Rome: Heroes of the Republic

This episode opens on Timon, still feeling guilty about the whole torture business, and doing so in synagogue in case we've already forgotten the writers made him Jewish two episodes ago. Since he doesn't appear throughout the rest of the episode, this is rather pointless. Perhaps they were running a few seconds short.

Mark Antony has grown a Beard of Sorrow which does not become him particularly, and has taken to hunting wild animals in the woods. He's seen better days.

The Godfather insists on returning to his Godfatherly duties because he is just too noble to let the fact Antony's run off with what remains of his army into the woods stop him from obeying orders. There's a interesting moment where he refers to Octavian as Dodgy's 'boy' and Dodgy refers to Mark Antony as the Godfather's 'man', demonstrating that technically, they are increasingly on opposing sides - though this doesn't so much lead to conflict between them, as much as it simply allows them to get away with just about anything because one or the other of the world's leaders can always be persuaded to back them up. The children want to run away, but put it off, as they have no money.

Cicero refuses Octavian a triumph (he'll probably come to regret this later). He claims Hirtius and Pansa won the battle and Octavian points out that the purpose of a battle is to remain alive, which they singularly failed to do (I love Octavian. Have I mentioned that lately?). Eventually, Octavian is persuaded to drop the triumph idea, but demands to be made consul instead, almost certainly his plan all along, despite being about twenty years too young. When Cicero objects that he has no experience or connections, Agrippa points out that he has an army (I love him too. I may have mentioned that once or twice as well. He also plays a cheeky/slightly dangerous chauffeur on Downton Abbey by the way. Yum.). Cicero is totally beaten and he knows it, but he still thinks Octavian can 'do no harm' and is an upstart idiot who can be controlled. Like a German politician in the 1930s, he still thinks he can contain the psycho.

The Godfather brings the children home and insists on telling the entire bar exactly what happened to them, including the bit about Vorena the Elder being prostituted and the boy being illegitimate. It might be easier to get them settled in and content back home is he left that bit out. Le sigh. No wonder they hate him.

Octavia goes to visit her brother but Atia, still sulking over the money-stealing and not-quite-stepfather-defeating, refuses to join her. Octavia explains that she has given up hating Atia, since she only has one mother, and adds that Atia is not as strong as Octavian gives her credit for, and is fairly powerless in the face of Antony. Octavian still hasn't forgiven her for the sex with Antony and the allowing him to get beaten up. Octavia yelling 'don't be so damn pious!' as she tries to get him to get off his high horse and visit is a nice touch, not only being a close translation of the Latin pius, a quality much admired during the Augustan period, but also nicely foreshadowing Octavian/Augustus' later moralistic legal reforms. Octavian refuses to enter the city until he's officially made consul and kicks Octavia out in a huff.

The Third Man is annoyed at still being The Godfather's third (Dodgy being second, obviously). Niobe's sister has become a priestess at the Temple of Orbona, an incredibly obscure Roman goddess connected with children. The series treats this as if it were the same as running off to a convent, though there wasn't really an equivalent to a convent in the ancient world (and I'd have gone for the goddess Isis, though her worship wasn't allowed within the city at that time, if memory serves). Eirene, meanwhile, is sulking because Dodgy left her to run off and help his buddy and she thinks he loves the Godfather more than her (I think I remember this, it was an episode of Scrubs). The children are ritually cleansed, which involves more animal blood all over everyone, of course - in Rome, no religious ceremony is complete without bizarre vampiric make-up.

Atia, ever the survivor, swallows her pride and goes to visit Octavian. He is persuaded to come home and make nice for the time being. Meanwhile, Lepidus, sent by the Senate to fight Antony, has been forced to surrender, thanks to Antony's popularity with the troops. I love Lepidus most of all, because out of the whole lot of them, only he (aside from Octavian and Agrippa) managed, somehow, to survive. He didn't do especially brilliantly in the end, but he died at a reasonable age and not in battle. His characterisation here is perfect - a little cowardly, but not too much, a survivor who just wants to get out of this mess with his head, but who won't say no to a bit of power if it's offered.

Octavian and Dodgy have a nice little catch-up, during which they establish that Octavian is thinking of marriage, and that he'll avoid executing the Godfather, despite the latter's suicidally strong sense of loyalty to Antony  as long as he keeps the peace among the mob. The two have a very sweet rapport - having forced his mother to bend the knee to him and bludgeoned Cicero and the Senate with his army, Dodgy is the only character Octavian actually still looks up to and respects as an elder. It's a rather nice side of him to see, and it brings out Dodgy's nurturing side as well, even as he carefully negotiates for the Godfather's life (Dodgy really is the brightest person in Season 2 by a long way. Lepidus is probably second).

Cicero introduces Gaius Octavian Caesar to the Senate to be sworn in as consul and in he comes, fancy laurel wreath and all. He gives a very pretty speech about honouring his father (Caesar) and sets out his moral programme, all about moving on from the present age's debauchery (something every generation of politician has come up with since the beginning of time, as far as I can tell). He declares Brutus and Cassius enemies of the state, with some dramatics about how Caesar died 'right there' (which in Rome, he did - in real life, not exactly). And then, as Cicero objects and the senators start muttering, in come his soldiers. This is why, pre-Caesar, there were laws against bringing an army into Rome. Octavian, we realise, has become pure evil; we almost expect a maniacal laugh or something. There's a great panning shot of the stunned Senate, then we cut to Cicero and Tiro alone, Cicero coming to terms with having been 'outmaneuvered by a child'. He dictates a letter to Brutus and Cassius, 'heroes of the Republic'. Bamber's face as he realises the full extent of his mistake is perfect - but you have to admire his Cicero, he never loses hope, and he's still plotting even at this late stage.

