DAMN she will be missed in S3.

February 20 2011 at 10:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wisconsinjed

I was under the assumption that Lucretia died in Blood and Sand along side Batiatus. Not true? I have decided that I am going to give up the normal curse words we all know and I am going to start cursing the GLADIATOR way. "Jupiter's c**k"!, "Once again the gods spread cheeks to ram c**k in fu**ing ass!" So forth and so-on!
I never wanted to thank anyone for making any type of movies but by God thank all who had anything to do with this. Some scenes are just too good to put into words. Andy Whitefield, Anamaus(sp), Crixus (A whole new appreciation for him) on and on and on! With scenes like Spartacus killing his best friend and the woman who tries to console him. Crixus beaten in front of all and his love saying all is not lost! "I have destroyed us!" "No, we yet live" And John Hanna and Lucy lawless, what the heck can u say?!! I put those scenes in a category of "Am I not merciful!!??" from "Gladiator" and "Because it is my name!! And I can not have anothe"r from the "Crucible" with Daniel Day Lewis! Cinamatic genius, all of them! Thanks and peace all!

February 20 2011 at 1:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wisconsinjed's comment
Mo Ryan

hey Jed, hope this comes under the heading of good news for you, but yeah, we'll see Lucretia in the next season of the show. I can't wait for it! It's gonna be a long wait...

February 20 2011 at 1:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
trsmartypants

One nice little touch in the naming of characters -- Mrs. Doctore is Melitta, the diminutive form of the latin "melle" or honey. As in honeyed wind. Not the beverage of choice in the House of Battiatus.

February 19 2011 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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