Monday, September 05, 2005

Episode II: How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic

And the series gets better. While not as flashy as Episode I, the second instalment of HBO’s ROME delves into the politics of the late republic. Without giving the plot away, there are several scenes in the episode that dealt with the backroom politicking of the generals and senators. The heart of this episode revolves around the two largely fictional characters Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus as the two men return to Rome; Lucius to his family and Titus to the brothels. Their return allows the episode to show Rome to the viewers. Since both men have been away for so long, they behave more like tourists than residents and that fits the narrative purpose of the show perfectly.

The middle part of the episode is pretty much a family drama revolving around Lucius’ marital problems. Lucius is suspicious his wife had cheated on him. His wife is suspicious Lucius has had other women in bed while he away fighting and is angry that her husband has been away for so long. His daughters barely know him, while the eldest is already a mother. Lucius for his part is angry that he was not consulted before his eldest daughter picked a mate and became pregnant.

Those who are expecting Sopranos with swords and sandals might be asking for something the series is not about. Like the Sopranos, there’s politics in ROME, lots and lots of it. But the politics is of a different nature. At the heart of the politics is a rivaly between Caesar and Pompey that is threatening to split Rome in two and civil war. All the characters in Rome have a trajectory based on history. This is not made up mob stories where the writers get to sit down after Season 1 to decide who they want to kill off in Season 2.

The show is absolutely brilliant and epic at its best. The scenes in the senate and Caesar’s speech to his legion before crossing the Rubicon gave me the chills. It was amazing in its dramatic scope. It doesn’t feel staged of faked. The cinematography and acting are excellent, but most importantly, the drama and scripting is brilliant. ROME is closer in spirit to Band of Brothers than it is to the Sopranos. The show is a mixture of the best of epic Hollywood filmmaking, small-scale TV drama and history.

Note: There are two TV series based on this period- The horrendous ABC six-part mini-series EMPIRE and HBO’s ROME. Both series are based around the fall of the republic and Caesar, but only HBO’s ROME is worth watching.

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