Skip to the end: Old Clavdivs is now Current Clavdivs. He lies motionless, watched over by a haughty woman and her heavily rouged and lipsticked son – his fourth wife, Agrippinilla and his stepson, the Nero. Upon confirming that he is dead, neither can contain their ghoulish glee, and Nero spins around, hissing WHEE!

All of Agrippinilla’s schemes have come to fruition, and now Nero will become emperor. He wants to share the news right away, but she instructs him to wait, so they can spread some helpful misinformation and to buy some time to allow them to find and, if need be, doctor Clavdivs’s will. Though I can’t help but wonder why it wouldn’t have been lodged with the Vestals, but whatever. They begin rifling through his papers, one of which captures her notice. She begins reading with interest as dead, disembodied Clavdivs intones, ‘Write no more, Claudius, write no more’. His long family history had finally concluded, and though it’s quite evident what it is, Agrippinilla also comments, ‘It looks like a history’. Gee thanks, lady.

Nero wants to know if he’s mentioned (fair), but they’ve rather conveniently picked up the scroll that continues the story where the last episode left off – the death of Messalina. The scene dissolves into a dinner with Clavdivs, Pallas and Narcissus – the sad three amigos – watching a dancer writhe about for their entertainment. Over the dancing, disembodied Clavdivs recites self-deprecating verse featuring himself as the titular king. Although he has ruled wisely and over a time of relative peace and prosperity, it only means that Rome has accepted imperial rule and the clamour for the Republic has ceased, so he is a failure to himself. The verse is chock-filled with limp assonance and rhymes ‘error’ with ‘error’, concluding with the line ‘Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out’. He is pleased with the line, so much that he chuckles and repeats it.

I’m reminded of how Augustus’s shindigs were packed out with various chums and favourite advisors; people were drawn to his charisma and effortless power, and by contrast it’s heartbreaking how empty the room feels, with just Clavdivs and the freedmen, who are the closest approximation he has to friends. In his drunken stupor, Clavdivs seems near catatonic.

Pallas regrets sending for the dancer, since she hasn’t garnered the positive reaction he’d been hoping for, and then steers the conversation  into creepy speculation about what she’s like as a wife, but Clavdivs remains impassive. The point they are trying to make is that even vagabonds value marriage and family. Clavdivs still won’t engage, even when they directly ask if he’s okay, and for their troubles, we get round three of voice-overing the poisons-mud-lurking line. Narcissus warns that if he stays single for much longer, he’ll end up weird and creepy like Tiberius.

…his fourth can’t be a triumph. The men quibble over potential candidates, dismissing one for being thick as two short planks. The discussion becomes heated, but Clavdivs still won’t engage. Then, to Narcissus’s horror, Pallas suggests Agrippinilla. And yes, that is Firebrand Pina’s eldest daughter, i.e., his actual niece. Pallas reckons she’ll be a great stepmom to Britannicus and Octavia, plus she’d come with Nero. Even though everyone despises Nero, especially Clavdivs. The proposition horrifies Narcissus, and it doesn’t help the case to have invoked Uncle Sentient Herpes as a cautionary tale only to then offer an incestuous marriage as a preventative solution. The men continue arguing the toss while Clavdivs stares into space, and Pallas gets so wound up that he declares his friendship with Narcissus formally over.

But Narcissus won’t let it go, since not only would their union anger the gods, but Agrippinilla is terrible wife material – she’s basically Messalina but with brains. When they ask Clavdivs what he thinks, he quotes his lurking poisons bon mot, then cackles with glee. As he rolls off the couch and staggers – and is eventually half-carried – to his chambers, he agrees to the match in an offhand, throwaway manner, as if it were no more important than picking figs over grapes for his midnight snack. Pallas is visibly thrilled, while Narcissus wants to drop a barf.

Pallas meets Agrippinilla in her chambers, and you can tell by his sleazy grin that they are lovers engaged in some kind of scam, or possibly scamola. She’s speaking in a breathless, sexy voice that made my heart sink, fearing she’d be just another Messalina. In a way she is, but mainly because they are both composite characters, though fear not, she soon realises the widdle girl act isn’t necessary. Pallas relates the good news, but she’s confused about Clavdivs’s lack of pushback, concluding he must be into the incest aspect of the union. Pallas acts jealous and mock-regretful that he’d helped her, but she makes it clear that she’s got a long-game con running, at which point you can see that he’s realising his role in said con may be limited. She promises to make it up to him, then kiss-bites him, but when he wants the reward sex nownownow, he doesn’t exactly sell himself when he promises it won’t take long. And before they tumble out of the camera’s view, I will say I am impressed by the amount of middle-aged sexings on this show. If it were ever to be rebooted, no one would be older than maybe 35 max. Or maybe it’s just people looked older back then? The ’70s were a very difficult and very beige time.

