This week’s flash-forward is ultra short: just a few frames of Old Clavdivs in his study late at night, scowling at his crown of gold-plated laurel leaves. The previous episode’s concluding cheer long live the Emperor increases in volume as the scene dissolves into a shot of the Senate House.

Silanus, the Governor of “Spain” known for his republican views, addresses the Senate to explain his return to Rome via an anecdote about how ‘summoned to Rome’ had become a euphemism for ‘about to die’. But now that Caligula is gone, it’s time for sanity to prevail with a return to the Republic! The senators, who just a few weeks earlier were glibly indulging the same man whose murder has become a punchline, agree. But there’s shocking news: the Praetorian guard have proclaimed Clavdivs emperor.

Back in the palace, Clavdivs mopes while regarding the crown that contradicts all his deeply held principles. Throughout the scene, it will be plonked on and off in a way that reminded me of how stubborn toddlers will remove the hats their parents try in vain to keep on their wee noggins. He’s NOT being held prisoner; in fact he’s being held in high regard as Rome’s brave new emperor. Even if he doesn’t want to be emperor and being addressed as Caesar sets his teeth on edge.

The commander of the Praetorian guard – who probably has a name but at this point I’m having such ‘one and done’ name fatigue that I’m just going to call him not-Praxis, after Augustus’s cherished advisor who seemed super-important until he wasn’t – lays it on thick. He appeals to Clavdivs’s love of Germanicus, who was also reluctant to take up the mantle of emperor but whose men loved him dearly, and this love will transfer to Clavdivs. Yes, that worked so well for Germanicus’s son, didn’t it? Whatever – not-Praxis says republicanism is a luxury afforded to imperials (nice) and warns that by abdication, he’ll sack thousands of angry armed men and be rather sorry about it.

A visitor arrives – the King of Bashan – aka good ol’ Herod Agrippa. He’s full of congratulations and praise, which, being as he is good ol’ Herod Agrippa, drips with sarcasm. Said tone is not picked up by not-Praxis, who hopes he will be a good influence and flounces off, but not before cramming the crown on Clavdivs’s head, insisting that it suits him, but Clavdivs removes it the second he leaves.

Herod’s wig-beard has not just survived but thrived since his last scene and is now crowded with stately greys. With not-Praxis gone, his tone turns serious. He knows his chum and correctly assumes that Clavdivs will surrender power to the Senate as soon as possible. Herod believes this will trigger another civil war, and somewhere the ghost of Livia is nodding in assent. It would also effectively sign Clavdivs’s own death warrant, since a republic would necessitate a bloody purge of the remaining imperial family. He relays the sad news about Caesonia and baby Julia, though he assures Clavdivs Messalina is safe.

Somewhat conveniently, their conversation is interrupted by a summons from the Senate, who are anxious to know Clavdivs’s intentions, although if not-Praxis had his druthers, he’d have slain the craven senators before they stepped a foot into the palace. Clavdivs orders them safe passage, but his response is that he’ll address the Senate when he’s good and ready, and when he does, he’ll be supported by his thousands-strong guard. After they take their leave, Herod begs Clavdivs to play along at least for the time being and plonks the crown back on his head.

Later, a murmuring crowd of assembled senators await his proclamation. Clavdivs limps in with Messalina by his side, taking his sweet-ass time to take note of the faces before him. He’s followed by only a handful of the Praetorian guard, but the lingering shot of them filing in underscores how heavily armed they are. He reminds the senators he’s always believed in the Republic and as such isn’t keen on being emperor. However, the men with the very sharp sticks standing behind him have other ideas.

Marcus protests that the guards’ appointment isn’t constitutional, but while Clavdivs agrees, he also reminds him that neither was assassination. Further, if it wasn’t for Marcus and his co-conspirators’ actions, the guards would not have been compelled to act. Marcus argues the toss, insulting the man who literally saved his life on more than one occasion by claiming he’s unfit to be emperor, but that argument falls flat when Clavdivs points out that Caligula wasn’t fit either but that didn’t dissuade the Senate’s enthusiastic support.

And now for the speech of a lifetime. Clavdivs is erudite, confident and concise, delivering his comments without hesitation and, apart from a brief moment at the beginning, stammer-free. Once in flow, he hits them like gangbusters. We don’t very often see Clavdivs speaking freely without interruption in the form of condescending comments or cruel jokes. The camera pans over the rapt men while Clavdivs confronts the hypocrites who dare to complain about the lack of power they themselves willingly ceded to Octavian following the Battle of Actium. He’s survived into middle age as an alleged half-wit surrounded by thousands who died with their wits fully intact. He concludes by encouraging them to elect him or not according to their beliefs – and they know his – but they’ll have to answer to *gestures to dozens of highly armed, highly strung men behind him*. Well done, that man!

