A great deal of the marketing material surrounding Spartacus: Gods of the Arena shows Gannicus, but the man didn’t make much of an appearance in tonight’s episode. Perhaps that’s all for the best: We know his character isn’t around for events five years hence, so making him the centerpiece of the show does damage to those characters we know will be kicking around once the titular character finds himself in Batiatus’ ludus. What “Paterfamilias” attempted to show were the first real seeds of the events in Blood and Sand, at least in ways that felt organic and palpable. Early episodes creaked a bit under the weight of repositioning familiar faces in unfamiliar positions. Tonight started to push certain players down increasingly inevitable paths.
It’s perhaps helpful to think of Gannicus not so much as a man with hopes, dreams, and aspirations about which we’re meant to truly care. It’s not that he’s two-dimensional: His quiet guilt over events with Melitta proved him to be more than just the heartbreak kid of Capua. (Props to all readers that pointed out last week just how much he resembles WWE wrestler Shawn Michaels. Now, I’ll be waiting him to finish opponents off with some Sweet Sand Chin Music.) Rather, it’s helpful to look at him as both a product of and a reflection of Batiatus at this particular place and time. It’s often said that we get the government we deserve: Well, apparently, lanistas get the champions they deserve as well.
So much of this episode concerned the intergenerational split at hand at this particular point in Capuan history. The divide between Quintus and his father Titus has been hinted at throughout both series, but tonight brought Titus into the light at the most inopportune moment. (You know, the moment in which Gaia and Batiatus were filming an adult-centric commercial for wine country.) Seeing Gannicus and Batiatus both stumble into the courtyard, both late, both apparently hung over, links the pair not only in Titus’ mind but in our own as well: Both have natural talent, but neither is able to bring the best out of each other. Gannicus’ placement in the mid-morning games seems unfair to them but, if one steps back, potentially fair at this point.
All of this makes the impulse purchase of Crixus all the more important in the overall scheme of the show, a moment perhaps even more important than the purchase of Spartacus himself. Sure, the prequel had to place Crixus in the ludus to be champion from a purely mechanical perspective. But tonight’s episode demonstrated to Batiatus that simple repudiation of his father’s methodologies wouldn’t cut it. In fact, Crixus’ victory over Auctus made Batiatus consciously realize that he originally chose the Gaul using a technique derived from his father. That doesn’t mean that father and son are going to suddenly make like The Kinsellas and have a game of catch near a corn field. (Though if you build an arena, people will sure as hell come.) But it does force Batiatus to change up his technique a little.
Such careful steps into a new world order filled other parts of the episode as well. Oenomaus takes tentative steps in his first days as Doctore, wielding the same whip handed down over generations but afraid to actually use it. (I’ll give you three guesses as to who first feels the crack of that whip. Hint: His name rhymes with Trannicus.) Ashur starts to realize that while he bears the mark of the brotherhood, there will be many that never see him as truly part of it. (In many ways, the fate of Barca is in some ways sealed in this episode.) And you have Naevia, no longer giggling about the thoughts of losing her virginity after seeing the way that her friend Diona was used and abused by Varus’ associate Cossutius.
Through Cossutius, the show gives voice to the constant mix of the rich and poor, free and enslaved, indulged and debased. Diona’s deflowering is accompanied by the Spartacus version of “Everyone Poops,” essentially: Cossutius, like so many in this world, revels in the fact that the merest thread separates the highest in the Senate from the lowliest in the ludus. The constant sex and violence in this world are in some ways equalizers, although just how MUCH of an equalizer won’t become clear to many in high society until the season finale of Blood and Sand. But Diona and Auctus both share the same eventual fate, being plowed for the sport of others.
Then again, Batiatus shares something of a similar condition, albeit metaphorically speaking. He dreams of a world of power but lacks the practical means to get there. In his mind, the Tulliuses of the world seem destined to keep him in check. He’d like nothing more than a life full of vengeance, followed by a palate-cleansing threesome, but he recognizes tonight the limits of that approach. He inspires Crixus to victory, but in equal measure, Crixus’ victory inspires Batiatus. The man who never wanted his father’s role, the man who used gladiators as much for errands as for the arena, recognizes the passion for glory that sits in Crixus’ eyes. Eventually, that long hair will be gone, allowing Crixus to see such glory all the more clearly. But Batiatus can see it all the same, and his ability to detect it at this stage, when no one else could, informs his rise and will later guarantee his own downfall.
- Did anyone else think Lucretia’s putting something in the wine to slowly poison Titus? It’s not like her to sell out Batiatus the way she did about his stomach, and Titus wasn’t looking terribly hot before Crixus’ match. If this is the way this plot goes, hopefully Lucretia's plot will end up more successfully than the same plot did for the Commodore’s maid over on Boardwalk Empire.
- Gannicus has a TERRIBLE poker face, though the show gave Oenomaus a believable reason to not read too much into the situation, thanks to his newly obtained promotion.
- Ludus boyfriends come, and ludus boyfriends go. But pigeons are Barca’s constant, the Penny to his Desmond.
- All that red wine had me missing Cougar Town and imagining possibilities for potential crossovers. Perhaps Grayson can sing some songs with Gannicus, or maybe Ashur can teach Bobby the ludus’ favorite game, “Penis Can.”
- I loved the woman that fell into the arena mid-fight. She’s the Capuan equivalent of Morganna, the Kissing Bandit, I guess.
- "A man must probe deeper for true value." Gentleman, I advise against adding this line to your pick-up repertoire.
- "Am I allowed voice now?" "Could the gods halt the sound?"
- "I arise at proper hour. An attribute neither you nor your man Gannicus seem to share." Look, we’re not all morning people, Titus. Just chill.
- "Fight with honor. And if the gods will it, die the same." Batiatus gave Crixus quite the pep talk, but Oenomaus’ version had me cackling. Peter Mensah was great in Blood and Sand but has been even more outstanding in this series.