Agrippinilla approaches Clavdivs with grateful thanks that he would choose her for a bride, making pledges to serve him and his children and provide him with another son as well. Each of his responses is more sarcastic than the last, though it takes her a few moments to realise he’s being insincere. He asks if she’s worried about the whole uncle-niece thing but interrupts before she can answer, noting she’s experienced with incest, having been Caligula’s lover. She says – fairly enough – that they were crazy times and who among us wouldn’t shag our mentally unstable sibling under pain of death? Clavdivs isn’t buying that, insisting that she hadn’t needed much force, had she? She tries to protest, but he notes it’s all academic, since he intends their marriage to be celibate. What he really cares about is her brain, since he wants a co-ruler rather than a tradwife. Cards all on the table, she warns him that she will use every ounce of power he gives her, and he reiterates that that is the point.

Agrippinilla reports back to Pallas, demonstrating that unlike Messalina, she really does have a few operative brain cells, since she can’t work out what’s in this arrangement for Clavdivs. He’s not getting any taboo sex, and he clearly despises her, so why does he want to give her so much power? She prods Pallas to recall his exact response to the proposal, and he repeats the poisons lurking in the mud comment, though he does botch the quote, but that’s probably because he’s not heard it as many times as we have. They conclude Clavdivs must be losing his marbles, and Pallas figures, to his delight, that he may soon shuffle off this mortal coil. Agrippinilla is less stoked, since she needs to keep him alive until Nero comes of age. Pallas, you are not keeping up with the long game, and therefore your innings in this game will be like Ned Nederlander, i.e., somewhat Short.

At the Senate House, Clavdivs confirms the conclusion of the years-long conquest of Britain with the arrest of King Caratacus, who is hauled in chains along with his family. But whereas they fling themselves prostrate before Clavdivs, he stands proud. He delivers a rousing speech, warning that if the Romans intend to rule by the sword, they won’t sleep at night, because the Britons are fuckin ‘ard, they are. The Senate applauds and are so moved by his speech that he earns not just a reprieve from execution but a pension and housing for his family in the city.

Disembodied Clavdivs tells us we’re nearly at the end of the story, which has jumped forward to five years into his last marriage. Agrippinilla and Nero read on, with Nero enjoying a disparaging comment made about his ma, but he’s less amused when it’s his own turn. Disembodied Clavdivs returns to say he’d easily rumbled Agrippinilla’s plans for Nero, but he had plans of his own. Secret plans!

The scene dissolves to one of the blended family, with Octavia, Britannicus and Nero all wearing floral crowns, to indicate these adults are meant to be teenagers. Nero strums a lyre, pouting prettily through his matching Ruby True gloss and rouge. They all applaud soundly at the conclusion, and Agrippinilla wonders why Britannicus hasn’t taken lessons, because then they could duet. Britannicus isn’t interested, and besides, Lucius Domitius doesn’t need any help, since he’s already so gifted. Agrippinilla starts a row, because they’ve both told him dozens of times that he now goes by Nero, but although Nero himself cuts in to say he isn’t bothered, she won’t let it go. She ropes in Clavdivs – who would seem to be permanently drunk at this point in his life – to tell Britannicus to apologise. Britannicus is furious; pa’s never got his back and always sides with Nero and he hates them all and storms out, which is another clue that they are meant to be immature youngsters. Nero leaves to comfort him, followed by Octavia, who for Reasons is besotted with him.

A vexing conversation follows, in which Agrippinilla sets up a request – or tries to – but can only get three words into it before Clavdivs agrees. The scene’s attention to detail is brilliant: Derek Jacobi’s very believable intoxicated speech and the way Agrippinilla waves off the slave approaching to refill Clavdivs’s cup which creates unbearable tension between the two. Livia and Augustus may have had a love-hate enmeshment, but their interactions stung because there was once love between them, whereas these two loathe one another with diamond-sharp smiles. As much as we’re set up to dislike Agrippinilla, I can’t help both understand and identify with her rage. Let her finish her machinations, I mean, sentences, dammit! But yes to both requests, 1) marrying Octavia and Nero, and 2) formally adopting Nero as his son. Secret plans!

The next scene between Clavdivs and Narcissus brings back some of the magic that’s been lacking in the last few episodes. While the spark isn’t quite as charismatic as between Livia and Augustus, or Caligula and Clavdivs, or ~*Sejanus*~ and every human, the sheer intensity is easy to get wrapped up in. Narcissus, proving nominative determination a liar, is flabbergasted by Clavdivs’s off-the-cuff decisions and frustrated he’d not been consulted. If he had been, he would have given solid ‘noes’ to all of them. He’s even more perplexed that Clavdivs is fully cognisant of Agrippinilla’s affair with Pallas and pleads with him to do something; his inaction is akin to drafting and signing his own death warrant.

