Vanzetti (vaznetti) wrote,

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Rome: Cicero and Pullo

The BBC is rushing through the second season of Rome -- two episodes a week, which is better than not showing it at all, of course. Sunday was "Philippi," and I spent Monday writing about Brutus and Cicero. I think I've seen it three times now, and I still don't like the way they handled Cicero's final scene. No blame to the actors, who both do an amazing job with it, but superlative acting isn't quite enough to salvage it for me. I think that for me, the problem is Pullo's innocence. The whole sequence really highlights Pullo's ability to walk through some pretty horrible stuff and keep himself untouched by it, which is something we've seen before, but I think always in context of Pullo's lack of illusions about himself. Pullo knows that he's a killer, and doesn't see a problem with that, but in the first season especially that means that he's always taking a step back from the rest of the world: it's Vorenus, he thinks, who deserves a happy family life, who deserves to live in the sunshine. Not Pullo.

But here, in this scene with Cicero, in the whole picnic idea, is Pullo trying to have it both ways -- he's the killer, still, but he's also out in the country with his wife, with his friend and his friend's children: he's not separate from that world. And so when he stands there and asks Cicero for some of the peaches to bring back to his wife, it's horrifying and incongruous: Pullo is doing something truly horrible, and for once he has no idea that he's doing so. He's determined not to see it.

In the short term, of course, Pullo is wrong -- all that happy normality is going to be pulled out from under him when Eirene dies and Vorenus goes to Egypt with Antony. There's something just as terrible lurking in that sunny courtyard for him. But in the long term, Pullo's innocence -- whatever you want to call it, his ability to walk untouched through history -- is confirmed. At the end of the series, he's taken the place he thought belonged to Vorenus: Caesar's favor, Vorenus' children, even his own stolen son. He gets the happy ending, at a price.

The thing about Cicero's death, in the series, is that I'm not sure what it should mean: is it just the horrible contrast, the polite assassin and the politician's hard-won self control? In the historical tradition, Cicero is killed by men he defended once: men who owe him a favor, in that peculiarly Roman sense, such that their involvement here is a symbol of just how terribly wrong things have gone. With Pullo... well, the political meaning is gone, and that's typical of the show, and my greatest complaint about it, the bizarre sidelining of political history at its most vital and meaningful. And that's why my instinct is that the scene would have worked better for me if Vorenus had done it, because Vorenus and Cicero are on the same side, both believing in the republic, both aware of what is happening to it. Vorenus would have done it, but he would have known what he was doing, and what it made of him, and of his world.

I almost talked myself into liking the scene, as I wrote this, and then I talked myself out of it again. Oh, Rome, why must you hate political history so?
Tags: classics, history, rome
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