No flash-forward this week: instead, we see Clavdivs reading a letter in a modestly furnished room. Calpurnia, his flatmate and friend, wants him to read it aloud since epistles from Herod are always amusing. The letter is packed with concern-trolling about rumours that his chum is living in reduced circumstances after his fall from Caligula’s favour. In lieu of cash, which Herod knew would be refused, he’s sent a gift of some dice. It becomes evident they are loaded, “ha ha”. A slave interrupts with shocking news: she’s seen a flyer advertising a brothel in Caesar’s palace. Clavdivs has seen these flyers all over town but had prior knowledge, since Caligula has asked him to be a doorman.

The woman is expositorily angry, since she is horrified that the monster has the audacity to force nobility into prostitution. It’s beneath even Calpurnia, who is a sex worker. Clavdivs dismisses the woman and shouts after her that she is no longer in that profession. But Calpurnia gently chides him, because she is not ashamed of how she has – and still does – conduct her professional business. Way to fight whorephobia, Calpurnia!

You’ll have to provide your own sad trombone noise for the next scene, which opens with Clavdivs accepting a handful of coins from a senator and then ushering his wife inside where she is instantly grabbed and wrestled to the floor. The orgy is in full swing and on the surface appears quite jolly.  You’ve got folk really into the bunch of grapes they’re snacking on, dancing, and a game of kiss-chase between two men, one of whom is in drag. It really does look like a lot of fun.

Back on the door, the next mandatory client begs mercy; his wife just dropped a sprog six weeks ago, and dude, he cannot be responsible for what she’ll do if someone tries to touch her. Not from the personals, but I gather that recently pregnant people are sometimes not keen on a trip to Bonetown even with people they love and in normal circumstances. Clavdivs snaps that there are no exceptions, and the lady is whisked away by the brothel’s madam, who instructs her to name a high price because her first john is Marcus, the emperor’s brother-in-law.

This place is really some kind of grift supreme, innit? Not only do the clients have to pay an entrance fee, but they’re also compelled to supply their wives for the harem? Clavdivs reflects for a hot minute, then storms into the party and drags Marcus out, claiming he’s creating a disturbance. I’m impressed but sceptical with his ability to overpower the much younger and visibly buff man. Our hero then sweeps back, grabs the woman and urges her to run home.

Caligula’s pregnant wife, Caesonia, pulls Clavdivs aside and calls him a good man, pleading with him to speak to her husband. According to her, Caligula is a sick man whose troubles are exacerbated by the awful men he’s surrounded by. Clavdivs isn’t falling for this, because as he rightly says, all the good people who used to surround him have been killed, and he also dunks on her for being at the brothel in her preggo state.

But enough is enough, and fuelled with righteous indignation, he crashes back to the room to pick another fight, but everything stops when Caligula himself shimmies in half-dressed and reciting Homer.  Ever the bookish one, Clavdivs disarms the tension by replying in kind, quoting some self-deprecating verse, which is well-received and garners him the nickname ‘Uncle Vulcan’. Although Caligula had initially arrived to mock-chastise his depraved colleagues, his main announcement is that he’s off to wage war in “Germany” and will return with handfuls of sweet, sweet cash.

Whizzing ahead a few months, Clavdivs visits Caesonia and her infant daughter, Julia Drusilla. He’s visiting so he can deliver a present and promise to bring news of baby and mum’s good health to the proud papa in person, as he’s off to “Germany”. Caligula is convinced there is a conspiracy to overthrow him, and even though he’s already purged his highest-ranking officers, he’s still paranoid. Clavdivs can’t imagine there is any truth to this, since his current man Cassius has a lifetime of loyal service behind him. Regardless, the Senate is shipping him over ostensibly to congratulate Caligula on his military success, but mainly to replenish the cashflow.

Although there has been some military success, Caligula has been making real bank with a new auctioneer side hustle and has instructed Clavdivs to strip Livia’s apartments of all valuables so they can go on the block. And somehow this throwaway line was really hard to hear. I’m no Livia revisionist (at least not this fictional depiction), but there is something profoundly sad about how quickly every last trace of her has vanished, apart from the generational trauma. Once the wagon’s loaded up with loot, Clavdivs will have to send it via road rather than the sea, because Caligula is currently beefing with Neptune, as you do.

