Judge Jennifer Malkowski isn't sure whether she'd be comfortable enough with her masculinity to wear a tunic...
Our reviews of Rome: The Complete First Season (published August 15th, 2006), Rome: The Complete Series (published November 23rd, 2009), and Rome: The Complete Series (Blu-Ray) (published December 16th, 2009) are also available.
Antony to Brutus: "You people play too rough for a simple soldier like me. Knives in the Senate house? Didn't think you had it in you."
Rome: The Complete Second Season maintains the outstanding quality of the series, and of HBO shows, in general. Its intricate plotlines and historic accuracy sustain its standing as a jaw-dropping series, and there's plenty of soap-level drama and scheming to boot.
Facts of the Case
SPOILER ALERT: I'll be discussing season two in its entirety.
The death of Caesar (Ciarán Hinds, Munich) has shaken the city of Rome all the way down to its core, affecting rich and poor alike. Mark Antony (James Purefoy, A Knight's Tale) now has to bully his way into the good favor of the senate which, all of a sudden, appears to have regained some of their aristocratic power (and haughtiness). Octavian (first portrayed by Max Pirkis, and then by Simon Woods) is now the head of his family and, although not taken seriously, has serious plans to avenge the murder of his uncle and win the love of the plebes. Atia (Polly Walker, Emma) begins to sing a different, slightly less evil tune this season and Servilia (Lindsay Duncan, Under the Tuscan Sun) is finally getting her retribution. Vorenus (Kevin McKidd, Nicholas Nickleby) is distraught by his loss, renounces the gods and turns to a less scrupulous lifestyle, while Pullo (Ray Stevenson, King Arthur) attempts to go the other route. Season two also welcomes some more influential women into the fold such as Cleopatra, played by Lyndsey Marshall and Gaia (Zuleikha Robinson, Hidalgo).
• "Son of Hades"
• "Testudo et Lepus (The Tortoise and the Hare)"
• "A Necessary Fiction"
• "De Patre Vostro (About Your Father)"
The first season of Rome was remarkable and the second is no different. So many shows that try to meld history with fictional drama fail to hit the mark. They either play out as unbelievable or just boring. Rome, however, avoids both pitfalls, bringing the battles, sex, treachery, and politics together in a steaming cauldron of addictive wonderfulness.
I thrive on the treachery and unlikely relationships that make up the Roman drama. The characters are, obviously, what makes the show what it is. There is such a plethora of people to love and to hate. The second season has gone so much more in depth with the personalities, especially of Atia and Vorenus. In the first season, both of these leads were fairly one-dimensional. We always knew that Atia would act heinous and shrewd while Vorenus would be chock full of crunchy, munchy "moral fiber," but really never see the big picture. Both of them broke so far out of these molds in the second season! We finally see the weaker sides of these two, along with many others. Servillia, to me, was the only disappointment. She didn't explore new levels of her character and simply remained hell-bent on her vengeance mission.
The season began and ended on an extremely high note. At the start, the plot points wrapping up the deaths from season one were a welcome change for some characters, while the end held an intriguing change of scenery and tradition with the journey to Egypt. The middle of the season dragged a bit, but the mid-season episode "Phillipi," was astonishing. The death of Brutus, extremely reminiscent of the murder of Caesar, was lit and shot superbly. The whole episode was fantastic and the battle scenes, particularly, were real gems.
As Octavian pointed out in "A Necessary Fiction," it was the women who dominated Rome in this season. Season One had many powerful and influential women in it, but the ladies in Season Two truly shone. Cleopatra effortlessly and completely commandeers the will of Mark Antony, forcing him to completely forsake his own people. Octavia also, sadly, turns from the sweet, naïve girl she once was into quite a force, confronting her brother face to face, and also going behind his back. As is often said in the history books, it truly does seem to be the women who ruled Rome, acting from behind the scenes, as women throughout history have often been forced to do.
Rome: The Complete Second Season capitalizes on its historical accuracy in its selection of impressive special features. The most unique of these is "All Roads Lead to Rome." This feature gives the viewer the option of having historic "word bubbles" pop up along with the episode. This is a great way to watch because it allows for the information to play alongside the episode without interfering with the audio, unlike commentary tracks. The DVDs also have many "making of" and "real history" extras that, although not as exceptional as "All Roads Lead to Rome," are still intriguing and extremely well made. "A Tale of Two Romes" gives insight into the lifestyles of the different classes in historical Rome. "The Rise of Octavian: Rome's First Emperor" and "Antony & Cleopatra" are also historically focused, but this time on specific characters featured in the series. Even "The Making of Rome, Season II" concentrates more on historical accuracy than most "making of" featurettes. Finally, there are cast and crew commentaries for "Passover," "Death Mask," "A Necessary Fiction," "Deus Impeditio Esuritori Nullus," and "De Patre Vostro."
The picture and sound quality, much like other HBO shows, are executed with near perfection. The discs beautifully render both the rich, vibrant colors of the nobles' houses or Egypt and the bleaker, desaturated tones of the battlefield. Actually, this season does very sophisticated work with color, matching levels of vibrance to the tone of each scene, rather than just to the settings.
HBO has hit their mark again. Rome deserves all the rave reviews that it has received. The show is a necessary addition to anyone's DVD collection—anyone who isn't squeamish about graphic gore or sex, that is. Thanks be to all that such an amazing show as Rome ended before it "jumped the shark"…or jumped whatever equivalent animal they had in ancient Rome.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I proclaim a resounding not guilty for Rome: The Complete Second Season. Et tu Brute?
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Scales of Justice
• "All Roads Lead to Rome" Pop-Up Commentary
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