I, Claudius: What Shall We Do About Claudius?
August 22, 2017 8:28 PM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Rome, AD 9. Three Roman legions have been massacred in Germania at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Tiberius and Germanicus are dispatched to exact revenge. While Claudius is in the library researching his family's history he is advised by the historian Pollio to play up his infirmities to enhance his place in his family as a harmless fool, and thus no threat to anyone. Augustus has determined that Postumus will succeed him as Emperor, but Livia overhears this.

In the peristyle as Augustus picks a fresh fig for Postumus, a disembodied voice mysteriously echoes "Poison". Augustus lectures Postumus on his rakish behavior. As Augustus' only surviving grandson and intended successor, Postumus needs to be cognisant of his responsibilities. When Postumus asks about Tiberius, Augustus says he adopted Tiberius out of respect for his mother (an amazing woman), but in his estimation Tiberius lacks the right stuff to rule. Livia overhears this conversation and undetected withdraws with a stony gaze. She then summons her granddaughter Livilla to her chambers. In a masterful piece of manipulation, Livia coldly accuses Livilla of adultery with Postumus and threatens her with a fate like Julia's. Livilla hysterically confesses, promising never to see him again. Now with Livilla in her clutches, Livia comforts her with grandmotherly affection and ego strokes. Livilla returns the flattery, remarking that Livia was once the most beautiful woman in the world. Ever modest, Livia admits she was but one of two, the other in Egypt didn't last as long. Asking Livilla if she can speak to her as a grown up woman, Livia gives Livilla a crash course in real politik. Outlining her own efforts to stave off civil war and to secure political stability for Rome, Livia asks Livilla if she wants her husband, Castor to become emperor. Livilla eagerly answers "Yes". Livia tells her that for this to happen, his father Tiberius must succeed Augustus. When Livilla naively asks about Postumus, Livia, praises her new protege, "you've put your finger on it, as always we come back to Postumus."
posted by the man of twists and turns (4 comments total)
Varus's defeat at the Teutoburg Forest is a significant inflection point for the Empire.

"Quintili Vare, legiones redde!"
posted by Chrysostom at 8:45 PM on August 22, 2017

This series has such a dry, tongue-in-cheek comic sensibility. When Pollio says they were poisoned, Claudius's response is like a protracted punchline set-up: "P-p-p-p-" (we realize what he's going to say next) "-p-p-POISONED?!?!"

Not to mention the very modern little Livia bit with the gladiators:
"These games are being degraded by the use of professional tricks to stay alive, and I won't have it!"

On my last rewatch, I remember being particularly saddened by Postumus's fate. There's a subtle throughline in the series about Claudius losing all of his friends, foreshadowed in that "Where are they?" moment at the close of a prior episode.

IIRC this is also about the last episode where Augustus still more or less has his shit together.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:05 AM on August 23, 2017

The only thing worse than Claudius' luck with women is women's luck with Claudius. The look his fiancee gives him at the wedding is great, just barely concealed contempt. That combined with Livia loosing her composure at the end was brilliant. Here's a woman who looks like she could stare down a snake and who we've seen bend and break people to her will in a conversation, just loosing her shit over the spectacle that is Claudius getting married.

You can really see why Claudius is such an iconic role for Derek Jacobi. His acting is great. The obvious frustration Claudius has with himself, and a body and voice that just will not do what he wants, makes what could be an otherwise mundane collection of tics really really work.

This is the episode where the show starts to really set up Claudius as the person you might really want to be Emperor. He's intelligent, honest, educated, good natured... just what you need. We also get the first suggestion that maybe it's not the people that are the problem. Livilla is sold on the deal when Livia asks "You want your husband to be Emperor don't you?". Maybe the prize is just too big.

Speaking of Livia, she finally gets a chance to explain herself. And it's a reasonable explanation. The historical Livia was born in 58 BCE, just as Clodius and his street gangs were really getting into the swing of political violence, and would have been 9 years old in 49 BCE when Gaius Julius Caesar came back from Gaul and grabbed for the brass ring. Rome would be at war with itself, on and off, for the next 18 years. Probably much harder to be nostalgic for the republic when you had front row seats as it stabbed itself to death.

One other item of note in this episode: The scene where Postumus accuses Livia of having a hand in Drusus' death interested me. Because we've seen Musa examining one of her victims before when he said in episode that perhaps Marcellus died of food poisoning. Livia's "FOOD POISONING?", was enough for me to think that Musa isn't in on it as much as he's perfect cover for her. Plus we see the leg wound Drusus died of. That that wound became gangrenous isn't much of a stretch. Now assuming Claudius isn't a completely unreliable narrator here, Livia pretty definitely killed Marcellus and Lucius via Plautius. Still, it raised the question for me of where the line is in the narrative between what Claudius knows is true and what he thinks is true.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:16 PM on August 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

next Episode
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:33 PM on September 2, 2017

« Older Movie: Wind River...   |  Movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments