HBO produced yet another too-good-for-TV series, Rome
, whose last episode aired Sunday. I stumbled upon Rome randomly during it's first season. *cough* while downloading *cough* It immediately appealed to me because I liked the historical period of the show and was familiar with it's actors. Notably, it's an entirely British cast, since HBO filmed it in conjunction with the BBC. Maybe I'm biased... but I think the British cast made all the difference. The acting is top notch in every scene in a way I'm not sure American actors could pull off. The story covers the timeline from Caesar's crossing the Rubicon to the crowning of Emperor Augustus after the death of Marc Anthony. It covers history from the distinct perspective of two powerful families, the Julii and the Junii, and two soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Anyway, cut for spoilers, are my final thoughts on the show.
How do I put Rome in perspective? I've cheered and cried for this show. It's spanned two years of my life. I waited desperately for the second season only to have it go by so quickly I can barely catch my breadth.
Like many great shows, it only existed because of HBO and yet HBO was it's downfall.
Rome is a monster of a show. As a product of HBO each episode is exactly an hour long, not allowing for any comercials. It's an unweildly size that doesn't lend itself to regular TV. (Try watching the Sopranos on Bravo. You'll understand.) It has an all British cast and is show on UK TV. (I'm not sure how though...) So it again alienates itself from American viewers. Everyone without HBO (and who has morals enough not to steal it like me) misses the show.
Rome never truly finds it's audience. HBO never promotes it. It's expensive to make on a level with Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, and it has the largest standing set in the world. I sense Rome could have been wildly popular if exposed to a larger American audience. Maybe it could have even been profitable and lasted another season. But at the same time it could never air on American TV. They'd have to edit out what made Rome great: the fucking, the cursing, the violence.
Now don't think the show was just about sex and swordfighting.
Rome was great because it showed an unedited version of history. It brought history alive in characters who were not marbel statues but fully realized people who lived like us, only more so. They had sex: with slaves, in brothels, secretly, with either gender, with rivals, incestuously, brutally, and tenderly. Imagine Marc Anthony lying on a bed saying "I'm not raising from this bed until I fucked someone." And his lover, Atia, saying "Fetch that German slut from the kitchen."
That was Rome.
Rome, for once, was not a dead empire of white marbel and ruins, but a bright gawdy city in full swing. It was a violent culture during violent times. There was constant civil war for supremacy and control of the Republic. Criminals were set to fight in an arena. Competing mobs ran the seven hills of Rome. When Pullo ran the Aventine his mob came to violence with another and we see Pullo bite the tongue out of his rival's mouth. (I loved that moment!)
Rome had me constantly cheering for one character or another. Lucius and Pullo always. Agrippa when he declares his love for Octavia. Brutus when he runs into battle unarmored. Young Octavian's machinations to gain the people's love. Atia throughout every minute of the second season. Lucius Vorenus when he calls himself the son of Hades. Anthony when he fights Octavian.
It's hard to remember all the great moments of this show. There are too many to count. Each episode had it's magic and it's been a while since the first season so I have trouble remembering it. Marc Anthony (James Purefoy) standing stark naked when Vorenus comes to request a job comes to mind. That scene had it's equal in the 2nd season when Anthony comes to rouse Vorenus from his grieving.
I guess what I liked best about Rome was...
Flawed characters you could cheer for. There were no real heroes of Rome. Lucius and Pullo come close... yet neither's perfect. Everyone was well rounded. They did the right thing one day, but acted badly the next. Atia, a female anti-hero if ever I saw one, is a good example. She's a mother who wants to do right by her children. So she has her daughter's husband killed so she can marry someone better. When she can take Servilla's threats of destruction no longer, she has her kidnapped and tortured. Yet you can't help but love her. You can't help but cheer for her. Her affair and love with Anthony is much the same as her character. It starts out practically; it's flawed; yet you can't help but cheer for them. The scene when Atia arrives on a white horse to Anthony's camp wrapped in furs comes to mind.
So often Anthony and Atia are manipulated by those around them and they're strange creatures: brutish and low. And that's why they work.