It’s a testament to how far gone the man is that no one is able to question him, and instead Caesonia takes time to ponder exactly what her husband sees in her. She’s not conventionally attractive; she’s ten years older than him; and she’s common as muck. She does *wuv* him, even though he’s a psychopath who does unconscionable things. Although I can’t fault this scene technically: her tears are moving, and it zips along with the much-lauded blocking that demands repeat views, I yawn so hard at this tedious trope. Whatever, Roman Tammy Wynette gonna stand by her man, and she echoes Drusilla’s comments that he’s far more frightened than his terrorised subjects. Sure.

On the Rhine, Caligula has been having stern words with the river god when Clavdivs and his consuls, including the aforementioned Marcus, as well as another dude Aspernas, though don’t feel you need to bond with either of them, rock up to the five-star glamping tipi. Although they’ve brought him flowers in the pouring rain, the men can barely start their felicitations when Caligula cuts over them to ask after the carts. Clavdivs explains that while the goods were sent by road, as per his specific request, they themselves arrived by water in their eagerness to see him. With Caligula, you can’t win for losing, and so he sneers that they’ll also return by water and orders Clavdivs to be chucked in the river. He then commands the consuls to prostrate themselves before Jove, so I guess he dropped the Zeus act, given The Lack of Athena Situation (name of my Britpop revival band). Props to the splashing sound effect directly after he says ‘Jove’, BTW.

With the bewildered men at his feet, Caligula rages that the Senate would send his imbecile uncle to congratulate him, and while stewing on this affront, he weaves another conspiracy and orders the traitors to be executed. The men beg mercy, but Caligula explains that since they have travelled by water, they must have been riding with Neptune, the turncoat bastards. He then interrogates them accordingly, but since the men aren’t fluent in batshit, they cannot effectively defend themselves.

Just as he’s about to drive his sword into Marcus, a mud-covered Clavdivs limps back into the tent. Caligula’s humour always tended towards the obvious, and upon seeing his uncle, he giggles with childish glee, calling him Uncle Vulcan. Clavdivs takes this as his cue to recite some ass-saving Homer, and when Marcus interjects to plead for help, Caligula agrees to spare them if the next line of poetry is apt. Lucky for them, Clavdivs is able to spin the text favourably, and the men are saved. Caligula escorts his uncle to another room to clean up, but not before issuing Cassius with a humiliating watchword for the night. Dude glowers with fury but says nothing to the emperor’s face, instead sloping towards the tent flaps to stare at the rain, muttering darkly to Marcus and Aspernas.

Back inside the tent, Caligula is delighted with the way he’s managed to combine the nightly watchword update with systemic workplace bullying, and while Clavdivs laughs obligingly, he also asks the reason for it. Turns out wussy Cassius only blubbed like a big girl’s blouse after a traitor he’d been obliged to torture died under questioning without giving up any useful evidence. I mean, where are we when soldiers value human life? As is his wont the conversation PIVOTS back to the most important matter at hand. Caligula. Crazy. Do you think he is?

Clavdivs assures him that he’s quite the stable genius, and although Caligula is inclined to agree, it doesn’t quite square with his inability to sleep for more than a few hours at a time or his semi-permanent hoof &  bass earworm. Clavdivs suggests it could be the strain of wearing a mortal disguise, which seems to mollify Caligula for a moment before he wonders why he, an actual god, hadn’t worked this out himself before his known dimwit uncle had. Especially since he’s also that one true messiah the Jews have prophesied. This hot!news!ITEM! is so fresh not even the Jews know it yet, but Clavdivs can hardly take this in to snarkily report to Herod before the next PIVOT. Caligula wants his uncle to join him in following the plan to 1) sell swag/earn coin, 2) defeat the “Germans”, then 3) wage war on Neptune. What could possibly go wrong? To quote Billy Bragg, it’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n roll / from Top of the Pops to drawing the dole, so you can expect another PIVOT right back out of his favour.

