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Spartacus: Gods of the Arena – The Bitter End

The final episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena offered a few surprises, while at the same time finally moving all the pieces into the places they need to be for the show to make sense when it picks back up five years later. It’s a bit overly convenient that all these major tumultuous events in everyone’s lives would happen right in the same time span, but if you let the TV logic do its work, the show turned out to be a solid, thoroughly enjoyable trip back to Capua.

The episode begins about a week after the last one, with Melitta’s body already burned to ashes and Titus’ about to be. Vettius arrives to add apparent insult to injury, warning Batiatus that it’s about time for him to make good on his father’s sale of Gannicus to Tullius. He still thinks that Tullius poisoned him though, and isn’t very receptive to the request. There are a couple of ironies to last week’s deaths for a couple of the characters. With Melitta dead, Gannicus no longer has a reason to want to leave the ludus, and with Titus gone, Quintus declares that none of the gladiators will be sent to the mines, making Ashur’s betrayal of his friend in the matches unnecessary. But there’s not much time to think about that, as Quintus gets to scheming with Solonius about how to get back at Tullius. Gannicus offers to let the sale go through and kill him after the transfer, willing to sacrifice his life for the cause. It’s too unlikely for Quintus’ tastes though, so he hatches a more devious plan.

 The Bitter End

Solonius shows up and apparently spills the beans to Tullius, but from the cut before you can tell he’s not saying everything. He tells them Gannicus is being shipped overseas before Tullius can get his hands on him, but then he leads Tullius and Vettius into an alley, much like the one the latter was ambushed in before. You’d think he’d have learned by now. They’re ambushed by Batiatus and his men, with the guards killed, Barca injured, and Tullius and Vettius captured. Tullius denies having anything to do with Titus’ death, but Batiatus won’t listen, he and his man stabbing him viciously and then sealing him inside the foundation of the new arena. He and Oenomaus get their revenge, though unknowingly against the wrong person.

The second half of the episode is dedicated to the opening of the arena. Solonius entices Vettius to lie about Tullius leaving on urgent business and also leaves himself, in return for his life, while also cutting a deal to take in all of Vettius’ gladiators, unbeknownst to Batiatus. He makes the move because he’s tired of toiling in obscurity, and we finally see where the friendship between the two men splinters. And before the first match, the arena is christened with the blood of several escaped slaves, including Naevia’s friend who she helped escape, as I called would last week.

I was bit confused by the games themselves – with all the struggles Batiatus went through to get his men into the arena, it’s a bit odd that the only gladiators there are either his or Solonius’. But it any case, we’re treated to a pretty entertaining montage of battles; the net guy proving he’s getting pretty good with it, Gannicus fighting off two men, Ashur finally winning a fight on his own, a fairly large gentleman killing a couple of Batiatus’ men who promises to be involved in the climactic final duel. Earlier in the episode Crixus gets his hair trimmed to please Lucretia, and the more familiar looking warrior promises to give Gannicus a proper fight in the primus.

Said primus consists of a battle royale, with Batiatus’ men against Solonius’, surrounded by a ring of fire. The only way to survive the fight is to be thrown outside of the ring, and Solonius’ men double Batiatus’ in number. But they’re mostly named characters, so they do pretty well. Ashur gets attacked by his friend, still pissed about that whole eye thing, but Ashur finally kills off his old buddy. The producers seem to apologize for a lack of proper sex scenes in the finale by having the inexplicably topless women in the stands act more frisky than usual. There’s lots of blood and mayhem, with the only people getting ringed out being the net guy (is he a character in Blood and Sand? I can’t remember), Ashur after Crixus shatters his leg to prevent him from killing Gannicus, and Crixus after Gannicus knocks him aside to protect him from the giant lug, the last one to be alive for Solonius. He seems to have the better of Gannicus for a while, but then Gannicus breaks off the head of his spear and then shoves it into his mouth, and then basically splits his whole face open. It’s possibly the most amazingly over the top, hilarious, and brutal death in 19 episodes so far that have been totally full of them.

Batiatus is triumphant, but Solonius gets in a small victory by enticing whatever noble is running the games into rewarding the champion on the arena’s first day with his freedom. Later he says goodbye to the other gladiators, sharing a moment with the Doctore and promising Crixus that he’ll give him his fight if he ever gains his own freedom and handing him a necklace he received when he became champion. I was honestly quite surprised by this ending – I fully expected Gannicus to end up dead before things were over. I now fully expect both him and possibly Vettius to show up somewhere next year in the parent show’s second season. Ashur hobbles onto the scene, not too pleased with Crixus, and Batiatus delivers an overly obvious speech to his wife about how they won’t speak of these ill times again, and how they’ll get what they deserve for their actions. Cut to them lying in pools of their own blood five years later, as off-screen Spartacus gives a speech of his own about the slaves rising up against their masters.

Gods of the Arena wasn’t the most subtle or original thing I’ve ever seen, but it was a consistently entertaining piece of pulp drama, delivering a tale of family, triumph, and betrayal while serving a direct purpose in the greater story it’s a part of. It wasn’t that easy of a thing to pull off, but they did it pretty darn well. Ultimately, I’m not sure it was actually necessary, unless those characters do end up showing up later on. But as a way to make the long wait for the next part of Spartacus’ story a little easier, I liked it quite a bit.
Rating
8.8

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