As per usual, we begin with a flash-forward to Old Clavdivs writing in his study when he’s presented with some research materials that were lost among the usual crap squirrelled away in cellars. It’s the final will and testament of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus…or is it?

Flashback to a new location, and there’s cheering aplenty in the Senate House, as Germanicus strides inside, puffed with victorious pride. As with most scenes filmed on this set, the opening shot is framed by the Capitoline Wolf centred directly above the doorway. NGL I’m always going to side-eye this statue, after I engaged in my own spite-based banishment of Leo from my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island upon realising that the gift he made me of this same statue proved to be fraudulent, but only after I made a fool of myself in front of Blathers. #neveragain.

Germanicus did his pa and his name proud, because the savage tribes in “Germany” have been neutralised, they’re suing for peace, and the taxes are a-flowing once again. He then slopes off to visit Clavdivs, and everything’s coming up Germanicus! He has a rewarding job, Pina’s a supportive wife, and his blond barnet looks like he just stepped out of a salon.

Unfortunately, Clavdivs can’t say the same for his situation. He has a horrid son, so horrid he doesn’t bother to tell us his name, which was Claudius Drusus and who is later referenced as Drusillus. According to Den of Geek’s article “Don’t Let Dated Sets and Stagey Acting Keep You From This Brilliant BBC Drama”, it wasn’t just the Julio-Claudians who recycled names: The Romans were not very imaginative with names; by the first century CE there were only about 18 first names in general use…They also liked to change their names when they were adopted – which could happen as an adult, not just in childhood – or for political reasons, leading to a confusing mess of long dead men with similar names, which keep changing.

Blimey O’Reilly, how did anyone ever identify one human from another during casual conversation unless everyone was actually present? I’m going to go ahead and assume they all used descriptive nicknames like Stretch or Curly. The men make some harsh jokes at Plautia’s expense, as she remains a giant-ass woman lacking the dainty fragility required to earn romantic love. Clavdivs, the man who passed out during a gladiator fight (even if it was mostly exaggerated), wishes he could have been there to witness Germanicus’s victory. There’s a solemn beat when Germanicus recounts the Teutoburg Forest massacre, but he quickly bypasses the PTSD to ask about the vague letter he received from Clavdivs.

Clavdivs gives a potted summary of how Postumus was framed, which Germanicus initially won’t accept, because he struggles to understand why their gran would ever want to do such a thing. He asks if Clavdivs has told Augustus, which frankly would be a terrible idea even for someone he respected but will make Clavdivs appear like an even bigger eejit, so the info has to come from Germanicus.

Meanwhile, Augustus is whistling in the garden, snipping plants near the Fountain of Exposition while Livia tries to snip his ego. But finally, after fifty years of marriage, he lands a number of hits on Livia, though it’s notable that this initial bout of bickering is conducted with their backs to one another.

Livia demands to know why he’s gallivanting off to Corsica, but he won’t answer directly since she gets to know everything anyway. His glib tone and obtuse responses will inflict a narcissistic wound he’ll not recover from. But this is Livia, she has to keep digging. Surely he must realise that Corsica is en route to Planasia, an island with not much to it apart from 1x exiled Postumus. Augustus spins a tale about the Corsicans having pirate problems that only he can solve, which is just plausible enough that she can’t challenge him. All follow-up queries are stonewalled, and he ends the conversation with a ‘just-joking’ insult.

With nowhere else to rage, she regulates her fury on Livilla by accusing her of telling Augustus the truth about Postumus, while Livilla is again literally on her knees in front of Livia begging. She swears it wasn’t her, though Castor knows – not because she confessed, but because he worked it out and blacked her eye as punishment, something which had not gone unnoticed by Livia, though she wasn’t certain how she’d earned it. Neither woman can think who it could have been, since Germanicus wasn’t there and Clavdivs is a pure moron…or is he?

