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April 18, 2014

'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' Prequel Season, Episode 6 Recap (Season Finale)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Feb 26th 2011 3:10PM
['Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' - 'The Bitter End']

'Is this not what set tragedy in motion? Arrogance and impatience?" -- Solonius to Batiatus


It's time to say goodbye to the Batiatus ludus for good, and time to say goodbye to several of its inhabitants and enemies.

It's about time we put 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' in the Win column as well. The Starz show's suitably twisted, intrigue-filled season finale was full of surprises, and in some instances, it looks as though justice (or the will of the gods) was served. In other instances, well, just wait. Karma has a way of asserting itself over time, and five years from now, which is when the next season of the show is set, some scores will undoubtedly be settled.

When 'Gods of the Arena' began, I worried that it would be hard for the prequel season to create suspense, given that we knew who was alive and kicking five years later in 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand.' Those drama of those early episodes didn't have much impact, partly for that reason, but mostly because we didn't know the new characters (or earlier incarnations of known characters) that well.

By the time Gannicus took to the sands in the Primus, tension about his fate and knowledge of his character were both present. I didn't know if he'd live or die, and that slight smile told me all I needed to about his state of mind: He didn't care about his fate, as long as he could dedicate his death to the only woman he'd ever loved.

That's half the attraction of this series: The fact that the characters embrace death as a way of life. This doesn't make them mopey Goth types, it makes them live life all the more fiercely, because they know that death is merely an unsheathed sword away.

The other half of the show's allure is its ability to make us care about characters that it then does terrible, terrible things to (in our recent podcast interview with 'Spartacus' creator Steven S. DeKnight, my podcast partner Ryan McGee called this the "Mutant Enemy House of Pain" aesthetic. DeKnight worked on several of Joss Whedon's shows, which bear the mark of the Mutant Enemy production company).

Take poor Diona. As much as I want to curse the DeKnight for her horrible death, I can't, because her death symbolized everything that was wrong with that society.

The character left a strong impression in a short period of time, thanks to a great performance by Jessica Grace Smith and the show's judicious depiction of her awful life. As heartbreaking as Diona's fate was, it was absolutely necessary. We needed to be reminded of how this society brutalized everyone but the members of a small ruling caste.

Any society in which people could use and break an innocent young woman in that way and then callously kill her for sport deserved to be shaken to its foundations, if not destroyed forever. One look at Cossutius' grinning mug as Diona shed her last tears, and I wanted to join Spartacus' slave revolt and take that guy out myself.

People who don't know the show well tend to yammer on about all the sex and violence in it. If they're not watching the show closely, what they don't get is that 'Spartacus' isn't using those elements in exploitative ways, though their entertainment value definitely isn't ignored. By showing us, in sometimes graphic ways, how greedy, selfish and heedless these people were, the 'Spartacus' are in fact depicting a rotten moral universe in which some carelessly use and viciously oppress others simply because they can.

Why did Diona die? Because Batiatus was in a crappy mood and frankly didn't care about some servant he'd never taken much note of. But the look between Naevia and Diona was a powerful one: It reminded us, if not the rich Capuans and Romans, that these women are human beings with hopes, wishes and aspirations. The upper classes of that era could ignore the humanity of others for only so long (talk about history repeating itself: My mind turns again to the series of rebellions in the repressive dictatorships of North Africa and the Middle East).

Batiatus' house is not built on "unshakeable foundations of honor and respect," as he asserted during his father's funeral rites. That's the image of Roman society that has been passed down to us by schoolbooks and classy productions of 'Julius Caesar.' But the graphic nature of the show serves as a warning: These people are far more complicated, and in many cases, corrupt than the characters we've seen in most sword-and-sandals productions. Through the house of Batiatus, we're seeing how the cancer of that society -- slavery -- eventually takes down everyone who took part in it.

It may have been a little on the nose to have Batiatus literally bury Tullius inside the new arena, but it showed what his house is truly built on: A combination of wily adaptability and murderous ambition.

Honor and respect? No, the reality lived by those in the ludus is far different, and the only honor in that house exists in the brotherhood of the gladiators and in the friendships among the slaves. Real friendships between slave owners and slaves are not truly possible, as demonstrated by Lucretia's promise to Naevia -- that she'd never allow Naevia to be raped for entertainment purposes. Gee, thanks. That'll be cold comfort to Naevia as she thinks of her best friend's horrifying end.

At least Lucretia may have had a shred of morality left; she looked ashamed, as well she should, when Diona died. Batiatus had a mild smirk on his face when the unfortunate slave met her end, and that's when I thought, "I'm done with this guy." I think Batiatus exited the 'Spartacus' story at just the right time. Solonius was right about him: His cunning, wit and lust for life were endearing up to a point, but in the end, Batiatus was a selfish, thoroughly amoral man. As much as I've loved John Hannah's performance, I think 'Spartacus' got as much mileage out of the character's avarice as it possibly could.

All things considered, the machinations of the finale and my inability to predict where things would end up for several characters made the hour enjoyable, although I found a few sequences in 'The Bitter End' overly long.

In particular, once the action shifted to the new arena, the proceedings seemed a bit padded. There were just too many crowd shots and too many blood-spurting moments; while the Burning Man Circle was exciting for a while, a few of those fighting sequences, I thought, needed tightening up. I understand the urge to go full-bore into excess, given that this was the finale, and I understand the urge to show off the new (no doubt digitally created) arena, but the last third of the finale seemed just a little too long.

