Before "The Sopranos" promoted a negative stereotype of Italians, before the "Game of Thrones" families taught the world how to stab each one another in the back, and before those "Downton Abbey" folks showed off the cushier side of period dramas, there was "I, Claudius," the 1976 BBC series that tells the story of Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome. 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 this treacherous Romans with KCET's recap series and character guide.
Where we left off:
Julia was banished by Augustus for her flagrant and constant infidelities. Tiberius has returned from exile. He and Postumus Agrippa are now co-heirs to Augustus' throne.
Early on, we discover that three Roman legions have been massacred in Germania. Tiberius (George Baker) is sent to the battle along with Germanicus (David Robb). Why does Germanicus get sent, you may be wondering? Don't worry: Livia's hand in this decision will be revealed soon enough.
We get a glimpse of why Claudius (Derek Jacobi) likes history so much when he is researching in the library. There, he meets the historian Pollio who tells him to exaggerate his sickness and "play the fool" because it will help him survive his crazy family. Pollio knows something is up with the way people have been dying.
The always-scheming Livia (Sian Phillips) overhears Augustus (Brian Blessed) saying that Postumus (John Castle) will be his successor. He has never liked Tiberius and has no intention of letting him rule. Livia won't have that. She enlists the aid of her granddaughter, Livilla (Patricia Quinn), to frame Postumus for rape.
Postumus is the closest thing Claudius has to a best friend, and before he is banished he runs off and tells Claudius of his suspicions that Livia has been behind all the deaths we've seen -- even that of Claudius' own father, Drusus. The episode ends shortly after with Claudius' marriage.
The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when):
"What Shall We Do About Claudius?" is a drama-filled hot mess. And of course, the drama is mostly caused by Livia. In this episode, she discovers Livilla has been cheating on her husband, Castor, by covertly sleeping with Postumus. Livia calls Livilla out and reminds her that she's had no issue banishing women before, since she did just that to Julia for similar indiscretions. It's at this point that Livia decides she will use her granddaughter's secret relationship to get Postumus out of the picture for good. Livia convinces Augustus to send Germanicus to battle (so Postumus is around to be framed for rape). Oh, Livilla -- you little Livia in the making!
Even juicer was the moment when Postumus tries to bring Livia's evil to light. He tries to convince Augustus that all the murders -- Agrippa, Marcellus, his brothers, his mother, Drusus -- were done at Livia's behest. Augustus doesn't believe him, and thinks Postumus is trying to come off as insane so he isn't punished harshly. I almost don't blame Augustus. When you are that dense, getting all that information at once can be confusing and overwhelming.
Line of the night:
In the middle of his tirade, Postumus lays it all on the line in an effort to talk sense into Augustus: "For years, everyone around you has either died or disappeared. Do you think it was all an accident?"
The Battle of Teutoburg Forest actually happened. In 9 A.D., a group of German tribes destroyed three Roman legions that were led by Publius Quintilius Varus. The Romans had multiple campaigns over the Rhine region, but the army never tried to conquer beyond the river again after this battle.
Incidentally, there has never been a clear consensus on exactly why Postumus was exiled. It has been speculated, however, that it was for the same reasons illustrated in "I, Claudius" -- Postumus stood in the way of Livia's path to the throne. Some historians believe he was involved in a conspiracy against Augustus.
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