This week’s flash-forward is just a few frames of Clavdivs, continuing to write into the night. The scene dissolves into a view of Messawina and her lover, the Greek actor Mnester, rolling around in a post-coital glow. She assesses the damage her vampish talons have done to his back, which concerns him since he’s playing Ulysses in a play that afternoon, washed up on shore and thus topless. When it’s clear he intends to take his leave, she first pouts, then becomes angry and slaps and threatens him. He fights back, but it turns sexy, and she gets her way, as he ends up hanging around.

While Clavdivs has been off reconquering Britain, she has taken on many lovers, partly out of boredom, but also as a kind of art form. She explains that when she’s fucking, she’s searching for some kind of intangible goal she can’t describe, but that she knows is just out of reach. When she’s in the heat of the moment, she feels as though she can take all the men of Rome in one night and wind up stronger. This inspires Mnester to suggest they arrange a Tournament of Love, whereby Messawina would challenge the Guild of Prostitutes to supply a contender (the interminable vs the inexhaustible), so she can test her skills. She’s initially angry but turns on a dime to get super into it, since she’s positive she’ll win. Even against Scylla, the Guild’s president, whose reputation is the best, or maybe the worst. O tempora, o mores indeed.

Meanwhile Pallas and Narcissus talk turkey about the successful military campaign in Britain. As the savages are nearly subdued, Clavdivs will be returning to Rome imminently. The men, whom we previously saw conspiring to fix corn prices via a misleading survey, are all like, ‘Ah crap, do we tell him about his wife’s serial adultery or not? We’ve been sparing his feelings so far.’ Fine, whatever, we all contain multitudes. But it’s clear they have been dithering about telling him about Messawina for a while and just keep kicking the can down the road.

Let the Competitive Sexing begin! Mnester, our MC for the event, performs some cheeky poetry to get the crowd amped for sitting in an antechamber as the listening-pervert audience. Scylla arrives with as much dignity as she can muster beneath her terrible wig. The scene is strewn with bawdy jokes and saucy wordplay throughout the competitors’ pre-game trash talk. But when Scylla realises the event is held entirely for sport and no profit, she sneers that her profession is Messawina’s hobby, and while hers is gardening, she wouldn’t expect to be paid for it. The comment visibly stings, however Messawina does confirm that Scylla will be paid – win or lose – three gold pieces per head (hee). And they’re off!

Word gets around fast to Pallas, via Justus, who is desperate to write to Clavdivs, because Messawina’s behaviour has finally gone too far. Pallas asks if Justus has approached anyone else, and Justus confirms he has told his direct superior, Colonel Rufrius (not Refries, autocorrect). But Rufrius said that as Clavdivs would be returning to Rome shortly, he should wait it out. Justus believes that now there is irrefutable proof instead of strong suspicions, they should finally tell Clavdivs. Pallas is less keen, since it’s hardly the easiest thing to write: Dear The Big Boss With Power Over Life and Death, your wife is fucking half of Rome, and we’ve suspected it for a while but are only telling you now that she’s started a wager to see who can shag the most dudes. Please come back and tell her to knock it off; it’s super-cringe. Yours etc., a mid-ranking equestrian.

Justus isn’t having it and threatens to write to Clavdivs himself if Pallas won’t and is on the point of storming out when Pallas sighs he’s being stupid. Because Rufrius is one of Messawina’s inner circle of friends, and as such, he’s probably already warned her about Justus, if he’s been poking around her affairs. And if so, she’s had time to report to Clavdivs. Pallas rather glibly notes that there could already be a death warrant with his name on it winging its way to Britain. Justus then tries to threaten Pallas into supporting him (what), but Pallas recently had a full sympathectomy and so has nothing for the man. BYE JUSTUS.

Back to the Fuck Olympics, where a disheveled and limping Scylla forfeits to roars of mocking laughter. But not before getting her coin, which Mnester jangles in front of her, doing that immature thing where you invite someone to take an item from you but keep dancing back a few steps so it’s always just out of reach. She finally grabs the purse and storms out, calling them amateurs as she leaves. The outside non-spectating listening audience are delighted to hear Messawina is still going.

Capitoline Wolf extreme close-up – whoa! Fanfare introduces Clavdivs, but unlike Scylla, his limping gait is met with cheers and applause. The savages of Britain have been subdued, and the land is now re-established as a Roman colony. No shade on the divine Julius, but he really left the joint in a bad state. Okay, maybe some shade, and disembodied Clavdivs butts in to brag that official triumphs weren’t handed out very often. Like Germanicus, he’ll be lauded with laurels and games and feasts. Whereas his brother may have taken it as a matter of course, he’s amazed that he, the stammering idiot, had become Rome’s golden son.

