Written by Bob Suggs Saturday, 29 January 2011 21:02
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Spartacus' - 'Missio'] - After receiving the beatdown of a lifetime last week, courtesy of his new rival Tullius, what would Batiatus' next move be? How could he possibly rebound from that setback?
With some typical Batiatus deviousness, of course. That's the good news. But not all of 'Missio' worked. Though Batiatus' clever plan to ensnare Titus had its merits, and though it was a pleasure to see him get some revenge on the sneering Tullius and Vettius, other aspects of the episode didn't didn't have the impact of Operation Titus.
Let's start with what did work: Batiatus cleverly tricking the wealthy patron of Capua's upcoming games into checking out his merchandise. Seeing a well-oiled team pulling a well-planned con job on an unsuspecting mark is a thing of beauty, and that's just one reason such gambits are staples of film and TV. It's just fun when a team has a plan, whether they're Vegas operators or toga-clad schemers.
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And Batiatus' plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity: It made sense for Batiatus to literally eliminate the middleman. Once Titus got a look at Gannicus, he'd surely want him for the games. But who was going to show off Batiatus' most valuable asset? Batiatus himself, thank you very much.
Titus was pretty easy to take in, but there was pleasure from seeing Team Batiatus' preparations pay off, and a bit of tension that came from wondering which agenda Gaia would pursue. Would she put the House of Batiatus and its owner's desire to appear in the games first? Or would she revert to her vixenish type and merely flirt with Titus in an effort to make the rich Roman Husband No. 2 (or 3, or 4 -- I tend to think that Gaia changes husbands like other women change their hairstyles).
In the end, Gaia did know best, and the sexual games at the end of Titus' long, pleasurable night at the House of Batiatus did the trick. Titus was well-satisfied by Gannicus' performance, and despite the strong hints that he would want the gladiator to service him, Titus had some plain, old-fashioned voyeurism in mind.
And now we've arrived at one of the weaker parts of the episode. I betting the intention was to make us feel the pain of Gannicus and Melitta as they both betrayed Oenemaus. The betrayal was twofold: They didn't just have sex because their masters forced them to, which was difficult enough, they ended up enjoyed the act to some extent as well, and were understandably ashamed of that enjoyment.
But how can their betrayal have an impact when we just met Melitta and Gannicus one episode ago? This is where the abbreviated time frame of this prequel season becomes a problem. All the setup for the Melitta-Gannicus encounter was rushed, and thus its impact wasn't nearly what it could have been had we known them both better.
We barely had any time to register that the serious Oenemaus was best friends with Batiatus' resident frat boy, Gannicus. That seemed like an odd pairing, but before the plausibility of that friendship could be developed, we got another revelation -- Melitta was also great friends with the buff, bluff party boy. And then, during the sex act itself, we found out that not all of her feelings were platonic. On some level, she lusted for the House of Batiatus' prized champion.
How are we supposed to feel for the characters when their emotional lives are sketched out in such broad, quick strokes? In theory, yes, it's an interesting idea: What happens when two people are forced to cheat, and, much to their chagrin, actually begin to enjoy it? But it all happened far too quickly for it to have much of an impact. I'm thinking back to Spartacus' unwilling betrayal of Varro in Season 1 -- that was devastating because we knew just what those two friends meant to each other. I barely know who Gannicus and Melitta are, so it's a bit too soon for me to invest in their sudden emotional dilemmas.
The setup for the encounter also felt mechanical. Early in 'Missio,' Melitta asked Gannicus what he would do if he encountered a situation he couldn't laugh or fight his way out of. And what do you know? A few minutes later, he encountered just that kind of situation, and thrusting his way out of it wasn't quite as uncomplicated as he'd thought, not surprisingly.
It all felt a little pat, but throughout the hour, an even bigger mechanical issue emerged, and it may end up affecting the prequel series as a whole. Call it "the red-shirt problem." On 'Star Trek,' the crewmen clad in red shirts who didn't get many lines usually ended up raygunned by a bad guy on whatever planet the crew investigated. There appear to be quite a few red shirts in 'Gods of the Arena' -- basically, any new characters, especially those we meet briefly, might as well have targets painted on their backs.
Those of us who have seen 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand,' which is set five years after the events of 'Gods of the Arena,' know who won't die. It's somewhat difficult to get caught up in the tension of some situations, given that we know who's going to emerge from them in one piece.
Take Oenomaus' confrontation with his mentor, the House of Batiatus' previous Doctore (who was played by none other than Jango Fett, a.k.a. Temuera Morrison). Given that we know that Oenomaus ends up as Doctore, it wasn't too hard to predict who'd come out ahead in that fight, one that the older Doctore appeared to want to lose.
During the intercut scenes of Gannicus having sex with Melitta and Oenomaus fighting his old friend, I'm guessing we were supposed to feel compassion for all these characters who were forced into unwilling betrayals, but for me, much of it fell flat. The situations were either predictable or lacked the kind of depth that we saw in the second half of 'Blood and Sand.' Same deal in the scenes of Ashur and his ludus pals luring Vettius to his death. The unfortunate House of Batiatus recruit might as well have been wearing a red tunic; his death wasn't hard to see coming.
At this point, I'm a bit worried that the plots of this abbreviated season will proceed in a mechanical fashion -- i.e., Oenemaus/Doctore will eventually find out about Gannicus' betrayal, Gannicus and Oenomaus/Doctore will end up fighting each other, Gannicus will end up dead, Crixus will be the one to wound Ashur before gaining the mark of the Brotherhood, etc. Events will be slotted into outcomes we already know about, and those who are new to the series won't be around past episode 6 of the prequel.
The great thing about the first season of 'Spartacus' was that I didn't know where things were necessarily going, but I wonder if this short season will force developments to proceed in more superficial and predictable ways. I hope I'm wrong about that.
There are things to look forward to, to be sure. For one thing, I am interested to see whether Dustin Clare will be up to the challenge of portraying a Gannicus wrestling with new feelings. One gets the sense that the gladiator has never before had sex with a woman he genuinely cares about. Normally an event like that is a development on the road to true manhood, but the fact that he's betraying his best friend will make the whole experience much more risky and confusing.
As I said at the start, it's not that there weren't things to enjoy in the episode, but I hope the brevity of the prequel season doesn't make it harder to care about the characters' dilemmas. We'll have to see, I suppose. In any event, by this time next week, half the season will be over.
What did you think of 'Missio'? Leave your thoughts below.
'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' airs 10PM ET Friday on Starz.
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['Spartacus' - 'Missio'] - After receiving the beatdown of a lifetime last week, courtesy of his new rival Tullius, what would Batiatus' next move be? How could he possibly rebound from that...
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