Over the decades, viewers have enjoyed many historical-fiction shows, as it is not just a great way to learn about the subject matter, but the indulgence factor works well in such shows. There is drama, treachery, lust, love, killing, and, most of all, historical accuracy as well. Vikings, Marco Polo, The Tudors, Reign, Downton Abbey, Versailles, and Barbarians are some examples of popular television shows in the historical fiction genre, and all of them have one thing in common: a focus on the politics and the drama of the era. Domina, created and written by Simon Burke for Sky Atlantic (UK and Italy), is about the infamous Roman Empire, which in its early turbulent period was ruled by Augustus Caesar and his wife Livia Drusilla, the protagonist of this show. The power of this woman made sure she and her husband would remain undefeated for a long time.
For your context, Augustus Caesar is the adopted son of the famous Julius Caesar, who was murdered by his comrades, which began a civil war between the murderers and the supporters of the deceased Caesar, which includes Mark Antony and Augustus. Amidst all of this, the Romans were ruled by a senate that was on the cusp of being questioned for the power it held. This series takes the audience through a representation of how the powerplay in that Senate worked and who would end up becoming collateral damage in this ‘Game of Thrones’. In the capital city of Rome, there is nothing but continuous power play going on. There are men at the forefront, but behind them are equally powerful women who make sure to manipulate scenarios in favor of the male figures in their families.
One such woman was Livia Drusilla, the only daughter of the Roman senator Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, who was not a bad leader; the man had experience in governing and managing the power granted to him. Piso becomes her father figure, while Marcus kills himself after a failed military expedition. From then on, she had only depended on her husband, Nero, and her elder son, Tiberius. She lost all of her property when Rome was taken over by Augustus and his allies. Livia, being the most beautiful and knowing she carries a certain amount of power with her, seduces Emperor Augustus into marrying her. The young man himself was smitten by her beauty. His ability to get carried away by Livia’s words at this age proves that she always held more power than would seem apparent.
The first few episodes of the show are dedicated to how Livia and Augustus met and how their union led to the formation of a power that no one could defeat because Livia was adept at politics and Augustus was skilled in warfare. Except for Caesar’s immediate family, his sister Octavia tried her best to make sure her son Marcellus could be declared Augustus’ heir. Caesar so far had no child with Livia, but he had a daughter named Julia from another marriage. Livia, on the other hand, had two sons from her previous husband Nero, Tiberius and Drusus.
All the ordeals they faced before their wedding and as a married couple were nothing but political maneuvering, which was common amongst royalty because everyone wanted a piece of the cake. The power was unlimited, but no one wanted to do much for the people, just hold on to their seats, especially the Senate, which was the most corrupt bunch of human beings. They try their level best to control the leader they have chosen and try to come across as representatives of the people, but by the look of it, they are only spokespersons for themselves.
There is plenty of political back and forth that goes on to keep Augustus, Livia, and their allies in power because everyone knows Livia is an influential figure. She is surrounded by her loyal friends Antigone and Tycho who would do anything to remain ten steps ahead of political schemers around her. The entire scenario would be reminiscent to viewers of King’s Landing in the “Game of Thrones” universe, where there is constantly plotting and scheming in the struggle for ultimate power by Cersei and her father Tywin in the hope of securing their position as something that would stand eternal.
Livia wants to make her son an important figure in the family, and she may be floating the idea of making her younger son Drusus the heir to Augustus. The man, though, had already chosen Marcellus because of his direct bloodline. That did not gel well with Livia because if the boy came into power, there was a chance he would get rid of her and her kids, and that would be the end of her bloodline. Livia tightens her grip on her husband through love and manipulation, as her bigger idea is to restore the republic just like her father wanted.
To achieve that goal, she will have to be a supportive spouse to Augustus, who wants to end the power of the Senate and establish a monarchy so that he can serve without any interference from the consuls. Her allies in the court including Agrippa and Julia, would stay by her side, and they seem to like Livia as a person, because of the fact that they figure she is not as pretentious as Octavia and her family.
Octavia tried plenty of times to establish dominance over her brother, but that did not work out because Livia was always around, and this proves that women were two steps ahead of men in the Roman era. Octavia, Livia, Antigone, and Julia represented that faction of women who would never let go of the perks that come with power. All of them are traditionalists when it comes to the gender roles assigned, but they also tend to look beyond them. Even though Livia could not give Augustus an heir from their marriage, that did not stop the two of them from being in love and staying married, even though they did go through their own set of rough patches.
The first season also focused on the affairs that kept happening between the younger kids. Julia is having an affair with Octavia’s adopted son, Iullus, even though she was married off to Marcellus. Marcellus turns out to be gay who only has an interest in winning wars and being with men. His marriage to Julia also produced no heirs because of obvious reasons. Another aspect the first season of Domina covered was the breaking down of taboos around the subject of divorce because women and men simply left their spouses if their marriage was not working and sought another partner that would fulfill their emotional and financial needs. Livia is such an example. She chose to leave Nero because he could not keep his word to her, and this made her choose a young Augustus.
Season one concludes with Marcellus’ death, which, by the looks of it, was a result of poisoning by his Spanish slave or partner. The slave was forced into carrying out his act by Livia, Antigone, and Tycho. To make sure he does not rat them out, the slave boy was killed and Tycho got rid of the body, and he was deemed missing until his body was found. The last two episodes of the season revolved around the deaths and possible implications that Livia might be behind them. The drama in it was too much to bear, and all of this could have been presented in a subtle manner. The constant back and forth of the plotting and scheming made the narrative boring and highly predictable, especially in the climax.
Though Octavia accuses Livia of being the co-conspirator in the killing of Marcellus, she does not have any proof to back her allegation. This finally proves the ultimate power that Livia has over her husband, Emperor Augustus, and thus their journey to become the divine figures of the empire begins. Season Two will showcase the use of power from here on. Livia is a force to be reckoned with, and the next season will let the viewers know why she will remain relevant for a long time.