The episode opens with Lucius Vorenus – still wearing his red Roman cloak – in charge of a lifeboat, ordering the men to throw a corpse overboard. He then speaks with Mark Antony and they talk about the defeat in which the Egyptian fleet was lost.
For Rome, of course, the battle of Actium was a victory (organized by Agrippa but bestowing glory on Octavian). The Roman women (Octavia, Livia and their mothers) discuss certain aspects of the battle. Octavian, obviously near Alexandria, receives terms of surrender from Antony, which he refuses. Octavian wants to negotiate with Vorenus (he wants Vorenus to somehow open the doors) by using Pullo and the great friendship that exists between the two men. Pullo is aware that Vorenus will never betray Antony, but he does want Vorenus to realize that he is close by, so he gives a message concerning their children.
I love how a chair is lowered and then raised to get the emissary inside the besieged palace. The emissary relays Octavian’s demand for unconditional surrender. Antony is ready to die, but Cleopatra – younger, queen of Egypt and a mother with children to protect – is still hungry to live. Antony challenges Octavian to single combat, which everyone knows is ludicrous but they treat as serious. The emissary reports that Antony seems like a drugged man but that Cleopatra is still sober and alert.
Vorenus comforts Caesarion, who understands that, as another son of Caesar, he’s got to be number one on Octavian’s death list.
Antony is pitiful as he practices swordplay; a servant makes the mistake of laughing and he dies for it. Cleopatra receives a secret message from Octavian, saying only Antony need die and he will guarantee her life and empire if she hands him over. Cleopatra considers it but it is breaking her heart.
Antony spends his last evening talking to Lucius Vorenus; he wonders about the afterlife. He falls asleep, to be woken by the slave Charmian to receive a letter from Cleopatra in which she announces she has killed herself. Antony is inconsolable – Vorenus should recall his own despair when Niobe died – and prepares for suicide, which he does with the assistance of Vorenus and a Roman sword. Antony tells Vorenus not to kill himself, which can be excused for two reasons: Vorenus was not a slave, and Rome needed Vorenus alive a while longer for the plot.
Vorenus then dresses Antony’s corpse back in Roman gear and puts the body on the throne. Then he discovers to his disgust Cleopatra is still alive. Vorenus’ contempt infuriates her, and she orders him to be respectful, but Vorenus points out that his oath was to Antony, not to her. She does not harm him because she needs him to take care of Caesarion. Caesarion puts on his traveling clothes and leaves under the protection of Lucius Vorenus.
Cleopatra meets with Octavian and realizes he plans to take her to Rome to parade her in chains. She apologizes to Antony’s corpse and decides to kill herself. I enjoyed the meeting with “old woman” – the assisted suicide professional, with her basket of poisons and snakes and who knows what else?
Octavian realizes that he did not persuade Cleopatra of his good will toward her and rushes back with Agrippa and Maecenas to fetch her before she can do herself harm; they are of course too late. The scene, her delivering her last words to Octavian, was dramatic but unrealistic – and I was not especially impressed by her last words. However, Octavian's separation of the bodies of Cleopatra and Antony was excellent: Octavian seems to have truly resented Antony’s abandonment of his sister Octavia in particular and of Rome in general.
Octavian wants Caesarion dead, so sends Pullo after him and Vorenus, not realizing that Caesarion is Pullo's son and so there’s no way that Pullo will kill him. Pullo knows exactly where to meet Vorenus. They meet, and Pullo is introduced to his son. My eyes moistened when Pullo told Vorenus about his children.
Octavian returns to Rome and gives the children of Antony and Cleopatra to the care of his sister and his mother.
Vorenus and Pullo try to get Caesarion to safety, but they run into Romans looking for the boy. We have one great last battle where they kill nearly everyone, but this time Vorenus is severely wounded. He begs Pullo to take him home to his children.
In Rome, Atia is considering not even going to Octavian’s triumph. She receives a lovely pep talk from Octavia, who does not know what she would do if her mother gives up. Octavia, at least, has matured.