Flash-forward to more scribbling in the study, and be prepared to see this a lot in this episode, and for it to be no more necessary as a device than it ever is. He voiceovers that he would have gladly forgone all the glory and tributes if doing so would have prevented the tragedy about to unfold. The voiceover introduces a new scene, where we learn that just before Clavdivs left for Britain, Marsus Vibius, the governor of Syria, had been in contact with news that Good Ol’ Herod Agrippa was fortifying Jerusalem.

Clavdivs wonders if this is an act of aggression directed at Rome but then poo-poos the affirmative response, since he can’t fathom the reason. Vibius doesn’t give much truck to needing reasons, since Herod has also called a secret meeting of other local kings, which he can only assume will be to plan a revolt against Rome. Clavdivs still isn’t convinced and mentions a gossip-filled letter from Herod’s uncle, which said that Herod had come to believe he was the one true Messiah his people prophesied.

Then again, loads of dudes thought that they were, including our beloved Little Boot. Clavdivs gives this theory a tiny bit of credit, since Caligula did meet some of the criteria set by Thrasyllus, apart from the date of the messiah’s death. And since Thrasyllus never got dates wrong, that definitively ruled out Caligula. But there’s no point telling Herod about Thrasyllus’s predictions, since his faith proscribes taking advice from Roman augurs. Vibius agrees to research this Messiah stuff some more and report back, taking his leave as Messawina arrives.

She opens with her usual simpering, perched on his lap to fuss and worry about Herod’s potential definite-betrayal, though Clavdivs seems more hurt than concerned. Instead, he thanks his wife for writing to him about the Justus affair, which is now resolved. Sick buckets at the ready, as she asks him if he’ll be alone in his chambers tonight so she can visit, but if Calpurnia had planned to be there, she won’t embarrass him by interrupting. She’s totally cool with that! Clavdivs looks sheepish but doesn’t deny he’s been Spending Time with her. In a fair world, he would have married her, but there we go. Clavdivs assures her he’d love to see her for a marital piece, which appears to be free from strings, but no. She’s on the point of leaving and then, as a casual aside, asks if he could have a word with Mnester. He’s been quite the dick lately, refusing to put on plays she and her chums really want to see. So can Clavdivs tell him that when she asks for something, he’s to do it without question? Of course. Disembodied Clavdivs asks if there is anyone more foolish than an old man in love. To which I answer: every gender at every age is a fool in love to some degree of dipshittery.

Then we have some frankly ridiculous to-and-froing, where instead of a normal scene, the voiceover continues, with the actors miming the narration. This device was used earlier in the show, and it’s jarring and hokey, and I have no idea what purpose it serves. Clavdivs tells Mnester he’s to do whatever Messawina wants; dude’s like, anything? Yes! See how he plays right into her hands.

Flash-forward again in the study for a few frames as the plot thickens when he notes that Messwina had fallen ‘maniacally’ in love with Gaius Silius, Consul Elect and June 38 Hot Senators calendar model. Conveniently, Mnester was close with his family, so she’d asked him to introduce him to her, but out of respect for Silius’s wife, he had refused, which is why she’d asked Clavdivs to give him the directive to obey her. When they met, she first seduced Silius with her sexy mind, then manipulated his childhood trauma. His pa had been executed by Tiberius, and therefore he was already not especially fond of the imperial family. So when she made out that Clavdivs was even skeezier than his uncle, she managed to first garner his sympathy, and then they fell in *wuv*.

Vibius presents his report “The Messiah the Jews Prophesied: Maybe We Listen to Them for a Hot Minute?” As much as we all love Thrasyllus, actual Jewish people appear to have different terms and conditions for their Messiah. Namely, that said Messiah has to be a descendent of King David, born in Bethlehem, as well as having died 15 years ago, which does describe this dude the Greeks call Jesus. Clavdivs is curious about Herod’s view on Jesus and discovers it’s not much, since Herod is actively persecuting his followers. Then Clavdivs recalls that Herod was born in Bethlehem, which tracks with the earlier letter from Herod’s uncle, so he would genuinely appear to believe himself the Messiah his people so long prophesied. But Clavdivs knows he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy about to wage war on Rome, and they must act now or risk losing Egypt. His Good Friend is now his Sworn Enemy.

In the new palace, Domitia has a minor shit-fit when she finds some slaves removing a bust off the high shelves. They begin to explain, but Messawina barges in, threatening the men with whippings if they muck it up, since it’s a present for Silius. A very good tracking shot follows Domitia pursuing her daughter into her chambers while warning that her flagrant adultery is the talk of Rome. Messawina doesn’t care if she’s putting her life in danger, since she’s in *wuv*, and he’s getting divorced – on her orders, it would seem.

