Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena "Missio"

Non Spoiler Review:
Missio follows Batiatus' plot to retaliate against and usurp Vettius' monopoly on the new arena after last week's humiliation. One lesson taken from season one of Spartacus is that Batiatus can't tolerate anyone disrespecting his auth-or-it-tay. Couple that with one of his crazy schemes to elevate his house and anyone in his orbit tends to get hit hard.

The episode title refers to the two fingered sign of surrender gladiators give to spare their life. Many parallels can be drawn by the events shown in the prequel with those suffered by Spartacus, Varro and his compatriots several years hence. Here we get more of Gannicus and Oenamaus' close friendship that is put to the test.

This is a more thoughtful and tragic episode made poignant through the suffering of beloved characters as they move closer to the season one status quo. While no big epic battles this week, what we lacked in decapitations was more than made up for in threesomes and public urination.

Spoilers Now!
As morning breaks, beaten Batiatus stumbles home to the stares of onlookers. Jump to a week later, as he climbs out of bed against Medicus' advice. Lucretia is buoyed to see him on his feet and wants him to speak to the magistrate about his assault, but Batiatus knows he's just a puppet of Tullius.

A powerful man, Quintilius Varis is coming to Capua to find gladiators for his own games. Tullius' plan is to sell him some of his stock and offer him Gannicus. To this end, he finds Solonius in the market buying wine for Batiatus. He offers to pay for the wine in exchange for delivering a message.

Oenomaus continues to train Crixus and provide him some discipline in his fighting skills. Crixus manages to land a good hit on the former champion, and impresses. Once back in the mix with the other trainees, Crixus also manages to best Ashur in friendly sparring. Doctore is pleased with his former student Oenomaus' success with the Gaul, and promises to speak with Batiatus on his behalf about his return to the arena.

Batiatus ponders his father's gladiators and their past victories (with a few short but cool flashbacks of various battles). Solonius arrives, offering him his wine, and bringing an offer that Tullius will double his bid for Gannicus and accept Batiatus' men in the games. Batiatus smashes the wine, offended with Solonius for even thinking of bringing such news. What does Solonius get in return? Equal position in the games. But if he refuses, Solonius will also share in his banishment from the arena, so their fates are tied together. Tullius plans on meeting with Varis the next day, so Solonius asks him to think on it, but vows to stand with him no matter the decision. The first hints of a strain on that friendship are beginning to show.

Already enraged by their chat, Batiatus walks out to view the gladiators, spying new recruit Indus give the missio signal during practice. Outraged at his weakness, he condemns him to the mines, much to everyone's shock, including Doctore.

Batiatus will see his house in ruin before he yields to Tullius, so he and Lucretia set about scheming—if they win over Varis and he requests his admission into the games, even Tullius could not refuse.

Gannicus and Oenomaus are drinking together when Melitta arrives. The two are debating their lives as slaves and gladiators. Gannicus accepts his lot as a slave, free of choice and conscience. But Melitta criticizes him for not considering what may happen when presented with a choice he can't live with. What if he was ordered to fight Oenomaus? Gannicus jokes he would give his friend a good death. Some foreshadowing there...

Crixus later comes to Gannicus for advice. He wants to know how to become a champion. Gannicus laughs. The only way to become champion is to never lose, he answers simply.

Batiatus has Barca accompany him to the market, along with the Syrians, Ashur and Dagan, and even Indus, who has been granted a respite. Doctore questions the use of his gladiators for such a mission, and Batiatus admonishes him for expressing his opinion. Batiatus will allow the new recruits to earn their mark if they succeed in their task. But this only angers Doctore further.

Everyone knows their parts, including Gaia and Lucretia, who arrive in the market. But Gaia is also interested in securing Varis as a husband, which alarms Lucretia that she might suddenly derail the plot for her own ends.

Indus greets Vettius who is on his way for Varis' arrival. Indus tells him he is with Varis' party, who wants to see the arena first. He convinces Vettius and escorts him to the arena. On the way, Ashur ambushes them, killing Vettius' men and beating him to a pulp. They leave him alive (though urinating on him). Unfortunately for Indus, Vettius saw his face, so Ashur had orders to kill him. He just can't get a break.

Varis arrives and is greeted by Gaia (familiar with her through her late husband). She brings over Lucretia and begins talking up the House of Batiatus. He's offended Vettius is not there, so the two women offer to entertain him and take him to Batiatus' villa to escape the infernal heat. As they lead him off, Batiatus watches, pleased.

