Domina Season 1, Episode 1 recap: The fall of Livius & rise of Livia

Domina Season 1, Episode 1 -- Photo Credit: © Antonello & Montesi
Domina Season 1, Episode 1 -- Photo Credit: © Antonello & Montesi /

There is a lot to keep track of in the first hour of Sky Atlantic and EPIX’s sweeping, epic historical drama Domina Season 1. As is the case with many of these fictional retellings, it’s rare one masters the worldbuilding in an easily digestible manner. Domina is no different.

The first episode throws big Roman names, characters, legacies, betrayals and more at you by the handful and hopes you can keep up. I admit I had to rewind a few times to make sure I understood who was who and what was going on, especially since screeners don’t have subtitles and a few of these actors tend to mumble.

But I digress. Overall, I enjoyed the first episode of Domina, which is a historical series that focuses on the women of the era. Throughout the first season, we’ll watch as a young Livia Drusilla (played by Nadia Parkes for the first two episodes) develops from an educated, but naive, young woman, into a calculating power player in the Roman hierarchy.

Domina begins shortly after the Ides of March. With Julius Caesar dead, his sons have scattered to the winds. On one side we have Gaius Caesar (young Gaius is played by Tom Glynn-Carney), who plots to exact vengeance against the senators and knights responsible for his father’s death, and on the other side, we have Brutus and Cassius.

Livia’s father, the Dominus, Livius, considers himself an honorable man who wishes to avoid having Rome slip back into another dictatorship so soon after Caesar’s fall. He marries his daughter off to her cousin and his ally, Tiberius Nero (Enzo Cilenti). Livius is later forced to flee when Gaius puts a bounty on his head. He goes to war to fight alongside Brutus and Cassius against Octavian on Mark Antony’s behalf.

While at war, Livius follows in Brutus and Cassius’s footsteps by committing suicide. We see him write a letter to his daughter, whom he affectionately calls “little bear,” before plunging a sword into his gut.

Afterward, Livia, her trusted handmaid Antigone (young Antigone is played by Melodie Wakivuamina), Nero and Livia’s newborn son Tiberius are forced to flee from Italy as Gaius and his legion continue adding names to the bounty list, now including Nero. Nero intends to take his wife and son to Sicily leader Sextus Pompeius (Tom Forbes), who is said to hate Gaius. But little does Nero know that Sextus and Gaius have already met to create a treaty, which will lead to an eventual amnesty between the Triumvirate and Sextus’s followers.

In the meantime, Nero, Livia and Antigone are accosted by a group of eager mercenaries happy to kill the aristocrats-turned-fugitives for some coin. Nero takes off running, leaving Livia and Antigone to fend for themselves. Antigone is almost raped by one of the men before Livia intervenes, brutally bashing his skull in with a rock.

Domina Season 1
Domina Season 1, Episode 1 — Photo Credit: © Antonello & Montesi /

Domina Season 1 needs to prove that it’s more than a shallow”girlboss” show

In the era of “girlbosses,” you get the vibe that every show focused on a heroine needs a showy act like this to foreshadow what she’ll later become. As the Evening Standard points out, Domina suffers from the familiar, “girlboss-ification of female figures from history” that’s popular right now, complete with Livia being forced to learn about sex for the first time on her wedding night and immediately becoming pregnant.

However, the writer goes on to point that, “this tension, captured in strong performances from Parkes and Kasia Smutniak (who plays the older Livia from episode three onwards), gives the title character nuance – and, crucially, stops her from feeling like just another identikit badass woman on a horse.”

The performances are great and the political intrigue goes on for miles, so I’m definitely interested to see if Domina can add more nuance and depth to these characters and storylines. I’m certainly intrigued to see Livia’s eventual evolution, especially as the show will later skip forward more than a decade in the third episode, to the point in time when Livia has become Gaius Caesar’s (later Augustus) wife.

As the outlet puts it, “we are repeatedly shown that for women, Roman life was rubbish,” and that’s putting it mildly. Now the next phase will be to give us genuine growth and realistic depictions of these women that the first episode hints at.

Overall, Domina Season 1, Episode 1 is an exciting, fast-paced episode that introduces viewers to this Roman world with plenty of sex, violence, and beautiful production design. What more could you really want from a blockbuster historical drama? Now that the stage is set, I’m excited to see the story start to take on a genuine shape.

Next. 10 iconic female characters from historical dramas. dark

New episodes of Domina premiere Sunday nights on EPIX.