Sunday, 22 July 2012

Rome: De Patre Vostro (About Your Father)


And so we come to the final episode of Rome, sadly cut short before its time due to silly little concerns like it costing a fortune. As flawed as the mad rush to the end undeniably is, I'm still glad they did it - this story would not be over until Mark Antony was dead and Octavian on his way to becoming Augustus and it's great to see that happening here, even if it does mean that Niobe's children had to drink from the fountain of youth and stay the same age for ten years.

We open with the Battle of Actium - or rather, its imediate aftermath, since you have to be one of the most expensive films of all time to be able to afford the actual battle. But there's a rather good shot of the wreckage followed by Antony and the Godfather on a boat, looking all mussed up and sexy, so it's pretty well done.

The newreader announces the victory is suitably Augustan style, calling Cleopatra a witch and Antony her slave. Livia calls Antony a coward over dinner, to which Octavia objects while Atia stares off into the distance and wonders where she went wrong in bringing up Octavian (viewers of season 1 could probably tell her at some length).

Antony sends messages to Octavian asking for terms but Octavian wants unconditional surrender. He decides the only way to get through is by making use of the fact he's got Dodgy with him, while the Godfather is holed up in Cleopatra's palace with Antony. He hopes to persuade the Godfather to open up the palace if he promises him safety, demonstrating that he still hasn't got the hang of the Godfather's personality. To ensure the Godfather knows the message is really from Dodgy, Dodgy suggests telling him his children are well, and he hopes his own child is also well, covering this up as a private joke. Oh, Octavian. You trust so few people - what a shame one of them happens to be Caesarion's biological father...

The crane thing they use to get the messenger into the palace is ridiculous and hilarious. Presumably it's an homage to Plutarch's description of Antony's lingering death, which they don't follow here.

Inside Cleopatra's palace, Antony and Cleo are having another orgy, because, well, what else can you do when you've been thoroughly defeated, are at the mercy of a heartless young man you've royally pissed off over the years, and it's the final episode of a TV series set in ancient Rome. We've got to squeeze in a few more gratuitous sex scenes before we wrap everything up. The cameraman, knowing the end is near, gets very over-enthusiastic with the swirling camera movements, to replicate everyone's general drunkenness. Antony's got the eyeliner out again and added some exciting body art as well. Yum. Cleo is much more sober than Antony and wants to escape to the south, but Antony's still too much of a Roman general to be willing to do that. He also, in true Roman style, seems to have developed something of a death wish. He weeps as he points out their army now consists of a gang of sex workers while Octavian's messenger talks to the Godfather.


The Godfather, of course, refuses to betray Antony because he's still too noble for his own good. Antony declares that he wants to challenge Octavian to single combat, which sounds like a battle tactic from Narnia, not ancient Rome. (Actually Narnia was a small town a little north of Rome... but I digress).

Caesarion is concerned that Octavian is going to kill him (because he is). He really is Dodgy's son, he's the brightest one there. The messenger reports that Antony has finally lost it, but Cleo is still scheming and the Godfather is still overly noble. Afraid of riots if he burns down the palace with the Queen in it, Octavian decides to cherchez la femme via the messenger, while Antony practices single combat with the Godfather and without a shirt. He amuses himself killing the slaves for a little while and even the Godfather is in enough of a state of despair to start drinking.

Octavian has offered Cleo her life and a position as a client monarch in return for giving up Antony, alive or dead. If she doesn't, he'll burn the palace the next day with them in it. So Cleo, genuinely distressed and in tears, resolves to give him up just as Antony conveniently suggests that they should kill themselves to save from burning. Cleo tells him they should wait until the morning and kisses him goodbye, having told him, apparently sincerely, that the years with him were the happiest of her life.

Antony and the Godfather sit in the throne room, surrounded by unconcious party-goers, drinking. The Godfather is so fed up he even says 'fuck'. A lot.

Cleopatra's slave gives Antony a note from Cleopatra, having painted a red stain on her clothes. The note claims that Cleopatra has already killed herself and asks Antony to follow, at which he completely breaks down. He recovers enough, though, to decide to die as a Roman, with a Roman sword. He also tells the Godfather to get out and not to die there, and the Godfather holds the sword while Antony impales himself on it. And so he dies, much more quickly than in most versions. Alas, no more sexy James Purefoy (though he has to hang around playing dead for another half an hour). The Godfather wipes off all the make-up and dresses Antony in his Roman armour, then props him up on his throne.

