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:
Tiberius is still in control as the unpopular emperor of Rome. Piso and Plancina killed Germanicus, whose widow, Agrippina, knows his death was no accident.
Weirdness abounds in "Queen of Heaven," and most of it deals with debauchery and incest. During his reign, Tiberius (George Baker) has turned into a perverted old man and has picked up a penchant for erotic art. Caligula (John Hurt) is more than happy to egg Tiberius on.
Seven years have gone by in Rome since the last episode, and Livia (Sian Phillips), knows her end is coming soon. She is afraid that she will eternally burn in hell for all her wrongdoings -- after all, this is a woman responsible for the majority of premature deaths in her family -- and she confesses her sins to Claudius (Derek Jacobi) in exchange for her place as a deity. Before she dies, she tells him that a sibylline prophecy claims he will one day be emperor of Rome.
Being the Livia-in-the-making that she is, Livilla (Patricia Quinn) plots to kill her husband, Castor. (Where have we seen that before?). She is in love with Sejanus (Patrick Stewart) and sees it as the only way they can be together. I guess honesty is not the best policy with these people.
Claudius divorces his wife because he finds out she's pregnant. He clearly wants nothing to do with her, so he's obviously not the father. Someone slept around? You don't say--that's so rare in this family! Sejanus is a social climber, so he pawns his sister Aelia off on Claudius. Yay for another marriage?
The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when):
Seriously, what is wrong with these people? The episode opens with Lollia (Isabel Dean) recounting the tale of how she was forced to have an orgy with Tiberius and his slaves in order to save her daughter from having to sleep with him. She can't live with what she's done, and, after a series of awkward cuts to each person in the room, she stabs herself.
Don't worry folks -- that's not even the most awkward part. Perhaps the strangest part of "Queen of Heaven" is the relationship between Caligula and his great-grandmother, Livia. We get a glimpse of how crazy he is in the last episode, but his insanity truly blossoms here. Caligula is present for part of the scene where Livia asks to be a goddess. When he leaves, he kisses her -- in a sexual way, not a familial one -- and then gropes her breast. That is not okay. It's not okay at all.
Line of the night:
Livia is just as witty in her final moments as she is in the rest of the show. As she explains to Claudius why she marked his father, Drusus, and his brother, Germanicus, for death, she says: "They were both infected with that infantile disorder known as 'Republicanism.'"
Caligula ties for line of the night. As Livia is dying and begging to be made a goddess, he tells her: "Make you a goddess? And what makes you think that a filthy, smelly old woman like you could become a goddess?" So sweet.
Historians have recounted Caligula's sexually explicit and deviant ways. Stories illustrate Caligula's cruelty and fondness for calling upon other men's wives, according to this site -- something that has been hinted at in the show thus far. It was rumored that he even slept with his three sisters. But it was not Caligula's incestuous ways that would bring about his eventual demise. To put it bluntly, Caligula's end was brought about by his sheer insanity -- something "I, Claudius" will surely show in detail... though for the sake of common decency not to the extent shown in the movie "Calligula"...