Back to our regularly scheduled usual flash-forward, with Old Clavdivs guzzling wine in his study while writing and occasionally scratching his wig with a stylus. The voiceover recaps have returned, although he does appear to be alone, but inconsistency is the least of this episode’s worries: be assured the title delivers. Livia is dead, and Tiberius decamped to Capri to live out his days in a haze of debauchery, leaving *~Sejanus~* to run Rome in his stead. He rules with an iron fist, arresting everyone who is a threat to his hold on the emperor, including Pina and her son Nero (not to be confused with “the” Nero who hasn’t entered the story just yet). *~Sejanus~* kept his promise to divorce his wife, Apicata, and is openly living with Livilla, something her mother remains unaware of.

The voiceover cuts to Apicata pleading with Bad Bitchening Ascent Antonia to intercede on her behalf. *~Sejanus~* has taken their two children and won’t allow her to see them. Further, she fears for their safety because she does not trust Livilla. While BB Antonia isn’t shy about despising her daughter, she reserves most of her hate for *~Sejanus~* and, by proxy, Apicata herself for choosing to marry the man, in the process packing ten pounds of internalised misogyny into a five-pound bag. This segues into a generalised, sub-Livia rant about the rotten state of Rome, which is almost assuredly going to hell in a handbasket, but more likely because of the actions of men like Tiberius and his number one (not that one), and the craven Senators who won’t challenge the status quo, rather than who’s shacked with whom.

Apicata doesn’t give a shit about Rome; she just wants her kids back or at the very least to be allowed to visit them, and as her appeals to BB Antonia’s mothering instincts aren’t working, she is compelled to tell the truth about Castor’s death. BBA doesn’t believe a word and questions why Apicata hasn’t already approached Tiberius, to be told that to get to Tiberius, you have to get through *~Sejanus~*. Apicata’s last-ditch attempt to reach the emperor will be to offer her life to save her children via a loophole where, if she wills her estate to Tiberius, he will be assured to read *that* document, and even  *~Sejanus~* won’t be able to stop it. Again, why the fuck would BB Antonia care if this woman lives or dies? Regardless, Apicata has some sage advice:

Is there a reason people don’t trust Antonia to know basic-ass facts about her own family? So far, she’s had two mansplanations from Herod, boy and man, and now this chick. I can accept the first instance as a nifty bit of expository dialogue, as well as giving insight into the kid’s obsequious nature, but the second time was just weird, and now this stupid spoon-feeding. And yet fairly salient info, like Marcus Agrippa being Vipsania’s father, was withheld.

While I can’t fault Apicata for trying, she’s naive to think BB Antonia will help her now, considering she has just lectured her about how Rome comes before all, even her own family, and definitely above this rando’s. Upon Apicata’s departure, Clavdivs offers a few words of compassion for the woman, which, like everything he says and does, enrages his ma to no end, but even he admits he doesn’t believe Apicata’s story about Castor. He admits that Livilla’s done some dicey things in the past but does not think she is capable of murder. His ma wants to know exactly what things, which he tries to backtrack on, mumbling that she’d helped frame Postumus, although the plot was engineered by Livia. And also he assumed she knew. She did not but seems angrier that the secret was entrusted to her idiotic son and not her, and he sighs that it’s a long story…

Bad Bitchening Ascent Antonia reaches her apex in this episode, so all her flimsy characterisation is really chapping my frigging hide. Her massive civic boner for Rome inspires a fiery speech about endemic corruption, and yet she has to be told that *~Sejanus~* is screening the emperor’s correspondence and contacts. She also hates her daughter but can’t understand why Livilla would Jolene Apicata’s man, despite being directly told in the last episode about their affair, at which time she affected outrage that a married family man would openly conduct a steamy affair. The daughter of Marc Antony doesn’t understand love triangles? Evidently not, which I suppose is why everyone has to remind her who her parents were.

Meanwhile, Helen is heartbroken over her betrothal to her cousin, the aforementioned not-the Nero, and sobs while Livilla’s attendant fusses over her wig. Livilla dismisses Helen’s concerns with half-assed assurances that they will find her another match. BBA Antonia storms in to confront Livilla after sending Helen out, but not before lobbing a throwaway snide comment. It would be nice to see these women occasionally being kind to one another or at the very least, less cruel, but: 1970s bitches be crazy tropes. It’s also noteworthy that Livilla doesn’t bother to dismiss the slave-hairdresser, presumably doing the aristo thing whereby she does not consider her human enough to bother censoring herself in front of her.