Clavdivs is sanguine, since his horoscope predicted his imminent death. Narcissus literally shakes his fists in vexation and aptly notes it would appear to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Narcissus just may be the last remaining good ‘un, despite his earlier cahoots with Pallas that may or may not have paid off (TELL US ABOUT THE CORN PRICES, SHOW!) As a last resort, he begs Clavdivs to consider Britannicus, because with Nero in charge, he would be in grave danger. In fact so would he, Narcissus. Clavdivs counters that he is principally thinking of Britannicus, and it’s all down to the Sibyl. He relates the story of how he had been bequeathed a stack of Sibylline prophecies at Livia’s final birthday shindig. They were either too scary for Augustus, or he didn’t understand the archaic language they were written in, but so far they correctly prophesied a whole heap of crap for the Julio-Claudian gang, including Nero’s rise to power, as well as Caligula’s and Clavdivs’s own.

SECRET PLAN BIG REVEAL: Clavdivs, as noted in his Old King Log performance, had been too wise and fair during his tenure as emperor, and the bitter irony is that the citizenry no longer value republican rule. But if Nero – who is even more unhinged than Caligula – succeeds, they will rise against him. And they will be led by brave Britannicus, but only if Narcissus helps him escape. Unfortunately, although these plans have been brewing for a while, Britannicus hasn’t been advised, and so he just thinks his pa favours Nero because he’s an asshole.

Meanwhile, Pallas and Agrippinilla plot to poison Clavdivs, though they’re put off by his weird Nero-cheerleading at the expense of his own son. The dude has got to go, but it will be hard, since Narcissus watches him like a hawk and has managed to ensure his safety so far. But Pallas knows a skilled poisoner and justifies his actions by recalling that just before Tiberius purged him, he’d elevated ~*Sejanus*~ to his highest station, so Clavdivs’s kindness to Nero could be a trap. He also warns her that Nero is not the small child she was once able to control, and once he’s emperor, her influence will greatly diminish. As luck would have it, Nero knocks on the door, making his disgust at finding Pallas there apparent. As Pallas leaves, Nero glides in, huffing his signature bouquet of posies and requesting to sleep with mummy since nasty Octavia locked him out of her chambers for undisclosed reasons. Agrippinilla offers to find a pretty house girl he can play with, but he’s not interested.

While Caligula was coded somewhat less overtly as queer, in that they made a meal out of his sexual relationships with women, he had a distinctive fruity aroma. But Nero is just straight up 1970s Comedy Faggot Baddie, and it’s not pleasant to witness. While there are plenty of skeezy hetero dudes on the show, casual homophobia is seeded throughout; part of Lollia’s trauma was that Tiberius was carrying on with slaves of both sexes. During a time when queer representation was non-existent, it’s not surprising but no less unfortunate they chose gayness as a monsterizing trait for the two most infamous Julio-Claudian emperors. Anyway, prepare the eye bleach, because it gets worse when Agrippinilla switches tactics towards seduction, including her signature kiss-bite. And yes, because he is a faggy degenerate, he’s into it. The scene really lingers too, aargh.

Clavdivs addresses the Senate one final time. As the sycophants bray their insincere protests, he reminds them he had to be dragged out of hiding behind curtains and forced into a leadership he never wanted. And before we commence one of my all-time-favourite TV tropes, (!Tr1ppInG b@lLz, MaaAn!), there is some excellent wordplay, which to the Senate sounds like cryptic nonsense. To the viewers, it’s a nod to the screenwriter and novelist that allows us to feel all smart and shit: the man who dwells by the pool will open graves. Though I can’t help but wish the man who dwelled by the pool would rob graves for that extra layer of punnery. The following vision cuts between cheering and the Senate’s baffled silence while Clavdivs hallucinates key players from his past, as he knew them as a youth.

First is Augustus, the only one of the lot to praise him. Livia follows, looking hotter than ever, may I say, calling him a fool and blaming him for it. Antonia tells him with her usual contempt that his nose is still running, but she’s impatiently tapped out by Caligula, who is then curtailed when Tiberius muscles in waving his hands in front of Clavdivs, as it becomes apparent the Senators are trying to bring Clavdivs back to the present to no avail. Tiberius notes It wasn’t really murder, was it? in a pally tone he never used in the few interactions they had. Caligula’s important news bulletin is that he wasn’t actually the Jewish Messiah after all. Sadly, there are no final visitations from his varying circle of friends. The Senators finally snap Clavdivs out of his fevered reverie, and he shuffles out wordlessly. After he steps out for the last time, the Senate carries on without him, as per his intentions.

