No flash-forward this week – instead, we open with a jolly dinner party scene. Titus and Lollia have various honoured guests in attendance, and they’re all enjoying some post-scran belly dancing via a nice lady their hostess found in Antioch. Lollia introduces the final entertainment but not before some gentle married couple bantz. Sounds dope, I do enjoy a good yarn.

Exactly one week prior, Lollia, Titus and their daughter Camilla were invited to a dinner at the emperor’s palace, where both parents had noted Tiberius giving Camilla the eye. The next day, Camilla received a summons from the emperor that Lollia kept secret from Titus, since it would be dangerous to let her go but even worse to refuse, and she wanted to spare him the agony of making this decision.

She thought she found a solution: accept the invite and then attend as a chaperone to keep Camilla safe. It all went south from the outset when they were escorted into a room plastered with “erotic art”. Titus cuts in to ask a) why is she only telling him this now, and b) why is she choosing to tell him in front of some of their dearest chums? Lollia says that all present are actually a carefully curated audience of friends who  have some influence in Rome and returns to the story. Tiberius made a show of explaining each image to Camilla, and when Lollia ordered him to stop corrupting a young girl, he then asked, ‘What about an old one?’

Once more, Titus tries to stop Lollia, but she’s on a roll. Tiberius then summoned a naked slave, whom he stroked in the hopes that it would give Camilla the horn. When it didn’t work and she became upset, begging to leave, Tiberius feigned hurt feelings and hauled out the age-old ‘you led me on last week’ chestnut, then ordered Lollia to leave. Titus interjects one final time, but Lollia is furious now and will not be silenced. If she had been armed, say with this dagger currently nestled in a watermelon-and-flowers centrepiece (what), then she would have used it on Tiberius.

Instead, she begged a moment alone with him so she could offer herself in Camilla’s place, an offer that was accepted. Lollia escorted Camilla to the gates and sent her home, and with hindsight, she should have just run away with her. At the time, she felt like she had no choice but to suffer Tiberius’s sexual assault in order to protect her family from his vengeance. She does not provide specifics, but her distress and broken speech allow everyone to fill in the blanks. Pina consoles her with praise and with comfort in the knowledge that she has saved her family; now she must put it behind her.

But Lollia is forever scarred, unable to stop reliving the trauma nor bear the thought of being intimate with Titus. Since she can’t cut the awful memories out of her mind, she plunges the dagger into her belly twice and collapses before the aghast guests (and viewers), who will now tell everyone just how fully disgusting Tiberius has become. As a modern viewer, I am desensitised to a lot, but this unexpected turn was truly shocking, even if it doesn’t quite survive fridge logic. Come back, Old Clavdivs flash-forwards – all is forgiven!

Ooh, an external scene! Livia’s litter crosses paths with the imperial retinue, and it’s evident from their brief exchange that Tiberius has been avoiding her for a while. They exchange their usual barbed comments, which are kind of running out of steam by now, with neither putting much heart or soul into them. When Livia tries to talk turkey about matters of state, he won’t engage and moves on. She shouts that she heard about Lollia, calls him disgusting and then shouts about her birthday present. When neither of these comments elicit a response, she lobs a final shot: ‘Your brother Drusus was worth ten of you!’ As with Augustus, the only real praise comes after death, and even then is wholly insincere and entirely weaponised.

Inside the palace, Tiberius paces while barking orders at Thrasyllus to cast his ma’s horoscope, so he knows just how much longer he has to put up with her before she finally croaks. Thrasyllus isn’t confident he can provide an accurate prophecy without the exact time of her birth, which Tiberius can’t give him. He figures he can kill two birds with one stone if he makes this horoscope her birthday present, and Thrasyllus leaves to arrange an interview with Livia. What a great gift she’ll not see right through.

Also in the room is *~Sejanus~*, in his role as advisor and sounding board. Tiberius whines that he should have stayed in Rhodes, and goddamn this guy. I would say he’s like a cat when faced with any door – desperate to be on the other side the second he’s placed there, but I love cats and don’t want to sully their reputation. Anyway, despot-ing is hard work, and he’d be lost without *~Sejanus~* as his eyes and ears. Especially because in the past two years there has been such a massive uptick in treason, which is definitely nothing to do with *~Sejanus~*’s secret police rooting out personal enemies.