Livilla confirms that *~Sejanus~* is more than her lover, they are affianced, and she is somewhat frustrated that her mother hasn’t noticed what’s been going on (thanks for that, audience-proxy). She argues that she’s not a Vestal, and it’s been five years since Castor died, so she should be free to marry again. BB Antonia doesn’t give a shit whom Livilla fucks but can’t countenance her daughter marrying a mere eques, and notes that Tiberius won’t approve the match for this very reason.

Then, when all Livilla’s counterarguments fall on deaf ears, BB Antonia reps for Apicata, which I’m still not buying, but whatever. I suppose she hopes to manipulate Livilla? She certainly won’t succeed in appealing to Livilla’s honour, so I’m not sure where she thought this conversation was going. Livilla won’t be cowed, as *~Sejanus~* is very fond of the kids, and allowing his ex access to them would upset her paramour. She can’t think what this woman or her kids are to her anyway, to which BB Antonia replies that perhaps one day it might be a great deal.

On Capri, *~Sejanus~* has approached Tiberius with his request, which is firmly denied. The old man’s advanced physical and moral decrepitude are on full display through his weeping sores, but the tattered remains of his moral code forfend the union. When pressed by *~Sejanus~* for his reasoning, he explains that he’d be compelled to raise  *~Sejanus~*’s rank, because even if that’s not the reason for the union, his niece would demand it after they were married. As the widow of the emperor’s son, she has become accustomed to a more exalted status.

Even Tiberius is reminding people of shit they really should know by now. This reminds me of when Buffy the Vampire Slayer would include ridiculously old flashbacks in the ‘previously on’ recap. If you don’t know by now, that is not going to help! And also, we know about Drusus, since we watched his ass die, and Germanicus was one of a handful of people with a unique name. Anyway, Tiberius puts bros before hoes and as such proposes a nifty solution. Helen is now going free since Nero’s arrest, so why not marry her instead, because this is more acceptable than marrying Livilla. I really wish there was a Maintenance Phase soundboard, so I could link to Michael Hobbes saying ‘Is it?’ How is Helen less patrician than her mother, with direct imperial lineage via Castor being the emperor’s actual son? To be fair, *~Sejanus~* appears to be horrified by the proposition.

Talk reverts to matters of state: *~Sejanus~* has prioritised those petitioners he thinks Tiberius should see, and the old man accepts his decisions without question, instructing him to send everyone else away. He calls for Pina first but says he won’t see her sons – the aforementioned not-the Nero nor his brother Drusus, currently waiting with Pina with the group of petitioners – under any circumstances.

Hey, guess who else is here, snoozing away under his wide brim hat? Your friend and mine, Thrasyllus! Tiberius asks his astrologer toady if he was wise to offer Helen to *~Sejanus~* and OMG, Thrasyllus agrees! Tiberius then congratulates himself for being so clever as to keep *~Sejanus~* sweet so he can continue delegating all the shitty parts of ruling to him, as well as deflect any bad public feels, while he ends his days on a party island. And part of me understands a version of that myself, some deathwish urge to withdraw all my savings and pack it all in to end my days on a sun-drenched island in a haze of chemical mayhem. Incidentally, for your edification, Chemical Mayhem is the name of Doctor Teeth’s neo-dubstep side project. But in Tiberius’s case, I’m putting this down to logic driven by half a dozen untreated STIs.

Firebrand Pina may have retired, but she’s still strong enough to spar with Tiberius, reminding him that Germanicus remains beloved and his regiments wanted to make him emperor. Not only that, Tiberius will soon die without issue, forcing him to select one of her children as heirs. He knocks that back by claiming he’ll make Livilla’s son, Gemellus, his heir. After Pina scoffs this isn’t Egypt, children shouldn’t be rulers, he loses his rag and bellows nonsense about how he rules Rome and will make this decision. Pina corrects him – no, *~Sejanus~* rules Rome.

