Recap for 'I, Claudius,' Episode Eight: 'Reign of Terror'

Combining Roman history with campy, soapy melodrama, "I, Claudius" is a must-see for TV fans and history buffs alike. Keep up to speed with these treacherous Romans with KCET's recap series and character guide.

Where we left off:
Last we visited Rome, our beloved (I use that term lightly) Livia had died. Claudius's sister, Livilla, plotted with Sejanus to kill her husband, Castor, so they could be together. The empire has seen better days and no one really likes Tiberius as emperor.

Things just aren't the same without Livia, and things are falling apart in Rome. Tiberius (George Baker) has retreated to Capri, and he doesn't bother to show up for any official business.

It's been five years since Castor's death, and Sejanus (Patrick Stewart) and Livilla (Patricia Quinn) want to get married. There's a slight problem: Tiberius doesn't approve. Instead, he suggests Sejanus marries Helen, Livilla's daughter. Naturally, Livilla plans on poisoning her daughter to get her out of the way -- because that's completely normal.

Meanwhile, Sejanus is mapping out his rise to the top. He manipulates his way into getting Agrippina (Fiona Walker) and her son Nero banished, while her other son Drusus is arrested.

Livilla's mother, Antonia (Margaret Tyzack) finds letters implicating Sejanus in numerous deaths and plots. She has Claudius smuggle the letters to Tiberius. At the behest of Caligula (John Hurt), Tiberius orders a fellow Roman guard to murder Sejanus, his family and his supporters. Rome is a bloodbath.

The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when):
Livilla's temper tantrums in "Reign of Terror" deserve an award. She throws two major ones in the episode -- one when she finds out about Tiberius's marriage suggestion, and another when her mother keeps her locked in her room after Sejanus' death.

In the first tantrum, she calls Sejanus a bastard and starts hitting him, screaming at the top of her lungs and throwing herself around. You would think they killed her child or something. Oh, wait. She wouldn't care and would actually prefer that.

"You would service us both then? Like a stallion!" she yells to Sejanus.
"Don't talk like that!" he says oh-so-dramatically. "I love you!"

And they say chivalry is dead.

Line of the night:

Our dear Claudius deserves line of the night this time around. He advises Caligula to be wary of Tiberius and to be careful when he visits him in Capri. Claudius also tries to discipline him and tells him he should be bothered by the fact that Tiberius is having his brothers -- Drusus and Nero -- banished or thrown in jail. Caligula replies with "Now...I love my sisters, uncle." To which Claudius wryly retorts, "Yes...I know."

Historical Spotlight:

Most of the events surrounding Sejanus' death actually happened. Tiberius wrote a letter to the senate, which in the beginning sounded like praise for Sejanus and was fairly irrelevant to the matter at hand. Further in the letter, he ordered Sejanus' arrest and things went downhill.

The only discrepancy is in the way Sejanus died -- he wasn't stabbed to death and he didn't loudly and awkwardly gasp for air while the Praetorian Guard watched. In reality, Sejanus was strangled -- and like the show illustrates -- his body was thrown onto the Gemonian stairs.

Riots followed his death, and those associated with Sejanus were actually slaughtered. Statues erected in his honor were torn down and his name was wiped from public records. Members of his family who weren't killed committed suicide, and Livilla took her life as well. Though, legend has it, Antonia locked Livilla in her room so she starved to death -- that's where "I, Claudius" got the idea for Livilla's particularly nasty end.

The death of Sejanus -- courtesy Rijksmuseum, via Creative Commons