Spartacus: "Reckoning"
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Spartacus: "Reckoning"

Remember all that initial skepticism I expressed five weeks ago about not only Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, but prequels in general? Well, the latter still remains, but forget everything I said about the former. Shit got REAL tonight. Real awful. But in that glorious, painful way that this show does so well.

“Reckoning” took two awkward trios and reduced their ranks in ways both predictable and yet utterly enthralling. Did anyone expect happy endings for either Titus/Quintus/Lucretia or Gannicus/Melitta/Oenomaus? Of course not. No way we were going to see those six dancing around the ludus with the Capuan equivalent of Ewoks. (I’m guessing midget sex slaves. Just a guess, but probably a good one.) But the show wisely used audience presupposition of Titus’ death to sucker punch it with Melitta’s untimely, tragic end. The show never does things half-heartedly, after all. And this hour was about the way in which broken hearts can open you up to a pain even worse than death.

To talk of tragedy is to talk about the ways in which things should have been avoided, only never possibly COULD be avoided. Had Melitta and Gannicus never ended up in front of a powerful Capuan politician with a proclivity towards the perverted, the pair would have never had the opportunity to act upon latent (and perhaps subconscious) feelings for each other. In turn, that wouldn’t have led to the two smooching up a storm, Gannicus throwing a fight in order to rid himself of the torment of being near her, and finally Melitta bringing poisoned wine to their final “friendly” get together. None of these things should have happened, but once set into motion, there seems to be no other way for this to end.

What’s remarkable is just how the show demonstrated that it’s not simple personal passions and shortcomings that determine one’s fate, but how individual paths tend to smash into others, producing new, unexpected, and yet somehow inevitable directions. Oenomaus believes in the honor of The House of Batiatus, yet five years hence still may not yet understand the true extent to which Lucretia ensured a half decade of pain and personal agony. He seeks honor by proxy, unaware of how stained his hands truly are thanks to the strained relationship between father and son that unleashed the fury of the woman standing between them.

And hot damn, did Lucretia bring it tonight. Lucy Lawless is never less than great, but this episode belonged to her, showing the transformative moment between the woman of this series and the titan we remember from Blood and Sand. What’s fascinating is that she draws strength from both friendship and marital bond, two ostensibly noble things. And yet, she chooses to honor those relationships through illicit sex and murder. But this all still makes a kind of moral sense, albeit one perhaps (OK, definitely) frowned upon in polite society. Melitta’s death clearly affects her, but it’s simply another casualty in the impending war that Quintus will unleash Tullius thanks to his wine being the cause of death for the pair.

If donning Gaia’s wig was a way for Lucretia to honor her lost friend henceforth, then so too can Quintus’ continued reign over the ludus in Blood and Sand seem now to be a way to honor the father he only truly began to know when it was too late. Having Quintus kill Titus in the tattered remains of the old arena would have been too pat a way to end that contested relationship. Indeed, so much of the last two weeks sought to push past a simple, antagonistic relationship and try to reveal a pair that suffered from substituting conversation for presupposition. That Titus died without either side truly knowing the extent of affection one had for the other is yet another mark of tragedy: one in which either a third party (in this case, the audience) knows more than the people for whom such knowledge could have prevented disaster.

Then again, knowledge can sometimes be overvalued: had Gannicus never truly learned the depth of Melitta’s feelings for him, he could have left the ludus knowing that he sacrificed his standing there in order to honor the woman he loved. Now, he remains with not only her blood still stuck to his chest, but with the grieving husband who will no doubt put two and two together next week. Likewise, Ashur realizing Dagan was learning English provoked him to use his mind in the arena as deviously as he did in the streets of Capua. And by the same token, Naevia learned the hard way by observing the decline of Diona just how much knowledge (in this case, carnal, and forced to boot) can do to the unprepared mind. (Naevia freeing Diona from the impending shitstorm was one bright light in a otherwise impossibly dark episode.)

And to think: all this chaos from two people that, in the end, want nothing more than each other. Seeing Quintus and Lucretia, alone in their bath, taking what they thought might be their last look at all that was about to be lost…it just seems incredible how much damage these two can do out of love for one another. If their love wasn’t real, then all else would be sport and nothing more. That sport would certainly produce an entertaining hour of television, but it wouldn’t produce the type that haunts viewers for days. It’s not the amount of blood shed so much as the amount of emotions expressed that push this past simply a guilty pleasure and onto one of the more compelling shows on television right now.

Such a pity that there’s only one left before another achingly long hiatus. In the meantime, let’s raise some mulsum wine to a hellaciously good episode.

Random observations:

  • Feels damn good to have been right from Day One about Lucretia slowly poisoning Titus, if only I was so wrong for so long trying to predict future events on “Lost” that this sensation of being correct for once feels nearly overwhelming.
  • A lot of really stellar fighting sequences tonight, particularly the climatic one between Crixus and Gannicus. High stakes, well paced, and with a satisfying dramatic story underpinning it.
  • Melitta’s initial nightmare: yup, they got me. I totally wouldn’t have put it past the show to kill both characters in the first five minutes of the fifth episode. Seriously, with Spartacus, normal rules do not apply.
  • The music during the double homicide scene was straight-up Psycho. Just unnerving as all hell.
  • "I would sever cock from fucking body to see her in another's arms." I’d like to think that Quintus was just repeating one of his marriage vows here.
  • "Should have let the bitch tell her own lies." Diona, channeling The Real Houseslaves of Capua here.
  • "Well I would not look at you. The sight turns stomach." Well, for now, at least, Lucretia.
  • "The gods have heard my prayers." "And they curse you in the answering."
  • "Tell me I have been mistaken about you. Tell me you are not the serpent I thought you to be." "I'm not. I'm far worse."

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