Everyone in Rome was like that. Changable. Especially in the second season. Brutus' redemption in the river scene comes to mind. Although he believed with his heart that killing Caesar was the right thing to do, it ate him up from the inside. He regains his honor in his death scene which is beautiful.
Heck every Rome death scene was great. Cicero's is so perfect in everyway it does not even warrant analysis. Every second of it was like poetry. Pullo's smile, running into Eirene's arms later, made the whole thing and pulled it off.
The friendship between Pullo and Vorenus goes without saying. I know that male/male friendship stories have been told a lot and are very popular in recent years. But Pullo and Vorenus' on again off again unlikely friendship will stand the test of time for me. It was mushy and sappy and so promonent that the characters themselves commented on it... yet that was it's strength. I've read good slash in my day, even found slash couples I love. But something about Pullo and Vorenus and how woven into the story their friendship/love was made me smile everytime I saw it. From that scene on the beach in season 1 till the end in the desert I was entralled. No matter what happened to their lovers, or wifes, Vorenus and Pullo damn well better be together.
In the end we don't know if Vorenus died. But I like that. Octavian won't come after him. And I can imagine he's alive if I like, safe with Pullo and his children. For some reason I can't stomach the idea of Pullo living on without Vorenus. Doesn't seem right.
I'm just coming off the high of watching the last episode.
There's good reason to believe that the show changed pace in the second season. Fell apart a little. Got sloppy. It did a bit. The storyline wasn't quite as concrete or held together as well. It no longer paid much attention to showing aspects of Roman culture, religion, or day-to-day life and instead focused on the characters and their struggles. There become an atmosphere of no-holds-barred thrills in episode. You never know where or how the writers would take it. For instance we all knew Anthony and Cleopatra would become lovers and commit suicide together. I didn't know how they would manage to make that interesting or new.
Yet they did.
And the complex, emotional, fraut way they pulled that off makes it one of my favorite scenes. It has so many levels of manipulations, lies, and deceit by Cleopatra and Octavian. And then in staunch contrast was the drink-soddled, drugged out, yet loyal, loving, honorable Anthony and faithful Vorenus. Anthony commits suicide before Cleo, and you think maybe he commited suicide long ago. Long before the drugs and Egypt, back when Atia and the Empire was taken away from him by Octavian.
Vorenus is himself. And Cleopatra is a mixture of ostentation, foolishness, and something like true feelings. We aren't quite sure. "Belladonna is the least painless..." she chooses the Asp of course, and dies, but not until after she's insulted Octavian. It doesn't phase him because he is stone like his statue. If there was a villian in Rome - it was Octavian in the second season. You can like him sometimes, but he makes it so hard. I felt that was one of the writer's mistakes. Season 1 Octavian was likeable yet calculating. Season 2 Octavian loses his humanity along the way and becomes less of a person. Too cold to feel. But I'm not sure what made him that way. Was it Atia and her affair with Anthony and the way she sided with him? Maybe. But it's murky at best.
And then there's Atia.
In the first season she was ambitious and practical. In the second she seemed to enjoy Anthony's love and yet she fell apart when he left. She had that entire storyline with Servilla when she tortured him and Servilla ended her life to curse her. Atia suffered in season 2 and she seemed like she was over and done with. I wrote her off. Assumed she would die of heartache for Anthony or old age or something. I was fearful for her in the last episode.
But she redeemed herself. Atia made that episode. Heck, she made that series in my opinion. When she defiantly tells off Livia in an act of redemption and strength - I could not possbily be happier. I was cheering so hard I had to watch it 5 times in a row and still didn't feel satisfied.
"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."
I love the way she makes a nod to Servilla there and sits passively as her son parades the corspe of the man she loved through the streets in triumph. Atia is flawed but strong. She loved, not well, but truely. And for that she's my favorite. Now I have to get an icon of her.
Okay I should stop now. Or I could go on forever. Goodbye Rome. I wish you'd lasted longer. But I savored every minute with you. You made me alternately happy and sad with turns in the series, but no matter I loved you all the same.
If you like any of the following: roman history, comedy, James Purefoy, passionate characters you can cheer for - I recommend you check out Rome.