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Last night’s Spartacus had some frustrating moments but it ultimately ended up as a pretty satisfying episode with the best action we’ve seen in the prequel thus far. As the title suggests, it involves someone’s father, with that someone being Quintus Batiatus; his father Titus arrives back from wherever he was, in the middle of Quintus having some fun with his lady friends, and is disgusted both by their display and the apparent sorry state of affairs at the ludus. Batiatus never really wanted to run a gladiator factory for a living, but he was forced into the family business, and Titus isn’t happy with some of his decisions.
Most notably, Titus is pretty furious over the apparent scheming his son went through to secure Gannicus a place in the main event for the upcoming games. He sees Gannicus as a parallel man to his own son, more interested in personal gain and whatever pleases him than honor and integrity. He works to repair his son’s damaged relationship with Tullius, mostly by making a number of concessions including sacrificing his spot in the primus for a couple of less important matches earlier in the day, even pitting his own men against each other. It’s no way to achieve fame in the games, and Titus seems more concerned with saving face and proper diplomacy than what actually makes sense to a man with ambition. Giving up the primus might make sense if there was something to gain, but if it’s just an attempt to make things right with Tullius, he’s doomed to fail. He’s never going to forget what happened, and all the negotiations will result in is Tullius knowing he has total control over Batiatus as long as his father is around.
The news gets worse for the beleaguered lanista when his father announces that he’s going to stick around after their success at the games and the prowess of Crixus in particular. But he might not be around for too much longer. There’s a scene where Lucretia serves him some honeyed wine that I didn’t think much of, but I’ve read some discussion of the episode online that has led to reasonable speculation based on the subtext that she might be poisoning him. I guess we’ll see in time.
Elsewhere, Lucretia and Gaia have the creepy Varis and his even creepier friend as guests, and he uses his ability to keep Gannicus out of the games (they don’t know Titus has already done so) as leverage to get another show. The friend chooses one of the dirtier gladiators to deflower one of the house’s few virgin servants, and uses it as a private lesson to her about the thin line between nobility and vermin. Also, Ashur and his friend aren’t respected as we guessed they wouldn’t, continuing to get their food pissed in by the other gladiators. They retaliate by eating some of Barca’s birds, and a brawl breaks out that further cements Titus’ displeasure with how Quintus runs the place.
Crixus struggles in the training against Barca’s spear, and admits to Gannicus that they are a weapon he has little experience against, but says that he’s learning more with each fight. Later in the games, after Barca wins a deathless battle against a random gladiator, Crixus is pitted against Auctus, one of Titus’ favorite discoveries as well as Barca’s lover and fellow spear user. Auctus appears to have the upper hand at first, but eventually Crixus breaks his weapon and stabs him through the chest. Ironically Barca loses his partner because he had trained Crixus too well against his technique, thought he later congratulates him on a well fought victory. As I mentioned before, Titus is inspired by the fight, and must admit that his son must have some skill for picking Crixus, even if it was mostly a politically-motivated purchase.
The prequel is already half over, and I’m not entirely sure where they’re going to go with the remaining three episodes. A few things will definitely have to happen. Titus has to be a goner for Batiatus to be fully in charge by the time Spartacus comes around. I imagine Tullius and his little friend, as well as Varis and his will have some reason to be gone from Capua as well. Gannicus is doomed, and it will probably involve him being forced to have sex with the new Doctore’s wife. Ashur will probably receive his injury that turns him into what he is in season one, and Crixus will somehow cement himself as the man to beat. The thing is, these are all character beats that have to happen, and it will be interesting to watch the way they all exactly play out, I just don’t think it’s nearly as compelling a story as Spartacus rising within the gladiator ranks and eventually inciting a revolt against their masters. It’s housekeeping, basically. It’s an enjoyable show to watch, I’m just struggling to care about the story at large in comparison to the second half of last year’s run. We’ll see how interesting they can make these developments, as inevitable as they may be.