Now, where were we? Ah yes – Rome was awash with purged blood and uncomfortable alliances. In this week’s opening flash-forward, Old Clavdivs is fiddling, with ink-stained fingers, the jade talisman that failed to keep Germanicus safe. Like Proust’s madeleine, it triggers a flood of memories, and now he’s not holding back – this is the real dank tea-spill, though the less said about the final years of Tiberius’s reign, the better. He’d made Caligula his principal heir but also had a backup in his grandson, Gemellus, should Caligula die.

On Capri, Tiberius lies motionless in bed, Macro’s head on his chest like a distraught lover, but he’s just checking the old man for signs of breathing. Finding none, he declares the death of the emperor to the obvious delight of Caligula, who orders Macro to remove the ring bearing the imperial seal and give it to him. The ring does not come off easily, and there is a distinct twig-snapping sound that I really could have done without.

Caligula steps outside to inform the senators and spin a very creative yarn that Tiberius handed over his seal with the last words: “I die in peace, little Gaius, knowing you rule in my place”. At this point, Caligula fell to his knees and wept, and did NOT do a little jig of happiness.

But his joy is short-lived. A slave interrupts to say that the emperor’s alive!

This dude’s wig looks like it came from a box marked ‘young Clavdivs fringe experiments: do not use’. I’m not sure who it is the actor reminds me of – is it Christopher Walken? – but he’s got a very pronounced cupid’s bow which is the kind of thing that sends my dear ma bananas when present on humans who haven’t been socialised to think this trait is an aspirational beauty standard. Also, if you squint, the senator in the background looks a bit like Steve Pemberton. Anyway, Caligula panics and returns the seal – or tries to – but level-headed Macro dismisses the slave as stupid and wrong. The slave insists he’s alive, and although the senators are confused, they aren’t curious enough to follow Macro or Caligula thirty steps inside to check for themselves.

In his chambers, Tiberius stumbles out of bed and wants a beef and a goblet of wine, but Macro overwhelms the frail lecher and muffles him to death with his own pillow. After he places the pillow under his head, we get one final look at the blistering, pustule-ridden face of Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus. The solemnity doesn’t last, as Macro’s “I told you he was dead” swings back to the pitch-black humour this show excels at. Caligula won’t forget Macro’s loyalty.

Caligula informs the senators that Tiberius is DEFINITELY DEAD for sure, and there’s gonna be a grand funeral back at Rome, in the meantime: HAIL ME! The men are stoked that a son of Germanicus, whom they really wanted as emperor, is now in power and will usher in a new golden age that will totally shred.

In Rome, Antonia is surprised by a visit from her favourite son. No, not Clavdivs, but his chum Herod Agrippa, who has somehow developed an even stronger accent during his absence from Rome. They exchange pleasantries before introducing him to Gemellus. The kid is puffed with pastry and pride at being made an alternate heir to his cousin, which is already giving him an attitude.

Even this kid knows that Clavdivs is the family’s confirmed scapegoat, so instead of directing this burn at Antonia, who fat-shamed him in the first place, goes for the easy victim. After he leaves, Antonia defends him by explaining that he comfort-eats because Livilla was a shitty mother (ma’am!).

No one acknowledges the obvious truth that Clavdivs is also self-medicating with alcohol because of his shitty mother. Antonia won’t talk about how she starved her slutty daughter to death while stationed outside to prevent her from escape or rescue, ignoring her pleas for mercy and bearing witness to her agonised screams. Even though she just spent a few minutes doing just so. And she would do it again. But hey – Caligula can’t be worse than Tiberius, right?

The man of the hour addresses the adoring senate with his sister Drusilla by his side. He’ll happily accept all his dope new titles, as well as the consulship from retiring Lentulus (aka Senator Toady). Well done, lads – do hand over unfettered power to a dude the second he steps into office solely based on the fact that you liked his dad. Brills. Caligula’s first order is to gather all ~*Sejanus~*’s dossiers and have them publicly burned. That’s…actually a good idea, bro!