Yet the twists and turns that got us to that final image were enjoyable, that can't be denied. In treating Solonius in such a high-handed manner, Batiatus ensured that his fellow lunesta would screw him over in multiple ways. Well played, Solonius, who learned a lot from Batiatus' underhanded ways.

Who knew Gannicus would end up a free man? I certainly didn't see that coming, and I love it when a show confounds my expectations. I thought that the party boy who'd lost his only love was bound for a tragic end, but I'm glad the character didn't die in the arena. Here's hoping we see him in the next season of the show -- but what happens if Oenomaus/Doctore finds out that Gannicus loved his wife as more than a friend? Dun-dun-dun. That could be awkward.

In the end, the House of Batiatus emerged victorious in the Primus of the first games of the new arena. What a great result, right? Not really.

The victory for Batiatus and Lucretia is hollow, now that their crowd-pleasing champion is a free man. Gannicus appreciated the chance to live life on his terms, no doubt, but without the woman he loved and his best friend by his side, how free is he? But nobody's "victory" was more hollow than Ashur's, who emerged alive from the arena, but hopelessly lame. His greed rebounded on him in a way he'll never be allowed to forget. But like his owner, he's unlikely to learn from his mistakes.

So in the next season, we'll see Oenomaus/Doctore, a new Spartacus (played by Liam McIntyre), a new Naevia (by an actress to be named later), Lucretia (still played by the terrific Lucy Lawless). And I certainly hope we see Ilythia and Gannicus again, as well as anyone else left after the bloodbaths of the 'Gods of the Arena' and 'Blood and Sand' seasons.

There's lots of tangled history among all those characters, and we'll no doubt meet many new gladiators and Romans as well. Will the rebellious slaves properly avenge Melitta and Dionna? We'll have to wait until early 2012 to see.

A few more notes:

• When John Hannah gave not one but two funeral orations, I wondered if the producers were intentionally riffing on his famous scene in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral,' in which he read a poem by Auden at the funeral of his dead lover. A golden opportunity was missed here. Why not call the season: 'Spartacus: Two Poisonings, Several Beheadings and a Funeral?'

• Later, as Batiatus was giving a "locker room" speech to his gladiators to pump them up for the Primus, I flashed on the many similar speeches Coach Taylor has given on 'Friday Night Lights.' Having said that, it wasn't easy to picture Kyle Chandler in a toga.

• I loved the looks between the gladiators' faces just before they entered the arena for the last time. Crixus was determined, Ashur nervous (as well he should have been) and Gannicus blissfully aware that he was exactly where he wanted to be. The look between Gannicus and Doctore was weighted with meaning as well. Gannicus got to participate in the murder of Tullius, but it wasn't Tullius who poisoned Melitta. By winning the Primus and getting his freedom, he helped ensure that the real poisoner, Lucretia, would embark on a downward slide that would end up with her injured, her husband dead and the house destroyed.

• Oh, Batiatus. You might want to pipe down about the house getting its "proper reward." You're tempting the gods into giving you your proper reward, which involves your throat being cut five years hence.

• Who among us wasn't tempted to sing, as Gannicus left the House of Batiatus, "His **** rages on, his **** rages on!"

• 'Spartacus' fans, I'll miss you! Keep checking Stay Tuned for updates on the next season of the Starz show, which arrives early next year. And if you enjoyed 'Spartacus,' you may like HBO's upcoming drama 'Game of Thrones,' which I haven't seen but which promises lots of exciting action, intrigue and ambiguous morality. As of April 17, I'll be recapping that show for TV Squad, so come back here if you're interested in checking that out.

• All my 'Spartacus' interviews and recaps are here, in case you missed any. Gratitude to all of you for reading these weekly reviews!

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I didnt understand that last scene when they show lucretia and her husband in the pool of blood

can anyone help me understand that?

thank you!! I loved this gripping series and understand how humans were so primal to its own detriment

thank you to all who produced and presented this production for reminding us to never become that again
h

June 03 2011 at 4:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tam-Tam

Such a cool series to watch. I only saw 1 episode but it already caught my attention. I tried to find a downloading site to download everything about Spartacus. Instead I found this link http://games.meegoh.com/spartacusgods-of-the-arena/ which leads me to a game review about Spartacus. Funny because I never thought that the Spartacus series has a game dedicated to it. :)

April 15 2011 at 3:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Shen

Awesome!

March 28 2011 at 8:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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March 17 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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March 17 2011 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
drail2448

When was Naevia recast? Never heard that one...

February 28 2011 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LV

Did you know the actual history of the slave rebellion against the Romans? Gannicus will join Spartacus and the rest to free the slaves! There was no way he was going to die in Episode 6. Read about the Third Servile War.

February 28 2011 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TAUSIF

Mo are you going to be recapping Camelot?

February 27 2011 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
328698277

Great prequel, I was positive these writers and staff could produce a quality show without some of its stars, but I was completely surprise of how they went about doing it. I was also surprise, that they could great suspense, even taking into account the inevitable "i know how it ends" factor of prequel. I didn't even know Lucretia was alived, until I saw her moving during those last few seconds. I will miss some of the characters. Loved Gannicus. Love the show. Here's to hoping they can pull off another great season.

February 27 2011 at 11:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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