This episode opens "upstairs" with the nobles, with Julius Caesar camped just outside what was then the border of Italy with one of his legions (the 13th, of course, so we have Vorenus and Pullo). If Caesar, as a general, crosses the Rubicon (the river marking the border) with an army, he commits treason by aggressing Rome. Caesar actually wants to do this – he wants to be Dictator of Rome – but he needs his men to go with him. Caesar’s soldiers are loyal, but not to the point that they are willing to attack Rome and to risk crucifixion. Caesar’s desire to motivate the men is shown in the first scene. As we know from history, he did march on Rome with his men. But who was responsible?
In the meantime, Caesar sends Mark Antony to Rome to stand election for tribune of the plebs. A tribune can veto anything passed by the Senate and so can protect Julius Caesar and his interests. Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, elevated by having rescued Octavian and Caesar’s eagle in the last episode, join Mark Antony’s escort and our heroes ride to Rome.
By having Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus take Octavian home to his mother Atia, more of our characters meet and we see how awkwardly different levels of society mix. Nevertheless, both Octavian and Atia recognize the importance of having allies, especially those in different classes and situations.
From there we continue with the lives "downstairs" - the lower classes. The men, although they do not like each other, still feel bound as brothers of their legion, so as they separate, Vorenus tells Pullo how to find him.
Lucius Vorenus goes home to his beloved Niobe, only to be shocked by the sight of her holding a baby far too young to be his. Niobe is also shocked because she thought he was dead. She tells him that the child is not hers but their grandson. Vorenus is skeptical until he meets his eldest daughter, and discovers she is grown up enough to produce children. Despite his apology, the relationship between Niobe and Vorenus remains strained. Niobe’s unhappy expression as she has sex with her husband reminds us how trapped women often were back then – and how awkward it was for both parties to be separated for years without letters or messages. How do you learn to live again with someone who is now a stranger?
We see Titus Pullo at a brothel and gambling in a bar. Titus gets in fight after catching someone cheating at dice. He is badly injured, and finds his way to Lucius Vorenus, where he collapses.
The story continues among the upper class. Mark Antony presents Julius Caesar’s demands to a group of nobles, but so arrogantly that Pompey refuses. Later Pompey pressures Cicero to support a motion condemning Caesar, in order to show Caesar that the Senate is against him. Cicero, not wanting to anger Caesar, demurs, but a threat from Pompey forces the issue. Pompey assures him that Cicero’s vote will not matter, as Mark Antony, as tribune, will veto the motion. Caesar will be embarrassed and alone, but will not be goaded into leading his army against Rome.
Mark Antony, however, never casts his veto. A fight breaks out in the Senate, preventing it, and a fight breaks out the next day, as Antony approaches the Senate with his men. This last fight – although it appears to be started by Pompey’s men, is actually a continuation of Titus Pullo’s brawl in the bar. I’m reminded of the butterfly effect, and how the best-laid plans can be derailed by what seems unimportant or irrelevant. Hence, the motion condemning Julius Caesar goes into effect, and with that – and the apparent attack on Mark Antony – Caesar has what he needs – grounds to persuade his soldiers to march on Rome.
At the episode’s end, Niobe suckles the baby – indicating that he is her child and that she was unfaithful. No matter the excuse, this is dire. Lucius Vorenus, as paterfamilias, can kill her and her children for her infidelity. Now, generally women were not executed – Pompey simply divorced one wife after her affair with Julius Caesar – but it was possible and certainly legal. Given Lucius Vorenus’ attitude, expecting a violent and lethal response was reasonable. On the other hand, how can Niobe hope to keep this secret – the whole neighborhood must have known she was with child – and how can a man, even one naïve as Lucius Vorenus, not notice that his wife, the woman he is sleeping with, is lactating?
