Friday, 15 June 2012

Rome: Deus Impeditio Esuritori Nullus (No God Can Stop a Hungry Man)

Or, the Antony and Cleopatra episode, in which James Purefoy joins the ranks of men who look awesome in eyeliner (along with Johnny Depp and David Bowie).

The Godfather is dreaming of happier times (yay! Niobe!). When he comes to, he realises he's actually in bed with a bald prostitute who's angry with him for stealing the covers. He must be feeling really down in the dumps if he's let go of his precious nobility that was so important to him he turned down the Queen of Egypt (though granted, he was married at the time). It's his monthly debauch, as we discover shortly.

Alexandria is pretty (knowing they were cancelled, did they decide to go mad on the budget?) There are camels!

Posca is, when in Egypt, doing as the Egyptians do, smoking drugs from a bong and wearing eyeliner and earrings. Antony and Cleopatra themselves are enjoying all the most extreme cliches of general madness and debauchery. They're making men dress up as animals while they shoot at them, wearing eyeliner (and not much else) and refusing to discuss important things like the grain supply, which they are witholding from Rome. They're not so out of it, though, as to miss out on insisting on tripling the price of grain and demanding Carthage from Octavian, who is stuck with a starving mob in Rome. Antony cheerfully points out that it doesn't matter what Octavian does, the people love him more, and given how sexy James Purefoy looks right now, he's probably right. He decides to demand Spain as well and the deal is off. Cleo shoots the 'deer' dead, at which point even her old nurse Charmian looks horrified.

The Godfather arranges the cleaning up while Antony and Cleo head off, satisfied that Octavian should now declare war, which Antony refuses to do himself because he knows how bad the PR would be. Their twins appear to look cute and vulnerable (their daughter Cleopatra Selene seems to have been written out). There's an ominous shot of Cleo looking calculating after Antony falls asleep.

Back in Rome, Dodgy and Evil Gaia are having their sleep disturbed by an angry, starving mob. Dodgy, who's in charge of the granaries, tries to explain rationing sensibly to the mob, which goes about as well as you'd expect. The Third Man is still alive, though injured, and Niobe's son Lucius continues to grow at a normal rate while his sisters stay creepily the same age forever. Vorena the Elder is now a priestess because Rome thinks that's the equivalent of joining a nunnery. Dodgy is keeping a man in a cage and feeding him bones because, why not? (I think it's the slimy Other Godfather).

Dodgy reports back to Octavian and his real triumvirate (Agrippa and Maecenas) that the elderly are already dying and everyone else will soon follow. Apparently Lepidus is still kicking around in Africa, which is... I have no idea where we are in time right now. Lepidus should probably be in his forced retirement, which he more or less is, so we'll let it go. The people are blaming Octavian for the famine because they still love Antony, due to his being less robotic than Octavian. Octavian knows what Antony's up to and knows he needs the people's support to declare war, so he sends for his mother and sister (the real Atia was dead by this point, but whatever). We see Octavia's daughter Antonia, who seems to be about 3 or 4, and Atia insists that she still believes that Antony will send for her one day. Instead, she gets the summons from Octavian, which is rather less welcome.

They all have a very uncomfortable dinner in which no one talks to anyone else. So Octavian gets right to the point and asks Octavia to go to Egypt and persuade Antony as his wife to, you know, feed everyone. He wants both women to go, providing 'reality and appearance', since as Octavia points out, Atia's 'his real wife'. Atia demands payment for this favour, in the shape of villas and gladiators, or maybe just cash. Octavian is pretty desperate by now and agrees to pay up.

Sweaty sex scene time! We haven't had a sex scene for fully five minutes. Livia and Octavian are going at it, with her hitting him and then choking him. Clearly she's just as into the S&M stuff as he is, it's a match made in heaven. Their pillow talk is a little interrupted by Octavian barely being able to talk though. Livia declares that they won't serve eggs any more because she doesn't like them, 'unless you object of course'. She asks why he's sending the women to Antony when he knows he will refuse, and then explains for the benefit of the audience that this is a PR move to get the mob to turn against Antony (though if Antony does yield to Atia they'll have the grain and the problem will be solved). Exposition over, Octavian turns over and ends the conversation.

This is mostly a simple exposition scene with extra nudity, but it does also imply that Livia is starting to be the dominant partner within this relationship, just a little bit. She's careful to observe the formality of checking things with him, but since Octavian is literally unable to speak because she's choked him at the time, she seems to be starting to wear the metaphorical trousers, when it comes to egg-buying anyway, and despite his warning to her that he would hit her for sexual pleasure, it's she who's hitting him here. It's a hint at a relationship that has the potential to develop into something quite different from what one might expect from Octavian after his treatment of his mother and sister and it's fascinating. It's such a shame we'll never get the chance to explore it further - though it does fit rather neatly with I, Claudius, which can slot very usefully into the place of the non-existent Rome season 3.

