Spartacus: Gods of the Arena: Episode 03: Paterfamilias

“Paterfamilias” feels like the first episode of Gods where we need to tread a little water. After the “successes” of “Missio” we need some setbacks. And of course it wasn’t going to be that easy. This was a Batiatus scheme, after all. I just wish the phone call wasn’t coming from inside the house.

Batiatus’ father, Titus, has been referenced a couple of times in the previous episode, as a man who held his son down, but he hasn’t shown yet. Here he arrives to upend the table Batiatus has carefully set, with ruinous results for most, and new heights for one.

Titus is, apparently, a lanista of the old school, and while that earns him the undying love of the slaves, each of whom, villa and ludus, welcomes him back, his word so strong that it lends an unsure Oenomaus some collateral authority as Doctore, it means that he feels compelled, as a man of honor to “make amends.” Which he does by surrendering the primus back to Tullius and Vettius, jettisoning Gannicus’ fight entirely, and allowing Tullius to choose four fighters to pair off against each other in two fights for Varis’ games. Titus’ sole motivation is that this is, apparently, what a man of honor does—let himself get fleeced. He even acknowledges that it’s a huge misfortune, so it’s not like Tullius outfoxed him. And not only does this undo all of Batiatus’ plots and plans, but it renders the turmoil in the ludus Varis has caused entirely worthless. 

And that’s not the limit of damage—while Batiatus Sr. and Jr. are off giving the game up to Tullius, Varis arrives with his friend Cossutius, hoping to show off the same show he got last time. Seeking to spare Gannicus and Melitta a repeat of their trauma, this means Lucretia subjects Diona, the other virgin slave attendant who wasn’t Naevia, to an even worse treatment at the hands of Cossutius and his chosen gladiator (Rhaskos, who I only recognize from his memorable season 2 appearances). Cossutius is more sadistic than most of his peers, which means sexually assaulting both Naevia and Diona in determining which one he wants to see have sex with Rhaskos, as well as participating himself. Melitta and Gaia have both made sex out to be something special and joyous, respectively, to the women, and here they’re faced with a vile lesson in how it can be weaponized.

All of this is done at Varis’ direction and threat to withhold the primus, while Titus is voluntarily giving it away. Not even Gaia is gaining much from this—Varis throws cold water on her hopes of snaring him as a husband when he observes that last he heard, her dowry was nonexistent. 

In the ludus, tensions escalate between Ashur and Dagan on one side and Barca and his boyfriend Auctus on the other. Just as Roman society rejects Batiatus for rising on the backs of his plots and schemes, so does gladiator society reject Ashur and Dagan for rising absent a proven demonstration of their fighting prowess. Even Crixus, who is still technically a recruit, looks down on them, ignoring Ashur’s shout to get involved when the two Assyrians spark a brawl by eating Barca and Auctus’ pigeons. 

The brawl does very little to improve Titus’ opinion of Batiatus’ management of the ludus, especially when a stray punch to Oenomaus draws Gannicus into the fray. It’s compounded on an earlier moment when Batiatus and Gannicus both stumble in late to their respective duties, having slept late, almost simultaneously. His ludus is being run by an insolent boy (although Hannah would’ve been nearly 50 by the time this was filmed, so Quintus is maybe supposed to be 45 if he’s 5 years younger than in Blood and Sand) with no respect for the old ways, and his “champion” is a drunken buffoon given to brawling. 

It’s fitting, then, that it’s Batiatus’ sole gamble on gladiators that redeems him. Crixus has shown some promise in his exhibition fight against Gannicus, but in practice he stumbles against Barca’s spear repeatedly, until, at Oenomaus’ direction, Gannicus takes him aside and tells him to focus on disarming hoplomachi by taking away their spears. When he’s positioned against Barca’s boyfriend Auctus, Titus views the combat as not simply one between two men, but rather one between father and son—Auctus, trained under Titus’ regime, and Crixus, trained under Batiatus’—with the victor demonstrating whose way is best.

And Batiatus, for his part, claims that he’s done just as Titus has done in selecting Crixus, that he looked into the man’s eyes and took his measure. I’ve often evinced skepticism in these reviews at how much Batiatus says is something that’s true. Not to say that he’s lying directly, so much, but that he often says what he wants to be true in the moment, then goes back on it later when the wind shifts. I think it’s both the most frustrating and compelling part of Batiatus’ characterization, that he is changeable, cynical and genuine in equal measure. And he seemed genuine in the market when buying Crixus, but he was also justifying overpaying. And he complained shortly thereafter that he had overpaid so much. So here, his claim that he’s seen into Crixus’ soul sounds real, but he’s also trying to convince Titus that he’s a talented lanista. And when he offers a rousing speech to Crixus about the glory he can gain in the arena, again it feels genuine, but Batiatus is also the king of pre-show patter. Lucretia even asks him if he thinks the pump up worked on Crixus and he gives a verbal shrug.

But between Gannicus’ tips and Batiatus’ psyching up, it does work. Crixus fights Auctus and even though Varis is being generous in allowing the House of Batiatus’ men to live in their fights with each other, Crixus kills Auctus in the heat of the combat, earning his mark and joining the brotherhood. And it is earned—Barca, even distraught at his lover’s death, greets Crixus as a brother. 

Crixus’ victory, however, doesn’t serve to lift Batiatus, but further frustrate him—Titus refuses to leave, stating that the thrill of the arena itself reinvigorates him more than the climate in Sicily, promising that he’ll remain for as long as he lives. We’ll see how long that is…

Stray observations

  • Gaia keeps referencing Gannicus and Melitta’s ordeal in Melitta’s presence, and outright ignores it when Lucretia asks her to stop. 
  • Lucretia stops Batiatus from having some of his father’s honeyed wine. Wonder why that is.
  • When handing the whip of the Doctore off to Oenomaus, Batiatus notes it goes only to the “most loyal and honorable” men in the ludus. Given where Oenomaus ends up at the end of Blood and Sand, it’s hard to argue Batiatus has judged him wrong. Oenomaus also delivers a line he delivered in the previous season: “Your will, my hands.” This time Batiatus doesn’t spit it back in his face, though.
  • The show leans into its blood and nudity reputation here, shooting Batiatus, Lucretia, and Gaia having a sexual encounter in its dramatic, glamorous tones with artful angles and scoring as John Hannah drinks wine off Jaime Murray’s body. Then Titus appears, the score drops, it’s shot head on, and the romance is gone, it’s just a half-naked somewhat out-of-shape middle-aged man making awkward noises on a breast. One of the realest portrayals of the stark contrast between “how sex feels” and “how sex looks” I think I’ve ever seen in any medium.
  • Titus is invited by Varis to give the introduction to his fights and he’s kind of an adorable mirror of Batiatus. Where his son is bluster and pomp, Titus is heartfelt and genuine. He also claims it’s unfit for a lanista to do so (although Vettius was presiding over the games in the first episode, so…), whereas his son would’ve leapt at the chance.
  • Barca and Auctus are tragically cute. Each of them watches the other’s fight from a little window in the gate, meaning you have just their faces cheering and shouting as the other fights. It also means that Barca is left literally barred from the body of the man he loves when Crixus kills Auctus.