Spartacus Rewatch Thoughts & Feels: Gods of the Arena

(ahahahaha I am behind on these ALREADY because apparently [info]lilithilien and I have no lives and are spending two days max per season.)

Quick thoughts & feels spew on GotA in no particular order:

Storytelling:
HOLY FUCKING CRAP, this is the best-plotted, best-written prequel ever! I think it really benefits from the shorter format - it's the perfect length to tell its story, and I love how every scene and every line drive it forward and nothing is random. And they'd really come into their own in terms of visuals by then - the whole thing is just so beautiful to watch.

GANNICUS FUCKING ROCKSTAR:
He is divine in every way! I love his introduction (everybody shake their tits!) and then how quickly everything goes dark and tortured. Not to mention the end - unfortunately I was spoilered for him surviving, but I love how it's set up to have you think that of course he's going to die some brutal and glorious death. Nope! FREEDOM! (can't last, of course, since he just HAD to come back and put himself back in the Everybody Dies pool, but for the prequel it was a fantastic ending).

Familiar faces but not:
They did such a great job with taking some of the characters back to an earlier era and making them appear genuinely younger and more innocent/carefree. Batiatus and Lucretia in particular, but also Oenomaus (he was so out of his depth when first promoted to Doctore!), Barca (lol such a fratboy) and Crixus (so starry-eyed! So naive!).

Gaia:
"I always follow the wine." She IS the glorious sun <333333333333333
I love that they didn't just make her one more evil Roman scheming bitch, but someone who genuinely loves Lucretia and whose scheming basically just amounts to saving herself from the very precarious scary position of being a woman on her own who was worth absolutely nothing in that society without the protection of a husband. And the part she plays in Lucretia becoming her later self (the red wig! more colours! fewer scruples! let's shag a gladiator!) is so instrumental.

Oenomaus/Melitta/Gannicus:
UGH this triangle hurts my heart so much. WHY NO HAPPY THREESOME, WHY, WHY? Really though, I adore relationship arcs like this where you can root for all three of them and you know there's no way it can really end happily because someone you love is always going to lose. Or all three, in this case! Argh.

Titus:
Such a great, realistic character, and the mutual disappointment/love between him and Quintus rang so true. (Whose dad hasn't caught them in a drunken orgy with their wife and her BFF and pulled the "I'm not mad, I'm disappointed" card??)

Parallels, juxtaposition, foreshadowing and other nifty things:
So many clever little things tucked in here, from Solonius' line about not being caught leaning over a corpse with a knife in hand (not YET!), to Barca's about how he'll follow Gannicus to freedom one day (OUCH). And everything about Barca and his fucking birds, of course. OH, and Titus' line about how he doesn't want to buy any Thracians because they're too much hassle and aggravate the Gauls. LOL indeed.

Diona and Naevia kill me in particular because I so want both of them to live and become sisters in arms in the rebellion. Their respective fates just highlight so strongly how differently things could have gone for either of them. Diona and Pietros' stories are such shadow arcs to characters like Naevia and Nasir, who start out in very similar places as Diona and Pietros but get the chance to break out from those patterns and become so much more than sheltered and/or abused body slaves. The loss of that potential is just so devastating. (And of course there's the fact that in the end, Naevia is killed by the same method as Diona was. OUCH.)

UGH ROMANS:
I want Cossutius to die more slowly and more often. They should've bricked him in with Tullius.

Auctus and Barca:
THE BIRDS. THE FUCKING BIRDS. He kept them. Brb, crying forever. (although if we consider the comics part of canon, the continuity doesn't quite work out, since little!Barca and Cyprian were playing with birds as well? Maybe he's just exclusively drawn to dudes who like birds, lol).
Also I love so much that Barca and Crixus became BFFs even though Crixus killed Auctus. So often on this show, slaves blame other slaves for what they had to do under orders (hello Aurelia, looking right at you!), so it's nice to see Barca acknowledge that Crixus had no choice and that there's no point blaming him.

Ashur, what are you even like?
You had ONE friend. ONE. Who depended on you, defended your useless ass, and generally hadn't done a thing to hurt you. And you go and fuck him over (literally, by proxy) just because you can? Ngl, I cheered when Crixus fucked his leg up.


Random selection of behind-the-scenes trivia:
1. The gladiator ordered to rape Diona was supposed to be Gnaeus, but Raicho did not want to do a rape scene, for which he has my eternal respect (and gratitude that we didn't need to see any rape of Pietros on-screen in s1 :/)

2. The actor who plays the old Doctore is actually several years younger than Peter Mensah. Stop being so flawless in every way, Peter, you're making everyone else look bad!

