Rome: The Complete Series Review

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HBO’s Rome has been on my to-watch list for years, and I finally watched it, so I can now officially add my voice the the chorus declaring it a crying shame that the show was cancelled after just two seasons, rather than the intended five. At least they had enough warning to wrap up the storyline in a coherent and relatively satisfying way, but the second season felt rushed as a result of trying to squeeze everything in before the end. Fortunately, despite its premature cancellation, the quality of the acting and the production values remained outstanding throughout.

In particular, I thought both writers and actors did a great job making ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, and their inhabitants both clearly alien to the modern Western audience, yet also sympathetic and relatable. One of the things that especially stood out to me was how brave the Roman characters were in the face of death. Rome has a considerable number of both actual suicides and people preparing for the possibility that they might have to commit suicide (for “honor” or to save themselves from a worse fate), and pretty much every single one is conducted with calm and stoic determination. As were most of the assassinations.

The historical accuracy was mixed at best, and I thought that some of the writers’ choices about when to stick to historical fact and when to switch things up were more successful than others. On the side of the good choices, I especially enjoyed Atia, Octavia, and Servilia, who were all substantially more entertaining than their reportedly pious and matronly real-life counterparts. Most of the changes made to their stories were so fun I didn’t care about the inaccuracies. In fact, Atia of the Julii is one of my new favorite female characters ever. Horrible human being, but so entertaining! Kudos to the writers and Polly Walker for bringing her to such vivid life!

One of my favorite Atia moments

One of my favorite Atia moments

On the other hand, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo had a much more mixed bag. I loved most of their interactions with the historical characters, and of course their interactions with each other (I’m always a sucker for a good bromance), but with the exception of Vorenus and Niobe’s complicated relationship in season one, most of their other non-historical relationships and storylines were kind of a mess. I didn’t like Pullo’s storylines with Eirene or Gaia at all, and the whole thing with Lucius Vorenus running the Aventine as a sort of ancient Roman mob boss also failed to hold a candle to anything he did with Caesar, Antony, or Octavian.

Another non-historical storyline I didn’t like was the incest. Though it was a minor plotline, it disproportionately annoyed me. I don’t have a problem with incest storylines per se, but they have to be justified very carefully for me to suspend disbelief. Incest is a nearly universal taboo, after all. Rome‘s incest seemed to come out of the blue for both characters. It certainly wasn’t as organic to the characters as the incest in The Borgias, which was set up from the very first scene they had together. As a result, it felt more like it was tossed in for shock value than anything else, which, in the context of a show with so much other shocking stuff going on all the time, just seemed cheap.

Overall, I thought that the first season was better than the second, partly because the second season was so rushed, and partly because too much of what little time was left in the second season was taken up by less interesting subplots like Vorenus in the Aventine and Timon the Jew’s fanatic brother. However, when season 2 was good, it was very, very good. The finale was especially spectacular, and a worthy ending to a great series.

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My rating: (4 / 5)


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