Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rome: Season 1

I can say without doubt that Rome is one of my favorite television series of all time. Set in that period of ancient Rome wherein Julius Caesar comes to power, I've never seen a series more adept at remaining almost entirely accurate to history while remaining insanely entertaining.

Patricians and Plebs

A large part of what makes Rome so compelling is the points of view and the characters through which we see the story unfold. There are two distinct groups: the rich and the poor; the patricians and the plebeians. Julius Caesar, his family, and the senators compose one side. The fictional soldiers of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo make up another. In turn, we see events from each perspective. We see how the actions of the rich can affect the poor. We witness how even the most destitute person can change the course of history. Through this lens we get a glimpse of how life was for both sides during ancient Rome.

And, perhaps even more important, I've never seen a TV series more effectively make every single character sympathetic and with multiple facets to their personality. Nobody is truly a good person, but neither is anyone awful to the core. As someone who appreciates good fiction, I was genuinely astonished that Rome manages to succeed so completely in this regard. There are tons of scenes where it is really hard to decide who you want to root for. As Caesar dominates the countryside, I found myself cheering him on and simultaneously lamenting the defeat of his enemies. When Cicero is caught in the middle between two powers, it is hard not to empathize with him as he tries desperately to remain above it all, even at the cost of his own principles. One can't help but love Mark Antony who, while being a crass, opportunistic, horn-dog, embraces life so straight-forwardly and directly that we forgive him his more negative qualities.

But even these famous figures of history often feel as if they have nothing on the characters of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Although completely fictional, the friendship between these two soldiers somehow seems the most genuine of them all, despite being the oddest duo I've ever seen. Vorenus is principled, strictly moral, and a staunch believer in the good of the Roman Republic. Pullo, by contrast, lives life to the fullest, drinks, whores, doesn't give a damn about gods or men, and yet remains hilariously charming and pure. On paper, these two should never have become friends but, in practice, it is as if their characters and personalities were designed to complement each other. It really speaks to the generally held belief that opposites attract.

Sex and Intrigue

Now this is the stage where I find myself wanting to write again "but what makes Rome truly great is this". There is so much about this show that makes it fantastic that it is hard not to write that at the beginning of every sentence. But what I do want to point out is what makes the story tick. Violence, sex, intrigue, and personal growth.

Be warned: this show is not for the faint of heart. Ancient Rome was a place where rape, crucifixions, brutal murder, torture, and the most underhanded political skulduggery you've ever seen were quaintly commonplace. As Atia says at one point, "It isn't a confession without torture." Ancient Romans were vulgar, cutthroat, and thought that gruesome violence and slavery to be perfectly normal, even encouraged. Thus, the nastiness that you see on screen is actually totally accurate to history. And I personally think that the show would be a joke without it, a mere shadow of history's factual brilliance.

Season 1 of Rome focuses primarily on the rise and fall of Julius Caesar. For those of us with even a shred of historical knowledge, we know ahead of time that Caesar is going to be assassinated in the end. We are brought along his path to power, and we see the ramifications of Caesar's actions, both on the personal and societal level. We see the reactions of the Roman Senate. We witness the clash and civil war with Pompey the Great. We observe as the two soldiers are swept along with events while still managing to assert their own unique influence on them. It is glorious, fantastically paced, thought-provoking on multiple levels, and presents us with historical figures that we can connect to on a deeply personal level.


As is clear, I think Rome is one of the best series out there. Two seasons long, it captures ancient Rome vividly and thoroughly. And, though it takes historical license at some points, for the most part it is painstakingly determined to show us Rome as it truly was, as well as the perceptions and viewpoints of those who lived in it.

Thus it is impossible for me not to recommend it to anyone (aside from the faint of heart). Fantastic, multi-faceted characters in an insanely detailed ancient world that remains strangely similar to our own... Rome is definitely worth your time.

EDIT: As a final note, I want to point out that Rome is also incredible in showing how women, though having no official power of their own, often have the greatest influence of them all, cleverly manipulating husbands and lovers in unpredictable ways. Atia of the Julii particularly is perhaps the strongest and most effective female character I've ever seen, and if asked who the most dominant/powerful character is in the entire first season, I would side with her every time!

1 comment:

  1. I loved this series. Not to **Spoil** too much, but when Cleopatra asked if "he" Titus was a good man and Lucius said "Define Good..." I lost it. Amazing series.