I'm into disc 4 of Rome
, and I'm struck by how brave the writing is.
/* spoilers */
There's a scene between Atia and Servilia, who hate each other with a passion. Servilia has called upon the Furies to destroy Atia and her family. Atia has commissioned men to assault and shame Servilia in the public street. Atia has, one assumes, come to Servilia's house to gloat -- and to see if her attack has had the desired effect.
... and the conversation is entirely that of a tea party. The two women are as gracious as you could imagine. Atia acts sweet and sympathetic. Nominally she is there to invite Servilia to watch Caesar's triumph from her box seats. Servilia is gracious and cordial, because to admit she knows it was Atia would be to admit weakness.
It is brave writing because it relies on the director and the actors to convey without words or even overt actions the depth of the two women's hatred for each other.
It is brave writing because it relies on network executives not to come back with well-meaning notes like, "How are we going to know that these two women hate each other? Won't the audience be confused?"
And then there is the scene where Titus Pullo discovers that his slave girl does not, in fact, love him, and has been planning to buy her freedom so she can marry one of Lucius Vorenus's other slaves. And Titus Pullo loses it and bashed the boy's head in, killing him. Enter Lucius:
Pullo: Looks like.
Lucius: What happened?
Pullo: Doesn't matter.
Lucius: It matters to me
Pullo: Him and Eirene...
Lucius: So what? Did you think she was a virgin?
Lucius Vorenus is upset. Just short of outraged. He's flailing about trying to state exactly what he's mad about. He's upset because Pullo destroyed his property. He's angry because Pullo did it in front of his kids. He's angry that Pullo flew off the handle, didn't think, hadn't considered the possibility that his slave girl, for all that she was docile and willing to satisfy Pullo sexually, actually had a private life.
What does not cross his mind is that he should be mad because Pullo just murdered someone
. Because the boy is a slave. And when Pullo offers to pay for the boy, Lucius refuses the money, as I would refuse to accept payment if a good friend lost his temper and broke an expensive piece of pottery. Indeed, the only thing that crosses the line for Lucius is when Pullo criticizes him for violating his own morals by becoming one of Caesar's men. That
is too close to home.
This is brave writing because it walks the gladius's edge emotionally. On one hand it is accurate: a Roman would be outraged if a friend killed his slave, but no more than if a friend killed his horse. (I'm inclined to suspect he would feel entitled to more anger about the horse.) On the other hand the audience is modern and considers slavery outrageous. On the other hand we sympathize with Pullo because his heart has been broken. On the other hand, WTF?!?
And again, the writers had the courage to trust that the audience would get it. They didn't have the slave boy be provocative in an effort to lose our sympathy for him. They didn't have Lucius anachronistically point out that Pullo has just murdered a human being. They didn't have Pullo feel sorry that he killed someone -- he's a soldier, he's lost count of how many people he's killed -- only that he blew it with the girl he loved. They trusted that we would still
feel sympathy for Pullo, because we knew how much he loved her, because he killed a Day Player we've never seen before, and because, well, it was just a slave boy...
That's brave writing, that is.
Labels: Crafty TV Writing