Today’s dossier contains hot intel about Silius Caecina, one of the core commanders at the Rhine when all that shit went down. He’s been overheard boasting at length that his troops would have mutinied if not for his leadership, but if they had, Tiberius would not be emperor now. *~Sejanus~* takes this to mean he’s implying Tiberius owes his position to him. Tiberius is willing to allow ageing soldiers their drunken tall tales, but *~Sejanus~* thinks there may be more…

Now Tiberius has to press him for more info, which is that Silius also went on to say that while none of the regiments under Germanicus’s command rebelled, that comment was probably just a ploy to impress his widow, since Firebrand Pina was there. The mere mention of her name elicits a meltdown from Tiberius and a sincere smile on *~Sejanus~*’s sexy, evil face.

Next, the guard heralds Caligula’s entrance to the chamber. Much has been said among my circle of chums about the rugged handsomeness of the War Doctor (and I agree), but young John Hurt made me feel *all* kinds of ways, so look out for some Abiding Teenage Memories soon. He’s got an anniversary present for Tiberius, though he’s not sure what it’s celebrating, only that there must be something. The camera zooms in on an illustration of sexual congress in some very advanced positions.

Yeah, me too, buddy. This scene does jog an Abiding Childhood Memory of the time my little friend and I lost our minds upon discovering her parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Love Making by Alex Comfort (<—enchanting). The illustrations, in particular that of the very 1970s bearded man and his naked guitar playing, have been forever imprinted on my psyche. Tiberius is all like ‘aww porn, how did you know!’ Caligula asks to borrow it sometime – when his uncle is not using it, of course. Wash your hands first, son. In boiling water steeped with lye.

*~Sejanus~* has approached Varro with charges of treason against Silius Caecina. He instructs the senator to begin impeachment articles against him, claiming to have a plethora of evidence. The Praetorian guard announce Castor via his full government name, Tiberius Drusus Caesar, and when *~Sejanus~* warmly welcomes him using his nickname, Castor makes it clear this privilege has not, nor ever will be granted. All very fair and understandable, but the dude just keeps losing points with me. It was wrong for Livilla to frame Postumus, but that doesn’t mean you get to use your wife as a punching bag. Also, you may not like your dad or his “German” mercenary bodyguards, but there’s no need to insult them. A nod of assent from *~Sejanus~* permits him entry to Tiberius, even though he’s not currently receiving visitors. While Castor is barging into his pa’s office, Varro is a little hazy on how some less than flattering words could be construed as treason, especially since Silius Caecina has an impressive war record and very powerful friends, but he backs down when *~Sejanus~* threatens to approach another senator for consul.

Inside, Castor reminds his pa that Germanicus was never his enemy, but Tiberius won’t listen to his son. He feels both his nephew and his wife conspired against him and has the proof. Castor, echoing Postumus’s plea to Augustus, begs his pa to use his damn eyes and realise he’s being used by *~Sejanus~*. But Tiberius, like his stepfather, can’t accept he’s in thrall to a viper. He turns the tables by sniping that when he and Herod were tomcatting around, *~Sejanus~* was working his fine ass off for his emperor. Castor doesn’t deny his behaviour but won’t accept *~Sejanus~* is working for anyone but himself. The fact that the dude now has a statue of himself in Pompey, and the markets are full of tacky replicas is an obvious agenda. His rant morphs into a confused metaphor about how *~Sejanus~* is building a prison around them, which I have to admit was lost on me as well as Tiberius, and the scene ends with Castor slapping his report on top of the Kama Sutra.

He tries to confide his frustrations to his wife that working in the family firm can’t be rewarding or enjoyable when all the boss cares about are trumped-up treason charges and porno mags. It does not help that Caligula is fomenting Tiberius’s perversions and marvels that Caligula is the result of the union between War Hero Germanicus and Firebrand Pina. As he is exhausted from his journey from wherever he was, he yawns constantly, even when his lovely daughter Helen arrives to bid him goodnight. After she leaves, Castor admires her beauty, but Livilla doesn’t rate her (flawless) skin because women always compete over their appearances with one another, especially mothers and daughters. Well, evil mothers, anyway. Castor would like to engage in some romantic funtimes, but it’s a hard pass from Livilla, who says she can’t sex him when he’s this tired, and he indeed almost immediately passes out.

However, she can and will sex *~Sejanus~*, courtesy the mickey he gave her to spike Castor’s wine. Time for smooching, bosom heaving, partial toga-removal, yadda yadda…and then *~Sejanus~* sighs that this must be their final liaison, because he just loves her too much to risk being caught and any strict punishment she’d receive for adultery. But Livilla can’t live without his fine, fine ass and gifted cock.  She’s willing to dose Castor every night, but *~Sejanus~* warns he will catch on, and besides, even if he doesn’t, he’ll build up a tolerance so that she’ll need more and more. And what happens if she gets too excited and accidentally ODs him? Seed planted, *~Sejanus~* – let the plotting begin!