Batiatus returns home, and Gaia introduces them. Varis is surprised to learn he's a lanista. Batiatus is coy about his gladiators, but tells him Vettius will give him a good deal. Varis is offended that he might be thought of as cheap, so Gaia takes him to see the stock.

Varis wishes a demonstration, so Gaia suggests Gannicus and the Gaul fight. Batiatus is reluctant, but accedes to his wishes. Varis is surprised they're using wooden swords, so Batiatus tells them to use steel. Doctore fumes over this and the fact that a gladiator without a mark is fighting. Crixus just looks terrified.

Battle begins, quite one-sided to start, until Crixus gets a second wind and brings Gannicus down in a surprise move (especially for Gannicus). But only for a moment, as Gannicus takes him out of commission and Crixus is at his mercy. Gannicus looks to his master. Varis leaves it up to Gaia and she lets Crixus live.

Varis is smitten with Gannicus' prowess and asks him to be brought to them. Gaia is getting too flirty with Varis, and draws him away from Batiatus and Lucretia, but she assures them she knows what she's doing, as she plans to ply him with opium and wine.

Irritated with her, Batiatus gets Doctore to bring Gannicus up to present to Varis. Doctore is showing more insolence again, outraged that Ashur and the others get their mark without going into battle. Batiatus has had enough of his sass, so removes him as Doctore with instructions Oenomaus will replace him.

While Gaia continues her seduction of Varis, Batiatus tells Gannicus to please Varis in whatever he wishes. End of discussion. He's sick of all this talking back from his servants. Varis appears very interested in Gannicus' perfect physique, but he's had too much wine to partake himself, so tells Gannicus to put on a little show for them with Melitta. Batiatus tells him they will do as commanded. 

Ashur and his compatriots get their mark from a very angry Doctore who is abusing the men as he brands them. Oenomaus sees his behavior and steps in. Doctore abruptly challenges him to battle to see if he's learned all his lessons. Oenomaus is reluctant to fight his mentor, and the other gladiators try to intervene, but Doctore strikes and wounds him, so Oenomaus is forced to defend himself. Of course the battle goes to the edge of the cliff, and Oenomaus ultimately fatally stabs Doctore. He says he's proud he taught Oenomaus well. And dies.

While that's going on, the even more awkward scene continues inside. Lucretia, to her credit, shows a great deal of empathy for her slave, and so does her husband, but Batiatus is adamant that he is in control of his house. Gannicus and Melitta perform for the crowd and she looks like she even might be enjoying it a wee bit. 

Later, Oenomaus recounts to his master what happened but can't understand why Doctore went mad. Batiatus explains he intended to make him Doctore. He's beyond returning to the arena now. With that double shock, Oenomaus asks of his wife. Batiatus tells him he will send him to her.

Varis takes his leave, promising further discourse with Gaia, and he announces he wants to see Gannicus in the primus of his games—terms to be discussed. Batiatus is elated and congratulates Gannicus for elevating his house.

Gannicus watches Melitta leave. Both are ashamed and say nothing. Melitta goes to bathe while Doctore's body is taken away. Oenomaus is disconsolate as his wife arrives. He tells her he's done a terrible thing. She tells him they do what they must in this house. Lucretia and Batiatus indulge themselves in some passionate celebration while Gaia watches from the curtains. This time Lucretia beckons and Gaia joins in for a threesome.

A great episode, and one that shows Spartacus is, at its heart, a fine drama without the action as its  primary focus. There were fitting parallels with these events and future ones—the Gannicus/Oenomaus friendship forced into conflict like Spartacus and Varro. Batiatus' ongoing rage at having his authority questioned turns him into monster lashing out at everyone. And the tenuous circumstances of his servants when put at the mercy of the whims of their masters.

There has to be some big surprise coming with Gannicus. He doesn't seem to care about anything aside from being a gladiator, and this week proves he will do what he's told by his masters. But there was an odd look when he watched Barca and his lover, so I'm suspecting some sort of revelation soon.

Missio moves several characters further along their trajectories. The seeds of discontent sown between Batiatus and Solonius. Crixus as a terrified novice struggling to survive from day to day. The welcome and inevitable fall of the insubordinate Doctore, especially after refusing to allow the recruits to take the oath. It's impressive when even Ashur can elicit sympathy. Batiatus seems to have won his place in the new arena, but has likely drawn a worse revenge from Vettius for letting him live.

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