Over on Planasia, the Praetorian guard busts into Postumus’s hovel. Enter cloaked Augustus whose disguise is exactly as convincing as Ben Kenobi-totally-not Obi-Wan’s wasn’t (if you’re hiding out on Tatooine because they are slaying all the Jedi, why keep dressing like one and also keep 50% of your whole name?). Postumus has spent the last four years wasting away in solitude, growing the world’s slowest beard. It’s all the more reason to hate Tiberius, the guy who does nothing but piss and moan about how much he hates being trapped in Rome, only to strop when he’s sent elsewhere, and then when exiled, bagged a crib that looked for all intents and purposes like an anteroom to Caesar’s palace.

This is clearly not so for Postumus, alone with no one to chat to apart from seagulls,  and no amount of sobbing or contrition can soften his heart.The man who is literally worshipped as a living god has a wonderful knack for not finding out what he doesn’t want to know: that he’s been made a fool of by everyone, but most of all by Livia. Further, it’s beyond cruel to bust in on Postumus like this because he thought they’d finally come to end his miserable life. Augustus admits the penny finally dropped, though he continues to struggle to understand Livia’s motives. Naturally, they don’t linger on this: bitches be crazy. There is time, however, to discuss Clavdivs, the truth-bearer via Germanicus proxy, and so much is said with very little dialogue, but which is subject to several interpretations.

Augustus would love to whisk Postumus back home where he belongs, but first there’s some legal fannydangle to sort in order to nullify the permanent exile, but he swears he will make it happen as soon as he can and also when Tiberius is out of the picture. Postumus warns him to watch out for Livia instead; the whole scene is imbued with a kitchen sink drama intensity that serves it well but no more than when Augustus admits the boundaries between himself and Livia are so blurred, he has no perspective anymore. After so long, it’s impossible to parse out any genuine love from manipulation – this second part isn’t said directly, but conveyed by his wounded, vacant stare. UNHOLY ACTING TALENT.

Speaking of, Livia is busy using Chief Vestal Virgin Camilla Pulchra’s own vanity against her. Camilla’s imminent retirement after thirty years of service is a great excuse to invite her around on the pretence of apologising; Livia promised some years ago to use her influence to secure funding to renovate the Vestals’ house, and she’s ever so sorry that never came to fruition. But the great news is that Augustus has been dropping major hints that he plans to leave a considerable amount of cash in his will specifically for the Vestals as a present to Livia. It won’t hurt if they take a wee sneak preview, and although this would technically breach Camilla’s vows, Livia has the use of the imperial seal and no one would find out. And if it transpired that Livia was mistaken, well, she’d feel honour-bound to fund the renovations out of her own pocket. And then Camilla could leave the Vestals’ house better than when she arrived and everyone will remember her fondly, not that Camilla is in this for personal glory. To paraphrase one of Jean Shepard’s top-notch voiceovers from A Christmas Story, Livia works in manipulation the way other artists might work in oils or clay.

Augustus is having much less fun with an ulcer flare-up that is made even worse by a prescription of a strict eggs-and-milk diet. Frankly, I’d rather learn to live with agonising pain. The doctor also prescribes a nice holiday in Capri, which does bring me back to his side, but then his final advice is that Augustus should listen to his wife, so it’s quite the mixed bag. While he’s being attended to, Livia chugs a jumbo chalice of wine, and while she doesn’t appear to be enjoying her husband’s pained gasps and moans, she doesn’t look upset either and, in fact, doesn’t appear to feel anything at all.

Next, his travelling pal/accomplice (name unknown) had arrived to visit his bedridden chum. Augustus is despondent and thinks it’s curtains for him, because there have been two premonitions since they came back from (hoarse stage whisper) YOU KNOW WHERE to see YOU KNOW WHO – dude *wants* to be found out. The first was near the temple in Marcus Agrippa’s memory, where an eagle circled his head a bunch, then landed on the A of Agrippa, though sadly it would not appear to be one of the EAGLES owed to him by Quinctilius Varus. He interprets this to mean he will have to hand over power to an Agrippa, i.e., Postumus. But wait – there’s more! Also the very next day, lightning melted the C off a statue bearing his name, and Livia’s augur said it meant he had 100 days to live. His friend is sceptical, pointing out that this could mean 100 weeks, or that he dies when he is aged 100, or maybe his wife’s augur just sucks. This perks them both up a treat.