It will have to be a gradual poisoning, but once he’s gone, *~Sejanus~* will totally divorce his wife and marry her, and then life will be all consequence-free sexing fun. There follows some very spicy pillow talk between consenting adults that I still side-eye for containing some pretty tired and often dangerous cliches and yet: cor.

In the market, Clavdivs is browsing the stalls when he spies his friends, Castor and Herod. He’s been invited to dine with Livia on her birthday and is shopping for her gift. Herod cracks a joke, which for once is actually quite funny, but Clavdivs does not see the humour. He’s nervous to see her again, because they have not spoken since Caligula burned the house down seven years prior. His friends suggest one of the famous replicas of *~Sejanus~* featuring on nearly every stall. Or should I say ‘friends’, since this all feels really icky and it’s hard to watch.

Clavdivs changes the conversation to that of Castor’s health, noting that he’s been looking unwell lately. Castor says he’s been feeling off since he returned to Rome. Still, he’s well enough to keep ragging on Clavdivs, who shortly takes his leave from the smug pricks. Even Herod agrees that Castor looks like shit, but he brushes him off and also makes his way out of the market. Before he can bump into the set wall, he crosses paths with Varro and the Praetorian guard, who have arrested Silius Caecina. Castor is furious, but Varro won’t take any crap from Castor even if he is the emperor’s son.

Who’s in the mood for peacock? Augustus the god, apparently. Tiberius has offered the dead bird, along with some sincere-sounding prayers for inner peace. He is looking very rough indeed, with what appears to be an open sore on his head and a mouth clustered with ulcers, which as we all know ain’t no fun. Behind him, Firebrand Pina has sneaked in to confront him. She calls him a hypocrite for praying to Augustus while persecuting his grandchild – i.e., her – via her friends. Poor Lollia was tormented just for the crime of being her chum and now Silius is too.

Tiberius won’t be spoken to like this, so Pina changes tactics to beg a truce, and to leave her and her children alone – all of them, not just the little pervert. Tiberius agrees to lay off the kids but won’t ever forgive her for what she forced him to do to his dear mate Pino. He has very few morals, but evidently the douchenozzle bro code really does mean something to him.

At Livia’s birthday dinner, Clavdivs makes a big show of accepting a goblet of wine and then chugging it, along with two refills. Caligula sneers at his uncle, but his grandmother appreciates the gesture of good faith. Her birthday has delivered a decent gift haul, including the very detailed horoscope she received from Thrasyllus. She’s fine with dying soon, though she draws the line at the astrologer’s obsequious gassing and dismisses him.

She warns Caligula that he better watch out, because Thrasyllus has a doozy of a prophecy for him, and also she found his pa’s green talisman while searching his room (good thing he gave all the porn to his uncle). She sends the slimy little monster away so she can chat to Clavdivs, but not before this happens:

Abiding Teenage Memory of Nasty, Nasty Caligula is entirely accurate! Which is worse, the lingering kiss, the knocker-grab, or the way Livia is checking to see that Clavdivs is letting all this sink in? She is confused, since her ageing body should repel her great-grandson, but instead he is fascinated. And like with her scene with Plautius, I think she does herself a disservice; at all ages, Livia is hot stuff.

Clavdivs doesn’t know why she puts up with his monstrosity, so she explains they have a pact. She’ll keep Caligula’s patricide a secret, and he’ll arrange for her deification when he becomes emperor. Upon receiving this information, Clavdivs literally plays the drooling eejit, professing ignorance about politics but questioning the line of succession, since there’s also Castor and Caligula’s elder siblings ahead of him. Livia has also noted that Castor is looking worse for the wear, and if anyone understands that kind of peaky, it’s her. But the main reason is that Tiberius is a pathetic, friendless creep who just wants to be loved. By choosing Caligula, whom he believes will suck ass as a leader, the public will love him, albeit, ahem, posthumously (pun burn!)

Livia agrees that Caligula is the family’s biggest fool and that she was wrong to believe it to have been Clavdivs. He drops his stammer, and they speak as actual adults so she can get to the real reason she wanted him to attend. As she approaches death, all her murderous actions will send her to hell unless she’s deified, which would be a terrible injustice, since she alone prevented Rome from falling into civil war. Clavdivs comforts his distressed grandmother, assuring her that he will ensure she is made a goddess…on the condition that she comes clean about all her nefarious methods. As an historian, he needs to know the truth.

