Rome: The Complete Second Season review, Rome: Season 2 DVD review

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Buy your copy from Rome: The Complete Second Season (2007) starstarstarstarno star Starring: Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, James Purefoy, Polly Walker, Tobias Menzies, Kerry Condon, Simon Woods, David Bamber, Lindsay Duncan
Director: Various
Category: Drama
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After the first season of “Rome,” HBO announced that there would be 10 more episodes before the series went on the air. Considering that the second season needed to cover the rise of Augustus and the fall of Mark Antony (a span that covers the 12 years from 44 B.C. to 32 B.C.), it was clear that the series would have to jump ahead to get everything in. As a result, the second season of “Rome” feels a bit disjointed at times, but it’s still a nice blend of compelling storylines, politicking, violence and sex, complemented by its gorgeous sets and costumes (for which it won four Emmys in 2006).

The season picks up just after Caesar’s death, and the city is in turmoil. As with any power vacuum, there are several parties jockeying for position. Octavian (Max Pirkis, later played by Simon Woods) learns that in Caesar’s will, he was chosen to be the next ruler of Rome. Mark Antony (James Purefoy) justifiably feels slighted by this, which leads to loads of conflict throughout the season. Meanwhile, Brutus (Tobias Menzies) has the support of the Senators, who do not want all of the power to go to one man. This leads to the Battle of Philippi, an immense production that really tested the creators’ ability to craft a large-scale conflict on the small screen. As usual, they did a wonderful job. Back on the home front, with the men in their lives at war, Atia (Polly Walker) and Octavia (Kerry Condon) are inevitably caught up in the power struggle, eventually playing their parts in Antony’s banishment to Egypt (and into the waiting arms of Cleopatra, played by Lyndsey Marshal.)

But politicking and warring aside, “Rome” is really a buddy story between two soldiers, Lucius (Kevin McKidd) and Titus (Ray Stevenson). Lucius spends part of the season mired in a depression over the loss of his wife and the disappearance of his children. Antony asks him to do various errands, such as gaining control of the Aventine from the handful of gangs fighting for power. These tasks only seem to send him further into his downward spiral. Titus, ever faithful, sees his friend continue down a dark path but feels powerless to stop him. The two are separated when Lucius joins Antony in Egypt, and as the season wears on, it’s not clear that the two friends will ever meet again.

The five-DVD set once again includes “All Roads Lead to Rome,” an onscreen guide created by co-producer and historical consultant Jonathan Stamp. Stamp also participates in several of the other featurettes, lending his considerable knowledge to help educate the viewer on how things really were in ancient Rome. “A Tale of Two Romes” describes the conflict between two hills, the Aventine and the Palentine, as well as the ongoing class struggle, as it relates to power, money, religion, gambling, drugs and sexuality. The other three featurettes – “The Making of Rome, Season II,” “The Rise of Octavian: Rome’s First Emperor,” and “Anthony & Cleopatra” – are fairly self-explanatory. There are also  four audio commentaries from a variety of the show’s producers and directors.

The series needed another five to 10 episodes to allow it to move at a slower pace. But given the constraints, over the two seasons, the creators did a nice job fictionalizing the fall of Caesar and the rise of Augustus. “Rome” is just another example of why HBO is often lauded for developing and distributing some of the best (if not the best) television programming today.

~John Paulsen