When Caligula returns to Rome, he’s not angry, just disappointed at the lack of street parties, floral tributes or new pudding invented in his honour. Wait, the other thing – he’s fucking livid. When a trembling senator reminds his emperor they’d been actively proscribed from doing so, it triggers a tailspin of twisted logic. Namely, they should not have taken him at his word, because obviously his humble nature prevented him from commanding such a thing. But also, they should have just known. Also also, he’s shocked they aren’t using their free will to worship him.

PIVOT. He’s further shocked they had the audacity to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Actium, and now I have to pause for the overwhelming stench of this BS. I mean to say. Imperial Rome *not* celebrating Actium, the battle that basically spelled the official end of the Republic and set up the first imperial dynasty? Rob poor Horace of his annual gig (yes, yes, I know he’s long dead by now)? The ‘logic’ is that they have snubbed the Mark Antony side of his family because – little known fact – his granny Antonia was (contin. page 94).

PIVOT. To the spoils of war! Abiding Teenage Memory time, and I am happy to report this scene is exactly as I recall. Soldiers upend a trunk to cascade the ‘booty’ – i.e. seashells – onto the floor, soundtracked by Caligula’s demented cackling. The senators murmur in the background but don’t have the brass swingers to say anything and instead try to weasel their way back into his graces by telling him about the new temple they’ve built in his honour on Palatine Hill. NOT GOOD ENOUGH, snaps Caligula and is on the point of slaughtering them all but is prevented by Clavdivs, the ever unsung hero, with the help of Caesonia. They massage his ego by begging him not to sully his great victory by adding the deaths of these losers into the history books. And what will Julia think when she’s reading about her pa’s divine victory? This ‘prayer’ softens his heart.

Before he can go, Marcus, in a desperate act of sycophancy, cheers  Caligula for chastising the senators’ celebration of Actium. Caligula is pleased with this set-up, since he had them either way – insult Mark Antony by honouring the anniversary or insult Augustus by not. Marcus ploughs on to note it also honoured his maternal grandfather, Marcus Agrippa; bad move. Caligula snaps that they aren’t friends anymore and flounces out. Clavdivs explains to a visibly befuddled Marcus that Caligula was embarrassed that his patrician lineage was tainted with equestrian blood. Cassius steps out of the background to lob a truth bomb: if you’re not Caligula’s friend, that makes you his enemy. Marcus tells him to piss off, but Cassius warns him that pretty soon everyone will be not just his enemy, but his dead enemy.

Late night/early morning in Clavdivs and Calpurnia’s pad, and there is a knocking without. Calpurnia begs him not to answer, since it could be assassins (do they bother knocking?). Clavdivs, quite the inconsiderate neighbour, shouts out of the shutters to ask who it is and discovers Cassius ordering him to the palace at once: don’t dress, just throw a cloak over your jim-jams and vamoose.

At the palace, it’s curtains for Clavdivs, Marcus and Aspernas. Literally – it’s SHOWTIME! Like all divas worth their salt, Caligula has made his audience wait two hours for his reverse command performance, one where the audience is commanded to attend. Every moment of this scene lives up to all my Abiding Teenage Memories. Caligula, slathered with panto dame makeup that would probably make Trixie Mattel kiss her teeth and deliver a scathing lecture about contouring, minces around the stage with gay abandon. He looks even happier than when ~*Sejanus*~ thought he was going to be made Tiberius’s heir multiplied by a thousand.

This routine is so delicious I wanted to eat it with the cutlery Brian Blessed used on all his scenes. There’s so much to love here: the obvious thought and effort he put into the production, his evident joy in performing, and the fact that he appears to be wearing Drusilla’s wig. Teenage me watched this as many times as possible before returning the VHS to the library, both transfixed and wracked with confusion akin to the stirrings roused by seeing Dave Foley in drag. The men, however, are transfixed like deer frozen in headlights.

They applaud with crazed relief at the conclusion, with Clavdivs managing a very subtle dig in his effusive praise. Caligula notes this is a mere rehearsal and then asks his uncle if he liked the girl. When Clavdivs says he did, calling Messalina – for it is she – beautiful, Caligula can hardly get his plans out between hysterical laughter. He’s going to marry the two tomorrow. What a lark! That such loveliness should be married to such a gross old man like Clavdivs. Messalina can’t bring herself to look at either of the men and murmurs her thanks to the floor. Caligula leaves in stitches, but not before issuing Cassius with another embarrassing watchword. Marcus has had his very last nerve shredded to smithereens and indicates he’s all in on any potential coup-ing.