Late at night, Narcissus brings Britannicus to Clavdivs’s chambers so Clavdivs can explain his confusing actions where they won’t be overheard. His son is obstinate; his explanations are far too late after a lifetime of slights. It’s not just that Clavdivs favoured Nero, but he withdrew what few scraps of love he had for his son after he executed Messalina, so all Britannicus can feel for his father is hatred. Clavdivs does not try to rewrite history or justify his actions but instead throws a massive curveball: he’s always had a bit of beef with Britannicus, because he believed him to be Caligula’s biological son. Britannicus bursts into tears, unable to understand how Clavdivs could blame a child for his parents.

Clavdivs is moved and assures him that he hasn’t felt that way in a long time and loves him as much as any biological child of his, and this is why he’s had to construct their current situation, as rotten as it may have been. Since Nero has been prophesied to be the next – and hopefully last – emperor, he’d deliberately kept Britannicus out of the public eye. Being a relative unknown will help his escape; the plan is for Narcissus to smuggle him in with the group of Caratacus’s men travelling back to Britain. Once there, he can hide out in the royal court for a while before moving further north of Rome’s stronghold. He only has to wait until Nero’s assuredly insane reign will spell the end of the empire. Then Britannicus will return to lead Rome back to the glorious Republic it should have always been.

Britannicus breaks his pa’s heart not just with his refusal, but also the offhand comment that no one pines for the Republic anymore, apart from Clavdivs (ouch). And he himself would like a shot at the big job, since he’s positive he’ll be a kinder, gentler emperor. Plus, he wants to face Nero himself.

OH GOD. To be fair, Google Translate does give ‘a man’s gown’ for ‘toga virilis’, but a) it’s a bit late in the game for me to be fair and b) he’s already wearing his cardigan with pockets full of Werther’s Originals. The dude’s earnest delivery killed me so hard I had to pause to lol, rewind and lol anew several times. Also, I’m positive that Britannicus and the Manly Gown is a title from a teen sleuth series set in the same parallel universe where Captain Tripps eventually killed most of humanity.

Disembodied Clavdivs interrupts to instruct himself to write no more. The tea caddy is empty; the family history is recorded for posterity; and he’s tired, so very tired. As am I, bro. Agrippinilla scrabbles around looking for the remainder of the script to burn it, as well as the will, and Nero has a wicked little giggle that this Herculean labour should be for nothing. He burns the first scroll with deranged excitement about the beauty of the fire (nice foreshadowing).

The camera pans over Clavdivs’s corpse, and while Narcissus narrates, we get one final scene of actors depicting the voiceover, but at least there’s no mimed dialogue in this one. Pallas and Agrippinilla changed tack after their efforts to poison Clavdivs’s food were repeatedly thwarted by himself. Instead, they poisoned a portion of her mushrooms and offered him one off her plate (callback #2 no one wanted: Clavdivs on the terlet). Narcissus can’t work out why he took it, because he himself knew it must have been messed with, but his spidey senses told him that Clavdivs also knew. But much like Joey vis-a-vis Phoebe’s fake seduction of Chandler, he didn’t know if Clavdivs knew he knew. When Clavdivs retired to his chambers, Narcissus followed him but wouldn’t be admitted, leading him to conclude Clavidvs wanted to die alone. The scene returns to Narcissus urging Britannicus to leave.


Clavdivs opens his eyes in the liminal space between himself and the afterlife. The Sibyl hoves into a still-image view to ask if all the poisons have now been hatched. NO, DAMMIT, creatures that lurk in the mud don’t hatch; pick another verb! Clavdivs chuckles that people appear to believe he’s dead, only for the Sibyl to correct him. Nor does she soften the answers to his follow-up queries: all she has prophesied will come to pass, including Nero murdering Britannicus, Agrippinilla murdering Narcissus, and then Nero murdering Agrippinilla. Also, the Republic never returned, but at least Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, and from then on, they were mostly good eggs, give or take a few. Clavdivs and the Sibyl share a laugh over the fact that although his manuscript was burned, he’d made a copy and buried it, which is no surprise but good to reference for people who may have forgotten episode one in the mists of time. But the ferryman waits and won’t be stalled any longer.

Goodbye and farewell, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, god of the Britons and one-time emperor of the Roman world. A respectful silence washes over the scene, as burning scrolls reveal the final end credits. It’s an effective way to pause and reflect on the tragedy of a man who suffered his whole life to restore principles that were as abandoned as…AH JESUS NO BUGLE BLAST JUMP SCARE.

SOON: Wait, I have more things to say! I’ll post some concluding thoughts to help me re-enter society after realising, to my horror, that the year is halfway over and I’ve spent most of it doing this.