More decrees follow: in honour of Firebrand Pina, there will be a new festival: think Cheltenham meets Gladiator. Yay! Also September shall henceforth be known as Germanicus, much like August was named after Octavian’s honorific. That, too, seems somewhat justifiable. But then Caligula is gripped with a pounding headache and dismisses the senators, who instead ignore this directive to gawk at the unfolding scene. Drusilla offers to escort her bro to her chambers to ‘comfort him’ (ew).

On their way out, they cross paths with a coughing Gemellus and Clavdivs. This is fortuitous, since it allows Caligula to announce the colleague with whom he will share consulship – NO, NOT THE KID – his uncle Clavdivs! Comedy moments in this show tend towards either the dark or the borderline-slapstick, as here when Clavdivs glances around in confusion to try to figure out who his nephew meant to appoint. Caligula leads his uncle into the room, breezing past the crowd of befuddled senators for another bit of blocking excellence, declaring they will rule together.

Clavdivs protests he’s forgotten all the protocol but only incurs Caligula’s wrath with his stammer. Also sending him batty is the constant throat-clearing from Gemellus. The kid claims a weak chest, and Caligula’s immature comebacks are pure comedy gold – every time Caligula loses his shit at Gemellus, I both laugh and refuse to condemn him. Earlier this year I contracted laryngitis, which gave me a continuous cough, and then for weeks afterwards, I was compelled to clear my throat about 50 times a day, and even I wanted to smack me.

Now we’re cooking with barely sane gas, because Caligula pivots from topic to topic as though dancing on hot coals – from whinging about his uncle’s superior barnet, to arranging Clavdivs’s living quarters to be nearer the imperial family’s, to commissioning statues to the dead brothers he never liked, in short order. He’s aware that the statues will be expensive, but the privy purse is groaning with 27 million gold coins.

But there’s bad news – the balance is nowhere near that amount, since Tiberius had a lot of debt. Caligula, somewhat understandably, freaks out, though shouting ‘I should have killed him when I had the chance’ wasn’t very wise. He can’t get too long into his tantrum before his headaches return, and just in case we don’t understand what he meant when he compares the sound to that of a stampede of horses, an illustrative sound effect is provided. This sound was one of my Abiding Teenage Memories, though I also inserted the occasional whinny, which wasn’t actually present, but it still makes me laugh, and to this day, whenever I have a headache, I conjure up this sound. Drusilla gives him a sloppy kiss, and somehow, no one ralphs.

Caligula spins his outburst into a self-aggrandising story, though he is interrupted by Gemellus who WON’T STOP FUCKING COUGHING, and then circles back to the cash reserves as though he’d not just had that conversation, then snarls at Senator Toady for repeating himself. It’s becoming evident to the senators that the apple has fallen far, far from the tree.

Clavdivs, sensing the child is in danger, wants to escort him to his room, but Caligula must first explain his earlier outburst. His story took place on Capri, back when he was still naive and capable of being shocked at Tiberius’s disgusting lifestyle. He realised he had a moral duty to assassinate the man, and one night, plagued with insomnia thinking about his dead ma and bros, he took his pa’s knife with the intention of killing Tiberius in his sleep. But then he heard the divine voice of Augustus himself. Also that’s the first time he heard the headache-hooves, which is more of an aside to himself.

He soon gets deep into his story, which I’m only half-convinced is a whole fiction, giving his best Oscar reel, parading up and down the floor. Augustus assured him that he needn’t avenge his family, because Tiberius was hell-bound and destined to pay for his evil misdeeds. The ebb and flow of hoofbeat sound effects overwhelm him, and he falls to the floor sobbing and shrieking in front of the dumbstruck senators. Yay, Caligula!

Clavdivs has taken his role as consul seriously and has indeed arranged for a rush-sculpt job. But as ever, he gets the usual lip and zero respect. It would appear that word is out that Caligula is unwell, so the artisans don’t see the point in trying to finish the order in time for the upcoming games.