Clavdivs apologises to Messalina, but to his shock, she seems fine with her situation. While it’s hard to believe she could ever wish for this enforced betrothal, when she says being married to him will make her feel safe, it does track and is probably sincere, though very misguided. Unfortunately, my internalised misogyny klaxon blared throughout, because the ‘innocent widdle girl’ voice deployed by women to manipulate men with their sexy baby schtick is my least favourite kind of this, and so I wince at pretty much every scene with her.

And yet, I don’t fault Clavdivs for falling hook, line and sinker. After a lifetime of abuse, even the tiniest crumbs of love and acceptance, no matter how insincere or weaponised, are as a feast. Without experience of stable, unconditional love to compare with, he had no defence against her love-bombing. He’s barely able to squeak a goodbye out without crying. In many ways, this is the best time of his life – nice flatmate, in Caligula’s good graces, and about to marry a cute girl. This short scene is in many ways harder to witness than the abject cruelty he faced from the women in his family.

Like Clavdivs’s first marriage, the wedding is a small affair. Except this time, he’s got actual friends in attendance, including Calpurnia who is more than proud to lead him into the ceremony. He bows before a sniggering Caligula and then again to Messalina, blushing in her red flammeum. She’s keeping up the submissive lowered eyes and baby-talk act throughout, a pointed contrast to how Plautia towered over him at his first wedding. But the real star of the wedding is the honourable Senator Incitatus.

Another Abiding Teenage Memory is spot-on; this is just as hilarious as I remember. But do let’s make allowances for Consul Horsey; it’s his first wedding, and he’s a bit nervous. So watch where you step.

And now for *actual* plotting instead of the fictions brewed in Caligula’s fevered imagination. Cassius is spitting feathers and wants to *deep breath* kill him kill him kill him KILL HIM. Aspernas has no problem, but Marcus dithers, though eventually agrees, since things are worsening exponentially. The conspirators agree to strike the very next day, which also happens to be the last day of the games. If they can isolate the emperor from the “German” mercenaries who serve as his personal guard by luring him to the pathway behind the imperial loggia and then creating a diversion long enough for them to slam the outside doors shut, Cassius is more than happy to deliver the stab-o-gram himself. And then they can appeal to the Senate to restore the Republic.

The men argue the ethics of sparing the imperial family. Cassius wants them all dead: Caesonia and baby Julia, as well as Caligula’s surviving sisters, and even Clavdivs and Messalina. This is a bridge too far for Marcus, who is in for Caligula alone or not at all. Cassius munches a thinkin’ grape, then nods assent, but when Marcus leaves, he confesses to Aspernas that he gonna do it anyway.

At the games, Caligula ignores the main show in favour of throwing dice and has a resultant hissy fit during a losing streak. Chekhov’s dice appear as Clavdivs saves the day for the third time, a courtesy for which he will never be thanked, while Marcus, whose face is a PICTURE, tries to convince Caligula to step out for a swim and snack. Instead, the emperor turns his attention to the fight, because the crowd has found a champion. Despite anger from the sound effect Mixed Outdoor Crowd – Large crowd of men rioting, with boos and shouts, Caligula won’t spare the man with a thumbs-up, because he says the dude lost him a lot of money over the years. So like his great-granny, he too resents the gladiators’ professional practice of survival.

Meanwhile, Cassius has blocked the passage and arranged for the mercenary palace guard to be dismissed, ostensibly so they too can attend the games. He’s more than ready to strike the first blow.

Caligula’s ‘winning streak’ ends when everyone else’s cash runs out. It’s a broad contrast with Augustus’s last days partying in Nola before he pissed poisoned figs out of his ass and died. There, the object of gambling was to have fun, so he doled out winnings to his chums to keep the good times rolling. Instead, Caligula crows about his victory, because his broke ass is selling great-granny’s tchotchkes to replenish the privy purse, with a side order of degradation for the losers.