The Godfather is trying to bond with the kids, apparently blissfully unaware that they think he killed their mother, and they didn't appreciate his reintroduction of them to all their neighbours. He then has recreational sex with his deeply unpleasant barmaid, who does not react well to his insistence on paying her afterwards.

It's been far too long since we had a proper orgy on Rome - in fact, what with the lack of Imperial decadence, I'm not sure we've seen a proper one yet. This omission had been allowed to go for much too long, so it's orgy time now! Maecenas is in charge and loving it, of course, but Agrippa is not enjoying himself at all. On his way out, he bumps into Octavia and her unfortunately-named friend, who've somehow managed to get hold of some kind of ancient Roman LSD by the sound of the melting-walls conversation (opium maybe? They seem to be smoking it, whatever it is). Naturally, Agrippa feels the need to play the knight in shining armour, even though that trope hasn't been invented yet, and takes Octavia home, at which point the following hilarious conversation ensues:

Atia: Exactly what are you doing with my daughter in the middle of the night?
Octavia: He abducted me! I was at a perfectly nice party with Jocasta and this impudent brute abducted me.
Atia: He brought you home to mother? It's a strange abduction. (to Agrippa) Where was she?
Agrippa: Octavia, you had best tell her the truth
Octavia: (defeated) I was at an orgy mother. It was an orgy.
Agrippa: Early stages of an orgy!

Atia quite rightly points out that Octavian is preaching piety and will banish her if he finds out she's openly flaunting his moral programme, which is some really nice foreshadowing for the fate that will later befall Agrippa's widow and his daughter. Agrippa starts waxing lyrical about how lovely Octavia is and how he'd do anything for her, and finishes by threatening Atia (ineffectually) and storming out, leaving both women wondering what on earth she did to inspire such devotion.

Brutus and Cassius have found out that they are now declared murderers and enemies of the Republic from Cicero's letter, in which he begs them to return and save it. Brutus suggests they wait until Antony and Octavian have destroyed each other and then sweep in and mop up the survivors. It's a good plan, Brutus. Stick with it. Seriously.

Some other Dons ponder whether the Godfather has gone soft and they decide to Plot Evil Plots against him. The children make their bid for freedom and run to Lyde, but she points out running off without money will just end with Vorena the Younger becoming a prostitute as well, and they must stay with their father and suck up to him in order to survive.

Cicero pops by Octavian's to demand that Octavian surrender his legions, and threatens him with Brutus and Cassius and their twenty legions. This has the effect of bringing the imbalance of power to Octavian's attention, and he realises he must ally with Antony if he's going to win. So, essentially, Cicero spoils Brutus' perfectly good plan and brings about the end of the Republic himself by telling Octavian exactly what he's up against. Nice job, Cicero. (By the way, I love the way Atia comes in at the end of this scene and says 'Hello boys!' as if they were having orange juice and playing computer games together after school or something).

We see Servilia writing to Brutus, just to remind everyone that she's still alive. We also see Brutus, Cassius and their army riding into Greece on their way to Rome. Then we're back to Antony, who has got his act together and is planning a march on Rome to take out Octavian, to which Lepidus says 'hmmm' in a very Marge Simpson-type way. They are interrupted by the arrival of Atia, sent to broker peace between son and lover (Antony looks genuinely pleased to see her, which is rather sweet). Of course, she waits until she's got what she wanted before she tells him that.

The Godfather raises a toast to 'family', blissfully unaware that Vorena the Elder is doing the Roman equivalent of crossing her fingers behind her back, and the episode ends. I would have ended the episode one scene earlier, on Octavian and Antony, since to me that's much more interesting and much more dramatic, but the toast does have the effect of reinforcing the theme of this episode, which has been all about family and the breakdown or repair of familial relationships.

This is probably one of my favourite episodes of Rome, despite the fact is has perhaps the weakest opening and closing scenes - though my dislike of them is largely down to the fact I still find the historical characters much more compelling than the fictitious ones. But I love the episode overall because there is so much well played humour in it, set against some really powerful and dramatic moments, especially Octavian's positively chilling takeover of the Senate  and the most aggressive hug since The Godfather Part II between Octavian and Antony. Most importantly, it is becoming ever clearer that the Republic is totally and utterly doomed. Alas, poor Republic.

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  1. Beards didn't much suit the real Anthony either. Look at some of his coinage after he'd gone east. To be fair, he'd also gotten pretty fat, but it's probably the second worst beard in antiquity. Nothing beats Nero's neckbeard (ooh, band name).

    Lepidus is such a nobody, you really have to wonder what he was doing in the triumvirate. In the first triumvirate, all three brought something to the table (though it wouldn't surprise me if Crassus and Pompey thought Caesar was a bit of a nobody like Lepidus, just there for a bit of balance). But the second triumvirate was so clearly a duumvirate. Lepidus probably got to live to a ripe old age precisely because he was harmless.

  2. That's what I love about him! He got mixed up in the whole thing, and just kept his head above water till he got shoved out.

    I'd forgotten Nero's hideous attempt at a beard - truly awful! :)

  3. Speaking of the neck beard, there's a hilarious comic you'd appreciate:
    (It isn't mine)

  4. Great review again Juliette!

    I remember wondering why on earth the godfather didn't just tell his kids that he didn't really kill their mother! Would have made things so much easier for him in the long run...

    Mark Anthony looks great in anything! ;o)

  5. Thanks :) I keep wondering that too - he has that illness peculiar to TV characters where he just won't open his mouth and spit it out...

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  7. I know it's a little late but... what Vorena the Elder is doing is actually not the Roman equivalent of crossing her fingers behind her back, in Italy it's definitely more vulgar than that... it means that she's fooling him. It's the gesture that cheating women usually do behind their cuckolded husbands' backs!


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