“Fall” is a breakneck opener to a “girlboss” take on Roman politics, with cliches and attitude aplenty.
This recap of Domina season 1, episode 1, “Fall”, contains spoilers.
There is a simple hook to Sky Atlantic and Epix’s sweeping historical drama Domina, which is this: It’s the cutthroat politics of ancient Rome, with all the big names, only told from the perspective of the era’s women, primarily Livia Drusilla (Nadia Parkes, at first). It’s a sprawling story that some cursory familiarity with the history will certainly help to digest, but the worldbuilding and storytelling are both strong enough that this isn’t mandatory for enjoyment. It’s Rome, after all; the sex, murder, politics, lies, manipulations, allegiances, and betrayals are all there already. The pleasure is in tracing one character’s growth through – and indeed into – that melange.
Livia is the daughter of Livius, Rome’s Dominus, who is trying his best to keep Rome out of dictatorial hands after the recent death of Julius Caesar but has made a target of himself for the vengeful Gaius Caesar (Tom Glynn-Carney), who can’t help but put bounties on the heads of everyone who annoys him, including Livius, who later commits suicide after going to war alongside Brutus and Cassius, and then Tiberius Nero (Enzo Cilenti), whom Livius married Livia off to. Nero is a coward, of course, so he promptly leaves Livia and her handmaid Antigone (Melodie Wakivuamina) to fend for themselves after fleeing to Sicily leader Sextus Pompeius (Tom Forbes), whose treaty with Gaius will eventually lead to amnesty and thus no safe harbor for Livia and many others.
Domina season 1, episode 1, “Fall”, is aptly named, then, and contains all the obligatory sex and violence – Livia has to bash someone’s skull in with a rock – to grab the audience’s attention. It’s just as well, really, since there’s a lot of historical namechecking and political maneuvering in this opener that might have been slightly off-putting on its own. But there’s a method in the madness since this isn’t a small, self-contained story – it’ll eventually leap across decades and weave in and out of many important historical periods and events. Rooting our perspective in that of Livia, who is given tremendous attitude by Nadia Parkes before she’ll eventually be replaced by Kasia Smutniak, is a wise storytelling choice, since it makes for an anchor to this tumultuous world.