Episode 6 - The Bitter End
5 March 2011
Synopsis: Batiatus and Solonius lure Tullius and Vettius into an ambush. Batiatus kills Tullius and walls him up in the new arena while Solonius tells Vettius what to tell the rest of Capua. At the opening of the new arena Vettius announces that he is passing his gladiators to Solonius only. Batiatus' men are thus pitted against Solonius' in the final battle. Ashur kills Dagan and threatens to do the same to Gannicus so Crixus wounds him. Gannicus survives and Solonius cunningly suggests he be freed in order to keep him from Batiatus. Gannicus leaves the ludus as Batiatus and Lucretia prepare to invest in Crixus.
The Good: This was an all-action finale which covered a lot of ground with considerable and surprising success. After the last couple of episodes I felt the finale wouldn't be nearly as emotive as it was. Yet it managed to drag sentiment from interesting places and create a very memorable spectacle.
The big winner in the finale was Solonius. Always a peripheral figure, both in season one and in the prequel, he finally came gloriously to the fore. The introduction of a friendship between him and Batiatus this season begged the question of how they became sneering adversaries in the future. Of all the hanging threads which this prequel sewed up this turned out to be the most satisfying. There seemed nothing manufactured about the moment when Solonius betrayed Batiatus. He wasn't bloodthirsty like Lucretia or strangely obsessed with glory like Crixus. His motivation was far simpler; he had been treated badly by a friend. There were no warnings that this was coming it was just excellent writing that saw Batiatus take advantage of their friendship all season with not much to show for it. Throw in his lingering desire for Lucretia and when Solonius turned I believed every word he said (see Best Moment). It was so fitting that Batitatus' ambition destroyed another thing in his life and managed to turn a respectable and deferential lanista into an ambitious grafting one.
Speaking of fitting, the murder of Tullius nicely foreshadowed the fate waiting Batiatus. In season one it was hard not to root for Batiatus as he climbed the greasy pole of Roman society. He was an underdog, a man of low birth trying to be recognised by a snobby elite. Once more it was easy to cheer for him and his men as they gave Tullius and Vettius a good kicking. But ultimately you know that Batiatus is killing Tullius for the wrong reasons and will one day be killed himself. So when Tullius warns "There will be an accounting for this Batiatus and for everything that follows", you know he is right and that Batiatus will pay for his sins.
One of the reasons it is easy to like Batiatus is the way he talks to his men face to face. I really liked the conversation he had with Gannicus about the latter's plans to kill his new master Tullius. Batiatus is happy to discuss things at length and give Gannicus some respect for his desires and yet he can't help but pick holes in the useless revenge plot the Celt has laid out. Once more a reminder of Spartacus and a contrast with the amount of thought he put into his various escape plans. The revenge on Tullius was fairly satisfying and Solonius was also good in his scene coercing Vettius. I liked that Varrus pointed out the obvious about how strange Vettius' behaviour was when he came to the pulvinus and abdicated his job, his men and his position in the games.
Another season one theme which the episode managed to touch on was the treatment of the female slaves. We see Naevia taking Melitta's place as Lucretia's body-servant and being offered protection from the treatment that Diona suffered. Later Naevia sees Diona executed in the arena and has to stand still, behave and watch it. I liked so much about both those scenes. We learn that Melitta was given to Oenomaus as reward for loyal service (on both their parts) which was nice to know. Yet we already know that when the house needed it Melitta was forced to commit adultery just to keep Varrus happy. And we already know that Naevia's vaunted virginity will be handed to Ashur as reward for all his skulduggery. What drives home the sadness in all this is that Lucretia tells Naevia all about the honour in her new role and brands her claiming they are joined together forever now. Rather like all the talk of glory in the arena it's fascinating to see a portrayal of how slavery was dressed up as some kind of noble calling. Finally of course Naevia sees what she must really do to go on living as she sees her childhood friend executed for a few laughs. She has to keep her mouth shut and do what she is told for the rest of her days.
We finally see Lucretia beginning to fall for Crixus as she sees the fringe benefits of looking for sperm donors. Batiatus claimed that he always knew what she was up to and here he gives her a telling glance when he notices her sudden change of tone towards the new champion.
