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Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Episode One: Past Transgressions Review

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Written by : published Tuesday 29th March 2011

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Watch Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Online

 

The world of Gladiatorial bloodsport returned to UK television screens this week with Starz's prequel series to its acclaimed Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Gods of the Arena, debuting on Sky1. As a huge fan of Blood and Sand, I have been anticipating a return to the ludus for some time and was not disappointed by the blood-soaked hour of television that followed.

 

Gods of the Arena is set in the not so distant past, presenting us with the opportunity to see first-hand the circumstances which led to the likes of Crixus, Ashur and Batiatus becoming the twisted, tortured, obsessive characters we get later in Blood and Sand.

 

It was fantastic to see Batiatus back after his unfortunate but justified demise at the end of last season and it's a real shame knowing that he won't return for the second season of Blood and Sand, but at least we get to watch John Hannah brilliantly portray the calculating, power-hungry Roman for a further six episodes.

 

This younger, naiver Batiatus has just taken control of his father's ludus, and is struggling to make a name for himself outside of his father's shadow. The fact that Batiatus didn't start out quite as tyrannous as he later becomes didn't come as a surprise, but to see him openly embracing Solonius (Craig Walsh-Wrightson), whose demise Batiatus devises in the latter half of Blood and Sand, was a real shock. But a welcome one as, over the course of this series, we will inevitably see what goes towards the dissolving of this seemingly strong friendship.

 

To the plot...Episode one, Past Transgressions, revolves around Batiatus' ambition to have his star gladiator Gannicus given a better stage to showcase his flamboyant and entertaining fighting style. Gannicus is as close to a rock star as ancient Rome has to offer. Wine and women are his reward for success in the arena and training seems to be at the bottom of his agenda. Still, results are what matters most and Gannicus is a killing machine, at one point forcing a foe's throat to slide down the blade of their own sword while Gannicus is blindfolded, unable to see.

 

After such brutal but nevertheless crowd-pleasing displays, Gannicus is seen as a hot commodity by those who would profit from owning him. I won't say much more about the plot, so not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but it doesn't take a genius to see where all of this is headed. A huge power struggle between Batiatus and those who wish to crush him looks inevitable.

 

The rest of the episode gave us brief looks at the lives of familiar characters from Blood and Sand. Oenomaus is still a gladiator at this point, not yet holding the title of Doctore, and is retraining for combat after suffering an injury in the arena. His disappointment at not being chosen to defend the honour of the House of Batiatus was portrayed expertly by Peter Mensah.

 

Lucy Lawless was excellent as the younger Lucretia. She played the soon-to-be devious wife of Batiatus innocently and full of life, and with ironic hints at events yet to come. I laughed out loud when she was asked if she'd ever considered sleeping with one of the gladiators at her disposal and reacted with repulsion. This is a Lucretia we're unfamiliar with, and knowing what kind of person she becomes later, it is all quite tragic. I can see her friendship with socialite Gaia (Jaime Murray) ending in disaster; the two of them partaking in the consumption of opium and lesbianism could result in the decay of Lucretia's moral compass.

 

Crixus' origins are also explored. Looking dishevelled and clearly unfit to compete with the seasoned Gladiators at Batiatus' ludus, someone unfamiliar with the first season of Blood and Sand might not rate his chances of survival, but some of us know better.

 

Ashur, with a skinhead and plaited goatee, exudes confidence, even as a trainee himself, and looks to almost pity Crixus when the Gaul arrives for training. Ashur, one of my favourite characters from Blood and Sand, is always great to watch, Nick Tarabay oozing slimy smugness and channelling Shakespeare's Iago with every venomous flash of his tongue. How he comes to cripple his leg in combat is up there with my most anticipated moments to come from Gods of the Arena.

 

Fans of Blood and Sand will be more than happy with this opening episode. It is an extremely strong start to what looks sure to be an exciting, insightful mini-series. With so many hints at the past lives of the occupants of the House of Batiatus in Blood and Sand expect jaw-dropping revelations and more exciting action from Gods of the Arena.

8/10

 

Watch Spartacus: “Gods of the Arena” online

 

About the author JakeCunliffe125

JakeCunliffe125

I am a first year Journalism student studying at Huddersfield University. So far so good.

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