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.
Where we left off:
At the end of episode one, Livia (Sian Phillips) successfully took Marcellus (Christopher Guard) out of the picture by poisoning him. Augustus convinced Agrippa (James Faulkner) to come back to Rome, with the condition that Agrippa would get to marry Augustus's daughter, Julia (Frances White).
It is nine years later. Agrippa has died of poisoning. (Gee, I wonder who's responsible for that.) Now Tiberius (George Baker) is unhappily married to Julia. He misses his ex-wife, Vipsania, (Sheila Ruskin), whom he left because his mother, Livia, forced him to. He tells his brother Drusus (Ian Ogilvy) this, and Drusus tells him there is nothing he can do.
Meanwhile, Augustus (Brian Blessed) has been spending a lot of time with his grandchildren, Gaius and Lucius, who seem to be real brats. They are being groomed to rule Rome some day.
Tragedy strikes when Drusus injures himself while on a military mission. His horse falls on him and crushes his leg. He is badly hurt -- and this plot point, by the way, is historically accurate. Livia, who has never really cared for her son all that much, sends a doctor to take care of him. Tiberius shows up at the camp just before Drusus dies from gangrene and infection. Right as he passes, Drusus' wife brings in baby Claudius to see his father. This is our first glimpse of Claudius in his "history."
Upon his return, Tiberius and Julia run into serious marital issues. Augustus won't let them divorce, but who knows what Livia will do next.
The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when):
Tiberius goes to visit his ex-wife, Vipsania, whom he learned is remarrying. He has a melodramatic nervous breakdown and says he will kill her if she marries another man. "You're my wife!" he screams, shaking her. Except, she's not his wife. Julia is. Nonetheless, he begs her not to remarry because he loves her and says he should have killed himself.
"Let's open our veins," he says dramatically. "Our blood will be mingling and caressing."
Of course, the other over-the-top moment of the episode includes Tiberius too. Tiberius and Julia are fighting because she wants to sleep with him (and he hates her, so he won't) and he calls her a fat cow. Now, I don't care if it's B.C. or A.D., every man should know to never call a woman fat. Naturally, Julia loses it. She makes fun of Vipsania for being built like a prepubescent boy, and Tiberius slaps her.
Line of the night:
While Tiberius is pouring heart out to Drusus in the beginning of the episode, Drusus lets out a brilliant one-liner about their mother: "They said a snake bit her once -- and it died."