At the Fountain of Exposition, Clavdivs isn’t quick enough to escape an audience with Livia. She asks if it’s true that he intends to give a reading of his recently published book, ostensibly to order him not to, since he’ll bring shame on the family, but more as a sly assessment of his wits. Clavdivs protests that he’s better when he’s rehearsed but agrees to cancel the reading, thanking her for her insults and executing a full-on shlemiel act upon exiting. It’s far safer to incur Livia’s frustration, and this doofus act is proving to secure his safety just as Pollio and later Postumus predicted.

Tiberius sustains only minor schlimazel damage as he enters while Clavdivs bolts (And nothing to do with anything, but this week’s Spotify Discover Weekly gave me Tiberius b, so I think it’s been spying on my iPlayer habits). He can’t leave for Illyricum without the usual hate-filled exchange with his ma. He notes that Augustus is feeling better, and she replies that by the way, he’s updated his will.

But instead of just telling him ‘and it’s been updated to favour your stepson Postumus’, she forces him to drag the info out of her. After he guesses Germanicus, she says she must have been nodding when she gave birth to him. Far be it from me to defend Tiberius, but right now Germanicus is King Shit of Fuck Mountain in the eyes of Augustus, the Senate, and pretty much anyone in Rome who isn’t currently enslaved. It’s a totally fair guess, but she’s never been fair, least of all to him, so she’s taking her anger at losing control of Augustus out on her favourite scapegoat. Also, she just plain loves to watch him squirm. Still, he’s even more confused about this apparent volte-face; what’s changed his mind about Postumus? But just as he says it, realisation dawns, which elicits a violent temper tantrum. Now I want to badly photoshop his head on George Santos’s body on the day he left Congress, hissing that he didn’t want to be there anyway, TO HELL WITH YOU ALL.

He rages that Augustus never liked him despite the last 30 years of him doing shitty jobs resentfully, a courtesy for which he has never been thanked. He’s never even been honoured with a banquet featuring a Horace-orated longueur like everyone else gets. Tiberius works himself into a proper lather and some near fuck-you tears, and just when you think he’s going to storm away, he just sort of plops down. The creepy thing is, this behaviour echoes his scene with Vipsania and the energy between Livia and him, while not strictly Oedipal, certainly isn’t that of mother and son. She’s treating him like a crush who bypassed idealisation and went straight to the devaluation part of the abuse cycle, and watching this play out is one of the most disturbing scenes in the show.

Livia quietly advises him not to haul ass too quickly to Illyricum because ’something’ may happen, which would just mean he’d wind up having to turn tail and schlep straight back. He looks honestly a bit confused, which would make him as stupid as he looks, but yet another Livia superpower is her ability to show her unmasked self and yet still inspire doubt as to her murderous intent.

Some much welcome comic relief follows. Augustus has tracked down Clavdivs to make awkward small talk about how he cured himself by drinking from a cow he milked himself (what) and eating hand-picked fruit. I suppose that’s at least 50% less disgusting than the milk-and-eggs diet. Augustus apologises for judging a book by its cover and agrees with Germanicus’s high opinion of Clavdivs, that cheeky ol’ republican that he is, just like their dear, dead pa Drusus.

Oh, Augustus knows about that! In fact, and well actually, he is pretty republican himself. He never meant to rule so long, but it just sort of happened. There’s some very funny camerawork and a ridiculous double-take while he checks the area is clear before spilling the beans on his recent trip to Corisca. Nudge wink, it was near an island with a certain guy, and now this one document is updated, nudge wink, don’t tell anyone – only you know, not even your granny knows! Right so, I’m off to Nola for my holidays, but do let’s catch up when I’m back. BYE AUGUSTUS.