Vorenus’ children do finally say good bye to their father and the scene made me weep. I had to pause and find a box of tissues.
Atia goes to Octavian’s triumph having achieved her life’s goals – the elevation of her children, especially her son, who is now Rome's first citizen. The price, however, has been dear, as we see when she sees the effigy of her former lover.
The last scene between Pullo and Octavian felt wrong; Pullo was not a convincing liar about killing Caesarion. And how could Octavian not know that Lucius Vorenus came home (albeit to die)? That’s news that would have spread throughout the Aventine and which should have reached Octavian, who is either brilliant/gullible, or inflexible/tolerant, as befits the storyline; this inconsistency is one of Rome’s flaws.
Title musings. De Patre Vostro (About Your Father). I think the title works well. First, it’s much shorter than the title of the previous episode, and, at least for me, easier, as I’m more familiar with this particular Latin. These are also the last words of the last episode, so that’s artistic as well. But the title also works as a unifying theme. Two of the main characters, Mark Antony and Lucius Vorenus, both die in this episode, and both have death scenes with their children – Mark Antony is displayed to his children just after he dies, and Lucius Vorenus reconciles with them just before he expires. The stories of these men are over; it is up to their children to remember them and honor them and to retell their stories. Finally, we should give homage to Octavian, first emperor of Rome, considered its father. Rome – in its guises as republic and imperial city – has had a huge influence on Western civilization and is in a sense, our father, whose stories we do well to remember.
Bits and pieces
Naked body count: Orgy inside the palace of Cleopatra.
For the orgy, Rome hired a lot of porn actors. There’s evidence that those under siege facing doom (like the people in Hitler’s bunker, for which we have better documentation) will behave this way. Also, Rome was still taking advantage of HBO’s then relatively liberal (compared with other TV content providers) policy toward nudity.
Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoë (her sisters Arsinoë and Berenice were not included in Rome) was paraded in Julius Caesar’s triumph, and that was a fate that Cleopatra wished to avoid at all costs. Hence her suicide.
I once saw a very interesting special by an expert who analyzed what we truly know about the death of Cleopatra and that woman concluded that Cleopatra did not kill herself but was murdered by Octavian. One argument was that in the legend, the same snake was responsible for the death of three women, but that a single snake would not have enough venom to cause three deaths.
Octavia, in addition to raising her two daughters by Mark Antony, became the guardian of four of his children after his death: three by Cleopatra and one by Fulvia. She also had three more children from her first marriage, so her house must have been completely full.
Caesarion, like Pompey, gives the name Aeneas when fleeing, reminiscent of the Aeneas who fled Troy after that great city was conquered. I suppose that’s OK for fiction but if I were trying to go incognito I would choose a less conspicuous name. On the other hand, Rome takes place before the writing of The Aeneid, which increased the celebrity of the name Aeneas, so maybe people would get away with it. Also, Vorenus met Pompey in disguise as Aeneas, so perhaps he suggested the name to Caesarion.
Atia was long dead by the time her son became Rome’s first citizen, so Rome’s version of her is completely fictional. I think it works, though – nice to see her putting Livia in her place.
Antony: All my life I’d been fearful of defeat, but now that it has come, it’s not near as terrible as I’d expected. The sun still shines. Water still tastes good. Glory is all well and good but life is enough, eh?
Antony: Oh, piss and blood, woman. I’m a soldier, not a fucking magician.
Charmian: Majesty has felt Anubis’ breath on her before now. She knows her slave is right; she wants to live.
Vorenus: Greeks talk a whole pile of nonsense. Fuck ‘em.
Cleopatra: Is he a good man?
Vorenus: Define good.
Cleopatra: I’m sorry, my love. I was hungry to live.
Cleopatra: You have a rotten soul.
Pullo: She gives them a look like Medusa on the rag.
Pullo: Soon as his majesty opens his mouth we’re cooked.
Atia: 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.
The episode did what it had to do: showed the agony and despair of defeat, and gave us tear-jerking scenes with Vorenus. A notch down for the inconsistency of Octavian’s character. Three and a half spears out of four.
Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.