Four Torches (Out of Five)
Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for the “Past Transgressions” episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.
The wait is over! Spartacus is back, for the six-episode “prequel” series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena at least.
I’ll offer my bias up front: in general, I think prequels are a terrible idea, or at least they’re very difficult to pull off. We all know how the story ends and we all think we know how we get there, so the trick is to take us to that ending, but in such a way that we’re completely surprised — so much so that we have a whole new insight on the the established events that follow, giving them a completely new relevance.
Needless to say, George Lucas didn’t do this at all in his Star Wars prequels. He showed us exactly what we expected, nothing more (and maybe even less).
Will the producers of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena pull their prequel off?
I’ve seen the first episode and … so far, so good.
The episode begins with a montage of some of the most pivotal (and literally, the most violent) moments in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, culminating with the death of Batiatus. In other words, his life is passing before his eyes.
But in his dying breath, we see a glint in his eyes, and we’re transported back five years into the past.
We soon join many of our favorite characters: Lucretia, Batiatus, Doctore, Crixus, Ashur, Barca, Naevia. But they’re definitely not the characters we remember. They obviously haven’t become those characters yet — Lucretia, for example, says, “I’ve never been with any man but my husband” and that the idea of sex with a gladiator is “disgusting.”
Expect them all to change a lot in the weeks and months ahead. But Batiatus, of course, is the one character who won’t change at all: he’s his exact same arrogant, insecure, morally cowardly self.
We also meet some new characters, including Gaia (Dexter’s Jaime Murray), rising gladiator-star Gannicus (Dustin Clare), who is the character the action of the prequel mostly centers around.
One thing seems different from Blood and Sand: it’s even more graphic.
I know: it doesn’t seem like that’s possible, does it? But it is. Of course, the graphic nature doesn’t just have to do with violence (and sex). There’s a scene in a Roman toilet that I can only assume is fact-based, and it’s both shocking and really interesting. And the melding of sex and violence here is even more pronounced than before.
My only real problem with this first episode is that it gets a little talky at times: there’s a lot of exposition. The episode also doesn’t do the best job of setting up the overall conflict of the series — things are hinted at, but nothing is quite clear.
Then again, as with Blood and Sand, it could be that they’re taking a more subtle approach.
Yes, I said it: I think the writers of Spartacus are “subtle.” Okay, maybe not with the sex and violence, and the themes are larger than life too, almost Shakespearean. But the other storytelling elements are always surprisingly character-driven and nicely nuanced.
The point is, Spartacus is back, and at least based on my viewing of the first episode, if you liked the last season, I’m almost certain you’ll like this prequel season too.
- “We Cut Out All the Boring Parts,” Say the Producers of SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA
- Starz to Air Six-Episode “Prequel” SPARTACUS Series
- SPARTACUS Episode Review (Pre-2): Hit the Ground Running … and Dismembering.
- Casting Complete for SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA
- Picture Post: SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA