Fasten your seatbelts on this week’s “Rome” for a round-robin of betrayals and a plot twist so questionable, the characters practically break the fourth wall to complain to HBO.
But hey! There’s a shocking act of violence that gets everything back on track.
In “Utica” (original airdate Oct. 30, 2005), written by Alexandra Cunningham and directed by David Podeswa, secrets are passed like farts after a bean festival on the Roman Forum.
(Sorry! Just trying to get in the spirit of the episode.)
To recap the naughty secrets noted:
Octavia (Kerry Condon) shares to Servilia (Lindsay Duncan) that her brother Octavian (Max Pirkis) either had been Caesar’s (Ciaran Hinds) lover or had discovered Caesar has a terrible, secret affliction.
Octavian confesses to Octavia that he had killed Niobe’s lover, the secret father of her son.
Octavia reports this to Servilia, who is unimpressed and demands that she seduce her brother to learn more about Caesar’s affliction.
To goose her into betraying everything she stands for, Servilia reveals that Atia (Polly Walker) ordered the hit on Octavia’s beloved husband Glabius.
That’s pretty much all the talk Octavia needs to convince her to bang her little bro.
After a brief, weak objection, Octavian falls into bed.
Of all “Rome’s” twists, this is easily the worst in the series – not because it’s so rancid (there is that), but because it makes no sense for the characters.
This series isn’t “The Borgias,” which teased its incest story for three seasons and at least plays off rumors about the infamous family.
Rome had strict prohibitions against incest, and neither Octavia nor Octavian were presented as so depraved before. Octavia is at worst gullible. Octavian certainly demands that he follow the patrician model his family ascribes to. That he would so easily slip into bed with his sister is ridiculous.
In a novel bit of dialogue, the siblings – after the act – seem to know that this entire detour is stupid.
“You’re a virtuous woman, so you must know that seducing your brother is wrong,” Octavian says.
“You and I are above such petty conventions,” Octavia replies.
“Incest is not only wrong in convention, it is wrong in essence,” he says, a bit late.
“What have I done?” Octavia sobs.
The incident, however, serves to push the Atia-Servilia feud to the next level.
After an enraged Atia discovers what Servilia orchestrated in her own home, she arranges for Servilia to be attacked while riding in her litter. All her men are slaughtered, and Servilia is dragged out, her hair cut and her dress shorn.
It’s one of the series’ most terrifying moments.
We say goodbye to Cato (Karl Johnson), who stabs himself while on the toilet, years before “Game of Thrones'” Tywin is killed on the john. Is this death in the loo a trend on HBO prestige shows? Discuss.
Pirkis is back after a couple of episodes, and in dialogue, we learn two years have passed. Pirkis has darker hair but still looks 14. I want to be clear: Max Pirkis is incredible as Octavian. But if producers wanted to get a more mature actor – as they did in season two – this would have been the episode to make the switch. It would have been far less jarring than what’s ahead.
Eirene (Chiara Mastalli) speaks! The actress finally has dialogue. As Eirene tells Pullo (Ray Stevenson), in the two years since he’s been gone, she learned his language.
In his commentary for the episode, Podeswa notes that Vorenus’ “grandson” was genuinely frightened by Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) re-enacting one of his campaigns at the table. The Italian boy, who spoke no English, ran off sobbing. Podeswa decided to use the take.
The elephant in the opening was a trained elephant. He just didn’t want to follow his training and would only lie down for a moment and then get right back up. It made shooting a nightmare.
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