The truth, or A Truth, is that if it weren’t for her, Augustus’s propensity for pitting his favourites against one another would have caused chaos. He pitted Agrippa against Marcellus, whom she had to remove because the nation needed Agrippa, but then she had to remove Agrippa when it became obvious that Julia was in love with Tiberius, giving him a clear path to succession. But of course her useless son managed to fuck that up, which forced her to poison Gaius via her agents in Syria and to bribe Plautius into arranging the boating accident that killed Lucius. As for Postumus, she was aware that Clavdivs had been very fond of him, but he was in the way, and he also knew that she was the driving force behind his mother’s exile. Clavdivs asks after his father and his brother, but she can’t claim those deaths. Drusus died of his wounds, and Germanicus was poisoned by Plancina and not on her orders, but she does admit that she’d had them marked for death.

I really wish the show explored this in greater depth, because actual, historical Livia’s father had joined the war against Octavian and Mark Antony, and died by suicide when that all went south. Her belief that Rome needed a strongman and then marrying her father’s enemy is a pretty severe repudiation of both him and his principles. Clavdivs admits he’d restore the republic if he could, and she sighs that maybe he is a fool. As for Augustus, he was the hardest. She had to – HAD TO – poison every single motherfucking fig on that goddamn tree, and it took all night and was the hardest thing she ever did. But she HAD TO. To save Rome. And she truly believes in every deluded word.

Before sending Clavdivs away, she hands him some unpublished prophecies from the Sibyl, which indicate that he will be emperor someday. He nearly busts a nut laughing, saying if he can be emperor, she will be the Queen of Heaven.

Clavdivs tries to visit Castor, but *~Sejanus~* blocks his entry with assurances that he’ll be fine, because Clavdivs’s adoring sister is nursing him. He also casually asks if he knows his wife is pregnant. Clavdivs hasn’t actually seen Plautia for ages and agrees that he should probably divorce her. *~Sejanus~* channels Cilla Black by offering his sister Aelia as a potential mate. Clavdivs somewhat absently agrees to the match.

As we all know, Castor will not be fine and is indeed dying. Did he deserve to die? Probably not, but it’s hard to feel bad for him, because I’ve been prejudiced against him from the start, and he is a bellend.

My Abiding Teenage Memory remains hilarious: that the last thing Castor should see before shuffling off this mortal coil is evil Captain Picard honking Magenta’s boob, giving two instances of gratuitous nork-fondling in one episode! BYE CASTOR.

Time also to say goodbye to Herod, who has been ordered by Tiberius to leave Rome, for the off-camera crime of sending him condolences for his son’s death. Rather than go back to Judea, he’s going to his grandfather’s homeland. Even adult Herod can’t resist reminding Antonia about her own damn family, in yet another scene chock full of proto-4chan ‘ironic’ dialogue. They discuss Clavdivs’s wedding, invoking Firebrand Pina’s fury at his hapless betrayal. It’s evident that *~Sejanus~* means to ingratiate himself into the imperial family and then probably marry Livilla. Antonia is again made to look incredibly naive in that she hasn’t picked up on her daughter’s affair and can’t quite fathom that a married father of two would ever do such a thing. I can maybe allow not seeing her daughter for who she is (just about), but as in the previous episode, I’m annoyed by the inconsistency of her character.

Pina admits she’s probably taking her anger out on Clavdivs, because her friend Silius died by suicide before he could be impeached by the kangaroo court. She’s tired, with very little fight left, and it’s sadly goodbye to Firebrand Pina, whom I will miss more than Castor and Postumus combined. For once, Herod defends Clavdivs by noting that he might be craven, but unlike many others, at least he’s still here.

This pivots to a strange interlude of old Clavdivs, pondering in what appears to be a kind of void to murmur: yes, he’s still here, but the rest are dead dead dead, like dying Livia. It seems unnecessary; quit telling and start showing already.

Livia is indeed dying, as witnessed by a gloating Caligula. He remembers the promise he made, but PSYCH, now that his secret-keeper is dying, has no intention of making her a goddess. Burn in hell, great-granny! But wait – he has more things to crow about! Thrasyllus announced a prophecy that is totally about him becoming emperor, and it’s gonna be lit, since not only will he be a brilliant leader, but it is HE who will be deified!

As Livia weeps in terror, Clavdivs arrives and pledges not to renege on his promise. Now he sincerely predicts she will be queen of heaven and that he will keep playing the fool. He closes her eyes and puts a coin in her mouth for the ferryman. She was undoubtedly terrible, with few redeeming qualities, but was also charismatic, funny and intelligent, and will be greatly missed.

BUGLE BLAST. Next time – Will Sejanus sleaze his way to the top, first century style? Will Clavdivs keep all Livia’s monstrous secrets? All will be revealed next time on “Reign of Terror”! (sounds promising!)