In a rare moment of what can’t exactly be called kindness but maybe just non-cruelty, Caligula offers his uncle a reward for giving him the ‘lucky’ dice. However, when Clavdivs says he has already been rewarded because of how happy he is with Messalina, Caligula PIVOTS to anger. Clavdivs isn’t supposed to be happy; he’s supposed to be humiliated! He’s mollified as quickly as he was riled when Clavdivs amends his comment to assure him that he, Clavdivs, is joyful because of Caligula’s joy. It’s hard work keeping up with the dude’s mental gymnastics, but Clavdivs has had a lot of experience, and Caligula is stuffed with arrogance-led stupidity.

Marcus tries to sneak away unnoticed but when caught, cites an important meeting with Senator Latrine. This makes Caligula suspicious since Marcus was just trying to coax him outside for a snack, which doesn’t square with having the presumed trots (it could have been a waz, dude!). He can’t work out what’s making Marcus so nervous lately, and we’ll just let that statement clang onto the floor like so many purged enemies.

Outside, Marcus relays the bad news to Cassius and as such is ready to bail on the whole operation. But Cassius is beyond Clinically Fed Up, so much so that he’s prepared to charge in and kill the man himself, and hang the consequences. Marcus concocts a better idea, which for some reason has just now occurred to him, which is to tell Caligula the Greek ballet arrived and are desperate to meet him.

Caligula is more than happy to meet the dancers but commands them to attend the imperial loggia. On a roll now, Marcus says that the dancers have a special routine they want to perform exclusively for him, and this appeal to his vanity finally works, possibly so he can take notes for his upcoming Venus Unchained show.

As Caligula steps into the corridor, the doors swing shut behind him as planned, cutting him off from his “German” personal guard. Cassius announces the final watchword: LIBERTY, and it’s goodbye to Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, aka our beloved Little Boot. He lets rip a scream that would make his female ancestors proud, but you can hardly blame him; this is one of the goriest deaths depicted so far. None of them have been entirely bloodless, but so far they haven’t been the violent, spurting kind.

As with Livia’s death, it’s difficult to watch this camp monster die when exposed as small and confused. His bewildered gods can’t die? makes his final cry to Drusilla even sadder. And while there’s a lot to dislike about his characterisation, I am struck by this show’s ability to evoke sympathy to those who don’t really deserve it. Eventually, the Praetorian guard break the doors down and proceed to gawk in confusion before Clavdivs orders them to pursue the murderers before running away himself.

Trigger warning: infanticide. Back at the palace, Cassius and his men storm Caesonia’s room. She stares him down for a fraction of a second, but before she can grab Julia out of her crib, the baby is slaughtered in front of her eyes. I mean come on, lads, have courtesy and at least knife mum first; there’s no need to add a war crime glace cherry on the massacre sundae. Caesonia’s off-screen murder is relayed with animalistic grunts that border on the comedic, but the camera can’t resist a final pan to her corpse. Jesus wept – it’s clear the earlier scene when Clavdivs visited the two was intended for more than just an explanation of his visit. Much like seeing ~*Sejanus*~’s children outside the Senate, the emotional manipulation is masterful.

Clavdivs staggers around the palace, looking for a hiding place ahead of the Praetorian guard who arrive to loot whatever they can before the mercenaries arrive. Yet another Abiding Teenage Memory is correct: he WAS cowering behind some draperies when found. At first, the Praetorian guard assume he is part of the coup, but when identified as the emperor’s feeble-minded uncle (“Germanicus’s lame-o brother”, to be precise) he is spared, though risks death by patronisation.

The Praetorian guard consider life under a republic and find it wanting, because with no emperor to protect, it’s back to the barracks and active warfare for them. Unless they make this dimwitted puppet their emperor! Clavdivs protests as much as he can, but no one takes a bit of notice and hoist him on their shoulders like a quarterback homecoming king, while Cassius lurks sour-faced in the background. The “Germans” arrive but just a minute, Herman – hail Emperor Clavdivs! Freeze frame!

Bugle blast! Next time – Will Clavdivs take the win and use his newly acquired power to steer Rome back to the republic of his dreams? Will he find peace and love at last with Messalina? All will be revealed next time on ‘Fool’s Luck’!