Cleopatra reappears and the Godfather gives her one of his most judgmental Stern Looks. She walks dramatically through Antony's blood in her bare feet and, irritated by the judgment, wants to know why he hasn't done the Roman thing and followed Antony. He tells her he has to get Caesarion out and points out to her that Octavian wants to parade her though the streets in his triumph and that while he will treat her children with Antony well, he will definitely kill any rival son of Caesar. (Cleo is clealry desperate enough that her intelligence is failing her, as this should have been fairly obvious really). She thinks Octavian will spare Caesarion becoasue he's a child (in real life, he must have been about 18 by this point - since Octavian was 18 when Caesar died and 19 when he fought Antony for the first time and may or may not have hastened the deaths of the consuls Hirtius and Pansa, in real life, this argument would have held no water at all). The Godfather reminds Cleo that he knows who Caesarion's real father is because he was there at the time and tells her he plans to take the boy to Dodgy.

Cleo shows off their father's dead body to her twins and to Caesarion ('That is how nobility dies', she says. Er, thanks Mum. That's lovely.) and sends Caesarion away with the Godfather. The palace doors are opened and Octavian comes in. Cleo, who only knows one way to deal with Roman politicians, tries mild flirting but to no avail. Octavian is determined to have her come back to Rome with him and Cleo, with no desire to be paraded in his triumph, finally breaks down completely. She runs back to Antony's dead body, apologises to it and asks for the old woman.

Agrippa points out they should have taken Cleo because she might now kill herself. And indeed, she has got herself dressed up again, sat in the throne next to Antony's corpse, and her personal poisoner produces a snake that will kill her in 'forty breaths'. I kinda love that they went for an actual snake here. The more practical, and perhaps more plausible, option would be to have her poison herself with some kind of snake venom, or use a poison named for a snake, but here she does the full Shakespearean bit and has herself bit on the breast by an actual snake. It's melodramatic, it's ridiculous, it's fantastic. Octavian, Dodgy and a whole crowd of Roman soldiers walk in just in time to catch her last breaths. She tells Octavian he has a rotten soul, grabs Antony's cold dead hand, and dies. Agrippa asks what she said and gives this wonderful abashed look when he hears, as if he's thinking, 'Oh, yeah, there's no denying that really.'

Octavian sends Dodgy to look for the Godfather and Caesarion, at which Dodgy can barely contain his glee. The Godfather and the kid are camping out in the desert and the Godfather is trying to explain to the boy that he needs to forget about the whole being a prince thing. Dodgy rides up to greet them, because apparently he and the Godfather had the foresight, at some time in the past, to arrange a meeting-place in the middle of the Sahara Desert, as you do. They greet each other with the traditional manly hug. Dodgy then proceeds to tell the boy his mother is dead in much the same manner as you might tell someone the grocer was out of carrots, which understandbly goes down badly. Fortunately, Caesarion, still demonstrating intelligence unusual in a TV character, is aware that he cannot survive alone in the desert and stays crying by the fire. Dodgy and the Godfather plan how they're going to get Caesarion away (to Judaea).

I really expected the series to finish at this point, as least as far as these two are concerned. I pictured them riding off into the sunset with Caesarion, living out their lives somewhere in the middle east, growing into grumpy old men together. In fact, this scene is about 45 minutes into the episode, so it's not far off where the conclusion might be in a normal length episode, especially when there's more to be covered with the historical characters. But no, the gods of TV are not that kind. The Godfather has loose ends to tie up in Rome with the children.

Octavia and Atia are eating at their random tall table when Octavian turns up with Antony and Cleopatra's children and tells them that Antony is dead. (Actually he addresses himself to 'Mother' specifically, acknowledging their relationship, which is unusually thoughtful of him). Octavian dumps the kids on Octavia and says he plans to kill Caesarion soon.

Because the gods of TV hate them, Dodgy and the Godfather run into a bunch of Roman guards (Dodgy is in the middle of telling Caesarion a story about biting out a man's tongue and it tasting like chicken, because the old joke that everything tastes like chicken is not going away any time soon. In fact, I am given to understand, human being tastes more like pork - that's why the name given to it by some cannibals is 'long-pig'). Caesarion gives his name as 'Aeneas', which is kind of neat - somehow the idea of the son of Cleopatra taking the name of a Roman hero who dumped an African queen seems strangely fitting). But the child falls for the oldest trick in the book when one of the guards addresses him as 'majesty' in Egyptian and he replies as a king would. In the ensuing swordfight, the Godfather takes a usefully slow but ultimately fatal wound and begs to be taken to Rome to the children so he doesn't die in 'this fucking shithole'. This seems extremely selfish of him given that the leader of Rome wants to kill Dodgy's son, but there you go.

'One month later', Atia is not keen on attending Octavian's triumph. Octavia points out this is what she wanted all along, but this does not help. Dodgy, Caesarion and the nearly-dead Godfather arrive in Rome, where he introduces Caesarion as Aeneas (who chirpily says, 'Blessings!'). They carry the Godfather up to his deathbed, where his children still don't want to see him (my goodness that family can carry a grudge). They finally give in and come to see him when they see him holding hands with Dodgy, and thus we bid farewell to grumpy, occasionally dull, always ridiculously principled Lucius Vorenus.

