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:
Caligula has become emperor, following Tiberius' death. He fell into a coma but woke up with delusions that he'd metamorphosed into a god. His sister-wife Drusilla played along because she feared for her death, but that didn't help her much in the long run. In an attempt to re-create the goddess Athena's birth, Caligula carved their baby out of her stomach to eat it, thus killing her.
Caligula's (John Hurt) debauchery knows no bounds. He recklessly spends money and has turned the palace into a brothel where people gamble, have orgies and cross-dress -- basically, he's turned Rome into Vegas. Please note that Caligula named his horse a senator; I wish I was kidding.
Claudius (Derek Jacobi) seems to be living in pretty meager circumstances, as he's shacked up with a prostitute and no longer lives in the palace. He's (rightfully) disgusted with the way Caligula has been carrying on.
Caligula gets crazier by the second, and he suspects that he's at war with the water god Neptune and that others (including Claudius) are trying to plot against him. Of course, some people are conspiring, but Claudius isn't involved in it. They decide to kill Caligula and his family -- save for Claudius -- and in the end they murder Caligula, who seems to be completely shocked that he's not really a god and that he can actually die.
The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when):
Remember how I said people were cross-dressing in the palace? Well, Caligula was one of the people partaking. Naturally, his outfit put everyone else's to shame. Why was he decked out in a gold lame bikini, 20 pounds of makeup and a wig, you might ask? Don't worry, I'll tell you.
In what seems to be the middle of the night, Claudius and two others are dragged into a dark room in the palace. No one tells them what's going on, and think worry that Caligula has fully lost it and plans to kill them all. Maybe that would have been the better outcome, because instead of death the emperor of Rome comes out interpretive dancing to a song some guy dresses as Zeus is singing. As if that wasn't odd enough, another man dressed as a soldier starts sensually dancing with Caligula.
Claudius pretends to thoroughly enjoy that "performance," saying, "It was indescribable." Yes, Claudius, you are absolutely correct. Don't believe him? Check out the clip yourself:
Line of the night:
While Caligula is throwing a fit over his alleged war with Neptune, he has a moment where he wonders if he's losing it. (You don't say?) He confides in Claudius, asking if he's really going crazy because he barely sleeps and still has those awful headaches.
As usual, Claudius gives the right answer in the smuggest way. He tells his nephew, "You set the standard of sanity."
In that case, the bar is very low.
Caligula's death really was as brutal as it was depicted in this episode. In January of 41 A.D., a guard named Cassius Chaerea and others guardsmen attacked Caligula during the games held in Augustus' honor. Historians note that his death was similar to Julius Caesar's because he too was stabbed 30 times. Fun fact: both their conspirators were named Cassius as well.
Following Caligula's death, his wife and daughter were killed. Claudius lived on, however, and served as emperor from then until 54 A.D.