Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rome: These Being the Words of Marcus Tullius Cicero


The Godfather is feeling guilty about losing the kids after Niobe's last words were to defend her son, so he comes downstairs to the bar/brothel/whatever it is that he and Dodgey are running to inflict his bad mood on everyone else. Another gang leader, covered in bling, asks his permission to kill someone who used a friend's nephew as a male prostitute, and the Godfather refuses. Dodgey disagrees and everyone has to be lectured about the importance of showing the Godfather respect (yes, he actually uses the word). Gaia tries to come on to him but he's not interested.

Octavia is hanging out with a friend of hers called Jocasta, smoking hemp. Atia joins them, though she objects to having the smoke all over the interior of the house. Jocasta tells Atia how 'ghastly' Macedonia is, so Atia is spectacularly rude to her (though really, would you want to make friends with someone named after Oedipus' mother? That's never going to be a good idea, surely).

Scenes of Unhappy People: the young male prostitute goes to work, Timon's brother is teaching his kids Hebrew while Timon sulks, Lyde and the Godfather's kids are kept with a group of other slaves.

Atia tries to persuade Antony not to go to Macedonia. He wants peace and quiet (and her, presumably, since he assures her there will be dressmakers there). Atia is unimpressed and insists peace and quiet is not an option. She's probably right, but she's definitely been influenced by Jocasta's tales of how hideous Macedonia is.

Bling Man has gelded a man who was using the prostitute and the Godfather blames Dodgey for questioning his authority and gives him an order. Dodgey insists he doesn't take orders any more and yelling ensues, during which Dodgey accidentally lets slip that he knew about Niobe's affair and killed her lover.

A-ha! Cicero! I was wondering where he'd got to. Cicero tries to point out to Antony that Octavian, having managed to raise a fairly decent army, is probably someone they shouldn't ignore. Antony has summoned Cicero to request Gaul instead of Macedonia as a province after the consulship is over. Antony observes that Cicero, at this point, basically controls the Senate and when he can't persuade Cicero to do what he wants, threatens him with molten gold down the throat. It's a great, tense scene, and Bamber and Purefoy sneer beautifully at each other throughout. Antony's line, 'you do not want to seem cowardly' is especially nice and Bamber's expression as he imagines Crassus dying horribly and ironically through aforementioned molten gold (he was known as the richest man in Rome) is a picture.

Dodgey goes to make peace with the Godfather and tries again to get him to prevent gang war, but it's too late - their third man is busy castrating Bling Man's second in a public toilet.

New character introduction alert! Agrippa arrives at Atia's house with a message from Octavian. I love this series' interpretation of Agrippa. Rome's Agrippa comes across rather like the most successful nerd ever. He's got Agrippa's main historical attributes, being a brilliant general (though, due to budge constraints, we don't actually get to see that) and unfailingly loyal to Augustus, but that's mixed in with a quiet, shy personality that borders on nerdiness in his tongue-tied attempts at courting women and a sense of morals, honour and duty outstripped only by the Godfather. I very much doubt it's remotely historically accurate, but I love it - the combination of one of Roman history's best generals with this extreme social awkwardness is just brilliant. And, to defend it historically, it does offer an explanation for how Agrippa, alone among all the men Octavian was close to, managed to stay in favour until he died of (probably) natural causes - this Agrippa, while skilled in war, clearly has no interest in grabbing power for himself and probably couldn't if he tried. (Augustus gave unprecedented powers and privileges to his sister and his wife, probably because only they were incapable of trying to take over the Empire, since the legions would not follow a woman).

Agrippa's introduction also immediately establishes an unhistorical romantic relationship between him and Octavia. It does this in the cheesiest possible way; as Agrippa, dusty and mucky from the road, enters the house, he sees Octavia through a doorway, dressed in an elegant white (or is it soft pink? no wait, it's blue) gown, in soft lighting, playing a lyre. Pur-lease. To be fair, she gets a note wrong and curses 'Piss and blood!' which brings us a little closer to reality, but still. The romance itself, while entirely fictitious, is rather nice and leads to all sorts of dramatic goings-on later, so all in all, I'm in favour of it. Plus, Agrippa is just so cute when he's pining.

The two of them discuss Octavian's pomposity and his ten thousand men, and the fact that Octavia is the only person in the world he really listens to. Atia interrupts, calls Agrippa a traitor and sends her slave running to tell tales to Antony, much to Octavia's horror. Meanwhile, the male prostitute is seeing one of Atia's slaves and nicking food from her kitchen, because he's also spying on her and planning to murder her for Servilia (delayed slightly by Servilia's wish to kill only Atia, not Octavia). He's a cocky little g*t who's astonishingly rude and forces Servilia to kiss him, which neatly puts me on Atia's side in this round, at least.

