Several years have passed between episode 20 and episode 21. Antony has gone a bit native, sporting both Egyptian eye make-up and tattoos, and has two children by Cleopatra. In the opening scenes, he is using a slave dressed in a deer outfit to instruct Cleopatra in the finer points of hunting while emissaries from Rome try to negotiate a resumption of the grain shipments from Egypt as there is an impending famine in Rome. Antony purposely pushes the negotiations to fail and Cleopatra, when the padded mock arrows run out, switches to a real arrow and kills the slave. The Romans are aghast at the callousness but Cleopatra and Antony walk out totally unconcerned. We then find out that Antony is trying to goad Octavian into war. He doesn’t want to start the war himself because he’s afraid that will cost the good will of the Roman people.
On the domestic front, Vorenus is still the Roman Prefect and appears to be the companion of Caeserion who is pressing for information about his father. Vorenus describes Pullo in terms that could also apply to Caesar but slips up slightly when describing Pullo’s appetite. Caeserion had heard that Caesar was a modest eater.
Back in Rome, Pullo has become a leader of men and, as leader of the Aventine, is struggling with the grain shortage. He appeals to Octavian, but the rest of the city granaries are in as bad or worse shape. Only the army has grain. After a quick consultation with Agrippa and Maecenas, Octavian decides to send three legions to Africa in order to free up some grain, but this is only a very temporary measure.
It’s becoming clear that only a war will convince Antony to restore the grain shipments, but Octavian is worried that Antony’s popularity with the people is still too strong for him to move openly against the east.
At home, Octavia now has a daughter named Antonia and Atia is still waiting, and still expects, Antony to send for her. Octavian suddenly decides to send Octavia and Atia to Egypt. After a prolonged sex scene, in which the nudity was maximized but the S&M limited to a jump start slap from Livia, Livia asks why Octavian sent Octavia and Atia to Egypt, but before he answers, she works it out for herself. Either Antony rejects them in which case the people will turn against him for humiliating his Roman wife Octavia for Cleopatra or, if he still has feelings for Atia, he will return to her and, at her entreaty, restore the grain shipments. Either way Octavian has solved his problem. Either the grain shipments are resumed or Octavian can now wage war against Antony with the support of the people. Livia acknowledges Octavian’s move with the compliment “Cleaver Boy.” She’s been living with him for four or five years and she just noticed?
The trip to Egypt is, as Octavian figured it would be, a disaster. Antony refuses to even see Octavia and Atia. Only Jocasta, much to the distress of Posca, comes out to greet them in the sweltering heat while they’re waiting outside the front door to the palace. Finally Antony sends Vorenus to send them home. Atia takes it out on Vorenus, first slapping him, then pushing him and finally asking him if he would dare use force on women of the Julii. Vorenus admits that he wouldn’t dare but points out that the men Antony sent with him would have no such hesitations. As they’re leaving Octavia says to Vorenus, "You tell my husband he's cowardly scum."
On his return to the palace Vorenus finds Posca and Jocasta planning to leave with Octavia and Atia. Vorenus allows them to leave but turns down Posca’s entreaties that he come with them. He asks Posca to tell Pullo to kiss his children for him.
Upon arriving back in Rome Atia has figured out that Octavian used her and greets him with a slap across the face. So Octavian gets whacked twice this episode, once each from his wife and mother, and Atia has the distinction of, through the course of the show, smacking Antony, Vorenus and Octavian. But it’s Posca who provides the real prize, the last will and testament of Antony and Cleopatra which, among other things, they direct that Antony be buried in Egypt and bequeath the western empire to Caesarion. That, plus Antony’s spurning of Octavia, is more than enough ammunition for Octavian to turn the Roman people against Antony and he begins planning for war.
As part of that preparation he asks Pullo to come with him to Egypt in the hopes that his friendship with Vorenus, who remains loyal to Antony, can be used to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Octavian indicates that Antony and Caesarion must die but hopefully very few other than them. Pullo is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of killing Caesarion especially considering that Caesarion may in fact be his son. Octavian calls Pullo his “old friend” and says that it will be like old times, “another adventure.” I figure the chumming up is a sure sign that a falling out is coming, most likely over Caeserion.
Back at the collegium, Pullo keeps a tongueless Memmio, who clearly wasn’t killed in the fighting at the end of the last episode, in a cage and has taken up with Gaia. Late one night Memmio escapes his cage and ambushes Pullo, knocking him unconscious, but before he can finish the job with a rather large knife, Gaia intervenes and kills Memmio, but gets stabbed twice. As she’s lying in bed dying from the knife wounds she admits to Pullo that she poisoned Eirene (aha, she did do it!). Pullo goes from grief over Gaia’s fate to cold rage and strangles her. He then dumps her body, like so much trash, into some stagnant muddy water.
When Antony comes looking for Posca, Vorenus delivers Octavia’s message. Antony challenges Vorenus to tell him what he thinks of Octavia’s assessment. Vorenus tells Antony that he’s no coward but that he has a disease of the soul that will eat away at him until he dies. When Antony asks him how he can be so sure of his diagnosis, Vorenus tells him it’s because he recognizes the symptoms, because he has the same disease. That’s probably a dead giveaway that Vorenus will not survive the series.
No sign of Timon this episode, I can only assume he and his family are now in Jerusalem.
So we’re coming to something of a conclusion here. It looks like either a Pullo vs. Vorenus or Pullo vs. Octavian confrontation or both. Like I said the sudden acknowledgement by Octavian of his friendship with Pullo strikes me as a sure sign that a fracture is coming, and the whole disease of the soul thing strikes me as a sign that Vorenus is as doomed as the friendship between Pullo and Octavian. Caesarion may well be the focal point around which the climax of the series occurs. And how does Timon fit in I wonder? My best guess is somehow Pullo manages to rescue Caesarion and they escape to Judea. There they encounter Timon, who has established himself in the sheep business, and who offers them a sanctuary of sorts. Then we can have a final scene some 25 years later with an elderly Pullo and an adult Caesarion as shepherds witnessing the birth of Jesus.
You do realize, that if this is in fact the way it ends, I’ll be impossible to live with for months.
Historically Cleopatra sent Caeserion to the port of Berenice for safety but his escorts either betrayed him to Octavian or were lured into bringing him back to Alexandria. In either event, Octavian had him eliminated for reasons of state. Neither Pullo nor Vorenus would be that dumb, so this doesn't strike me as a viable choice. I guess that we shall see what we shall see.