In his tent, Pompey stands next to his armor and tells someone off-camera, "Send to Rome. Tell them the decisive battle begins today." Or, several weeks ago, by the time the news reaches the city.
In his own tent, Caesar's nap is interrupted by a soldier who tells him, "Pompey's legions are in the field in full battle array." Caesar chides the man for failing to salute, and gives the order to sound the assembly and prepare his horse. The soldier dashes back out, and Posca is surprised to hear they're going to fight: "We are outnumbered three to one on foot, five to one on horse, and what uninjured men we have are scared and hungry and desperate." It's kind of a long speech, but since Caesar is washing his face, there's plenty of time to get it all out. Caesar says that's their advantage. "I was not aware irony had military usage," Posca sasses. Caesar spells it out: "We must win or die. Pompey's men have other options." Well, when you look at it that way. It might also help that Pompey's men have been drafted from all over Europe, have the unit cohesion of dryer lint, and are being led by an uninspired, plodding has-been, but let's keep this moving.
And so begins the big montage. Alone in his tent, Caesar prays next to a framed mosaic of the skull-balancing-on-a-wheel image from the title sequence. Oh, now that makes sense. Not.
Pompey washes his face. If the battle were a race to do that, Caesar would be doomed.
Caesar slices his hand open with a dagger. Jeez, who wants to go into battle with a cut hand? It's just going to get all sweaty and dirty and probably keep opening and sting like hell and you're liable to drop something right when you're trying to kill somebody.
Pompey is lashed into his armor by slaves.
Caesar lets his cut drain into a basin as a blood sacrifice. I'm actually a little surprised he bothers at all with religion when no one's around to see it. How refreshingly uncynical of him.
Pompey receives his scabbard and his ornate black helmet.
Caesar wraps his hand in a rich silk scarf. Does the man have no common sense at all? That's a nice scarf he's ruining.
Pompey tries to look like a bad-ass in his helmet. Mainly, he looks like the old guy at the costume party who's going to need three people to help him up when he gets drunk and trips over the cat.
Caesar stands over his slave, his hand now unwrapped. A fast healer, that Caesar. "Goodbye, Posca," he says, and leaves the tent. Outside, he uses a soldier as a stepstool to climb up onto his white stallion, and leads his frightened men into battle. And here it gets all slo-mo and impressionist, as the Thirteenth heads right-to-left under the Golden Eagle standard, while Pompey's men go left-to-right beneath Pompey's sun banner. The battle itself is shown as nothing more than a blurry, close-up tangle of swords and shields and helmets while men grunt and scream at each other as though from the bottom of a well. It's impossible to tell what's going on. The big battle we've been building up to all season, the battle of Pharsalus, one of the decisive turning points in world history, and they're shooting it like this? I'm sorely disappointed. No sweeping battlefield shots, no sense of the vastness of the armies arrayed against one another, not even any blood. I know that all of these sets and extras and period props and costumes are expensive, but I've been assuming all season that they'd been saving up some of the budget for this. Instead, they totally cheaped out. They went so far as to stick our heroes Vorenus and Pullo on an island somewhere to avoid showing it from what would have been even their extremely limited point of view. Even a shot of a map with little icons running around on it would have been an improvement. In fact, it might have been better not to show the battle at all. I'm dropping the episode's grade a full letter for this. And in a final insult, the battle's resolution is depicted simply by a standard falling into the mud. Great. I come for spectacle and they give me symbolism. Oh, and who does the standard belong to? It's Pompey's sun banner, as if you didn't know.