And now to another pointless flash-forward to drunken Old Clavdivs, ruminating via voiceover that he knew nothing of this affair, which we already know because Pallas and Narcissus told us earlier. It’s also the debut of the bitter old Clavdivs of the present, and he seems more upset that back then even the slaves knew more than he did and that they laugh at him to this day. And while I understand his behaviour is that of a man betrayed, and that being kind to your forced labour was hardly a virtue, I still maintain the one person you need on your side is your food-taster, especially given the long-game plot points yet to unfold. Then he mumbles Herod’s name aloud, and now it’s time for Disembodied Herod to repeat his warning to trust no one.

Back to the past, and news that Sworn Enemy Herod is now Dead Enemy Herod. After revealing his messianic nature to the High Priests, his next step was to let the masses know. He’d been hoping to unveil his status during an event honouring Clavdivs’s birthday. But as the ecstatic reaction he received was so intense, he began to see himself as God. Then, an owl dropped a very bad auspice, after which he croaked shortly thereafter in great pain and wracked with sores. Clavids and Vibius puzzle over who the real Messiah is or was but are cut off by disembodied Herod narrating the last letter he’d sent to his frenemy. It opens by addressing him as Marmoset, his affectionate childhood nickname, and is a mea culpa apologising for both betraying his friend as well as his faith, but noting his punishment is both severe and deserved.

Humour on this show can be hit and miss; I’ve noted it tends towards the dark or slapstick, but the real howlers are these moments of pure bathos. The line is delivered with a good deal of resigned sadness, but also kind of off-hand. Herod, with this final bit of drama queenliness, all is forgiven. I’d love to use MY BODY IS FULL OF MAGGOTS as an excuse from now on. I regret that I must tender my apologies for this tedious supplier operations meeting, but MY BODY IS FULL OF MAGGOTS. Even though the maggots in question may be have been literal (c.f. being wracked with sores), that shit is funny, certainly the funniest thing in this episode. My only real beef is that this is the one time where I would have liked to have seen the actor mime the narration, complete with anguished gesticulation. As it is, we just watch Clavdivs sadly shuffle away and are unable to see his reaction to MY BODY IS FULL OF MAGGOTS. But our comedy is Clavdivs’s tragedy, and now only he remains as the sole survivor of his varying circle of three besties.

Narration over mimed actors does feature over the next few scenes, which flip between watching Clavdivs writing in his study and the actors depicting the events he’s writing about. While Messawina sits curled on his lap (who does this as a grown-ass woman?), he explains that of all the dumbshit mistakes he’d made with her, allowing her the use of a duplicate imperial seal was probably the biggest. You may recall Livia also had this privilege until it was rescinded by Tiberius, so I guess a comparison is being drawn here, though I can hardly give it much weight.

And then we go back to the study, where he gets to the point in the story he says he began writing it. Not sure why this was needed, but whatever, back to Disembodied Clavdivs narrating over the vision of a nearly naked Messawina, who has flashed more boobage in this one episode than anyone else combined, writhing on a bed with Silius. She’s been deceiving Clavdivs so successfully that she has become bored.

When the voiceover finally stops, the playful naked tussling becomes a row. He wants Messawina to divorce Clavdivs so they can marry, but she’s less keen because her numbskullduggery doesn’t consider anything beyond the first move. Silius is convinced that all the certifiably bad shit they’ve done – such as judicial murder – in the name of keeping their relationship secret is going to catch up with them. But if they openly marry, their many and powerful friends who, like the rest of Rome, already know they’re bumping uglies,  will not only support them but actively turn against Clavdivs. And yes, this is another ham-fisted attempt at restoring the Republic, but to be fair, imperial rule was still in its infancy compared to several hundred years of republicanism. Still, dudes: get over yourselves.

They argue more about when to act, with Messawina initially rejecting the next day, since she’s got to attend some ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new harbour in Ostia. What an important call-back: tell us more about the corn prices, show, I’m on tenterhooks. But then she immediately backtracks and says fuck it, I’ll just cry off with a headache – gods know he’s used to that excuse.

And then we cut to yet another pointless flash-forward for some narration of what we’ve just seen. Quo usque tandem abutere, BBC, patientia nostra? And while you could argue that quoting Cicero twice in one recap is pretentious twattery, you would be correct, but I would counter that it’s apt. APT!

Over to the happy bigamists, soundtracked with disembodied Clavdivs saying that by the time he got to Ostia, Messawina and Silius had married. Then cut to Narcissus and Pallas in a flap because they *have* to tell him now or his life – and by extension theirs – will be in danger, because they understand this wedding is about to herald a coup. They also agree that when he is told, he must never see or hear from Messawina again so as to prevent bewitchment from her sexy baby voice. But since Clavdivs won’t believe them, they arrange for Calpurnia to drop the truth bomb.

