Messaliam: Bromans Episode 3
It is fitting that this week’s episode started with Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of, as Liam looks more like a Schwarzenegger-style Midlands-based terminator than a human and his female companion certainly rages against him. More on this shortly…
Episode #3 was a bit more Spartan when it came to overt classical references, but the show is clearly growing in confidence and now feels more comfortable inserting these ancient flourishes with greater subtlety. Sundials were discussed in conversation and it would be correct to say that they were used in Imperial Rome. The question of ‘boiling an egg’ was also raised and after some Socratic dialogue, one of the contestants remarked that this was ‘before the time of Jesus’. If this is accurate, we now know we are dealing with Augustan Rome (as Jesus was born before the end of his stewardship). This temporal reference also explains the lack of any other statue of an Emperor apart from Augustus (there is however a rather excellent fibreglass-sculpture of Neptune wrestling a mermaid. This ‘bronze’ was the setting for Jordan’s Ovidian woo-poem for Jade and acted as a good visual metaphor for the lover trying to ensnare his love). However, Bromans likes to challenge the viewer and consistently asks them to question their received wisdom. Just as I felt like I knew when this programme was set, along came a pepper in a male-bonding lunch session and threw me out of my comfort zone. Peppers were first brought to Europe after Columbus had landed in what became known as the Americas, so this food is anachronistic! However, there have always been theories about the ‘New World’ being much more involved in the Classical world than we think. One needs only to look at the stories regarding cocaine traces being found in the sarcophagi of Pharaohs to see that a pepper in Imperial Rome might just be possible.
The Classical surroundings also seem to be inspiring the contestants to come up with Martial-style epigrams. This week we had Summer’s truism, “Being a Roman wife is much better than being a contracts administrator”, the alliterative and paradoxical, “King of the Colosseum”, and the powerful simile of “Like a cobra in the night”. It wouldn’t surprise me if these poetic bon mots are carved in Latin somewhere in the world, such is there timeless beauty.
But it would be disingenuous to leave this week’s review without discussing perhaps the most subtle Classic’s theme running through this programme, which is that of Liam and Ellie’s relationship and its resemblance to Claudius and Messalina. Liam once again failed to nearly win anything, earning him the nickname Co-loss-Liam, but he continued to be soft, positive, reflective and self-deprecating; these are qualities that Ellie does not want him to have. Her disappointment in him is becoming heart-breaking for the viewer and one is reminded of the Emperor Derek Jacobi, who was perhaps the most unlikely emperor of a fake Rome, what with his limp and stutter. The audience of I, Claudius often wondered if Jacobi would survive the internecine warfare of his own family. When he did, we celebrated the success of the underdog, but we were soon left distraught when Jacobi’s own wife Messalina tried to kill him! However, thanks to Tacitus and the BBC, we all know what happened to Messalina in the end – she left Rome in the back of a green-waste recycling van and Jacobi continued his stint as Emperor for another episode. Is there the possibility that Liam could similarly find a way to survive this contest and force Ellie to leave without him or are they bound together until either (another) defeat or victory chooses them?
Next week’s trailer seems to show that gladiatrices will be introduced. Will the educational content of this epic programme ever stop?