In our latest “Rome” re-watch, a murderous deceit is exposed and deaths and departures follow.
On any other show, this hour would would have served as a season finale. But in “Rome,” there’s never too much story to tell.
And I must confess: This was the one episode I have been dreading to rewind since I embarked on this quest to revisit this rich drama.
Should I have said spoiler?
In “A Necessary Fiction” (original airdate March 11, 2007), written by Todd Ellis Kessler and directed by Carl Franklin, Gaia (Zuleikha Robinson) poisons Eirene (Chiara Mastalli), causing her to miscarry her unborn son.
In Eirene’s final breaths, she makes a devastated Pullo (Ray Stevenson) promise not to burn her but to bury her with her baby in the custom of her people, in an open field with no trees.
“Don’t be sad,” she says. “You make me cry.”
Then she is gone.
Pullo is man who takes a human life the way others put on their sandals, and yet Stevenson turned him into the most lovable lug, a guy you never want to see hurt.
Worth noting that “Rome” has bumped off a major character only 12 minutes into this hour, and by the time the credits roll, a lot more people will be dead.
Across the city, Octavian (Simon Woods) makes some power moves, promising the women of Rome he will be the guardian of their virtue and then flexing his muscle by punishing his mother Atia (Polly Walker) and sister Octavia (Kerry Condon) for defying him.
Octavian knows Mark Antony (James Purefoy) and Octavia’s marriage is a sham. Mark Antony continues to bed Atia, while Octavia has fallen in love with Agrippa (Allen Leech).
Octavian expels his rival from the city by threatening to expose him as a cuckold, making him the laughing stock of his men. That threat to his vanity is the one thing that gets through to Antony.
Memmio (Daniel Cerqueira) steals a state shipment of gold from under Vorenus (Kevin McKidd), and Vorenus ultimately realizes he could only have gotten the information from his daughter Vorena (Coral Amiga).
Vorena unleashes years of anger on her father.
“You killed my mother. You cast us to Hades. You made me a fucking whore. And you ask why? Because I hate you!”
Vorenus slaps her hard across the face. Vorena pulls out a knife.
“Go ahead. Try and kill me like you killed mother. I’ll not go so easy.”
And all her words shake Vorenus but do not break him until this:
“She never loved you.”
It’s his greatest fear, that Niobe deceived him in everything.
Vorenus grabs Vorena by the throat and chokes her.
Only when Pullo softly calls out his name, alerting him to the presence of his younger children, does he release her.
Nobody plays rage like McKidd, but what’s impressive here is how Amiga gets in his face as Vorena, twisting the emotional knife as only an angry child can.
Vorenus realizes he is not the father he thought he was. The only life he understands, the only life that makes sense, is in the Roman army. He re-enlists with Mark Antony and leaves his mob empire to Pullo. The two part as loving brothers.
How Stevenson never an Emmy for his work is one of the enduring mysteries of “Rome.”
In what director Carl Franklin calls his tribute to Kurosawa and “Gangs of New York” in the DVD commentary track, Pullo and his muscle, including Gaia, face off in the street against Memmio and his stooges.
Memmio thinks he’s smooth-talking Pullo into standing down, but he insults Vorenus, a fatal mistake.
Pullo takes his arm in friendship – and headbutts him, yanks his mouth open, bites out his tongue and spits it out.
Never badmouth Vorenus.
The gangs brawl, and despite the numbers advantage, Pullo is victorious.
This episode also introduces Livia (Alice Henley), Octavian’s future wife, and one of the great monsters of the ancient world if you believe Tacitus and Robert Graves. (Please check out “I, Claudius” for one rip-roaring look at a grown Livia. You will thank me.)
Their first meeting:
“Tell me, how would you like to be married to me?”
“I would like that, if my husband would not object.”
Timon (Lee Boardman) makes his final appearance, getting that rarest thing in “Rome,” a happy ending as he heads out to Jerusalem with his loving family. Boardman has worked steadily over the years, appearing mostly in U.K. series.
Chiara Mastalli remains in her native Italy and continues to act in TV series there. She recently wrapped a four-year run in the drama “L’allieva.”
Jeff Beal’s score remains astonishing.
In introducing Livia, “Rome” takes a curious shortcut through history. When he met Livia, Octavian was already married to his second wife, Scribonia, who bore his only biological child, Julia. Livia was pregnant with her second child, Drusus the Elder. Perhaps producers figured the show wouldn’t run long enough for them to have to deal with that complicated family tree. In that, they were correct, alas.
Next: “No God Can Stop a Hungry Man”