But imposter syndrome be a harsh mistress, and he can’t help but murmur an aside to Herod to confess he feels a fraud. Herod encourages him with some ‘atta boy, champ!’ platitudes. He’s on the point of addressing Marcus and Aspernas but is sidetracked by breaking news. Although several key conspirators have opted for the traditional Roman suicide, Cassius has been found and arrested, and now stands before Clavdivs for a snap judgment. Clavdivs can’t blame the man for killing Caligula but won’t countenance the murder of Caesonia and the baby nor the directive to kill him and Messalina. Cassius stands proud in his assertion that these actions would have been necessary evils in order to restore the Republic. Clavdivs replies that his informants revealed the conspirators had only planned to kill Caligula, but that as Cassius had taken it upon himself to order the slaughter of an innocent family, he was himself condemned to death. While he’s hauled off shouting a prescient warning, Clavdivs capitulates any potential in-fighting by declaring the investigation officially closed. Marcus and Aspernas appear visibly relieved but not remotely grateful.

Zipping along one year later, a proud papa and his mother-in-law, Domitia, stand at a balcony to present baby Britannicus to a crowd hailing Caesar. Everything’s coming up Clavdivs! He’s deeply in love and so proud of his only son, since Drusillus died at some point but We Don’t Talk About Drusillus. From her bed, Messalina steers the conversation to how she’s been ever-so-helpful to her husband and takes great pleasure in doing so. Now she wants to take this to the next level, hoping to become the Livia to his Augustus.

Messalina, I served with Livia Drusilla. I knew Livia Drusilla. Livia Drusilla was a friend of mine. Bitch, you are no Livia Drusilla! What should have been a klaxon ten times as loud as my internalised misogyny, you can see him weighing up, then dismissing his brain’s desperate red flags. Instead, he’s more concerned that she doesn’t intend to breastfeed, seemingly unaware that most patrician women would have a wet nurse as a matter of course, but it does fit in with his clueless comment when Helen was being poisoned.

He doesn’t deny she’s been a useful advisor with good political acumen, and as he’s so bewitched by her Victoria Jackson impression, he agrees to effectively hand over some of his responsibilities to her. After he takes his leave, Messawina brags to Domitia that she has her husband wrapped around her finger and always gets what she wants in the end. Domitia suggests she continue nursing if she wants to avoid another pregnancy, but Messawina is confident she’ll manage with pure abstinence, since she plans to keep him satisfied with blowies. Thankfully the conversation steers back to Domitia’s own romantic prospects. Messawina mentions Silanus; he seems nice, and she knows her ma had been very fond of him back in the day. But Domitia can’t imagine he’s carrying a torch for her, since he’d been in Rome when Caligula was assassinated – totally not sus btw – and didn’t visit. Messawina dismisses her mother’s concerns, instead continuing her weaksauce scheming like the bargain basement Livia she is.

Speaking of the evil queen of my heart, she’s finally been deified and is now a resident on Olympus, giving those basic bitches a run for their money. Clavdivs’s word really does mean something, as noted in yet another jump forward. Herod is pissing off to rule all the lands where Clavdivs had him installed as client-king. Messawina imagines Livia’s heavenly reception with envy, but the real news is – surprise! she’s expecting again. Herod’s shocked, since she just sprogged Britannicus. I do want to feel some sympathy for her, especially after Clavdivs mock-blames her using the old nursing-as-guaranteed-contraceptive trope, but her simpering tone and baby-talk make this impossible.

To be honest, the rest of this episode from now until the final scene is a tedious slog and not just because I was on the verge of hysterical deafness as self-defence mechanism against her awful, awful voice. The couple protest Herod’s departure: what will we do without you, flatter praise cajole; Messawina reps for recalling Silanus from his governorship of Spain; he seems like quite the mensch; blah blah whatever; Clavdivs agrees to recall him; and then she finally fucks off so the men can reminisce about the old days.

Clavdivs admits he’s also been indulging in nostalgia, but with a purpose. Now that he’s the BMOC, no one can suppress or censor the family history he’s been wanting to write ever since he was a teenage Livy fan. The project is driven more by survivor’s guilt than rewengey, in contrast with his later asides. Like Tiberius before him, he’s only had three true friends: Postumus, Germanicus and Herod (ha ha suck it, Castor!). Herod intones that Clavdivs must trust NO ONE – not his trusted freedmen, not his chums, not even his missus – no one – but does not respond to Clavdivs’s query ‘not even you?’

Another awkward forward jump to nine months later and Messawina shrieking in the final throes of childbirth. She asks after if it’s a boy or girl, and the scene cuts to Clavdivs. He’s having a boring conversation about rebuilding the harbour at Ostia, which is interrupted by the news, and the proud papa departs to welcome his daughter, Octavia. This leaves Pallas and Narcissus, some of his oiliest advisors, to plot sabotage, because they are corn men and the project will result in lowering prices during winter.

