Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hail, Caesar

HBO's Rome has concluded fittingly, with Octavian ascending to be sole ruler of the empire.

The slight bending of history, with them allowing Caesarion to live, is something I really didn't see coming. But now that it's all passed, it makes perfect sense. According to the series' history, Caesarion wasn't Julius's child, but rather Titus Pullo's.

I still have problems with how the series depicted Octavian, especially once Simon Woods took over the role. But I do give props to James Purefoy's portrayal of Antony. Antony had much in common with Pullo. He was a scoundrel and a lech and let his heart rule his brain. But even in drug-addled, debauched haze he still had style to spare.

Vorenus and Pullo humanized this story, and it was, ultimately, their struggles with fatherhood that so accurately reflected this tumultuous history -- and cultural bias -- of Rome. Vorenus died, with only a bastard son, but ultimately the acceptance of his daughter. Maybe a bit heavy-handed that the one who chose loyalty to Antony died while Octavian's pal survived, but yet another reinforcement of the importance of patrimony at this time.

I'm just glad Pullo survived, in grand Titus Pullo fashion, even getting a reward for supposedly killing the young Caesarion. Seeing him walk down the street with his kid reminded me of a scene from "Terminator 2" when Linda Hamilton waxes philosophical about the terminator and what a great father it'd be for her son, because it would never leave him or hurt him or ignore him. It''d always be there for him. And we know that's the sort of father Pullo will be -- except he'll also be a hell of a lot more fun.

It strikes the right chord, because Rome had finally found a fitting father in Octavian Augustus. After bloody, hard-fought, and well-machinated battles to gain control, he then ended up having the longest and most successful rule of any emperor.

But it's through his mother, Atia, that this series really drove the point home. Much like Rome's modern-day equivalent, "The Sopranos," the producers and writers here clearly understood the importance of the patriarchy on the surface. The men dominate and battle, but without the women often having control, they really wouldn't get anywhere. Certainly, at times the women just fucked the shit up for their men -- such as Vorenus's wife's infidelity, and Gaia knocking off Pullo's pregnant wife, and Cleopatra getting Antony to slay himself first.

From the start, in this series, it wasn't Octavian who hungered for power. It was his mother, Atia. And she'd stop at nothing to have it. Her lust became Octavian's. On the day of his triumph, Atia wavers between forlorn over the death of her lover, Antony, and bitter over her son's use of her as a pawn to defeat Antony. But there's something deeper gnawing at her as her son takes the throne. Unspoken and not even acknowledged, because the thought is so ridiculous in Roman society: Atia should be queen. Cleopatra was queen of Egypt, but the best Atia could achieve in noble ranks was to be either Antony's wife or Octavian's mother. Atia had perfectly aligned, maneuvered, and politicized to put her men where she wanted them. But she could never have ultimate, or public, control. And the coup de gras was the public humiliation she had to endure when her son sent her to play the fool to her former lover.

While Carmela Soprano sublimates her frustration by fiddling around with spec houses and Livia Soprano raged at being placed in a retirement community, Atia is so fucking distraught over the whole turn of events that she doesn't even want the villa in Capri her son has promised her.

And then, she gets to sit there and watch her son consolidate his power and revel in the adoration from the citizens of Rome -- two things she could never have.

Huge props to Polly Walker for knowing when to chew the scenery and when to lay back in this role. It was deliciously written, and she did it justice.

The whole reason Rome founded a republic was because of the intrinsic problems with a monarchy -- unqualified heirs or a lack of heirs. Julius largely banished the republic when he crowned himself dictator for life, but we all know where that got him. But the republic was still in jeopardy, and that's what set off the whole trouble between Antony and Octavian -- they both saw themselves as Caesar's son. But Caesar named Octavian, and he then had to fight for his birthright to be emperor. Augustus knew the importance of heirs, and that's why he did, indeed, have Caesarion murdered. But Octavian himself didn't have a blood heir, so he adopted Tiberius. And after Tiberius, things really fell to shit as the bloodline got all fucked up and Caligula-Claudius-Nero took the throne.

But in HBO's world, that hardly matters. Rome has its father in Octavian. And Pullo has a son. He may be a motherless son, but after all we've just seen -- and knowing Titus Pullo -- that's really all just as well.

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