Nola rocks! Especially when you can gamble all night with chums who are essentially paid to be there. I can’t judge – I would happily spend an evening watching him throw dice if it meant I could hear that magnificent belly laugh. The sound is far less pleasant to Livia, who reacts to the sound in much the same way I do to the pervy parakeets that squawk in the tree behind our flat and also spy on us:

it’s all fine until it isn’t, signified by UNHOLY ACTING when Augustus takes ill and engages in a good deal of OTT staggering and retching from all the scenery he’s been stuffed with. One tight, lingering shot of Livia’s expressionless face, and as Augustus is dragged away to his chambers, they lock eyes and he knows.

New diet: only figs he picked from the trees himself – nothing touched by any other human hands. The doctor sounds pretty grossed out since his guts are already shrieking. But Augustus won’t be dissuaded. And since there’s no doctor-patient confidentiality – not while Livia draws breath – she gets the message. Further, he’s far too ill to travel back to Rome. The doctor is dismissed, and she gazes at a bowl full of figs (lol I typed ‘bowel’ twice – apt).

Cut to Augustus, languishing in bed. Livia enters to tell him a delegation has come to see him, with Tiberius. He doesn’t respond and appears totally paralysed. When it becomes evident that this is the end for him, Livia launches into some truly bizarre gaslighting while we watch the light in his eyes dim. It must have been his own fault for eating only figs, besides which you bring shame upon this house, you’ll make people think you’re being poisoned.

And the camera lingers on his face while she monologues her justifications: if only he hadn’t railroaded her ass for so many years, she wouldn’t have had to do what she did, which was all for the good of Rome. Through the whole insane rant, the camera doesn’t leave his face for a second; even now, the focus is on him and not her, and no matter what she does, she’ll always be second-tier at best, with her intellect never acknowledged.

We haven’t often seen the consequences of Livia’s actions – Marcus Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius (and presumably Plautius though he’s barely even an NPC to her) all died offscreen, and the jury’s still out on how much influence she had on Drusus’s death. I suppose you could argue for Marcellus, but really, did anyone feel bad when he popped off? I found myself a bit wibbly gazing into Brian Blessed’s remarkable silent eye-acting, mourning the loss of both this complicated character and sad he won’t be there to steal any more scenes.

Livia herself does look sincerely sad but not remorseful and wastes no time addressing the delegation with the regrettable news. But who’s that, stepping into view?

Finally! SeYAYnus more like, wait, nope, just heard it. My Abiding Teenage Memories were correct – look at him! Look at him. He knows why he’s there, and even the camera knows it – thanks for the zoom, that camera operator.

Back to Planasia, and this time Postumus is less razzled when the Praetorian guard busts in, except soz, it’s not the rescue mission he’d been waiting on, but indeed Sejanus delivering a stab-o-gram. Next up – the nice dude who accompanied Augustus to Planasia and then offered comfort during his time of ulcer-ridden agony. We learn that his name is Flavius Maximus (nice) but sadly, he too receives a stab-o-gram and thus died as he lived: with a comedy name. Nothing personal, but like Plautius, Livia covers her ass very thoroughly and now he can’t tell anyone that Postumus had been un-disowned.

Or indeed dispute the contents of the fraudulent will, read by the Senate, which not only instals Tiberius as imperial successor but also highly favours Livia with land and cash. She clutches the real will, rocking her widow’s black both literally and figuratively. Clavdivs stops by to offer his condolences while really pushing the stammering pedal to the metal. She cracks some unoriginal jokes in his general direction, but despite her newly elevated station, she isn’t allowed to even walk into the Senate House. Still, she won, at long last and yet, instead of just stopping there, her next goal to achieve godhood. I think we lost the core-Livia some years ago through untold childhood trauma, but this feels like the moment where she’s finally snapped. To round off the episode, she lets rip a villainous cackle that rings in old Clavdivs’s ears through the flash forward as he brandishes the real will, raging at her wickedness.

BUGLE BLAST. Next time – Will Tiberius rethink his life and rule with fairness, or will he continue to be super gross and awful? Will Sejanus rock our worlds? All will be revealed next time on “Some Justice”!