This episode opens with a defeated Brutus greeting his mother Servilia, in a duskily lit home. I must say that Lindsay Duncan and Tobias Menzies, with their long faces – no pun intended! – resemble each other. Kudos to the creators for not bothering with words but leaving everything to their wordless embrace, full of disgrace.
The Forum newsreader – I really enjoy this method of exposition – tells Romans that Julius Caesar (with our two heroes in tow) is pursuing the traitor Pompey. But viewers know that Pompey is already dead, as Caesar learns in Egypt. The fact that Pompey was executed infuriates Caesar, which is hypocritical of him, as he has come to Egypt to defeat him. The contradictory feelings seem to be associated with Caesar, so this is not a departure from history.
At this point the series has to deal with the awkwardness of victory. The previous episodes were mostly about Caesar vs. Pompey but now Pompey is dead. Caesar’s most pressing goal has been achieved, and so the story has to re-start itself. We also have to deal with a new setting, Egypt. This introduces new characters, and the episode tries to introduce new complications. But despite the siege, and the fact that a year goes by, I never really sensed any danger for Caesar in Egypt. If he were worried about the projectiles coming over the walls, wouldn’t he be doing something besides making love to Cleopatra? Or have arranged to have more soldiers? Even in Rome, despite Brutus and Cicero meeting in the empty Senate to wonder if Caesar will finally fail, the period of uncertainty is too short to create any tension about Caesar’s fate for viewers. The only real tension is when Antony threatens Cicero. Pompey may be dead, but many who were on his side still live and not all from Caesar's side are willing to forgive and forget. The truce between the factions is uneasy.
This period of Egypt has already been portrayed in many films, and I understand that Rome tried to do something different. However, the character of Cleopatra is questionable. In real life she was brilliant, speaking many languages, certainly not a drug addict and likely did not sleep around. In fact, she probably only had two lovers, both leaders of the Romans (Julius Caesar and Mark Antony). It’s fun to have Pullo be the probable father of Cleopatra’s child, though. And even more comic when Vorenus cannot make love to her, despite the command.
Title musings. I usually reflect on the significance of a chosen title, but this one, “Caesarion,” is fairly straightforward. It means little Caesar and was the name by which the son of Caesar and Cleopatra was known, his real name being Ptolemy XV, in the tradition of naming every male in that dynasty Ptolemy. Caesarion's conception and birth distinguish the episode from the others, and the fact of his existence and Caesar’s victory over Ptolemy XIII establish Cleopatra firmly on the throne of sedge and bee.
Bits and pieces
Egypt appears decadent and confusing. In reality it was a stupendous place full of learning and culture, with incredible architecture and the precious Library of Alexandria whose destruction may have happened during Julius Caesar’s visit.
Cleopatra was ruthless as she had to be, but she was not decadent. She would have been even better educated than Servilia, and she was a queen as well as a goddess. Her reputation was ruined later by Octavian.
Naked body count: Pullo and Cleopatra, then Caesar and Cleopatra, then baby Caesarion.
Like how Cleopatra’s slave shields her with her own body during the fight.
In an earlier episode, Pullo said that the way to turn on a woman was to give her the warm heart of an enemy. He comes close to doing this in this episode.
Besides the Ptolemy on the throne (XIII), there’s an even younger Ptolemy (XIV) who once runs across the screen. Rome ignores the existence of Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoë who was displayed in Caesar’s triumph and later murdered in Ephesus.
Disliked the Egyptian wigs, which look as if they were made with thick rope. Ugh.
Had to mold a lot of heads for this episode!
Fun that Pullo, who was refused service at an expensive brothel, gets to have coitus Queen Cleopatra.
Cleopatra’s meeting with Caesar reminds me of “The Perfect Mate,” an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Kamala comes out of stasis and meets Picard.
Like how some of the kids throw rocks at the Roman soldiers, who are not welcome.
We get to see the tortoise formation, how Roman legionaries protected themselves with their shields.
Pothinus: How long can we expect the honor of your presence?
Caesar: He was a consul of Rome!
Caesar: It’s only hubris if I fail.
Posca: It’s the law.
Pothinus: Roman law.
Caesar – Is there any other kind – you wretched woman?
Vorenus: Don’t speak ill of any gods in their own country.
Charmian: Leather. Olives. Not so bad.
Vorenus: Pullo, report immediately to Princess Cleopatra and do as she says.
Brutus: What fools we shall look if we have kissed the feet of a dead man.
I’m not good at ratings. Should a rating be based on a show’s relationship to all shows in the universe? Should an episode be rated higher or lower in the context of other episodes within the series? Or should it be rated given what the episode had to achieve?
This episode had to shift gears for the series, given that Pompey is dead and the civil war between him and Caesar over. Transition episodes are notoriously difficult, but they are needed to keep the series fresh, or as in this case, to follow actual events. Pompey did die, and Caesar did go to Egypt and had an affair with Cleopatra
Despite my complaints, I enjoyed Cleopatra and her relationship with Pullo. But I think several things could have been done better: the anxiety in Rome, the real nature of Cleopatra, and those wigs. So, even though I enjoyed parts of this episode, I am giving it a not-so-good rating: one and a half stars.
Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.