Antony may not be as preternaturally clever at plotting as Octavian, but Antony can see exactly what the soon-to-be Emperor of Rome has in mind. Send Octavia and Atia down to Alexandria, put Antony between the rock of Rome (his wife and his erstwhile lover) and the hard-soft place of Cleopatra's passions, and see where that leaves him. It leaves us with some of the best sex scenes in the series - see below for further - and Antony no more able to resist Cleopatra's ambitions than he is her charms.
Cleopatra, incidentally, is looking more sexual than beautiful, just as the most recent thinking in history would have it. Lyndsey Marshal plays her perfectly, as James Purefoy does Antony.
The acting and action back in Rome are every bit up to this. Octavian and Livia have a powerfully erotic scene in bed, and Octavian performs exactly how we would expect. Anyone who second-guessed the wisdom of replacing Max Pirkis with Simon Woods can no longer doubt it, if for this scene alone. (By the way, if the FCC and Congress have their way, scenes like tonight's in Rome will soon be ancient history - see my Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC.)
And if all of this passion and political maneuvering of gods and reptiles isn't enough, Vorenus and Pullo put in one of their best nights as well. Vorenus, loyal to Antony in Alexandria, seeing where his general is going, unable to stop him, recognizing the same "disease" in himself. Which is: hurting himself, trapping himself in impossible-to-win situations, out of guilt. For the loss of Caesar perhaps - for not being there, each for their own reasons, when someone they were bound to protect was murdered?
And Pullo has a hell now, too. He foolishly keeps Memmio alive - this did seem a little like a forced plot to device - so Memmio could escape, almost kill Pullo, but be killed by Gaia. Who is mortally wounded, and confesses to Pullo...
Wonderfully acted, all around, with special mention - as always - of Kevin McKidd as Vorenus and Ray Stevenson as Pullo.
And so the stage is set for the finale of next week - which every lover of Rome will be sad beyond words to see.
As has been the case with this entire, extraordinary series, part of the ending we know, and part we do not .... Pullo will be on his way to Actium and Alexandria. To face Vorenus? Probably. To kill Caesarian - Cleopatra's son with Caesar - as Octavian ordered? Maybe not, if Pullo believes the boy is really his...
6-minute podcast of this review
Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC
Rome - The Complete First Season
Rome - Music from the HBO Series
I, Claudius 1977 BBC-PBS series