3. When doing commentaries, Jaime Murray and Lucy Lawless spent basically every second of their sex scenes just going "oh god, oh god, I can't look," lol.

4. Joseph Brown (who plays Auctus) has a ballet background, hence all those absolutely fucking breathtaking moves.

5. Historically, the Hoplomachus (spear + short sword) style was employed by shorter gladiators, because the spear gave them longer reach. On the show, the Hoplomachi are the tallest guys in the ludus (Barca and Auctus), which doesn't make much sense, but oh well. Pretty!

Comments

YAYAYAYAYAY! Another reaction post!!!



(The problem with having icons is that you have to decide which one to use. When in doubt, choose Gaia!)

I AM SHAKING MY TITS AT EVERYTHING IN THIS POST! SO MUCH LOVE!!! I'm just impressed that you're able to write about it, I am too overwhelmed by prequel feels. I'm still in awe of how they turned Batiatus into a petulant teenager, one utterly besotted with his wife. (It's so lovely to see them in these early days when they still lusted for each other.) Quintus' daddy issues give such a great context to his craving for a respected government position later. I love Titus too, though, in his own way. He totally oversteps in taking the reins back from Quintus, granted. Still, there's something really refreshing about a Roman who is not just interested in power and orgies.

Speaking of orgies...

I adore relationship arcs like this where you can root for all three of them and you know there's no way it can really end happily because someone you love is always going to lose.

This triangle is the achiest!!! Their beautiful teasing friendship, Gannicus so hesitant and apologetic about the fucking Roman's demands, Oenomaus ridden with guilt at the same time because of Doctore, and this scene...



*sobs*

The moment that slays me is when Gannicus cannot even go to comfort his best friend because he's ridden with guilt and still wearing her blood. God.

*puddles*

And I love that there are so many times that it could have come out but it didn't, it was left to fester for many years. Fucking Ashur!!



OOPS! I hit "post" too soon! Oh well, gives me a chance to use another icon!! But I hadn't even gotten to the glory of GAIA yet.



I love her character SO MUCH - she has so much LIFE and brings it to everything around her. At the same time, I have such conflicted feelings about everything that happened indirectly because of her. Sure, she was driven by a desire to find a rich husband in this stinking society, but she opened the door to the pleasures (and horrors) of the House of Batiatus that might never have seen the light if not for her. Diona would sohtill be giggling with Naevia, a least for a few years longer before she was gifted to some horrible nobleman. (UGH ROMANS.)

Anyway! I could go on and on abou t Gaia but it's a bit distracting when slaves are getting crucified in S2. So let's just go watch that shall we?






It's a bit difficult to form coherent thoughts when you're throwing gorgeous preening Gaia and sobbing naked Melitta at me, woman! Ack! *stares*

You're right about Gaia of course, it's not all harmless wine and opium shags. Still, it's not all her - Lucretia and Batty were pretty happy to go for it (I know Lucretia had misgivings, but they weren't exactly strong enough to make her stop her slaves being raped).
The moment that slays me is when Gannicus cannot even go to comfort his best friend because he's ridden with guilt and still wearing her blood.

GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH CRYING FOREVER. That entire sequence was so horribly well shot!
Well in their defense, I DO feel like shaking my tits whenever I see Gannicus...

I remember thinking that I'm going to get the backstory for Crixus here and it's gonna make me like him, but then he was just a lump whose greatest aspiration was to be the annoying jock from season 1.

Oenomaus/Melitta/Gannicus: my dream threesome <333333 *sniff* Also, the scene where they bring Gannicus up for Varus' viewing and Batiatus basically yells at him and tells him he has to whore himself out. The face Gannicus makes just SLAYS me! It is like he was a carefree rockstar 5 seconds ago and now he's just a little boy who has zero power! I love how the show frames EVERYTHING around power structure and different power dynamics, and show it in both major ways and in subtle details.

I have very complicated feelings about Titus. I accept that he is a better person than Quintus and Lucretia and I really love his interaction with all his slaves, but I can't respect him. I come from a culture where many people are happy to be feudal peasants and serve their lords, and I can't STAND people who accept that they are inherently of a lower class than somebody else and that they "know their place". When they try to impose this on their children, even if those children were psychopaths like Quintus, it's unforgivable. I realize the show was going for "humble" here but humility is one thing and self-humiliation is another and I have nothing but contempt for people like that.

