Thursday, 21 July 2011

Rome: Son of Hades


I have a new, light-hearted, article up at Sound on Sight, on Ten Films to Watch now that Harry Potter's Finished.

Things are not all well in Rome, as The Godfather chucks The Other Godfather's head on the floor without even bothering to find a wastepaper basket. On the upside, he's stopped rocking. Eirene complains that The Godfather's house is a house of death and will adversely affect any children they might conceive, and Dodgey promises to think about getting them out of it. However, The Godfather is sitting in bed sulking (given that he's caused the deaths of his wife, children and Caesar, this is understandable) and refuses to budge, or to get rid of the now rotting head in the corner of the room.

Cleopatra is in town and Antony pretends not to be interested in her to Atia, who doesn't approve of him having sex with anyone who outranks her. Octavian demands the money he's inherited from Caesar, and Antony evades the issue. He leaves to meet with Cleopatra, who is dressed in a more Roman style than usual, albeit with a very large Egyptian ankh pendant round her neck. He notes that she's changed (probably because she appears to be sober this time). She claims she doesn't remember him. Posca tries to bring the meeting back to the point - the preservation of Cleopatra's throne as a client kingdom - and he and Cleopatra's nurse/companion neogtiate the deal while Antony does his level best to have sex with her with his eyes alone.

Cleopatra demands an official declaration of Caesar's paternity of Caesarion, but while she is willing to prostitute herself for a good cause, she demands payment up front, and Antony has to confess that he'll never make Caesarion Caesar's legal son (he's got enough trouble with Caesar's legally adopted son as it is). When he tries to touch her, she slaps him (which is rather satisfying). The whole scene very effectively sets up Antony and Cleopatra's relationship, in Rome's narrative; he is besotted with her, and she is using him. It's also notable for the being the longest she appears to be sober in the series.

Cicero tries to tell Antony some true but dull and unpleasant facts about famine, mob wars, riots and so on. Antony shows him a list of candidates for the elections Posca claims to have found among Caesar's papers and Cicero notes how many of these Posca seems to turn up, while referring to the candidates themselves as wretches. Cicero's dialogue here really nicely reflects the real Cicero's dry wit, and Bamber is excellent as usual. He also points out Antony can't kill him because he needs him to run the Senate, and Antony has to point out that won't be the case forever. Poor, foolish Cicero. Meanwhile, Antony hasn't paid Posca either.

Dodgey grabs Antony on the street and asks him for help dealing with The Godfather, and rather surprisngly, Antony agrees and goes to get him out of bed personally. Antony has a right royal go at him over the whole letting-Caesar-die thing, demanding to know why he hasn't committed suicide like a good Roman (The Godfather's excuse is rubbish, by the way), then orders him to sort out the mob wars he's started, thus solving one of his own problems at the time. It's a lovely bit of reverse psychology and is actually genuinly nice of Antony, even if he is helping himself as well.

Antony and Atia share a bath in which, unusually, they are in water up to their necks. He insists repeatedly that he's not interested in Cleopatra and Atia really should have noticed that he's protesting too much, though she is reassured that he refused to raise Caesarion above Octavian. It's quite a sweet scene and it seems that Antony and Atia really like each other, as opposed to their many other relationships, which tend to be based on sex alone.

Next day they hold a fancy dinner at which Atia enjoys humiliating Servilia until Octavian rats out her plan to have the woman murdered to Antony and she has to cancel it. Cleopatra turns up in full Egyptian Queen garb - short black dreadlocks wig and all - and Antony makes it even more obvious that he would really, really like to have sex with her. Everyone eats in as aggressive a manner as possible and they all stare at each other even more intensely than the cast of I, Claudius during Claudius' opening this-is-who-everyone-is narration.

Timon, Atia's torturer, hitman and occasional lover, goes home, where it turns out he is Jewish and has a wife, children and a recently returned brother. This is part of a sub-plot that eventually had to be hastily concluded when the show was cancelled early and it doesn't really go anywhere, so I'll skim over it for the most part, though it does lead Timon to an interesting personal crisis later on.

Cleopatra tells Atia to kiss her because she's her friend for life and Atia hisses at her to die screaming, which is mildly amusing but not a terribly good idea politically.

