Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena episode 1 review: Past Transgressions

Spartacus prequel-series Gods Of The Arena kicks into action. But how does it fare? Ti has been checking it out...

1. Past Transgressions

Spartacus is back! Well, sort of.

This six part prequel series was conceived as a ‘stop gap’ while Starz made a decision about what to do regarding lead actor Andy Whitfield being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. While it looked  for a while that Whitfield may return to the role, a re-occurrence in the disease has forced him to pull out, leading to replacement, Liam McIntyre, stepping into his sandals.

It was a hard decision for Starz to make, as the show has proved to be very popular, in no small part due to Whitfield’s driven titular hero. While many have said the show should just be cancelled or ‘wait’ till Whitfield is well enough to resume the role, that makes no sense from a business point of view and re-casting was an inevitability.

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Time will tell how McIntyre, who was seen in The Pacific, will do in the role, but he does look very similar to his predecessor.

Anyway, on with the review of the first episode of the prequel series, Gods Of The Arena, which tells the story of The House of Batiatus before their success with champions Crixus and Spartacus. At this point in time, Batiatus and his gladiatorial school are low on the pecking order and he is doing everything he can do gain the favour of the local magistrate.

He does have an ace up his sleeve, however, prized fighter Gannicus, a ‘rock star’ gladiator who, with his good looks, charming grin and ability to beat the shit out of everyone, has made him a legend in and around Capua. He is the current champion in the House of Batiatus and has grown to prominence ever since the former champion Oenomaus (The man who will become Doctore, Peter Mensah) was wounded in his bout with The Shadow of Death.

Unlike Oenomaus and Crixus, who fight for honour and their dominus, Gannicus is all about the glory and reward. It is no surprise, considering Batiatus throws wine and slave girls at him at the end of every victory. Of course, it has made the champion cocky, and considering he is nowhere to be seen in the main series, we must assume his fall is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Oenomaus is trying to regain Batiatus’ favour and his title as Champion, not an easy task when the current top gladiator is beating people blindfolded. It is clear that Oenomaus (who was one of the delights of the first season as the honourable Doctore) will have quite a journey over the next six episodes, as he replaces the current ‘old school’ Doctore.

However, that’s the problem with prequel sequels. Along with familiar series regulars (Lucy Lawless’ Lucretia, Manu Bennett’s Crixus and Nick Tarabay’s Ashur), there are a host of new faces we haven’t seen before, which only means that they are destined to die. Among them are Oenomaus’ wife Melitta, who, considering Oenomaus’ single status in Blood And Sand, spells dark times for the future Doctore.

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Apart from that, it’s business as usual, but the first episode still manages to cram a hell of a lot in: Batiatus manoeuvring for favour against his youthful and snotty rival, Vettius, who has the favour of local socialite, Tullius (Neighbours‘ Max Hoyland, Stephen Lovatt), Crixus joining the House of Batiatus and having to prove himself among the new recruits, including Ashur and Lucretia’s friendship with yet another status-obsessed vixen called Gaia.

Still, that means we get an inevitable lesbian scene, and if I was to have one complaint about the first season of Spartacus: Blood And Sand it was that it, er, was clearly missing a decent lesbian scene.

Bearing in mind we know the fate of so many of these characters, it will be interesting to see if the prequel series will be able to make us care about the likes of Gannicus in just six episodes, but considering the show has lost none its flair for gratuitous violence (geysers of blood everywhere) and sex (I swear there was more sex in this episode than in most of last season), all the ingredients are present for another rollicking time in ancient Capua.

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