In our latest “Rome” re-watch, two couples make it to the altar, but you’ll only count one happy person in the lot.
In “Death Mask” (airdate March 7, 2007), written by Scott Buck and directed by John Maybury, Atia (Polly Walker) has arranged a wedding for penniless Jocasta (Camilla Rutherford), who can’t stop crying her eyes out.
Her groom is the much older, much shorter Posca (Nicholas Woodeson). Atia can’t even be bothered to get her slaves to shoo the chickens away from the couple in her backyard.
And here’s a bad omen: Servilia (Lindsay Duncan) at the front door, chanting for Atia.
In the last season-and-a-half, Servilia has lost her lover and her son and has been savagely attacked by Atia’s goons twice.
She has nothing left to lose.
“Atia of the Julii, I call for justice,” she moans on her knees as her slave drops grains of dirt on her head.
Atia figures the old goat will wander away, but Servilia keeps up her chanting for days, drawing the neighbors and finally enraging Atia long enough to step outside to confront her.
Servilia has been waiting:
She calls on the gods of the netherworld to curse Atia.
“Send her bitterness and despair for all her life. Let her taste nothing but ashes and iron.”
Atia seems suitably scared, especially when Servilia seals the deal by stabbing herself in the chest.
Her servant removes the blade and stabs herself to death.
Good luck keeping that scandal quiet.
“Now that is an exit,” Mark Antony (James Purefoy) comments.
And that second wedding:
The long-awaited nuptials between Mark Antony – and Octavia (Kerry Condon)?
Servilia’s curse works fast.
Atia is forced to watch as her daughter marries the man she adores.
It’s a political marriage, Octavian (Simon Woods) assures his mother, just to send a message to the plebs that they are united.
Unstated: Sure, the marriage is political, but there’s no way Octavian was going to let his mother marry Mark Antony, making his rival his father-in-law, and to the plebs, having greater stature.
This way the two rivals are now on equal footing as brothers-in-law.
We missed some great scenes though: Just how did Atia react when Mark Antony broke the news to her? And how was Octavia convinced to play along?
Mark Antony and Octavia look bewildered through the ceremony, but that doesn’t stop Mark Antony for asking for a wedding night favor from Octavia.
The other major story this week centers on the heavily pregnant Eirene’s (Chiara Mastalli) feud with Gaia (Zuleikha Robinson).
Eirene was once a slave, and you might think that would give her some perspective about the hardship of that life, but, perhaps more realistically, this new freedwoman demands Gaia be treated like any other slave when she disobeys.
She convinces Pullo (Ray Stevenson) to beat Gaia.
That encounter takes a savage turn. Who is beating whom?
About half the kitchen is destroyed, and you are so not old enough to watch that sex scene, dear reader.
“This was a mistake,” Pullo says. “This never happens again.”
“You’ve got to keep me disciplined, haven’t you?” Gaia smiles.
The closer for the hour is absolutely chilling: Gaia visits a woman selling herbs and asks for something to end a pregnancy.
Of course, Gaia isn’t the one pregnant.
And with this, “Rome” says farewell to one of its great ladies: Lindsay Duncan gave this show one of its unforgettable rivalries, digging deep to capture a noblewoman not so well served by her lover nor her neighbors. Without her to antagonize Atia – and for Atia to strike back – “Rome” would be not so glorious.
Duncan has continued to rack up some impressive credits and was most recently a regular on “A Discovery of Witches.”
John Maybury’s direction is really incredible in this episode. He frames playful moments between Pullo and Eirene just brilliantly. Contrast that with the utter debauchery of Pullo crossing paths with Gaia. And that final image of Gaia’s smile reflected in a warped mirror is chilling.
Next: “A Necessary Fiction”