All this is beside the point; the reason Pina has been granted an audience is so that Tiberius can formally exile her to the very same island where her mother spent her last days and to confirm that Nero is being sent to an even tinier island. Though if she is lonely, he might visit… he leans in to whisper gross things. Spitting in his face is her last act of defiance, earning her a vicious flogging that he administers himself.

The scene swiftly moves on to *~Sejanus~* dismissing the remainder of the petitioners, pausing to assure Drusus that Tiberius will review his case. He then ducks out to his quarters where his children are stoked to see him. He promises to have dinner with them, since they’ve been very good and finished their lessons, but then throws a strop because they don’t understand why he won’t allow Mum to even visit and orders them to their rooms.

And before Livilla comes in to pay the children some insincere compliments, I need to pause because I am really lost as to where this is taking place. One minute, your man is with Tiberius on Capri, and then he’s in a room full of petitioners, and now he’s with his family…in…Rome? I thought maybe Livilla and his children had decamped to Capri, but that can’t make sense because Livilla was just in Rome with her ma, and also *~Sejanus~* is running the show, so that’s one hell of an antechamber connecting the two. Big O, little k.

*~Sejanus~* gives Livilla the bad news about their engagement and the reasons behind Tiberius’s refusal. Livilla runs over a few options: ask him again (he won’t change his mind), let’s get married anyway (that’s too dangerous), at which point *~Sejanus~*  tells her about the counter-offer. She’s quiet for a beat, whispers that he’s a bastard, and then totally loses her shit. She insists that Helen won’t be happy, and *~Sejanus~* explains he’ll talk to her and insists it’s all just for optics. Livilla isn’t having any of his creepy Hustler fantasy and the ensuing tussle and screaming row crackles with sexual frisson and punchy insults.

Throughout, *~Sejanus~*  insists their plan is working, and this is just a wee blip. Pina and her son Nero are both banished, and Drusus is next in line, leaving only Caligula to deal with, and then they’ll be home free. He thinks they shouldn’t be seen with one another for a while, otherwise it will be weird when he is engaged to Helen and reiterates that it is she whom he loves. You know they had some very feisty angry-sex after this.

Under the looming watch of the Capitoline Wolf, *~Sejanus~* reads the latest diktat from Capri to arrest Drusus. The senators are losing their patience and won’t sign another warrant without first reading it in full and not without any real evidence of a crime. Their arguments are in vain, because Drusus is arrested anyway and roughly shoved into a grim prison cell. He pleads with the guards that he is innocent and references some forged letters, presumably filled with treasonous talk. The guards ignore his request to see *~Sejanus~* and leave him for the remainder of his short miserable life of beatings and death by starvation.

On the outdoor set, Caligula yoo-hoos his uncle Clavdivs from his litter. Unlike his mother and brothers, he’s having a whale of a time but does offer some shallow lip-service about how it’s a shame about Drusus. Clavdivs warns his nephew that he is in grave danger, but Caligula is confident the sex pests’ code will keep him safe and in fact has been summoned to Capri, where he’s anticipating all manner of depraved fun. Clavdivs implores him to use his influence with Tiberius to protect his family, but Caligula won’t make any promises, and while he reacts defensively when his uncle suggests he doesn’t care, he admits that while he might try to help Pina, he doesn’t really like his brothers. He also acknowledges that he’ll have to watch his step because Tiberius has been very unpredictable these days, which is quite funny, given his upcoming behaviour. The conversation concludes with him baiting his uncle by saying he may not care for his brothers but neither does Clavdivs like his sister; on the other hand he himself *loves* his sisters.

This is one of the last ‘fun’ Caligula scenes, where he’s just being generally pervy, before the ‘fun’ transitions into psychosis-fuelled homicide. A good deal of Abiding Teenage Memories centre around how his effete manner and diva-like prancing made me feel all kinds of ways I wasn’t able to process. I frigging love this scene: the way he eats a few bites of fruit and then lobs them aside, how his attendant slaves dab his dainty mouth, and also the fact that the goblet he’s drinking from is obviously empty.