It’s a fair guess. Macro confirms that Caligula has fallen into a coma, and apart from a brief awakening, he’s not showing any signs of consciousness. Senator Toady makes a big song and dance of how he’s going to offer up prayers and sacrifices, and has offered the gods his own life if it means Caligula lives, because his death would cause even more chaos for Rome than when Germanicus croaked. Macro sticks a pin in this comment for later reference.

Drusilla approaches Clavdivs and Herod, who are having dinner together. She’s in a total flap because Caligula is conscious again and has entered full-on bitchcakes mode. He tried to strangle her because she didn’t love him enough; in fact, he wants to kill everyone who doesn’t say what he wants. She pleads with Clavdivs to go to him, begging that he humour her brother. As this is second nature to Clavdivs, who has survived so far by playing the fool and has advanced degrees in both Fawnology and Fawnonomy, he doesn’t appear too worried.

Caligula declares himself a changed man from what wasn’t an illness but a metamorphosis that he compares to a mother delivering herself. When Clavdivs questions the nature of the change, Caligula puts a sword to his throat, shouting that it should be obvious. Not missing a beat, Clavdivs falls to his knees, berating himself for not seeing that Caligula has become a god. He sucessfully oils his way into the madman’s graces by affecting to suffer from the light emanating from Caligula’s face and compares him to young Roman gods. Caligula recalls that Martina’s tales of the Greek gods taught him that the Roman versions were ersatz copies compared to these OG greats, and that he himself was more like Zeus. Except better, since he killed his pa when he was only ten years old. So it looks like Martina-Nursie nurtured his delusions in the same way way she nurtured Queenie’s (they were magnificent orange elephants), and there’s something in the way that Caligula agrees that his holy visage is too bright for mere mortals to gaze upon that reminds me of how Queenie said, ‘Yes, I’m sure they will!’ when Lady Farrow wished that flights of angels would sing her to her eternal rest.

Caligula is certainly the new Zeus, why not, but he continues to one-up the god by noting that whereas Zeus only shagged one of his sisters, he’s banged all three! In fact, didn’t Zeus marry his sister Hera? And she then bore his child? Clavdivs recaps that delightful myth but corrects his nephew to confirm that it was Zeus’s first wife Metis he’s thinking of, and since Zeus feared the child would overthrow him, he took the foetus from her body and swallowed it whole, causing Athena to spring fully grown from his forehead. He didn’t say whether or not Zeus heard any horsey sound effects when it happened.

Caligula used to think those stories were hogwash, but now he knows they are all true. Yay, Caligula! He’s always been divine, in fact so is Drusilla – it all makes sense now – and so he’ll announce this to the Senate. Clavdivs offers grovelly excuses that end up saving his life, as Caligula had summoned him to his chambers in order to kill him but has now changed his mind. He allows Clavdivs to leave and commands him to send in Drusilla next.

Clavdivs reports the news that Caligula and Drusilla are gods (‘not us, though’, he deadpans to Herod). In all honesty, it’s a bit of a giggle, since when Caligula announces his divinity, the senators will see the guy is barking mad. The only logical step will be a return to the Republic – trebles all round!

Lol no. Macro is in it to win it and, as such, prepares the senators for this glorious news in advance. Listen up, winguses and dinguses: Caligula is a god, but BE COOL and BE GRATEFUL he’s decided to keep his mortal form. Also he’s now married to his also-divine sister. Get it? Got it? Brills. Yay, Caligula! The senators immediately justify this nonsense by arguing that it’s not a far jump from worshipping dead god Augustus to worshipping his still alive great-grandson.

Caligula and Drusilla enter to fanfare and reverence. Senator Toady expects a reward for his brown-nose prayer, but in fact, it’s just the opposite. As his offer was accepted by the gods, now he must deliver on his promise. As the awful realisation dawns on his face, Caligula announces he’s off on a whistle-stop tour around Rome so the people can see their new living god. He may be almighty, but his distress tolerance for his young cousin’s coughing is not improving. He leaves with a final reminder for Clavdivs to get going on those statues.