And after I thoroughly dissed the character you like here I defend the indefensible character I like: I need to write meta about Ashur and how the culture of toxic masculinity affected him. The thing with Dagan was basically him lashing out at Dagan because of the cruel stuff Oenomaus said to him. I love me some Oenomaus but you have to admit he's not the most delicate of people. What he did to Dagan was actually the dumbest thing Ashur's ever done, but it was his equivalent of self-sabotaging reactions like getting drunk or binge eating.

And I thought the backstory with Crixus would show us that Crixus was defending himself or whatever, but it didn't help at all. Ashur tried to be friends with him, genuinely (or as genuinely as it's possible for him), and he threw it back in his face. He didn't NEED to fuck up Ashur's leg to prevent him from getting to Gannicus. A simple push would have done. Instead he crippled him then spent the next few years gloating over it and calling him a cripple. IDK, you can't give any leeway to someone as slimy as Ashur but I can't give any leeway to stupid cafeteria-bullies like Crixus. Jupiter ('s cock) knows I've tried.

lol, Gannicus/Electric Guitars/Titshakin' may be the only OT3 that beats Oenomaus/Melitta/Gannicus. A match made in heaven! (Can you imagine being an extra in the audience and your grandma is all proud and wants to see it and you have to be like, "Uhm, Grandma, maybe not?" because you were shaking your tits at Gannicus? Trololol.)

Gods yeah, that scene with fucking Varus. Especially since it comes so soon after Gannicus was all "LOL, I'll have to fuck my way out of it then" just a little bit earlier with Oenomaus and Melitta. GAH. Also UGH ROMANS. *drinks*

As regards Titus and Ashur, I think in both you're conflating "liking" and "interesting character" a bit here. I never said I *liked* Titus and I actually don't much - we're totally on a page about his humility, which was at turns so obnoxiously subservient that it annoyed the crap out of me. Plus he does that unsubtle emotional manipulation thing with "I'm old, I'm gonna die soon, not that you care, sniff" that I HATE when parents do it. He definitely has flaws and there are many moments when I sympathise with Batiatus and Lucretia. But he is IS a great and realistic character.

Same with Ashur - I never denied that he's an awesome, complex character and I think they lucked out in the casting and in the writing, because they did a fantastic job with him. It's a testament to the strength of their work that people feel so strongly about him.

That said, I have not yet heard an argument that holds up in terms of actual sympathy for him. (Even when I wrote that drabble, I had to go back to before we ever meet him on-screen, because basically everything he does from the moment we meet him makes me loathe him). Of course he's a product of his surroundings and culture to a point, they all are. But they all have choices, and every single choice he makes is geared to hurt others. Others choose to make friends, to grow, to learn, to help each other out. He chooses to fuck up his only friend (and sorry, no, I don't buy into "having your friend raped" as an equivalent to binge-drinking for a second, IDC what Oenomaus said to him - you find another fucking way to deal), he chooses to rape, murder, and betray. I do think you're right in what you always say about how he's essentially fucked by being thrown in the ludus because it's just not really a place where a guy like him could thrive. But he still made the choices he made, it's not all on his environment, or you'd have to make the same argument for everybody else.

lol, I think we have identical feelings about our expectations for Crixus and Ashur in the prequel. I thought I'd be seeing a more sympathetic side of Ashur, but nope, he was a slimy shit from the start. I must've missed the part where he was genuinely trying to be friends with Crixus. The other way round, sure, but Ashur? Nope. And I don't think their levels of doucheyness are remotely comparable - I'd take the swaggering fratboy over the rapist-by-proxy (and later on actual rapist) any time.

