“Family” jumps Domina forward through time, introducing a grown-up Livia and a much-changed Rome.
This recap of Domina season 1, episode 3, “Family”, contains spoilers.
As promised in my recap of the previous episode, Domina episode 3 jumps a decade into the future and replaces almost all of the cast with more age-appropriate actors, including a heavily accented Kasia Smutniak as Livia and Matthew McNulty as Gaius. With this obvious change comes several more subtle ones, marking the evolution of that coupling into adept, experienced political manipulators with no shortage of enemies and competing agendas – classic Rome stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.
But the leap through time isn’t hitchless, and it takes some adjustment to get used to not just the new faces but also the new status quo. We’re to make some assumptions about Livia and Gaius, romantically and politically, and we’re to accept the former’s desire to restore the Roman Senate. We’re expected to simply know about important historical events that have taken place in the intervening years and are obliquely alluded to here, and we’re to also be okay with the fact that what largely amounts to a teen drama (thanks to the aging of Livia, Octavia, and Scribonia’s children) has essentially been grafted onto the main plot. It’s a lot and doesn’t make what is already a pretty complex show any easier to digest.
Luckily, though, Domina episode 3 nails a lot of its drama, even if the motivations of the major players are a bit sketchy and it’s sometimes difficult to tell what’s what. Livia and Gaius make a play to restore the Roman Republic under the guise of the latter relinquishing his personal power; it’s a con, obviously, but it’s a shrewd, enjoyable bit of politicking. I’m not convinced by the relationship between these two for reasons that obviously include the fact we haven’t seen any of it on-screen, but Livia’s dialogue suggests the idea that she has warmed to the man and I’m not one to argue. Still, though, it’s easy to imagine that Livia is out for herself more than anyone else, especially since she doesn’t seem to pay her children much mind – she obviously got them back, by the way, and the rumor is she killed her husband to do so – and her schemes always work to her betterment, even if they outwardly seem to be furthering her husband’s ambitions.
Livia’s ambivalence towards her offspring is countered by the fact that Domina episode 3 can’t get enough of them. This stuff is a mixed bag, really. A lot of Domina season 1, episode 3 is devoted to a conflict between Livia’s son Tiberius and Octavia’s adopted son Marcellus. This subplot includes the murder of turtles, which seems rather inexcusable to me, but it also intersects with Antigone’s ongoing arc as a freedwoman who nonetheless gets treated with no respect by anyone because she was once a slave and a hooker. Livia’s most fiery, fun moment doesn’t have anything to do with her personal ambition but comes when she defends Antigone to Octavia, who tries to force her into banishing Antigone after she slaps a deserving Marcellus across the face. I’m all-in on Livia and Antigone because we actually have a sense of that bond that was built up over the first two episodes. It’s one of the show’s stronger dynamics.
Other stuff – a lot of praying and sacrificing pigs and such – I could take or leave, but Domina has a really good line in petty sass, and every episode is replete with zingers, “Family” perhaps more than the previous two combined. Those with a more than cursory knowledge of this period of history will likely find more to enjoy here than most; there’s a clear expectation of some familiarity, and one imagines that there’s a measure of joy in knowing where all this drama is going. I just worry about all the turtles that might have to be sacrificed in order for it to get there.