This episode shows how people are responsible for their deeds, irrespective of their intentions. Cicero was assured by Pompey that his vote would not matter, because Antony would not allow it to stand, but Cicero was nevertheless responsible for his vote. Niobe was not deliberately unfaithful to Vorenus, because she believed he was dead. Lucius Vorenus never intended to march on Rome, and was asleep and recovering from a severe wound when his hospital cart was pulled across the Rubicon. But these things have happened, and there will be consequences.
About the title: Pullo gets credit for bringing down the Republic in the title – but this war was desired by Caesar anyway. Vorenus may blame Pullo for it, but Pullo was not responsible. Caesar took advantage of the circumstances available to him in order to make it happen. With a different set of circumstances, he would probably have found different arguments for moving his army on Rome. On the other hand, I am using the word probably, because we cannot know for sure what would have happened. Several groups truly did not want war - Cicero, Pompey, and even Vorenus - perhaps with slightly different circumstances they would have prevailed.
Bits and pieces:
Enjoyed hearing more words from Posca, Caesar’s Greek slave, showing how intelligent the slaves could be.
The affair between Mark Antony and Atia of the Julii is completely fictitious and has no basis in history. However, it’s a useful device for the series and I think it works well.
Naked body count: Titus Pullo having sex with a prostitute; several naked people in bar/brothel, Niobe and Vorenus, Mark Antony and Atia.
The operation on Titus Pullo relieves swelling in the brain by creating a hole in the skull. Many skeletons have been dug up with evidence of this operation and the procedure is described by Galen.
Octavia is supposed to be sweet, but to me she seems whiny.
Like how the fellow kneels on the ground to provide the stepping stone that Caesar needs to mount his horse.
In this episode, the bond between Vorenus and Pullo deepens as they both take care of each other. Vorenus gets Pullo a doctor after Pullo breaks into his house, bleeding, and Pullo tends to Vorenus as they travel in the hospital cart back to Rome.
Lucius Vorenus: Show some dignity. You’re under the standard.
Pullo (nodding at Mark Antony, who is enjoying himself with a shepherdess): Talk to him.
Lucius Vorenus: He’s not under the standard.
Pullo: He hasn’t seen his wife in eight years, and he’s terrified.
Atia: Good fearsome specimens you are. I wonder it took you so long to subdue those odious Gauls.
Pullo: There was a great many of them, ma’am.
Pullo: Bugger the priests!
Vorenus: The cleaner brothels are in the Subura, next to the Venereal Temple. (Venereal diseases are named for the goddess of love, Venus)
Niobe: The pay stopped coming a year ago. The paymaster said you must be dead, they said they don’t make mistakes.
Cato: Comprehend, woman, this meeting is invisible.
Atia: Be assured, Cato, I do not see you.
Mark Antony: You are the crucifix of Venus!
Mark Antony: Winter does not last forever. Spring comes, snows melt.
Pompey: That’s a threat!
Mark Antony: I assure you, it is no threat. Snows always melt.
Niobe: Tone! My father’s cock, how’s that for tone?
Head of the Senate: This is a religious matter. There are no tricks in religion.
Vorenus. It saddens me that you are unhappy, because I have a deep affection for you.
Octavia: General Antony, does my mother’s screaming irritate you? … when you and my mother are in coitus, there’s a great deal of screaming…
Newsreader: By order of the Senate, Gaius Julius Caesar is declared an enemy of Rome. All good citizens are bound to do him harm, if they are able.
The plot moves forward and has some choice bits and deals with an interesting question - how is it possible that a terrible event can happen when apparently everyone is against it? The question is also answered: Caesar only pretended to be against it, and I agree with the writers of the episode that more subtlety with respect to Caesar's motives would not have worked. Caesar took great risks, and so he was not sure of the outcome, but he certainly knew what he wanted. Still, some of the episode feels slow as the characters are at a loss of what to do in Rome. The sex scenes last longer than needed, and I feel as if they were being used as filler. I also I have to knock it down for Lucius Vorenus not noticing his wife is lactating. Two spears out of four.
Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology and Jane Austen, and appreciates fine story-telling in many forms.