Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Gods of the Arena is a 6-part prequel to the spectacular Spartacus: Blood & Sand. It charts the lives of Quintus & Lucretia Batiatus as they use all their cunning and guile to machinate their way to becoming the best lanista (and wife) of all of Capua; obtaining with it the power and societal stature such a position should bear.
Spartacus himself is nowhere to be seen and in truth the series was commissioned to bridge the gap before Spartacus: Vengeance, the true second series, airs early 2012. Despite this, the show exhibits a great many qualities seasoned viewers will be familiar with as well as delivering a wholly entertaining swords ‘n’ sandals affair in its own right – for the most part.
We pick up the story with Quintus currently head of his household and gladiator training ground but only by default; his (much loved and respected – by the community) father is merely away in warmer climes to aid his health. Lucretia and her husband do not yet have an elevated place in Capuan society. Indeed, the Gladiators are not even allowed to fight after the midday sun – the point at which any result could carry favour with the city’s most exalted company given they only make their way to the (soon to be replaced) arena after that hour! Of course, we know where the story is headed in broad terms and as such are assured from the very beginning things will not remain this way for long.
It is great fun to see these characters we know so well in such alien situations given the bulk of our history with them. It’s not just the Batiatus’ either. Doctore (he’s not yet), Asher (not yet a brother), Crixus (a Gaul with no value) and many others we are familiar with stand present and corrected. This is arguably the most enjoyable aspect of the show – we know these people and where they ended up. We know some of their history (Doctore, or Oenomaus, had a wife, for instance) as well. It makes the early episodes very intriguing as you are compelled to join together the various dots and try and work out where the various squares of the patchwork quilt will end up. The first 4 of the 6 episodes are wonderful in part due to this. It makes it exciting, not knowing what’s going to happen but having ideas given you know the endpoint.
Unfortunately this knowledge is also the downside to the series, and the latter episodes become predictable and lack any tension because by then it’s clear exactly what will happen. You know who survives, who doesn’t and you know the state of relationships. Its unavoidable, if watched as a prequel, so is not a criticism on the writers in anyway. It does however affect the overall enjoyment and stop a good show from following in the footsteps of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and becoming a great one.
The levels of gore, violence and sex in Gods of the Arena are at least on a par with that of Blood and Sand. In fact, the show probably pushes the boundaries with its depiction of sex, with threesomes a (more) regular occurrence and multiple acts of non-consensual intercourse (although within the realms of the story it was consensual, given that a slave was offered to certain men....but the act itself is clearly shown to discomfort the slave and by extension the viewer). Despite this, it sat well in the confines of this story and its structure and did not feel out of place. Spartacus has a certain DNA and this had to be adhered to.
This reviewer watched the show as a prequel. Others have watched it before Blood and Sand and have still enjoyed the show immensely. This points to the fact that the show’s frontrunners, writers and cast have worked together on each series to create a stunning example of life in the Roman Empire. Based on real life events in the first instance a rich world has been constructed, stunning in execution and enjoyable from first to last. It stands as testament that the only criticism of this shorter bridging series is that you know at the end what’s going to happen. Yet that is unavoidable. In every aspect over which there is control the bar is continuously kept high. Gods of the Arena does not supersede Blood and Sand as a result, but it more than sates the hunger ahead of Vengeance. Yes, Dominus.