Antonia is pissed that no man has the cojones to strike Caligula down. Clavdivs, ever sensible, notes the thousand-strong guard ~*Sejanus*~ left behind as his legacy. Plus, he himself has never killed anyone, and besides, everyone believes Caligula’s madness will run its course. Antonia can’t fathom why Clavdivs won’t just poison him, in which case, lady, YOU do it, it’s got to be easier than listening to your daughter’s weakening cries for mercy as she dies of starvation. She did see the whole sister-wife thing coming a mile away, and you can tell she’s wishing she starved them out as children. In fact, she’d rather kill herself than live as a coward.

AND YET when Firebrand Pina wanted to continue her quest for justice for Germanicus – the ONE child Antonia actually loved – she was like ‘eh, what can we do’, which just plain suuuucks. Clavdivs speaks for most normal folk when he says they just want to live and that Caligula is proper gone, citing the fact that Macro’s men have enforced Senator Toady’s suicide. Antonia storms out in a huff, with Clavdivs and Herod left to tut over the depleted public purse and the gross happenings transpiring in Caesar’s palace. Herod ends the scene with a gem of wisdom about how the tree of the glorious produce two kinds of fruit: sweet and red (what).

Caligula and Drusilla end their walkabout in the temple to Jove and Juno, whom they mock as being inferior to them. Caligula will now hold court here, as he deems appropriate for a god and as such will arrange a bridge to be constructed that links the temple with the palace. It seems like a good time for Drusilla to tell her brother she’s up the duff, and the proud papa carries her to the statue of Juno to rub it in her face. Drusilla is on top form with some excellent poetic BS.

Clavdivs continues to beef about the now-overdue statues. You can tell by the man’s geezer accent that the reasons for the delay are a load of bollocks. Although Nero is ready, Clavdivs isn’t satisfied, since the whole point is that both brothers are honoured. Both men threaten to sue one another, and it ends with a bit of barely funny comic relief. I do understand – and mostly appreciate – the need for lighter scenes, but this is more info that could have been bypassed with a few lines of expository dialogue. It’s a shame that these moments are prioritised over giving characters some actual context for their motivations.

Clavdivs tries to break the bad news to Caligula, but he’s far too distracted by his godlike sense of hearing that forces him to hear motherfucking Gemellus coughing all the way on the other side of the palace. His superior aural gifts are actually a curse, a burden that is his alone to bear; not even Hera can hear-a it (sorry). Clavdivs steers the conversation back to the statues, but again Caligula runs with the topic in another direction. He’s cheesed that none of the god statues in Rome bear his or Drusilla’s image and so instructs Clavdivs – apparently the statue liaison officer for Rome – to fix them, starting with giving Venus Drusilla’s likeness. He also shares the good news of his impending fatherhood, but he does worry about the kid’s potential to rule the universe.

Finally, Clavdivs is able to deliver the bad news, causing Caligula to freak out and nearly murder his uncle (again). He’s interrupted by Macro, brandishing the severed head of Gemellus. Nestled within all the hokeyness of this show, there are truly horrific moments like this one, which will haunt my nightmares for a while. And yet, I can’t help but feel like this is Caligula at his most relatable. Who among us, given limitless power and a sea of flunkies, wouldn’t do the same? I ask you. Clavdivs sobs in horror, asking his nephew what he’s done, and Caligula’s dry ‘I cured his cough’ is even better than my Abiding Teenage Memory of this moment. Yay, Caligula!

He dismisses Clavdivs as his consul, and Clavdivs escapes with his life, if not his dignity (though it could be argued Antonia took that decades ago). Caligula pleads with Drusilla to wake up and soothe him because it’s Hoof Time in the Hoedown Arena of his braincase again. She continues to sleep, possibly faking it to avoid getting involved in all the craziness. Caligula caresses her bump, murmuring that no one should be greater than Zeus, not even the child of Zeus.