Meanwhile, in modern Turkey, a camel! Yay. Cassius is trying to get money out of a rich local so he can raise an army and put Antony's head on a spike but the local is more interested in seeing Roman women be raped by baboons (Cassius' bemused reaction to this is hilarious). Brutus, across the room, is boasting about how he killed Caesar because he had to, but even this far away, it's known that he stabbed him last and that Caesar probably would have died without Brutus' contribution. Cassius has to escort him, rambling drunkenly, from the tent, and then leaves him to stew and sulk to himself.

Antony arrives home just in time for bathtime, and tells Atia he knows Agrippa has come to get Cicero to act against him and for Octavian, and that he doesn't care because Cicero will refuse. He also swears not to harm Octavian.

Lyde manages to escape the slavers, while the Godfather has totally lost it, and accuses Dodgey of sleeping with Niobe and betraying him to Bling Man. Dodgey gets fed up and resorts to the time-honoured sarcastic 'confession', but he should know by now that the Godfather has no sense of humour whatsoever, and an all-out fist-fight ensues. Dodgey and Eirene leave and the Godfather ends up curled up on the floor in the foetal position, sobbing.

Brutus has apparently had enough sulking and decides to do an impression of John the Baptist (a good few decades too early). He's grown Jesus hair and wears a white robe, which he takes off with some solemnity to wander stark naked into some river and pray to Janus for a fresh start and to be 'born again'. Everything about the way this scene is shot, the light, the costuming, the dialogue - everything except the full frontal male nudity - suggests that the programme makers were feeling frustrated that they weren't going to get to do any Jesus scenes and thought they'd bung in something similar anyway. Sure, Janus is an appropriate god to pray to for a new beginning, but really. Second overly cheesy scene in one episode.

Antony arrives late to the Senate, expecting to be given the governorship of Gaul, only to discover that Cicero has b*ggered off and left a message with another Senator (which begins, 'These being the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero'). The other Senator realises as he reads that this is not going to end well (and boy, is he right). Idiotically, the man continues reading even while everyone else makes a quick getaway. Cicero calls Antony drink-sodden, bankrupt and Rome's Helen of Troy, which is bit much really but is a genuinely Ciceronian insult from his Philippics (2.22), the fourteen speeches he made against Mark Antony in real life (Cicero really, really didn't like Mark Antony. He also blamed Antony for the entire civil war and for giving Caesar the pretext for attacking in the first place). When the hapless reader gets to 'a woman's role has always suited you best', Antony beats him to death on the floor of the now-empty Senate. Silly Antony, he should have realised the carrot is generally more effective than the stick. Cicero writes to Octavian and tells him they'll need his army.

Three months later, Antony lays siege to Mutina (in northern Italy) and the Senate send an army, together with Octavian and his private legions, to stop him. Meanwhile, Dodgey has dragged Eirene all the way back to Rome to patch things up with the Godfather, only to discover that the Godfather has gone off to Mutina with Mark Antony, and their third is not doing too well without him. Dodgey is all ready to get the heck out of Dodge, when he runs into Lyde, who tells him the children are still alive.

Meanwhile the young prostitute tries to poison Atia, and we're left with a cliffhanger, which is pretty unusual for Rome. It's quite effective though.

Not a bad episode, and Brutus' 'rebirth' scene is pretty memorable if nothing else. There are some undoubted high points here, mainly involving Cicero and Antony needling each other and the introduction of Agrippa, but we are, perhaps, marking time a little until something more interesting happens. Then, of course, there's Antony's brutal murder of Cicero's messenger, which is one of those scenes frequently incorporated into modern TV programmes that are designed purely to shock the audience and don't entirely correspond to any sensible mode of behaviour in real life, and that would be unforgivable in a leading character if said character wasn't a gladiator/vampire/Senator and extremely good-looking to boot. This is the sort of thing Tiberius was accused of doing, but it seems excessive even for the drunken, wild Antony. Still, like seeing more than you ever wanted to of Brutus, it is definitely memorable, you've got to give it that!

All Rome recaps

6 comments:

  1. Goodness, I think I might be enjoying your recaps more than the original program!

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  2. Thank you! :) (I do like season 2 though - better than season 1 for some reason, though I miss Hinds as Caesar)

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  3. Yes, Juliette's blogs are brill. Personally, I watch Rome with the sound turned down: FAB sets, FAULTY history! lol.

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  4. Lol! I've been doing some research on what actually happened in this period lately - I think I need two separate summaries, one for the show, one for reality, they'll look pretty different...!

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  5. I loved Agrippa, mainly because while I have no idea if his portrayal is at all historically accurate (I suspect not), he was the only character on the show who seemed like a remotely decent person.

    Antony's killing that messenger did seem a bit much, as was Brutus' "rebirth" scene. But in general, I find Christ imagery to be overused.

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  6. Definitely - especially in New Doctor Who for some reason (though not so much since RTD left)

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