With help from his friend King Herod, Claudius persuades the senate to accept him as Emperor. But after that the real plot begins - Messalina, Claudius’s wife, whom he loves unquestioningly, tries to become “the Livia to his Augustus” (if he has a moment’s pause this episode, it’s when she uses that very phrase to him - he knows the truth about Livia; she - presumably - doesn’t). Messalina begains to maneuver the man she wants to become her lover, Appius Silanus, into a position where she can gain access to sleep with him, and pretty skilfully at that, but when he refuses her she loses her grip - Silanus tries to kill Claudius and ends up getting executed.
The Messalina story is something of a return to the subtleties of the early Augustus and Livia episodes, after the OTT Caligula parts. It draws me in as it twists and turns; I want to know what happens next. These are wonderful episodes.
…and there’s a great comic scene with John Bennett as a Greek doctor, giving Claudius medical advice.
Notable characters that die this episode: Cassius Chaerea and Appius Silanus.
Mon 14 Dec: 11. A God in Colchester
The second half of the Messalina story.
Messalina manipulates events to the point of overthrowing Claudius to set up with a new lover/husband, but his advisors Pallas and Narcissus, fearing for their own lives if the coup comes off, out-play her and she finally gets her comeuppance.
It shows Messalina’s skill at manipulation that they have to ensure she never gets a chance to speak to Claudius or else she would talk her way out.
It’s difficult for me to think of anything more to say about this one - it’s all in the writing and the magnificent (as ever for this series) performances.
Notable characters that die this episode: Quintus Justus, King Herod, Messalina.
Sun 20 Dec: 12. Old King Log
“Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.”
The final episode.
Before Claudius dies he tries one final scheme to restore the Roman Republic. He marries his niece Agrippinilla (Caligula’s sister) and makes her son Nero his adopted son and heir - the idea being that Nero will be a tyrant as bad as Caligula and be overthrown, as Caligula was, but with no Claudius around to succeed him, the Republic will be restored instead.
Agrippinilla is no Livia or Messalina, Claudius is always ahead of her, and her attempts at manipulating him only play into his own plans. And between her and Nero, she’s the brains.
“Farwell Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus.”
(It reads like a list of five characters from the series, but it’s actually Claudius’s full name.)
Notable characters that die this episode: Claudius. Britannicus, Narcissus, Agrippinilla and Nero’s deaths are foretold by the Sibyl.
Guest-star of the week: Christopher Biggins (Nero).
“What a pretty thing a fire is.”