Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena "Paterfamilias"

Non Spoiler Review:
Paterfamilias brings to Capua the infamous Titus, father of House Batiatus to create a lot of problems for his son, Lucretia and Gaia, and leads to the inevitable gladiatorial battle where Crixus is forced to prove himself. Oenomaus becomes Doctore, but finds exercising authority over his former compatriots to be a challenge. This week is Gannicus and Melitta-lite in favor of Barca, Auctus and Crixus (which is good, as those two deserve a break after last week's nasty business).

Paterfamilias is stuffed with all the makings of a great Spartacus episode—elaborate fight sequences, laugh-out loud moments, lots of sex (not one, but two threesomes), and ongoing tragedy and gravitas for our favorites. Titus' old school mentality wreaks havoc on Batiatus' schemes and makes for a lot of bittersweet moments given all the sacrifice suffered in Missio.

At the halfway point, this miniseries is hitting all the right beats. This episode continues to accelerate several plotlines and character arcs that will start to unfold very quickly. The combat scenes were tense and fantastic, even when the outcome was pretty much a given. Consequences from last week linger on and promise a lot of problems for pretty much everyone.

Spoilers Now!
Batiatus announces to the assembled gladiators that Gannicus will be fighting in the primus, while presenting Oenomaus (now Doctore) with the whip of his new station. Doctore accepts it reluctantly, having some doubt about how to earn the respect of the men as their trainer when he once fought alongside them. Melitta attempts to see the bright side of things, despite the position being earned at the expense of the former Doctore's life. Oenomaus remains oblivious to what transpired in the villa, and compliments Gannicus for what must have been his impressive prowess to convince Varis to have him in his games. 

Batiatus, Lucretia and new third, Gaia, are basking in the elevation of the house, indulging in some afternoon threesomeness when who walks in but Batiatus patriarch Titus! His arrival is unexpected, to say the least, and he summons his son to discuss the ludus. Lucretia is in a fit. Titus, as head of the family could throw them all out onto the street should he so wish. Lucretia attempts to greet him, but he will have none of her or Gaia's flattery.

Titus is furious with his son for refusing Tullius' offer for Gannicus, and so they've been excluded from the games—Solonius has apparently informed Titus of this out of  concern for his friend (uh oh). Titus berates his son for always seeking what lies beyond the horizon rather than being satisfied with the ludus. Batiatus protests that he's already arranged to participate in Varis' games with Gannicus, but Titus has no respect for the champion given he is one of his son's recruits. He decides he wants to review his men.

Ashur and Dagan are at first basking in the joy of being greeted as fellow gladiators, but that's quickly revealed to be a feint as the men spoil their food and continue to mock them. Until they're proved in battle, they remain lowly recruits. Dagan is infuriated and he and Barca nearly come to blows, but Ashur, always the more strategic one, stops him—and here we see the beginnings of his grudge against Barca.

Doctore sits with a quiet Gannicus just as Titus arrives. He is pleased to see Oenomaus and is surprised to find out this Doctore is dead (I thought this might get more mention, but he seems to brush it off). He leaves with Oenomaus, wishing to talk of the old days with his friend.

Lucretia and Batiatus commiserate about the chaos in the household. He laments that his father has robbed him of his gladiators and his house. But in order to have him leave sooner rather than later, he wants the house proven in order as quickly as possible.

Titus reviews the training under Oenomaus, but the men are slow to respond to his command. Barca balks at his decision to have to spar with Crixus, but a shout from Titus and he's quick to obey. Gannicus arises late, as usual, much to Titus' disgust. As he watches Crixus fight, Titus recalls the hefty price he commanded from the ledger, and orders Batiatus (also a late riser) to accompany him to town.

After Barca gives Crixus a thorough beating, Doctore suggests Gannicus offer the Gaul some fighting advice. The champion suggest he rid Barca of his trademark spear just as he did Gannicus his swords at the previous battle. 

Gaia and Lucretia are advised guests have arrived. It's Varis, with his thoroughly creepy friend, Cossutius, who has demanded introduction to the House of Batiatus after Varis sang their praises for showing him a good time. While Lucretia suggests they have a look at the gladiators training, Varis is more interested in the villa's other intimate delights. Lucretia chides that they don't make a habit of such things, but Varis ponders if Vettius will be more amenable and perhaps better suited to his primus. Lucretia acquiesces, but attempts to get Melitta off the hook this time around. She offers a gladiator of their choosing paired with an virgin slave, which leaves Diona and Naevia, who themselves have been longing to have a romp with one of the gladiators.

Lucretia chooses a burly gladiator for Cossutius and has Diona and Naevia disrobe themselves for inspection. Lucretia sends Melitta off on some household chores while Cossutius manhandles the other two women. Lucretia attempts to conceal her unease at having her servants used in such a way, but Cossutius chooses Diona and goes to watch the gladiator have sex with her. As if he weren't creepy enough, he gives Diona a speech that life is a mix of filth and beauty, which is why he chose such a dirty, unwashed partner for her. And then he joins in, as well.

Lucretia waits nervously, while Gaia attempts to make some inroads with Varis as a possible husband. But he seems to dismiss her by questioning her meagre dowry. Cossutius emerges, pleased with the hospitality, and he and Varis take their leave. Naevia waits for Diona to appear but she's thoroughly traumatized by the experience and says nothing. Melitta's earlier warning of plucking flowers to quickly will bruise the petals comes to mind.