Livia is throwing her weight around, giving orders to all the women involved in Octavian's triumph, who are processing out to greet the crowd in order of precedence. At this point, Atia appears, all done up in dramatic red and deep blue, and places herself right at the front, putting Livia in her place in the process (calling her a 'vicious little trollop'). She sweeps out and Octavia directs the most fantastic triumphant, cheeky grin at Livia as they follow together. It's immensely satisfying.

Octavian comes by in all his triumphant glory, though minus the red face paint (the dude holding the laurel wreath over his head doesn't seem to be saying anything - maybe he skipped the part where this guy is supposed to say 'remember you're a mortal,' what with planning to become a god and everything). He comes to stand with the women and we get a last couple of shots of Agrippa and Octavia, to remind us that that happened. Mannequins representing Antony and Cleopatra are paraded past them and Atia watches them go by.

Octavian is counting his money or something when Dodgy pops by to assure him he's not dead. Dodgy tells him that the Godfather is dead and that he killed Caesarion himself but threw the head away because it had 'gone bad.' Dodgy accepts a reward for killing Caesarion and immediately heads outside to join the 'Aeneas', who is determined to avenge his mother and 'redeem his father's name'. 'Listen,' says Dodgy, 'about your father...' and the series ends as we see them walk off into the crowd. We never find out exactly what Dodgy says, but since Octavian wasn't assassinated by Caesarion in later life, we can only imagine it was pretty convincing.

Although I would have liked to see Pullo and Vorenus ride of into the sunset together (and my taste is sufficiently cheesy that I might even have done that literally) this is a great end to the series. The scenes featuring Antony and Cleopatra are intense and dramatic. The story follows Plutarch (in which Antony is helped by a man called Eros, because Plutarch was not afraid of hammering his point in with an anvil) via Shakespeare fairly closely, though interestingly omitting any scenes showing Antony dying slowly and having a final conversation with Cleopatra. She talks to his corpse, but he dies instantly. Perhaps it seemed too implausible that Vorenus would do his job so badly, or perhaps Cleopatra's betrayal looks somehow worse when she has only his dead body to talk to, and he can't forgive her.

I love the final scene between Atia and Livia, partly because it is so cleverly written that it works on two very different levels. For anyone only familiar with Rome, this is a triumphant finale for Atia. As Octavia pointed out, she's got what she was after all along, even if the price was higher than she expected. She asserts her dominance and reminds the audience of her victory over Servilia, at the same time showing traditional respect for one's enemy and putting the upstart Livia firmly in her place. On the other hand, for anyone familiar with I, Claudius and/or the more salacious rumours reported by Tacitus and Suetonius, the dirty look Livia gives Atia and Atia's acknowledgement that Livia is certainly now plotting her downfall are a fantastic foreshadowing of future events. In real life, Atia was already long dead, but it's fun to speculate how Livia might have managed to bring her down between here and the start of I, Claudius seven years later, and if you follow this series with a viewing of I, Claudius you can see directly what she does in that series to Octavia, or rather to Octavia's son.

It's such a shame Rome was cancelled and couldn't give us a better-paced version of this story, or show us any of Octavian's reign as Augustus. But this is a great episode and a thoroughly satisfying end to a brilliant series, that seemed to me to get better as it went along. Now, we just have one more season of Spartacus to go before we can do a more or less complete televisual run through of Roman history from around 75 BC (Spartacus: Gods of the Arena) to AD 54 (I, Claudius), and maybe top it off with the years AD 79-81 (The Roman Mysteries). There's something to think about if next summer turns out to be as miserable as this year...

Quotes

Slave (with Antony's sword in him): Really sir, I must protest!

Cleopatra (re Pullo): Is he a good man?
Vorenus: Define 'good'.

Octavian: She betrayed Antony so that she might live, why would she lose heart now?
Maecenas: You can have that effect on people.
Octavian: No, I was all sweetness and light with her. Charm itself.
Maecenas: Yes, that is your most disheartening manner.

Octavian: Caesarion has escaped with Lucius Vorenus. The man turns loyalty into a vice.

Octavian (to Atia, re Antony): I'm glad you're not upset. A display of grief now would be impolitic.

Atia: I know who you are. I can see you. You're swearing now that someday you'll destroy me. Remember, far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go and look for them now. (Her final lines in the series).


Octavian (to Pullo): I'm very glad to see you alive. Old friends are a rare commodity. (Oh irony, how ironic you are).

Once more, for old times' sake - THIRTEEN!

All Rome reviews

4 comments:

  1. I really liked Vorenus' dedication to Anthony and his "fixing" him up! :o)

    So, I guess there really was no way to tie Batman in here? ;o)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Obviously what with the budget issues, there won't be any follow up series like Visigoths, Huns, or Barbarians....

    And in these things there would have to be gratutious sex scenes and orgies... it just wouldn't do to go without!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You can't have a historical series without orgies! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete

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