In conclusion, I don't deny that he has motivations, but he's still a horrible person who keeps forever blaming everyone else for the things he does. I think he lost me the first time he went into a whiny rant (in third person about himself, natch) about how no one likes Ashur and no one helps Ashur and wah wah wah. Yeah, cry me a river, dude. No, it wasn't *necessary* for Crixus to fuck his leg up, but it's not like he had heaps of time to think, and it's not like he went in with the express intent of fucking him up, he was just trying to protect Gannicus (unlike the dozens of horrible things Ashur does with no other intent than to fuck people up as hard as possible). My sympathy remains minimal.
I don't actually have ~sympathy~ for Ashur in the conventional meaning of the word. He just entertains me and I don't like how the vast majority of the fandom, even the smart corners, dismiss him as if he's a 1-note villain like Cossutius or someone like that, especially since many of the same people are totally fine with Batiatus.
The way I see Ashur: He's a snake, and people keep poking at him and then when he lashes out in the deadliest ways possible, they give him 100% of the blame and don't think about their own actions even 1 bit.
I am not victim-blaming here. I realize snakes often attack people who just stepped near them without noticing or just happened to be standing by, and even if they attack a human that poked at them intentionally, I HATE snakes and I would deffo take the side of the human in that scenario. I would probably even shriek out "kill it! kill it!" but snakes are snakes. They will always be snakes. Even if you don't like them, you can understand and expect their snakeness and you can find them interesting and put them in a terrarium and stare at them, or you can even put on special gloves and extract drops of their venom for medicinal purposes. But they will never stop being snakes.
I'm sorry, I think that metaphor got away somehow. I don't even understand it myself anymore, so I hope you have a clearer mind than me!
About the binge-drinking part. I don't mean getting your friend raped is as harmful as binge-drinking. Obviously. What I meant is that the same thing that drives someone to binge-drink drove Ashur to do this. It's by far the dumbest thing he's ever done and Ashur is the smartest character on the show, so what made him do it is a momentary lapse of judgement brought on by intense feelings of resentment and dejection (that followed Oenomaus' you're worthless and we only care about Dagan speech), that led him to do something self-destructive. Is it as harmless as having a bad day at work and deciding to eat everything in your fridge? No. But it's brought up by the same emotional drives. This is Ashur we're talking about. He brings snacks to funerals. There is no way he could self-sabotage without SERIOUSLY harming others.
And Crixus. Well, like I said before. Crixus is supposed to be held to a higher standard. I'm not supposed to sympathize with Ashur, but Crixus is supposed to be one of the heros, and instead acts like a grade A douchenozzle in everything that is not related to Naevia. When he first arrives at the Ludus, Ashur tries to be friends with him. Ok, maybe allies. Crixus decides he wants to be on the side of the people who were bullying them instead and repeatedly does things that Ashur in his sick mind can interpret as slights, until eventually he does the leg thing. Of COURSE Ashur is gonna think of Crixus as his arch-enemy and try everything he can to ensure his downfall in the most destructive and painful way possible. Any other reaction would be massively OOC for Ashur, but as a ~hero~ Crixus is supposed to feel at least a pang of guilt for fucking up Ashur's leg in the 4-5 yrs before Ashur actually started moving against him, but he never did, because he's a twat.

I thought your argument was that Ashur IS, or could have been, a better person than he is. The snake argument basically just says it's in his nature to be vile and you can't blame him for his nature, which I don't agree with - I mean, that just frees him from blame for anything he's done ever, and is also contrary to the whole "he's a nuanced character with real [and to him at least, logical] motivations for what he does, not a 1-note baddie" train of thought, which I do agree with. So yeah, I think you lost me too with the snake metaphor, sorry ;) (I mean, I do understand the finding them fascinating and appreciating them, if that was the point. But the larger part of it just sounds like "Ashur is Ashur, he can't help it" which, nope.

IDK about the higher standards for heroes vs. villains, or about those terms in general. To me, what appeals about the way the show approaches characters is that no one's an archetype and no one fits in a box. There are sympathetic Romans like Laeta and Crassus, there are shitty rebels like Nemetes and Sedullus. You can make that argument for Ashur, but you can also make it for the "heroes" who act pretty fucking vile through most of season 3. They're all deeply human characters who make choices. There are a lot of choices Crixus makes that suck, I'd be bored shitless if he were awesome all the time. But they all make sense from the character's perspective. I'm sure the same holds true for Ashur, but y'know. His are all still pretty exclusively fucking horrible choices to anyone else.

I'm not even sure we're really arguing opposing viewpoints here in terms of what's going on on screen :) Maybe we still just mean different things by "liking" a character, which to me does entail sympathy/being able to relate/appreciating them as a person, as opposed to appreciating them as a well-drawn, three-dimensional character (which, I don't think Spartacus has any characters that DON'T fit that description, except for maybe fucking Sybil. #fuckoffSybil)
the snake metaphor wasn't my best work LOL.
I basically think Ashur has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For narcissists the entire world is basically a TV show starring them and everyone else is a supporting character who exist either to serve a purpose or to create challenges. People aren't real people to him so he CAN'T feel sympathy or guilt.
Since this is a personality disorder, he can never get better. Not even in the modern world where psychiatry has improved significantly since Roman times. So he was always gonna be a narcissist, but without his circumstances he might not have been as harmful to others. Some narcissists end up as serial killers or asshole politicians, while others merely try to become celebrities.
So no, my argument isn't that he would have been a better person, but that he could have been way less harmful
Ah, going into actual mental conditions is a whole different bag of snakes, of course. I've thought before that he seems to have psychopathic traits in how he doesn't seem to see other people (especially women) as real and how he's always holding these grand speeches about himself and revels in having an audience for them (Lucretia or the very bored thug gang). It's rather fascinating, in a horrifying way.

November 2016

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