Back home, Clavdivs is surprised by a visit from his wife, in a scene drenched with wry sadness throughout. Not only does he get no respect from his family, he can’t even garner any from the back-chatting slave who announces Aelia. He drapes himself across various soft furnishings to affect a casual manner, which almost hurts to laugh at, and when she arrives, the entire conversation is torturous. She heard he was in Rome and was surprised he didn’t take the chance to cash in on her social capital by calling on her for a visit. They make awkward small talk, where she both mocks Pina’s plight and lords over the fact that Clavdivs himself would be in danger were he not protected by virtue of their marriage, even if it’s just a technicality. He asks if she might be interested in attending the reading he’s giving of his latest book, a history of Carthage. Absolutely not, and well actually, she’s really here to see Livilla. Sour.

BB Antonia coughs a polite entry to the conversation, and the women exchange superficial pleasantries. The second Aelia leaves, BB Antonia speculates about what she could possibly want with her daughter, and now she’s just full-on Too Stupid To Live. Naturally it’s an expository device so that Clavdivs can explain that she probably needs to discuss Helen’s engagement to *~Sejanus~*. He also notes that Helen has been in bed for a week with an illness that has the doctors flummoxed. And no, Clavdivs, it must NOT be ‘some sort of women’s complaint’, and for once I side with your ma – that was a dumbass comment.

In Livilla’s chambers, she hands Aelia a letter for British *~Sejanus~*’s eyes only, to be destroyed after reading. Aelia enquires after Helen on behalf of her brother, because he’s very anxious about her: remotes at the ready for Livilla’s jealous tantrum. She vacillates between fury at her lover’s lack of concern for her, smugness that Tiberius is old and disease-ridden, back to anger that *~Sejanus~* seems totally fine without her, and sobbing that she can’t liiiiiive if living is without *~Sejanus~*. Aelia is adamant that her brother truly does love her and reminds her of the optics, which I still don’t fully understand myself, but w/evs.

Next, Clavdivs stops by the printers to check on the progress of his book. The scribes are very busy, with twelve copies ready, but they can’t go any faster, since the illustrations have been slowing them down. I would say he’s being a Difficult Client, but he never asked for those fucking elephants, and even if they are relevant to the history of Carthage, that was not the spec! It just goes to show that he never gets taken seriously.

His friend Asinis Gallus also stops by, and they leave the printers together to have a friendly debate about whether or not Cicero was a talentless hack. They don’t get very far, because Gallus is arrested on trumped-up charges and frogmarched away to *~Sejanus~*. Gallus is presented with a confession to sign, packed with invented treasons that also inculpate Drusus. Charles Kay as Gallus makes sy.lla.ble of his precious scene count; all righteous indignation and rolling Rs. He will not be had by a small-town copper who stepped way out of his lane and spits in *~Sejanus~*’s face, which naturally results in a beat-down. Two separate face-gobbings in an episode seems a bit much, but last time we had all that knocker-grabbing so it’s clear this show loves a theme. The guards push him below camera level so he can be slicked with ketchup and the goth palette used for Drusus, Senior’s gangrenous leg and presented to *~Sejanus~* for more interrogation. As Gallus has passed out, *~Sejanus~* orders his men to crack on with the smelling salts and start again.

Clavdivs is shaken by his friend’s arrest, but when he reports it to his mother, Antonia is too busy smoothing out bits of crumpled paper. To her horror, Apicata wasn’t lying – Livilla and *~Sejanus~* have indeed poisoned Castor. And now her daughter is cajoling her lover to mount a coup and assassinate Tiberius. As she had found it difficult to find just the right tone, Livilla had written several drafts, and so the evidence of her crimes was just waiting to be discovered. If it weren’t for Antonia’s skin-flintery, one of the slaves would have just thrown all that paper away even though only one side had been written on. She thinks that both of them are awful, but that Livilla is worse (<Michael Hobbes soundboard>is she?</Michael Hobbes soundboard). But she herself is actually the worst of all for giving birth to her, which wins the Olympic gold medal for internalised misogyny. And then it dawns on her that Helen is being poisoned.

