Day 121: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011)

A lot of people complained when Netflix introduced its new, sleek layout. But not me. No, I kept my lips sealed. I tried to give the redesign a chance and after a while, I became accustomed to it (note, I didn’t say that I liked it). Sure, it was somewhat convenient to have all seasons of a television show under one umbrella category; but how was I supposed to mark my queue progress since I couldn’t take shows off my list until I either (1) watched the entire series or (2) gave up and removed it? So I just decided to review things as I normally would, but just keep them on the old queue until the series was done. I’m not making much progress here.


However, list-keeping aside, I have discovered another flaw with this Netflix television system of consolidation (or NTSC as I would like to dub it). You see, I don’t typically have an across-the-board rating for an entire series. I’ve found that certain seasons are better than others and it’s usually hard enough to rate a season due to the variances in episode quality (let’s just say that the flashback episodes that recycle old scenes do not sit well with me). Therein lies my problem with Spartacus. When I reviewed the first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I gave it an average score. However, after watching season 1.5, Gods of the Arena, I am not sure how to handle the series overall score—mostly because I liked the 1.5 season quite a bit more than the first.


Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is a prequel to Blood and Sand. Sadly, the star of the first season became ill and was unable to shoot the second season. So Starz decided to continue the series, focusing this time on how Batiatus (John Hannah) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) came to run a powerful gladiator “school.” Normally, I would call foul here, noting that the prequel idea seems forced and unnecessary—but it actually worked.


Gods of the Arena is teeming with political intrigue, social maneuvering, and drama. In the beginning of season 1.5, Batiatus and Lucretia are a far cry from the master manipulators they were in season 1—consider them evil masterminds in training. I found it interesting to see what life events changed them from the “ordinary” slave-owning Roman citizens to the political movers and shakers they eventually become.


During this season, we are introduced to a “young” Crixus and follow his journey to, what we know from watching the first season will be, gladiator greatness. At first, I thought it would be less dramatic to know what was going to happen in this season. I mean, I could tell from watching Blood and Sand who would survive Gods of the Arena. However, the writing is strong enough to keep me interested in the story—allowing the audience to gain a more intimate view of characters and their motivations.


Funny enough, with the subtitle, Gods of the Arena, this season spends less time actually in the arena than its predecessor and therefore ends up with less fight scenes overall. Fear not, however, when we do see the battles in the arena, they are still extremely gory, violent, and disgusting. It’s just that the focus of this season is all about how Batiatus gains control of his family’s business and how he uses it to gain prestige in Roman society. Something about that just works with me.


About halfway through Gods of the Arena, it struck me that both John Hannah and Lucy Lawless were really good actors. I love it when I watch a scene and am able to understand what a character is thinking just by the look on their face, not the words that they say. In this case, it seemed reflective of their society—they were speaking all of the right words, but dangerous plots were being formed right under that socially acceptable facade. Plus, they don’t use contractions; and say “gratitude” instead of “thanks” and “apologies” in place of “’scuse me.” I may have to use these phrases in my daily life to make me feel a bit more classy.


As it is a prequel, it isn’t absolutely necessary that you watch Blood and Sand before Gods of the Arena; however, it may help. There are so many subtleties and actions that hint to the first season, I think it would be beneficial to have seen it. Plus, it makes the story that much more juicy—like watching a soap opera (but hey, didn’t all of those get canceled?).


Overall, I enjoyed this show. Heck, I even liked it more than the first season, probably because it seemed to rely a bit more on story and less on the violence to progress the plot. As a historical fiction fan, I thought it was a fun time. Huzzah (wait—is that the wrong era?)!


Thanks (er, gratitude) for reading and have an excellent day!


Score: B+

Instant Queue: 250

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