Another less extreme jump forward to presumably a few days or maybe weeks later, where Clavdivs is enjoying an old person’s midday nap under the weight of even more pancake and prosthetics than usual and a wig that looks like it had been stored in a box of moths. Messawina drops by to simper and giggle and manipulate him, blah blah, you work too hard, yadda yadda, no, you’re schmoopy, and god damn it drags, but the upshot is she’ll be getting her own bedroom to guarantee she won’t get pregnant again. He’s hurt because he’s not a monster; he would never force himself upon her, but although he feels rejected, he can’t bear to refuse her. Just before she leaves, she casually drops another bomb: he need not tell the slaves to make up a new room for her, since she intends to move into apartments near both  her ma as well as her offices in the new palace. Cut to said palace where she greets Silanus with honey-dripped words. Livia would have never been so obvious!

Then there’s a somewhat pointless scene where Clavdivs’s new Greek doctor assesses his patient with a good deal of accuracy and snide comments. Xenophon is horrified to realise his patient is digesting a gutful of food, which is explained as scran from Silanus and Domitia’s wedding yesterday. Xenophon completes the examination with sage advice about gas and workaholism for a dud scene hat trick.

In the new palace, Silanus paces while waiting for an audience with Messawina. As expected, she arranged his recall from Spain and subsequent marriage to Domitia. All along, it was she who loved him ever since she was a child, and now they can be together. To his credit, dude is speechless and rejects these advances with as much kindness as possible, given his situation. She immediately concocts a cover story whereby her actions are supported by Clavdivs and indeed on his order. He wants her out of the palace so he can conduct affairs with Senators’ wives, but because he’s so kind, he is arranging her entertainment.

Silanus tries to call her bluff by intending to get confirmation from Clavdivs, but she laughs it off, warning him that he’ll deny it. Silanus, ever the republican, has even more reason to wish for its return. He’s both disgusted and furious at being treated like a hired stud, but then again the last few emperors have been irredeemable perverts, so it does track. The whole fabrication completely turns him off; he wouldn’t touch her with a ten-foot pole. She drops the baby-talk (THANK GOD) to slap, threaten, slap, cajole, slap, and blackmail, but he leaves the room with quiet dignity. Good luck, that man.

Then, the payoff scene to the boring-ass corn price fixing conversation. Clavdivs presents a long-overdue engineer’s survey to Pallas and Narcissus, with Silanus skulking in the background looking shifty. It’s compared to one conducted in Julius Caesar’s time which evidence that the harbour could be completed both faster and cheaper, even when factoring for inflation. The men argue the toss, but Clavdivs gets in a zinger about how their plans advise the need to drill through stone, which isn’t true, and goddamn, this is fucking banal. I suppose at least it makes Silanus’s weird folded arms really stand out. Anyway, blahdy-blah, Clavdivs has rumbled the whole corn grift: well done. It really does beg the question that if he’d always been suspicious of their intentions, why not just save money by using the extant plans, adjusting prices accordingly and not bothering with a new survey? He dismisses the men, but Silanus hangs back for a quiet word, then botches an assassination attempt.

Sadly, the struggle lacks any real drama or tension, as Clavdivs escapes with only minor injuries, while the table sustains most of the damage. Anyway, the Praetorian guard arrive sharpish after hearing his cries for help, as Clavdivs puzzles over what the hell just happened. He’s always been Team Silanus, with a track record of doing nice shit for him. Silanus brands him a tyrant, spitting that he will not service Messawina like a bull. Obviously, Clavdivs has no idea what he’s talking about and summons his wife and mother-in-law so they can hash it out.

The women are in a state of distress. Messawina paces while Domitia looks on, stunned at Silanus’s actions since he seemed so chill. Then, out of nowhere, she deduces her daughter’s evil intentions, like a Bizarro World Antonia. After three milliseconds of denial, Messawina confesses all, then blackmails Domitia into complicity by threatening to tell Clavdivs her mother plotted with Silanus to assassinate him. I can’t fault the acting, but the scene rings hollow with weak dialogue and a questionable volte-face from the women’s previously depicted closeness. At least the blocking still shreds.

Messawina rushes in to baby-talk to her poor widdle big man blah blah whatever. Clavdivs has never been more pitiable than when under her spell, and like the poor bastard I recently saw on the Northern Line reading The Corrections, I just want to hug him and say friend, you don’t have to live like this. Clavdivs directs Silanus to look Messawina in the eyes and repeat his allegations, and he parrots the fiction she’d relayed to him. Naturally, it’s met with a blanket denial and embellished lies about his history of pursuing her since she was a child. After marrying Domitia, he resumed his efforts. When she refused, he became violent and threatened to kill Clavdivs. When questioned, Domitia confirms the charges.

The episode concludes with the reluctant emperor using his powers to condemn another man to death. He doesn’t look thrilled about it, but inaction would set a bad precedent for any other potential assassins. This was not what Messawina had planned, since she *wuvs* Silanus, and she freaks out accordingly. Like, what did she think was going to happen if he was spared, that his hate-fucking would be so awesome that he’d fall in love with her? The final shot is of bargain basement Livia fuming/plotting.

BUGLE BLAST! Next time – Will we have to tolerate Messawina’s grating voice for much longer? Will it get any grosser? All will be revealed next time on ‘A God in Colchester’!