Rome: The Spoils

“Always somebody needs mortality.”

The civil war is supposed to be over but discontent remains as those still alive try to claim what was won in the fighting – and everything else.

The episode opens with a citizen fleeing for his life and then being murdered by Titus Pullo, who is working as a hired blade for Erastes Fullman. After this murder Pullo drinks, gets robbed while naked, and then, broke, goes back to Erastes for more mortality work. Pullo botches the next job, as he is witnessed by an old woman who he can’t make himself kill. He gets taken to prison and is expected to be found guilty and executed.

Lucius Vorenus is doing much better as a magistrate, although he’s not always happy either. He’s bored and impatient as he listens to complaints about broken piss pots, needed for making cloth (remember that Vorenus lives near the cloth dyers). Mascius, a fellow legionary, a brother-in-arms of Vorenus, says that the men from the legion want farmland in Italy. Vorenus negotiates for the men, but cannot convince Caesar to give the legionaries land in Italy. Antony counsels evicting Caesar’s enemies to create land for veterans, but Caesar still desires the love, or at least the admiration, of his peers, or at those closest to being his peers. He won’t be appreciated by his fellow nobles if they are dispossessed or dead.

Caesar is declared dictator for life, a dangerous move, because the only way to get rid of a dictator for life is for that man’s life to end. Cassius urges Brutus to kill Caesar – again reminding us that mortality work is always needed. Rome may appear satisfied on the surface but it is rotting underneath.

Niobe and Vorenus are moving up in the world but neither feels comfortable. They go to a party at Atia’s where Niobe is wearing the wrong dress (like Niobe, I could never tell either what was wrong with the dress). Caesar congratulates Vorenus on how cheaply he was able to bribe Mascius, making Vorenus just as uneasy. At this party Atia and Antony reconcile, brokered by a sarcastic Octavia.

During the party Octavian tells Caesar and Vorenus that Pullo is in prison and demands they do something. Caesar refuses, saying that to interfere would be to act as if the law did not matter. So Octavian hires, through Timon the Jew, an incompetent young lawyer for Pullo. The “court” scene was fun. Courtroom drama usually provides ample opportunity for conflict, but this was enhanced by insults and projectile cabbages.

Mascius tries to organize a violent rescue for Pullo at the trial. Vorenus talks him out of it, but later, when Pullo is about to be executed, Vorenus bursts in and fights by Pullo’s side. As Pullo and Vorenus kill only executioners instead of spectators the body count is far lower than it would have been if Mascius had his way. Vorenus and Pullo are, in fact, celebrated throughout the city, with formal murals and informal graffiti.

And, to return to the history of the patricians, graffiti show Brutus with a knife to Caesar’s throat. This irritates Caesar, and he wants to send Brutus to some distant city to relieve the tension in Rome. Brutus is ticked off, and declares to his mother at the end that his allegiance to Caesar is over. We learn that Caesar was, despite his denials, behind the assassination committed by Pullo - more evidence that Caesar, despite what he claims, is a tyrant through and through.

Title musings. “The Spoils” refers to the winnings taken in war, and much of the episode deals with this: apportioning the treasures taken in war. The land, the power, and lives are all at stake. Spoiling also refers to things, large and small, that are ruined: the broken piss pots, many of Caesar’s promises, the expectations of soldiers, the republic and the friendship between Brutus and Caesar. One minor restoration is the relationship between Atia and Antony, and one great restoration is the friendship between Pullo and Vorenus.

Bits and pieces:

Use of “brother” for fellow soldiers becomes more frequent with this episode.

The inclusion of piss pots and savory mouse are nice touches.

Naked body count: Pullo while getting robbed.

Pullo again awaits execution. Seems to be a thing with him.

Like how Pullo sacrifices a cockroach when he makes what he believes to be his final prayer.

Only the mention of the 13th gets Pullo going during the fight.

Quotes:

Mascius: We don’t want to be unreasonable.
Vorenus: Then don’t be.

Erastes: You ran that poor scurra up and down the Aventine like Justice chasing chickens.

Newsreader: Henceforth the fifth month is named July in his honor. (Now of course July is the seventh month.)

Brutus: You may call a cat a fish, but it will not swim. (Actually cats can swim, but they hate it.)

Cassius: The people will not accept a tyrant’s death unless a Brutus holds the knife.

Brutus: They (the plebs) would not pluck a hair for liberty. They like to see their betters fight. It’s cheaper than theater and the blood is real.

Atia: How did a grim thing like you win such a flower?
Vorenus: I found her when she was still young and foolish.

Caesar: I did not think he would sell himself so cheap. I must send you to negotiate all my corruptions.

Caesar: You have corrupted one man and saved thousands from banditry.

Caesar: I often wish I were back in Gaul. There is something pleasingly simple about warfare.

Brutus: Only tyrants need worry about tyrant killers. And you are no tyrant. Haven’t you told me so many times?

Overall rating:

I really appreciated this episode. Despite having to invent material – as writers must when they are dealing with fictional as opposed to historical characters – it felt real. The conflicts and the characterization were organic instead of patched on. Brutus may appear inconsistent, but that is the natural vacillation of a character who neither likes who he is nor what people are saying to him. The fight was over-the-top, but so well done that I enjoyed it, and it deserved to be this way because it celebrates the bond between Vorenus and Pullo. Four spears out of four.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

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