We see Octavia and Atia heading out onto the high sea. Octavia is seasick and Atia tells her she's 'mean and bitter'. She returns that Atia has become 'girlish and sentimental'.

The Godfather is watching Caesarion play by throwing things at helpless underlings, since he's learned from his mother and stepfather. (Caesarion appears to be about ten, which matches Lucius Jr but is historically inaccurate, as he should be around 17 or 18 by the time Antony dies, so he should be at least 16 here). When the kid lobs a ball at the Godfather and tells him to throw it properly, the Godfather whacks him with it to teach him a lesson, which is quite satisfying. Caesarion  asks about his father, wanting to know more than just the basic 'great soldier everyone loved him'. So of course the Godfather starts telling him about his presumed biological father Dodgy (given the lack of DNA tests in ancient Rome it could be either really). This falls apart a bit when Caesarion points out that he's always heard Caesar was abstemious in his diet, when the Godfather has been fondly reminiscing about how much Dodgy liked to eat. It's a sweet scene, showing how much Vorenus misses his friend, and reminding the audience of a rather important plot point from back in season 1.

Antony and Cleo are lazing around in a druggie haze when Posca comes to tell them Atia and Octavia are practically at the door. Antony isn't too drug-addled to miss the significance of this problem, knowing that this is a final choice between Octavia and Cleo and will lead to war, and that it will affect his popularity. But he turns them away anyway, confident of winning the war. Cleo intends to throw a party and be hospitable but Antony, presumably unable to face Atia and unwilling to see her humiliated by Cleopatra, refuses. Cleo points out that's the whole point of the trip, but Antony realises that Atia doesn't actually know that. Cleo suggests killing both women instead, to spare them the humiliation, and he's not down with that either, as that really would destroy his reputation. This leads to a proper fight between the two, with swearing and hair-pullling and throwing priceless artefacts around (though I guess they may not have been priceless back then).

In the end, Atia and Octavia are left waiting outside the door in the heat without water. Jocasta emerges in full Egyptian garb and explains she's been surviving by fitting in and pretending to be 'a little mad'. She explains that only Posca and the Godfather can talk to Antony witout Cleo's permission. Their conversation is interrupted when Posca appears and drags her back inside in a panic.

Antony and Cleo have finished their aperitif of having a screaming row and moved on to the main sex course. Once that's done, The Godfather makes the mistake of sticking his head round the door and gets lumbered with the job of sending Atia packing without seeing Antony (she and Octavia have no idea how close they came to never leaving at all). Atia is, of course, just as humiliated by this as she would have been at a party, not to mention hurt. She tries to insist she won't move, but since it's go or be hacked to death by Cleo's men she hasn't much choice. She slaps the Godfather and starts rather weakly beating him, but gives it up fairly quickly and goes. The Godfather catches Posca and Jocasta also getting the heck out of dodge, but refuses to come with them because of his responsibilities. This is largely another example of him bring noble for the sake of it, but it is also possible that the responsibility he's referring to is less to Antony and more to Dodgy and his increasingly endangered presumed son. The Godfather asks Posca to get Dodgy to kiss his children for him and Octavia chucks her wedding ring out of the window of the boat.

Caesarion is still pestering the Godfather for more information about his father. Antony asks after Atia, assuming she took the news with her usual poise, and actually looks a bit guilty when the answer is no. The Godfather gives him a message from Octavia (who told him to 'tell my husband he's cowardly scum!') with way too much venom, which is very amusing. When ordered to give his own opininon, he says Antony's not a coward but has a 'strong disease in his soul' that will eat away at him until he dies. He doesn't know what it is but he recognises the symptoms becausd he has the same sickness (it's not obvious. Where's his eyeliner?). Caesarion looks understandably confused and the Godfather distracts him by throwing him a 'long one' (I don't think they had 'go long' in ancient Rome. We don't have it here, it took me years to work out what it meant).

Atia gets home and whacks Octavian across the face. She's getting good at that. He has enough human feeling left in him to look a wee bit guilty over manipulating her. Posca has come to see the future Emperor as well (he's a survivor that one). Atia tells her son to 'crush Antony and his Queen' using a present from Posca - Antony and Cleopatra's joint will, which shows how far away from Rome Antony has drifted. Maecenas gleefully reads out how Antony wants to be buried in Alexandria, how he's Osiris and Cleo is Isis and how he wants to leave Roman lands to his and Caesar's children by Cleo. Octavian is so pleased he almost smiles at Posca. Maecenas then watches smugly while the newsreader reveals all this to the mob, and Octavian Speechifies in the Senate on the subject.

