Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena

Gods of the Arena is a prequel miniseries to last year's Spartacus: Blood and Sand that only exists because star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer and unable to play the part in season two. Based on that sentence you might think that it was doomed to be terrible, but I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. It had all the qualities that the regular series had found in its second half with none of the horrible growing pains from the first, and managed to tell an interesting swords-and-sandals tale while also filling in some unasked for yet still intriguing details about the lives of many of the show's characters years before they met its titular character. Maybe it didn't strictly need to exist, since they ended up having to recast Spartacus despite taking the year hiatus, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun.

Five years before Spartacus showed up, the arena was ruled by another man named Gannicus. Batiatus still controlled the gladiators, but was watched by his overbearing father, and still trying to prove himself in the arena, long before he had political ambitions. Lucretia was less of a party girl, Doctore wasn't Doctore yet, and Ashur and Crixus were just untested recruits. Watching everybody slowly turn into the people they would be later is fairly compelling, and a lot of times the real explanation for something is more surprising than you might guess. It all fits together a bit too cleanly to feel like a truly organic story, but there's nothing wrong with tightly plotted action and intrigue. Also, there's lots of extremely bloody and stylish fight scenes and needlessly explicit nudity, which is just as fun to watch as it was before.

Not every little plot thread is as interesting as the others. A few characters feel a bit wasted, and a few things we probably didn't really need to know. But the writers and crew have honed the show's formula to a well oiled machine by this point, which actually makes me almost disappointed that that formula's probably going to be gone by the time the show comes back considering what has happened. Still, I'm definitely looking forward to what comes next. That's something I honestly wouldn't have guessed when the show started a year ago.

Also, here are my recaps for all the episodes of the show:
Past Transgressions
Beneath the Mask
The Bitter End

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