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Gods of the Arena has been entertaining, though in some ways it has felt like it has just been setting the table for something bigger this whole time. Things might be coming to a head after what happened last night, though. A character died sooner than I expected, and as much as Titus wants to avoid confrontation with those above his station, I don’t know how much longer he can hold his son’s ambition in check.
I’ve been thinking about what the lack of a central figure like Spartacus himself has meant for this miniseries. The show basically has all the elements that made the first season really work by the end – an interesting if somewhat sophomoric visual sense, bloody action scenes that are very competently exciting for television, intriguing old-world politics, and yeah, lots of naked women. But without Spartacus, there’s no moral center that grounds things that you can root for. Gannicus doesn’t quite fill the same niche, and no other gladiators fit either. The closest thing the prequel has had to a protagonist is Batiatus, but while an entertaining dude, it’s hard to really root for him with a lot of the things he does. So the show consistently entertains on the same level as Blood and Sand, but it’s just harder to care about.
Still, it’s what we have right now, and it’s still pretty good. Beneath the Mask introduced yet another wealthy Roman noble who has influence over selection in the games, and on the hunt for a new husband, Gaia reintroduces herself to him. But surprise of surprises, he’s heard about the special shows that have been happening back at the Batiatus household, and would like to enjoy the pleasures for himself. Titus has been trying to convince Quintus to accept his station and not try too hard to rise above it. But his son wants too badly to have a spot in the games when the new arena opens, so he convinces him to help him look over a new slave shipment on the coast while his wife and Gaia host the orgy party to end all orgy parties at the house. They’re hopeful that this will finally put an end to them having to whore out their home and slaves, but it’s wishful thinking, and to make things worse, Solonius tells Tullius about the event after being asked to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. Solonius wanted to make sure he didn’t get involved in the debauchery, but it has the opposite effect, ensuring that Batiatus’ nemesis will show up.
At the coast, after a cute little nod where Quintus scoffs at the idea of purchasing a Thracian, his father tells him he knows the slaves aren’t why he brought him here. Quintus is worried, but gets a bit of relief with Titus assumes it’s because his son is trying to repair their relationship. Unfortunately, he wishes to return home before dawn, and won’t be convinced otherwise. Back at the house, everybody’s having a good time, except slaves who have been broken by being forced into sex and Gannicus, who is coerced into letting Tullius best him in a duel with real steel. Tullius believes he wins with actual skill, and it fills his head a bit, which probably encourages him to later brain Gaia with a vase in retaliation for trying to convince him not to tell anyone about the party with her body. He won’t be bribed, and he’s confident enough with his position over Batiatus that he thinks he can get away with murdering his friends in his house. Titus forbids revenge when he gets back earlier, and even orders Quintus to get rid of Lucretia, who he believes is enabling his poor behavior. I don’t see things going to well for Tullius or Titus in the near future.
I must talk about what’s happening with the gladiators, of course. The only real action in this episode occurs in the beginning, with the first two matches both having implications. The first is Titus seeing his first fight featuring a combatant using trident and net, and after he wins, Titus permits Quintus to arm one of his men similarly. After that, Ashur and his Syrian friend win a two-on-two fight, but Ashur would have been killed if he hadn’t been saved by his friend, though he seems unaware of this. Later, Oenomaus finally makes a step towards being a real Doctore when he uses the whip for the first time, after a gladiator scoffs at his order to take up the trident. People start looking at him a bit differently after that. Later (or earlier, who knows) Ashur gets paid less than his friend, and is insulted when Oenomaus finally drops the bomb that he’s only still around so he can translate for his friend, who’s the far superior fighter. He doesn’t react well, later tricking his friend into getting taken from behind by one of the partiers. Not cool, Ashur.
The other two developments are Crixus giving a pep talk to Barca, still mourning his lover’s death, and giving a hint of his future as the top dog in the place, and Melitta and Gannicus admitting they have feelings for each other, embracing outside the party. I don’t think that’s going to end well either, considering neither are anywhere to be seen in a few years. Only two episodes left, and I expect the streets to be running red with blood by the end of them.