As Gemellus was declared a traitor, much to the dismay of Clavdivs, Herod and Antonia, his funeral was not well-attended. Antonia sends Herod away, so she can speak to Clavdivs in private, bidding him a curiously final ‘goodbye’ to his evident confusion. She’s not exaggerating, as she tells her son that she has arranged to end her life with an honourable Roman suicide. It’s heartbreaking to see his anguished response and her disgust at his tearful reaction. She admits that she’s been a terrible mother and with hindsight should have ended her life after she killed Livilla. Nothing will dissuade her, and even while issuing her final instructions that Clavdivs ensures her hand is cut off and buried separately, as necessary for the rite for suicide, she can’t resist insulting him. But probably the hardest thing to witness is her goodbye kiss, which is the first and last show of on-screen affection we’ve seen between the two.

Clavdivs paces outside, awaiting news of his mother’s death. A slave confirms she is gone, soothing him with the news that it was an easy death. His mum was brave throughout, only calling to her dead husband to forgive her at the very end. Of course, Marc Antony’s daughter would be fearless. Did you know Marc Antony was Antonia’s father? I would understand if not, since it hasn’t been mentioned very often. The slave also reassures Clavdivs that she’s done the whole hand-severing thing and arranged for its separate burial, for one final maternal burn. Derek Jacobi’s distraught face is physically painful to witness.

Drusilla glides around calling for her Zeussy but instead finds Clavdivs, who is angry because she didn’t attend her gran’s funeral. Drusilla’s slurred excuse is that gods don’t attend funerals, and when he accuses her of being drunk, she explains that she’s in fact robo-tripping off a Caligula-brewed concoction. High as a kite, she just might stop to check her uncle out, draping her arms around his neck to advise that she, Hera, or Diana, or Metis or whoever her confused brother believes her to be, has a bun in the oven. Instead of warning his niece about that myth, Clavdivs scolds her for pandering to Caligula’s madness. Which is a dick move, but also confusing that he can’t understand her behaviour is keeping her alive, much like he feigns dimwittedness. They are all afraid, even Caligula; she places Clavdivs’s hands on her bump, telling him her brother fears their child could be more powerful than he. Clavdivs allows his niece to labour (sorry again) under the delusion that this fear gives her leverage, and again he fails to warn her.

And now to That Scene. My Abiding Teenage Memory was somewhat inaccurate. Caligula is even more horrifying than I remember and not just because of the jump-scare.  Drusilla finds him in a room covered with feathers and featuring a ‘chariot’ to drive her to Olympus, but not before plying her with more ‘tussin. It’s miracle time! He places her hands in ‘golden bracelets’ (manacles), and undresses her with the promise it won’t (John) Hurt (there was no call for that, I’M SO SORRY, FRIENDS).

At last, and way too late, Drusilla hears about the full plan to recreate The Athena Situation (name of my shoegaze band), which she’s totally cool with, assuming it’s some sort of game, until she notices the giant knife he’s wielding. Caligula lets the hoof-beat…droooop! while Drusilla’s screams nearly drown out Clavdivs’s desperate hammering on the door. When the door opens, Caligula appears considerably less stoked than he’d been anticipating after murdering his sister-lover and devouring their genetically compromised foetus. Eyes vacant, mouth slicked with blood, he instructs his uncle not to enter the room. Clavdivs ignores him and does it anyway, and the final shot is his horrified face. And not, as per my incorrect Abiding Teenage Memory, Drusilla’s mutilated body. There is a non-zero chance that I did see this, since Wikipedia notes:

As alluded to in the 2002 documentary I, Claudius: A Television Epic, the original version included a closing shot after Caligula has cut the fetus from Drusilla’s womb, which was considered very shocking. It was therefore re-edited several times, even on the day of its premiere, by order of Bill Slater, then Head of Serials Department. After initial broadcast and a rerun two days later, the scene was edited again, so that the episode is now “somewhat attenuated”. The “slightly nastier version” of the episode’s closing (a scene that used “makeup on her belly”) was only shown twice in 1976 and is now lost since the BBC no longer has a copy of it. Pulman noted that the original script for the episode ended with “a long shot showing the butchered woman hanging on a chariot“. It’s far more likely that the videotapes I rented were the version that aired on PBS, and so the final scene was probably edited accordingly.

BUGLE BLAST. Next time – Will Caligula ever stop never stopping? Will Clavdivs finally garner a modicum of respect? All will be revealed next time on ‘Hail Who?