Clavdivs arrives at her place and greets her with warmth but also confusion regarding the histrionic note she’d sent. He was right in the middle of a ram sacrifice, and man, were those entrails stank. He lays off the humour when he realises how frightened she is and comforts her, but when she gets a bit too weepy and gravelly without explanation, his patience is stretched. She begs him to trust her, and then the magic of three returns via a list of the only women he’s ever trusted: Antonia (oof), Messawina (obvs) and her. I’m disappointed she wasn’t part of his beloved friend trio, but I guess he must subscribe to the Harry Burns theory of friendship.

After hearing Messawina’s name, Calpurnia blurts out the awful news, which he won’t accept until she is forced to relate that dude, everyone knows: the nobility, the citizens of Rome, even the slaves. The fact that they have not been cohabiting for so long means that a good deal of people assumed *he* knew. But Calpurnia really loses it when she tells him that the Bacchanalian wedding rager is still ongoing and leaves the room sobbing. Pallas enters (where he’s been hanging outside…listening?) to confirm the veracity of her intel. Then he also drags in Narcissus (also just outside listening?) so they can also tell him about the Sexcapades and PS: you be divorced now. They warn if he doesn’t act soon, like now, the party will turn into an anti-Clavdivs mob, and Silius will seize power. Clavdivs’s response is akin to a depressed Victor Meldrew, but in his heart he *does* believe it and orders the arrest of the wedding party.

Back at the shindig still in progress, which is giving strong Caligula’s mandatory brothel vibes – there’s even a guest in a satyr costume. Mnester espies a Clavdivs-shaped cloud in the distance over Ostia, which had been drifting towards Rome but farted itself back to sea. Actually no, he espies armed guards about to raid the party. This is confirmed by a shrieking woman, which leads to the second-funniest scene of guests skedaddling like busted teenagers from a John Hughes movie.

Remotes ready, because that woman has nothing on the pipes about to burst. The Praetorian Guard update Pallas and Narcissus with news that Silius has been arrested, but they haven’t found Messawina. This is her cue to sashay in, demanding to see her husband. Which one, is the sneered answer, which is followed up with the curt instruction that Caesar no longer wishes to see her. Some great face acting is the cue to get remotes ready as she repeatedly screeches his name but stops when a list of her confirmed lovers is dangled in front of her. Oh, also her ma and traumatised children are there. Oof.

If there ever was a time for Clavdivs to dive headlong into his cups, it’s now. The arrests have been completed, and thankfully, most of the Praetorian Guard remained loyal. Even now, he’s able to practise true compassion, wondering what made Messawina behave the way she did and concluding that she must have been very sad. The inadvertent use of the past tense is Narcissus and Pallas’s cue to take advantage of his current state, and they instruct him to sign the charges, after which he gently puts his head down on the desk to pass out.

They’ve slipped an order to execute Messawina in with the arrest warrants, which are passed to the Praetorian Guard in hushed tones. The men also arrange to send a dagger, so as to present her with the option of an honourable Roman suicide; not out of any deference to her, but mainly so they can avoid an awkward conversation with Clavdivs.

Messawina hands a note to Britannicus and Octavia to give to their papa, assuring them that when he reads it, he’ll forgive her. Domitia doesn’t quite say I told you so, instead opting for the how could you route. Messawina is so delulu, she still can’t grasp how boned she is. Except this time, she’s boned with consequences instead of wieners. A knocking without sends her batty, assuming it’s Clavdivs, but obviously it’s the Praetorian Guard brandishing her execution warrant. Even if she opts for suicide, they’ve been ordered to behead her corpse and put it on display (presumably next to Lord Ponsonby’s).

Domitia urges her daughter to accept her fate, but she can’t, because HER HEAD, her beautiful HEAD. She accepts the dagger but, like Pino, bottles it. To be fair, people as badass as Lollia are pretty rare. And so she dies bewailing her HEAD, while a jump cut that wouldn’t look out of place in an Edgar Wright film whisks horizontally to the next day.

The empty husk of Clavdivs tells Pallas and Narcissus he’ll see his wife now, but sorry, boss – she’s super dead on your orders; they present him with the signed warrant. But it’s not all grim news – the Britons in Colchester love him so much, they dedicated a temple to him instead of Augustus. The men leave him as birds tweet merrily while he weeps, a broken man.

PENULTIMATE BUGLE BLAST! Next time – Will anything on Jove’s green earth go right for Clavdivs? Will there be anything remotely like a happy ending? All will be revealed on the series finale ‘Old King Log’!