Stars: Lucy Lawless, John Hannah, Peter Mensah, Dustin Clare, Jaime Murray
Writer: Steven S. DeKnight
Director: Jesse Warn
Network: STARZ, airs Friday nights
Original Telecast: January 21, 2010
The finale of SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND was a vengeance filled slash fest, where characters you loved to hate or hated to love were dispatched by Spartacus and his gladiator army with a fervor seldom seen in even horror movies. When the dust settled, pretty much everyone in the House of Batiatus was dead or dying (though we do know now that Lucy Lawless will be returning as Lucretia next season).
The series was a hit for STARZ, and its future seemed assured, but with the sudden illness of leading man Andy Whitfield, everything shuddered to a halt while the fate of the show was decided. In the interim the producers and writers came up with the concept of doing a prequel mini-series that takes place five years before the events of BLOOD AND SAND, and gave themselves a chance to move forward with a new season without the leading actor being needed while he gained better health. Now of course, everyone knows that the lead has been recast with Mr. Whitfield’s blessing, and the series will return next year with a story moving forward from the end of last season.
SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA has an incredibly clever framing device that starts the episode with a large score of flashbacks to the first series, and then ends with the camera zooming into Batiatus’ (John Hannah) eye. This almost makes the viewer feel as if this is part of his life flashing before his mind’s eye as he lies dying on the floor of the once mighty gladiatorial house he built.
GODS OF THE ARENA gives fans of the first series a chance to see characters in a new light, and to meet some of them over again for the first time, since these versions of almost everyone seem far less hardened than the people we watched last go around. Batiatus and Lucretia are not the bitter, twisted conniving people that they were in the first series. They both seem to believe that they can rise in the ranks of the city simply by working hard and having the fruits of their labors (the gladiators that they produce from their training house) recognized.
The House of Batiatus is not one of the top gladiatorial schools as it is in the first series, and we get to see Batiatus (Hannah) try to make good while reaching beyond his father’s name to attain a position in the city before the new gladiator arena is built. This is a lighter side of Hannah’s character, and he handles the less-intense and slightly more whimsical version of this character with panache. He ends up having his head handed to him by some thugs working for one of the city’s more powerful men, and it’s easy to see right from this point how he learns to play dirty and kill anyone who gets in his way.
Lucretia (Lawless) is exquisitely beautiful as always, and she is so much kinder in this series. Gone is the scheming woman who would stop at nothing to not only help raise her husband, but to also fulfilling all of her wants and desires. Her new bosom buddy in this series is the equally stunning Jaime Murray (WAREHOUSE 13). Murray plays Lucretia’s old pal and the two share some interesting times, opium, and sex in the first episode. It is clear just from this first taste that her character will have a strong influence on the development of Lucretia’s twisted personality we all knew and loved.
One of the genius things that writer and creator Steven S. DeKnight does with this episode is he introduces each character in an extremely subtle and natural way. This allows the audience to remember the characters and who they were and are destined to become in the first season of Spartacus, and makes the new interactions between them that much more engaging.
Peter Mensah is back, but not as Doctore this time. He is Oenomaus, still one of the legendary gladiators, but he is recovering from this battle with the giant who nearly killed him. Surprisingly enough Oenomaus has a wife in this, who is also working in the house, and I can’t help but wonder if we are to witness the tragedy of her death that he spoke of in the first season.
Dustin Clare joins the cast as the current gladiator champion Gannicus, and he is quite the charming rogue. He is easily as likeable as Spartacus as far as character is concerned, and perhaps he is even more likeable since he doesn’t have the weight of guilt and depression that Spartacus had to deal with throughout almost every episode of the first season. Hopefully, Gannicus doesn’t meet his end by the completion of this series, but knowing the life of a gladiator on this show is somewhat limited, it wouldn’t surprise me.
The effects and pacing are as solid as the first season of the show, and this actually hooks you in even faster, since many of the situations and characters are already established. If you enjoyed the first SPARTACUS I would be willing to bet you will be as easily sucked into this world as you were the first time.
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CLICK HERE for ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with LUCY LAWLESS