Titus goes to visit Tullius in hopes of repairing the damage his son has wrought. Tullius greets his old friend with talk of the old days when business was handled properly. He introduces his associate Vettius who is looking as bruised as Batiatus last week. Tullius advises him that Vettius was beaten and missed his meeting with Varis, an odd coincidence given Varis ended up at Batiatus' villa. Titus demands an answer from his son, who suggests it was a fortunate turn of events. Disgusted, Titus orders Batiatus to wait in the street given his presence is antagonizing Vettius.

Batiatus finds Solonius in the market, who is angry that he might be implicated in the attack on Vettius, as well. He's surprised to learn Titus is in Capua (despite having messaged him). The two make amends, though it seems tenuous given the growing distrust between them.

Tullius and Titus emerge from their discussions. Tullius asks to chat with Solonius, so off they go for a walk, while Titus informs his son that he's made things right—Gannicus will not appear in the games. Batiatus will apologize to Tullius and give up the primus. In return, some of their men will be paired together to fight later in the day in the arena. And so all of Batiatus' success from last week has been erased. Titus tells him it shall be a lesson, for attempting to maneuver men above his station. 

After the sparring, Auctus and Barca discus Crixus' improved fighting skills, but as they indulge in a bit of foreplay they notice their pigeons are all dead—Ashur and Dagan have killed them to eat, given the men had soiled their meals. This goes over very badly and leads to a brawl that spills out into the courtyard.

Crixus simply watches, and as Gannicus questions him, he says he does not bear the mark, so will not participate. Doctore attempts to break up the fight and gets punched by Dagan. Titus arrives home in the midst of it all and one word from him chills the crowd.

Is this what his house has fallen to? He announces that Gannicus will not fight in the games. Batiatus attempts to soothe the situation by saying two pairs will take to battle in the midday games—Barca and Gnaeus and Auctus and Crixus. Gannicus is incensed, especially insulted that Crixus does not bear the mark.

Crixus, for his part, is terrified (kudos to Manu Bennett for really bringing depth to what could have been a simple musclebound character). Barca taunts him that he will die and Gannicus muses on the twists of fate that has Crixus doing battle while he does not. Crixus knows he has not earned the honor, but Gannicus tells him what he does with such unforeseen blessings is the true test of a man. 

In the morning, Auctus and Barca prepare to leave to fight. Lucretia laments after all they sacrificed the primus has been stolen from them. Titus is in surprisingly better spirits though, and he even graciously accepts Lucretia's offer of honey wine that she knows is his favorite. And she makes a point of deterring her husband from taking some (don't be too obvious Lucretia).

Titus is pleased that it shall be Auctus (one of his men) fighting Crixus (one of Batiatus'), to see who has chosen best and prove the better man between father and son and their contrasting views of the world.

The arena is packed for the midday games, and Barca and Gnaeus do battle in a very nicely choreographed fight scene. Gnaeus is brought down at last, and Varis graciously spares the man's life. As the next match is prepared, Doctore tells Crixus to fight with honor. Batiatus tells him he's shown great promise. He has the blood of a champion and he will prove them both worthy.

Titus begins to have a coughing fit as he sits with Tullius, Varis and Vettius. Tullius allows Titus the honor of addressing the crowd to make introduction, but his oratory is lacking compared to his son, and he's looking a little weak. He presents the final offering from House Batiatus—Crixus and Auctus. 

This is another beautifully shot battle. Crixus is wounded quickly, but unexpectedly manages to break Auctus' spear, bringing the two men into close combat which allows the Gaul to stab Auctus. "Barca has taught you well," he manages, and dies. Crixus basks in the glory and raises his sword to his master Batiatus, while a horrified Barca watches his lover die.

Crixus is branded into the brotherhood and recites the oath with honor. He is welcomed by all, including Gannicus and it looks like the two men are quickly becoming friends. While Gaia muses he may be a match for Gannicus someday it's Barca who comes up to him and tells him he fought well.

Titus admits he underestimated Crixus, as well as his son. When cleared of plots and schemes Batiatus honours himself. His son is thankful, and promises to see it continue in his father's absence, but Titus says the thrill of battle has lifted his spirits more than the climate of Sicilia could ever hope to. He will stay and run the lanista with his son. 

Paterfamilias certainly succeeded in drawing a variety of emotions—the return to intense and stunning battles, the absolutely disturbing scene with Diona, and Titus' agonizingly obsequious nature towards Tullius, unmaking all the achievement gained from Missio (leaving the sacrifice of Gannicus, Oenomaus and Melitta all the more tragic). At least it's been made pretty obvious that Lucretia has taken it upon herself to hasten Titus' departure in her own manner.

Auctus had a short, but tragic appearance as Barca's first lover. Having Crixus be the one to kill him is interesting, given Barca respects him so much in season one and the two are such good friends. We also get the spark of Ashur's hatred of Barca that will doom the latter.

This was really Crixus' episode to shine, moving him forward from recruit to full-fledged member of the brotherhood. Seeing such a veteran in season one contrasts wildly with the crazy-eyed novice he's been the last three weeks. He and Gannicus appear to be on a slow trajectory to becoming friends, as well, but will it end with an inevitable battle in the arena?

It was an unexpected twist to see the primus stolen from Batiatus so quickly, so it remains to be seen what direction the struggle with Tullius and Vettius will take, but it's a safe bet that Solonius is going to be put in a position to elevate his own situation at the expense of his friend. The wild card remains Varis—Batiatus and Lucretia have opened their house up to him and that promises to have greater repercussions. Sadly, we're at the halfway point already, but plots are going to be moving quite briskly as we approach the climax. In fact, I have a feeling that the final episode is going to involve a Godfather-level massacre of Batiatus' enemies.

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