Posca gives Dodgy the Godfather's message and Octavian, having established they're still friends, asks Dodgy to come to Alexandria with him in case this should prove useful. During this conversation, he happens to mention that Caesarion, as putative king of Rome, will have to die. Ooops. Dodgy, of course, agrees to come - unfortunately, Octavian just named the only person in the world he has more loyalty to than Octavian.

Dodgy explains things to the Godfather's kids, who will be left with Aunt Her-From-the-BT-Ads, and who are still angry with the Godfather for killing their mother, because apparently they still believe that and he still hasn't put them right. Dodgy also leaves instructions with the Third Man, Evil Gaia and the others. Evil Gaia whines that she wants to go too, because apparently she thinks soldiers travelling with an army can just bring their mistresses along for the ride (Roman soldiers had mistresses at their posts, and officers could bring their wives as Germanicus did, but foot soldiers couldn't marry or bring mistresses on campaigns).

The point becomes moot when Cage Man escapes and attacks Dodgy, and Evil Gaia takes several fatal knife wounds to the gut while defending him and killing the former Evil Godfather. Really, the whole business with keeping the guy in a cage was utterly ridiculous. Who on earth came up with that?! Dodgy is very upset and convinced the gods are punishing him, but when Evil Gaia, becoming suddenly religious, tells him it's a fair return for her murdering his wife and unborn child, he finishes her off himself and dumps her body unceremoniously in a pond. On which rather grim note, the episode ends.

There's a nice symmetry to this episode, as the Godfather looks after Dodgy's son in Egypt while Dodgy looks after the Godfather's children in Rome. It's a little uneven towards the end - the resolution of Gaia's storyline seems to be the place where the rushed conclusion is worst felt, especially as it requires the ridiculous business with Mennius being kept in a cage. But Antony's rejection of Atia is genuinely sad and Vorenus' scenes with Caesarion rather sweet.

The interesting thing about this episode is that it reveals all the thinking behind Octavian's propaganda war against Antony, while simultaneously buying into that same propaganda in its representation of Antony and Cleopatra and their relationship. There's a good reason for that, of course - it's just much more fun to depict Antony as enslaved to an exotic foreign Queen in a debauched court where everyone's on drugs all the time. It also makes Octavian's eventual victory that much more palatable as, vicious and ruthless though he is, at least he doesn't make people dress up as deer and then kill them for fun. I doubt it's all that close to reality really. I suspect Antony and Cleopatra were political allies first and lovers second (which she certainly is here, but he seems generally confused) and considerably less debauched. But that would be boring. All in all, this would probably be a fairly average to good episode - if it weren't for that eyeliner. Which is worth an extra gold star by itself. Yum.


Gaia: What are you gonna do? Bake 'em a cake?
Dodgy: I forget sometimes just what a cold-hearted bitch you really are.
Nice Marie Antoinette moment, and a reminder of just how much Dodgy doesn't know...

Octavian: I cannot remember the last time I made a joke. (Livia saying 'last Monday' is ever funnier).

Cleo: Play the Queen? I am the Queen.

All Rome reviews


  1. Well, that eyeliner serves its purpose. The crier at the end points that as a barbarism.

    I do like the scene with Jocasta begging Vorenus to let them ago, even though is quite obvious he's going to do just that. The crocodiles will just have to wait...

  2. Nothing but sex, sex, sex, all the time with these people, hmmm?

    And eyeliner. And skulduggery.

  3. And more sex ;)

    Sex, sex, sex, that's all they think about...

  4. The smoking was an obvious anachronism, but I think that the camels may have been so as well. Not so weird as the llama in Troy, however!

  5. Good point - I seem to remember it was the Romans who brought camels to Egypt, implying there weren't any there before Augustus/Octavian conquered it. I'd forgotten that!

  6. I think both in this show and in the sources we have, Mark Antony did not go mad but simply embraced his true nature. Like his descendant Nero, Mark Antony probably abandoned his noble pretexts and embraced his desires and impulses, and luckily found a partner who could match him in every regard.

    But at the same time, I am always a little suspicious about the portrait we get of Antony from the sources. Unlike most of the other Civil War figures, Antony is painted as this crude stooge that looks like a buffoon when compared to Octavian. But given that Octavian was a hard censor for his reputation, I think the Mark Antony we get is a ridiculous caricature. Admittedly the caricature is incredibly fun and a delight in the arts, but I am doubtful that this was the real man. Suetonius has a letter from Antony quoted that has Antony criticize Octavian for adultery and drunken antics. Perhaps the real man was something much tamer and a little less interesting than the tales of excess we get.

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