She hatches a plan that will allow Clavdivs to gain an audience with Tiberius so that they can warn him about the treason. If he approaches *~Sejanus~* to say that he’d like to ask permission to dedicate his history of Carthage to the emperor, *~Sejanus~* can hardly refuse. They will secret the evidence, along with an explanatory note, in a scroll that Clavdivs will direct Tiberius to read first. It’s a great plan, but like every  scene between the two, it ends with heartbreak, when Clavdivs hesitates in providing the scroll he’d been given by the printers because of the elephant issue. Her withering contempt and assertion that no one will read his shitty book, least of all Tiberius – unless of course there were illustrations of titties, and even then he’d only crank one out to the pictures – is true, but daaang lady, keep it to yourself.

Over on Capri, Caligula is surprised by the arrival of his uncle Clavdivs. Having reviewed the evidence, Tiberius brings Caligula up to speed on the treachery. But arresting *~Sejanus~* will prove difficult, because he leads a loyal 4k-strong guard and has many allies besides. If only he had listened to Castor! If only there were some men of integrity he could rely on! Rome is an amoral nightmare – no idea why – but Caligula says there are certainly ambitious men who are more than happy to help. Men such as Sutorius Macro, *~Sejanus~*’s second-in-command, whom Clavdivs recognises as the dude what arrested Gallus. As Caligula is shtupping Macro’s wife (with his knowledge and consent), he’s confident he knows him well enough to be assured that he’ll betray *~Sejanus~*.

This turn of events really throws Tiberius (sir!) who is shocked to think this is how men become chums these days, but Caligula says it’s just further proof of Macro’s ambition. This reverses Tiberius’s mood polarity from rage to joy, and he embraces Caligula, ordering him to stay in Capri because he just found his heir. They skip along to draft a ‘to get clipped’ list and are ready to open Rome’s bowels with the figs of rewengey, in a metaphor even more confusing than Castor’s prison analogy.

And it goes down exactly as planned, with *~Sejanus~* led down the garden path on the Senate steps. He’s given a letter that must be delivered, although not by himself, since the contents are likely to contain Tiberius’s intentions to request *~Sejanus~* remain protector of the city and by implication become his successor, and this is the happiest he will ever be in what remains of his life.

They briefly cut to his children wondering why their pa is going inside, but they don’t dwell on it and go home, while on the steps, Macro orders a change of the Praetorian guard. Inside the Senate house, a very smug *~Sejanus~* awaits his fate. But very soon reality hits as the actual contents of the letter expose his treasonous plans. A few astute Senators slip out while his transgressions are outlined and the order is given to arrest him and his cronies.

At his home, guards argue the ethics of killing *~Sejanus~*’s innocent children, especially the girl, since as a virgin, her murder will bring bad luck to Rome. The other guard provides the chilling advice to ensure she isn’t a virgin then. AAARGH…why did they make us see the children one last time? Jesus, this is bleak.

The penultimate *~Sejanus~* scene gives his Peep Show-esque POV; blurry, beaten and destroyed with the message that his children are dead, and then he’s knifed a bunch, and even as he’s dying it’s splendid UNHOLY ACTING TALENT.

Volume button at the ready, because Bad Bitchening Apex Antonia has locked a shrieking Livilla in her room, and Patricia Quinn can out-scream them all. Antonia sits guard, stony-faced. Clavdivs asks how long she’s going to keep Livilla there as punishment, and her empty, dead response ‘until she dies’ is soul-chilling, but perhaps even worse her response to why she is sitting guard.

Wow. Even Livia couldn’t have handled that. So yeah. That happened. Clavdivs leaves her, sobbing, and is accosted by Aelia who begs his protection, screaming about the rape and murder of her niece, but he tells her to leave him alone.

Blood-soaked corpses litter the Senate steps, some beheaded, to be roughly hauled away without ceremony, and there is a final lingering shot of *~Sejanus~*, my dead king. We hardly knew ye. Here at last, some final, unrelated picspam:

The flash-forward takes us back to Clavdivs, who says he was allowed to divorce Aelia and returned all her dowry, even though he only was required by law to give 1/8 back, and that he supposed she thought him a fool for it.

BUGLE BLAST. Next time –

*record scratch sound effect*!!!

Why, Claudius? will return after a two-week hiatus while I’m on holiday to Rome and Naples…but will anything nice happen to Clavdivs for a frigging change? Will Caligula deliver on all my Abiding Teenage Memories? All will be revealed next time on ‘Zeus, by Jove!’