Exactly one year ago, the STARZ Network stupefied both critics and the public alike with Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In this mini-series prequel, show creator Steven S. DeKnight has pressed the attack, delivering Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. Debuting on January 21st, 2011, the show details the blood-drenched history of the House of Batiatus, the tale finding Batiatus as a younger man having recently acquired the ludus from his ailing father and adopting the title of lanista. The focus of the prequel series is the current Champion of Capua, a bon vivant gladiator named Gannicus whom Batiatus is resting all his ambitions upon. Long before Spartacus graced the ludus with his presence, struck fear into the Romans and captivated an entire city, blood flowed heavily in the Old Arena, a young recruit battled fiercely for his future, and an ambitious son earned his stripes when it came to achieving everything his heart desired.
All manner of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena triumphs where its predecessor did. Everything from writing to the very sets used captured the essence of a city on the rise, a parallel to the murderous ambition growing within the heart of Batiatus and his lovely wife Lucretia. Many familiar faces appear and are joined by new ones, each character adding a piece to the great plot borne in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Character origins are deftly revealed, bonds are forged and broken, new positions achieved, all accompanied by incredible triumphs, lusty conquests, the deepest of despairs, and copious amounts of death and blood, souls parted from their bodies in the most horrifically creative of ways. Each episode carefully pulls the viewer deeper into the minds occupying the House of Batiatus, often revealing more than we would ever hope to expect.
Of special note is the bold and powerful performances of series newcomers Jaime Murray and Dustin Clare. Murray, as the irreverent and methodical social-climber Gaia, an old and dear friend of Lucretia, commands with her sultry and sensuous looks which quickly give way to an impeccable manipulator of both men and women as she carves out a place for herself in the house. Clare permeates the screen as Gannicus, the House of Batiatus’ second champion. The youthful gladiator’s brash, showboating style makes him a crowd favorite, but this exterior proves a crafted facade, his bladed humor and humorless blades mere tools utilized to disguise a lost and melancholy soul lacking the one thing every champion requires, something to fight for.
The six-part miniseries ended on a note that will long be remembered as one of the greatest finales I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The closing battle royale between the House of Batiatus and the newly bolstered House of Solonius easily ranks as one of the most epic fight scenes constructed for a cable show in the past ten years.
There is absolutely nothing bad to report about Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. This is entertainment production at its absolute finest.
Despite the incredible success of Spartacus, this mini-series does leave us on a sad note. Originally intended as a flashback episode contained within Season 2, DeKnight skillfully crafted a mini-series prequel to cover the halted production of Season 2, put on hold due to lead actor Andy Whitfield’s recent Non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis. After the conclusion of Blood and Sand, Whitfield had ferociously battled the disease, besting it as easily as any of his fictional opponents in the Arena. However, as production for Season 2 got underway, the disease reemerged, forcing him out of production. As Gods of the Arena commenced, Whitfield thought it best to step away from Spartacus and with a heavy heart passed the role onto Australian actor Liam McIntyre who will take up the mantle for Spartacus: Vengeance in 2012.
I give this mini-series a 10 out of 10
All six-episodes of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena are now available on Netflix.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Created by Steven S. DeKnight
Executive Produced by Steven S. DeKnight
John Hannah as Quintus Lentulus Batiatus
Dustin Clare as Gannicus
Lucy Lawless as Lucretia
Peter Mensah as Oenomaus
Manu Bennett as Crixus
Antonio Te Maioha as Barca
Nick Tarabay as Ashur
Jaime Murray as Gaia
Marisa Ramirez as Melitta
Rated TV-MA for: Graphic Language, Adult Content, Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Graphic Violence