There's yet another new Godfather in town - let's call him The Don - who is putting people in sacks with snakes and that sort of thing. An announcement goes out for a big meeting of the captains of the collegia where they are all to try not to kill each other for a few hours, as they will be under Lady Concord, meaning violence would be extra specially naughty. The Godfather turns up, freshly shaved, and they all settle down to meet and I swear, I half expect a helicopter to appear in the doorway and gun them all down. The Godfather announces that since he killed the previous godfather and he's BFFs with Mark Antony, he'll be taking over mob rule in the city. When a few object, he smashes up the statue of Concord, snaps that he's a son of Hades and f*cks Concord in her a*se, and draws his sword, ready to kill anyone who doesn't do what he says. It's a pretty effective strategy.

Atia is nagging Antony about Cleopatra and Octavian is nagging him about his money, which he needs so he can give the people the money Caesar promised them in his will, for starters. Octavian has hired a lawyer and Antony is forced to tell him outright that he's not giving him the money. (Amusingly, throughout all this, Octavia calmly eats lunch and makes polite requests for the fruit salad). Atia insists that they need Antony's protection and sneers at Octavian's suggestion that he can protect them (it's fun for TV writers to give characters lines they'll seriously come to regret later). Later, Octavian tells Octavia his plan to, essentially, take over the world, and she laughs at him (something else she'll regret later).

Octavian has the town crier announce that he will fulfil the terms of Caesar's will and give everyone money, the result of selling his own property and borrowing three million sesterces. Antony and Atia are very cross and Octavian explains that he's decided to enter public life and this is his way of doing it. He suggests that he and Antony make a public display of unity and makes a very sensible argument in favour of this plan, but the other two are distracted by the whole borrowing-three-million-sesterces business and a full on brawl ensues in which Antony nearly kills him (largely because Octavian hit Atia and called her a whore - it's sort of sweet, or it would be if Octavian wasn't Atia's son). Atia manages to stop Antony actually murdering her son, just about, but Octavian is distracted by the fact she's taken Antony's side and has to be comforted by Octavia.

Dodgey is a bit nervous about The Godfather's lack of respect for the gods, but sticks with him anyway. He hires a brothel supervisor with bad attitude called Gaia to work for them, thus putting one of this season's least satisfying storylines in motion. He also hires another old comrade from the Thirteenth called Mascius.

Servilia and Cicero are celebrating Antony's problems and Cicero dismisses Octavian, but Servilia points out Caesar chose him, and they probably shouldn't ignore him. Cicero persuades her that Brutus shouldn't come home yet, which upsets her.

Octavian leaves to stay with his friend Agrippa in Campania and prepare for his political career and we see him ride away, covered in bruises from Antony beating him. The camera pulls away to reveal, in a cartload of slaves on the same road, Niobe's sister and all The Godfather's children, still very much alive but thoroughly miserable. End of episode.

This is the last we see of Max Pirkis as Octavian, which is a great shame. Since Pirkis was still in his mid-teens at the time of filming and Octavian needed to age from nineteen (his age at Caesar's death) to, as it turned out, 33, over the course of season 2, the change is understandable, but it's still annoying, as Pirkis had done such a good job with the character. His portrayal of Octavian as a slightly weedy but hyper-intelligent and thoroughly ruthless young man is spot on and the audience can both understand why everyone underestimates him, and see how very wrong they are to do so. Simon Woods, who plays the older Octavian, takes his cue from Pirkis' performance and maintains his character interpretation pretty well, but for me, the character belongs to Pirkis.

Essentially, this episode is composed of set-up for season 2, following on from episode 1, which dealt with the fall-out from season 1. Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian's ambition, The Godfather becoming The Godfather and Dodgey's relationships with Eirene and Gaia are all moving into new stages. As such, there's not so much to say about this episode itself - it does its job nicely, but everything in it has to be understood as part of what is to come in later episodes. One thing I do like very much about season 2, though, is that I think we get slightly more of the actual history; or at least of historical characters, if not history itself, which takes a beating from several directions and for several different reasons as the series goes on.

All my Rome reviews are listed here

1 comment:

  1. Great review as usual! The switching of actors for Octavian annoyed me (I hate it when they do that), but understandable given the ageing... :p

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