So to the opening games at the new arena and if you wanted action boy did you get it! This was pretty much twenty minutes straight of blood and sand and much of it was pretty good (see The Bad though). The wounding of Ashur was ok; I would say neither he nor Crixus came out of it looking very good. Gannicus on the other hand did and I enjoyed the callback to his first fight in episode one when he dropped his swords and fought with his hands. Here he does it again and brutally smashes Cabarus' face in. Once more the cunning Solonius manages to change the story's course by suggesting that Gannicus be set free. Somehow that moment was wonderfully emotive, you can easily imagine what an emotional high that would have been for all concerned. I think it worked especially well as it was one of the few parts of life as a gladiator that we have never seen.
So to the final moment and the producers got it spot on. All the pieces are finally in place and thanks to his interactions with Solonius we know what path Batiatus is now on. We have now seen the story which turned him into the kind of man who would betray his champion gladiator and suffer the consequences. The delicious irony within the world of Spartacus is that Batiatus' name would be eclipsed a million times over by the man who killed him. His pursuit of glory at all costs brought him only that final shot, his life ended in a pool of blood at the feet of those he treated so poorly.
The Bad: Last episode I talked about how I felt the structure of the season hadn't worked out as well as I think it could have. Here we saw a bit of that coming to fruition. As Batiatus' men surrounded Tullius and Vettius I couldn't help but wonder "Is this it?" They were built up as the major villains and a major obstacle yet a simple ambush was enough to remove them both from Capua. It was something of an anticlimax. It would have been better if they could have been dealt with in the previous episode and the finale spent on making the opening games seem more significant.
As it was the games suddenly assumed much greater importance than they had been built up to within the narrative. It wasn't made clear what was at stake and what the men had been through. The implication was that every gladiator who survived their earlier fights would then be put out to fight again in a huge battle to the death. But no one explained whether the men were meant to turn on their own brothers as Crixus wanted to. The magistrate announced that the winner would be crowned Champion of Capua which sort of backed that up. However the whole thing seemed ridiculous because that would mean either Batiatus or Solonius would lose every single one of their gladiators. Then the magistrate created a burning circle around the combat which conveniently allowed men to be punted out of the circle to safety.
This is another reason why it would have been better to make this an episode unto itself. It might have allowed Cabarus to be given more screen time than he received. You may remember him ripping a man's heart out in episode four. The odds against the house of Batiatus were pretty silly too as they were outnumbered two to one by Solonius' men. Another aspect of this bloodbath is that presumably a bunch of Batiatus' men had already been killed earlier in the day with no time for that sadness to sink in.
One final gripe was Titus' funeral where the men gave a fighting demonstration just as Batiatus lit the funeral pyre. I know games were held to honour the dead but I'm pretty sure you watched the corpse burn and did your fighting at another time. This was a dramatic visual which defied logic.
The Unknown: Is that the last we have seen of Gannicus?
Best Moment: Solonius betrays Batiatus and cuts his own deal with Vettius to secure all of his gladiators. Batiatus is furious and asks why Solonius did it. Solonius points out all the things Batiatus has done which have served himself and put Solonius in awkward situations. He includes the slight hurled at him the previous day which clearly hit a nerve. Now he has taken advantage of an opportunity just as Batiatus would do and screwed over his friend to better his own standing. He concludes with an absolutely terrific statement which sums up Batiatus perfectly "Every tongue that is not your own is accused of the same. It has taken years and the price of blood but at last I see you for what you are: a man who holds no one in esteem beyond himself. I owe you gratitude. Without you to show the way, I would never have raised nerve to betray those closest to me."
The Bottom Line: I was surprised by how well this came together and how satisfying it felt. I think credit goes to season one which did such a tremendous job of stirring my emotions toward these characters that this prequel brought me back to the level of anticipation I felt back then. The terrific twists surrounding Solonius and the freeing of Gannicus helped too of course and who doesn't like a massive gladiator blood fest?
With a tweak to its structure this prequel season could have been even better. But it was still very enjoyable and once more I tip my hat to Batiatus and Lucretia. We will learn next season just how crucial they are to the show's success. They were (to some extent) the only really well rounded characters on the show. To lose them, and the sense of decency Andy Whitfield brought to Spartacus, could lead to a rough season three as the gladiators plot their war with Rome. I wish the production team all the best with the challenge, Spartacus has been a real pleasure to watch and write about so far.
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